Helpful tips in recognizing and overcoming this damaging and all-too-common psychological phenomenon.
Are you purposely procrastinating for the sake of perfection? Do you tend to discount or minimize accomplishments and praise, thinking everyone is just blowing smoke? Are you over-delivering but undercharging clients? Are you comfortable playing small so as to avoid being “found out” as having insufficient knowledge or capability? If the answer was “Yes” to any of these, then read on, as there is a significant chance that a specific psychological condition is ruining your entrepreneurial aspirations.
Defined by Oxford Languages as “The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills,” “imposter syndrome,” coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in a co-authored 1978 article, has afflicted a number of notable people, including Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Sheryl Sandberg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Brene Brown, Amy Adams and Bianca B. King.
And they are most certainly not alone. A finding from a November 2020 study from Kajabi revealed that “…84% percent of entrepreneurs and small business owners (all genders)” experienced imposter syndrome at some point, though other research has shown that it affects women disproportionately. According to a 2020 study by KPMG, “75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers.” What’s more, it affects Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) at an even higher rate due in part to underrepresentation. (It’s a rarity to see BIPOC women in prominent, high-profile positions found in the C-suites of Fortune 500 businesses or occupying board seats of well-known companies and organizations.) “We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field,” explained clinical psychologist Emily Hu in a BBC article.
Self-doubt vs. imposter syndrome
Everyone experiences self-doubt and overthinking at points in their lifetime. Imposter syndrome is fundamentally different, however, because the affected person rarely feels as if they measure up, despite evidence pointing to success. I learned from my brilliant coaches that it can also present in various forms, and that it’s up to us to recognize and acknowledge what we feel so we can learn to change our inner narrative and beliefs. Such a pattern disruption will help us see differently, removing the inaccurate lens of the imposter so we can fully accept and appreciate every aspect of life in its true form, even beyond entrepreneurship.
By no means am I an expert on this subject, but I identify as a BIPOC woman and have also combatted feeling like an imposter over a 27-year career. For me, that manifests as perfectionism and overworking. Over the years, however, I have learned to implement techniques that address these negative feelings and quiet that inner critic, and have then gone on to share them with many friends and clients.
1. Change your thoughts
Pay close attention to inner conversations. If you experience thoughts of inadequacy, acknowledge that feeling and determine if there’s any genuine evidence to support it. You will probably find it’s only your inner critic revealing a limiting belief. Upon reflection, you can challenge that belief and move thoughts to something positive, but it’s important to disrupt this negative thinking immediately so you minimize ruminating, which can be detrimental. You can also reach out to a friend, mentor, colleague or business coach to talk through the challenge, which may help you reveal the actual origin of these negative thoughts.
Related: 4 Reasons Why Every Entrepreneur Should Have a Business Coach
2. Make failures fun
Is this a bridge too far? I hope not. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to experience failure at some point. The motto is to “fail fast and recover faster,” but when you’re dealing with imposter syndrome, failures can become jet fuel for the inner critic, sending you off into the stratosphere, never to be seen or heard from again. Viewing a failure as a lesson or a course correction, however, is a game-changer — the best and most efficient way to recover faster. So, instead of letting the imposter start a whole new narrative, focus on what you can abstract from the situation, knowing you’ve gained invaluable insight from the failure that would not have been possible with a win. As Maya Angelou memorably put it, “Courage allows the successful woman to fail and learn powerful lessons from the failure. So that in the end, she didn’t fail at all.”
3. Record your wins
A great way to combat imposter syndrome is to record and review your accomplishments weekly. I recognize that this sounds basic, but it works, in part because it fosters a change in beliefs. When you have evidence that proves you are, in fact, a true badass who is making extraordinary things happen, and are viewing evidence of that regularly, your thoughts will change, which will eventually help transform beliefs.
Remember, too, that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in great company with those of us who take this 75-foot-slimy cyclops to task regularly. While there are still external and internal elements that shape our thoughts, incorporating these tips into a daily practice can silence or at least quiet the most negative — allowing you to embrace all of your talents, rewards, and accolades that accompany the inspired work accomplished each day of your entrepreneurial journey.