Impostor Syndrome: What It Is, and How You Can Overcome It

If you’ve ever picked up the phone to call a new client or had a big project come in and felt a wave of uncertainty, inadequacy and self-doubt take root in the pit of your stomach, you’ve been struck by Impostor Syndrome.

It’s not fun, especially when, just as you’re stepping up to bat to prove yourself and have people rooting for you to hit it out of the park, there’s that little (or loud) inner critic saying, “You’re just not ready yet,” “You got a lucky break,” “You don’t deserve this opportunity,” or the real kicker: “What if you fail? Then everyone will know you’re a fake.”

Intellectually, you know none of these things are true. Your passion for your work, years of experience and a slate of happy clients are a testament to your competence in your area of specialty.

So why can’t you get your head in the game and believe in yourself?

Today, we’re going to explore Impostor Syndrome – what it is, what causes it, and how you can beat it. Let’s get started!

What is Impostor Syndrome?

According to the article Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome, published in the New York Times in 2015, the term was coined in 1978 by two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.

They defined IS as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite high evidence of achievement. While these people are highly motivated to achieve, they also live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon you’re likely to run into if you challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone and take on new projects to test the boundaries of your potential – things we all have to do as entrepreneurs every day in order to grow as people and business owners.

But the good news is that Impostor Syndrome doesn’t have to be terminal. You deserve to reach your true potential, and to savour all the success and victories that come from doing so. Here are four tips to help you start your journey.

Acknowledge your feelings

The old adage, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge” applies here. Acknowledging that you’re feeling this way doesn’t mean you have to stew in your self-doubt or accept that it will be this way forever. On the contrary; you have the strength, power and resilience to overcome your fear, and even failure if whatever you try doesn’t work the first time.

But first, a little self compassion is in order. It’s okay to feel this way because it’s part of being human. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one page in your story! You’ve got an entire book to write.

Reprogram your thoughts and mindset

As successful entrepreneurs who push the edges of our comfort zones on a daily basis, maintaining our self-confidence and ridding ourselves of all those negative self beliefs is some of the toughest mental work we’ll do.

In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, author Carol S. Dweck,  Ph.D. talks about the fixed vs. growth mindset. The fixed mindset is just that – if you subscribe to it, everything about you, including your intelligence, your personality, your moral character, is set in stone. Talk about pressure! This wouldn’t make you very likely to take risks, and you’d walk around pretty anxious about yourself and your abilities all the time.

On the other end of the spectrum is the growth mindset. Central to this is the belief that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.”

People with this mindset are more open to learning because they don’t feel they have to prove themselves with every new venture, and they feel like there’s a lot less at stake because the outcome of their efforts doesn’t reflect on their overall value. Learning about the growth mindset will help you reprogram your thoughts to be more positive, less anxious, and more focused on striving to achieve your goals versus using your perceived weaknesses as an excuse not to try, or to beat yourself up.

Pro tip: Visualize your success

Now that you’ve gotten honest with yourself and done some difficult mental work, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff: visualizing what success and victory look like!

Visualization really works. We only have to look to Conor McGregor. Even if you’re not a devoted UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fan, you probably know his name – he’s a two-division world champion and the biggest pay-per-view draw in mixed martial arts history. McGregor is also famous for his unwavering self confidence and his ability to visualize and predict his success against many proven opponents with stunning (although not unblemished) accuracy to the point that he was nicknamed Mystic Mac.

In the lead-up to one fight, McGregor stated that he would “clatter his (opponent’s) head off the canvas inside one round.” He did just that, and has added many more victories to his list since.

In your own life, this could mean taking 10 minutes before your big presentation to picture your audience engaged, focused on you and asking questions you answer with ease. Or envisioning how you’ll grow your business if you win the bid for that big contract.  

Let go of the urge to perfect and control

There’s a very strong link between perfectionism and Impostor Syndrome. Whenever we unveil a work of art, hit the ‘publish’ button on a blog post, or submit that final draft of a proposal we pulled an all-nighter to finish, we’re vulnerable. It’s time to accept that we’ve done our best and that we no longer have control of the outcome. “Shipping” our final product is a risk we take, but a necessary one (otherwise, what’s the point of creating it?)

Here’s a secret: your own inner critic is much more harsh (and their words more devastating) than anything anyone else would have to say. So hit publish, take a deep breath and commend yourself for trying. Pour yourself a hot cup of tea and move on to the next thing.

Consult trusted colleagues and mentors

We all find comfort in shared experiences and in learning that we’re all dealing with similar obstacles. I promise you, somewhere right now, someone you admire is staring at a blank page, sending an email or preparing for a new opportunity…and they’re thinking the same thoughts you are! No one is immune.

Being part of a supportive team or community of entrepreneurs who have each other’s back in these situations is so valuable, so look for meet-up groups and coworking spaces in your area that focus on helping business owners like you grow their practices. Allison Smith, one of our content creators and a board member at Cowork Niagara, swears by this model:

“I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be in business for myself today if not for Cowork Niagara. Not only have I made many valuable connections with an amazing tribe of people, but the hours upon hours of mentorship and support I’ve received from this group has shaped my practice. When I’ve doubted myself and my abilities, these people have been there to tell me to push myself harder, because I have what it takes to be a good writer. And watching them overcome their own challenges inspires me to see that I can conquer mine, too.”

Alternatively, if you’re a team leader, you can build opportunities for open dialogue into your workplace culture. Share your experiences, fears and challenges with your team, and they’ll be motivated to share with you!

In Conclusion

We all battle Impostor Syndrome, but what matters is that we have the tools and the capacity to overcome it. By doing some difficult mental work and taking action to prove our inner critic wrong, we can achieve our full potential.

How do you overcome Impostor Syndrome? Tell us in the comments!

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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