Have you ever felt like you’re wearing shoes too big to fill? Like you don’t deserve the achievements and the position you are in now? It’s a normal and silent shared experience by many others in your position. In fact, according to a review in the literature, 70% of people will feel this way at least once in their lives. This feeling is called imposter syndrome.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
The first time you probably felt this was back when you didn’t know how to start online selling, let alone start a business. By definition, imposter syndrome is feeling like you’re not equipped enough or deserving enough of your position. You don’t attribute your past achievements and awards to your hard work, believing that you are where you are now probably because of chance. It somehow feels like being a fraud. Sometimes, it may even make you feel like you’re not who you’re “supposed to” be by now.
The term was originally coined by Pauline Clance, Ph.D., a clinician at Oberlin College. She also proposed “the imposter cycle,” wherein it describes how the imposter syndrome can happen continuously. In this model, a person may be tasked to finish something on or before a deadline. Feeling anxious, worried, or full of doubt, they end up over-preparing, procrastinating, or both. Once they complete their work, they attribute it to high effort (facilitated by over-preparation) or luck (because of procrastination). Even if they were praised positively for their efforts, the feedback holds little to no weight. They continue to sit with their self-doubt and anxiety.
Does any of these sound familiar to you? The term was brought up again and made popular on the internet not so long ago. It’s a universal feeling. From college students to businesses owners, anyone can fall prey to this imposter syndrome. The silver lining is now that many are familiar with the term, they can navigate their feelings of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence. It’s human nature to want to organize experiences with a label or an umbrella term. It helps put you at ease during a change or transition, especially when you know that you’re not alone.
Let’s try to look at this as a glass half full than half empty type of situation. If you feel like you’re not capable enough for your new role or have not acquired the amount of experience you need, then take that as a good sign of self-awareness. Take the opportunity to learn and grow through the process, and eventually, you’ll get there. A couple of hallmark qualities of a successful entrepreneur are being a risk-taker and having a growth mindset. If you’re hesitant to take the necessary steps to grow, regardless if you think you’re not ready, then how would you grow into the role in the first place? How successful would you become as an entrepreneur?
Success Isn’t Linear
Nobody becomes an expert from the get-go. Throughout the lifetime of your business, you will have phases of trial-and-error. But most especially while you’re still a startup. Although that may be daunting, you know that’s just how it works. As the founder of your startup, you call the shots. You’re the one who’s going to make the big decisions and kick start operations. When things don’t work out, the fear and anxiety of being “exposed” could start to creep in. This is where imposter syndrome kicks in.
Indeed, making big decisions such as transitioning from a wholesale/retail model to a direct sales model is a huge step. This was a decision Liz Forkin Bohannon made that later resulted in greater revenue and impact compared to their previous model. While in this pivotal shift, the CEO and founder of Sseko Designs experienced imposter syndrome, fearing that this change might prove to be more harmful than good because of her leadership.
As a way to push through her insecurities and anxieties, Bohannon revisited her mindsets in the past that had helped her resist imposter syndrome without realizing it.
Most of the time, you yield the results of your actions and decisions way later. A lot of worries can build up from there. Instead of giving in to rumination, give in to learning and enjoying the process. This is easier said than done, sure. But when you’re preoccupied with bettering yourself and your business, you’ll soon realize you’ve grown into the role and delivered your action plans successfully.
How to Give the Boot to Imposter Syndrome
A good place to start is by acknowledging how you feel. The sooner you do that, the easier it is to address the problem. Change doesn’t happen overnight; it’s something that you have to work on every day. The last thing you want is unconsciously hindering yourself from taking opportunities because you’re too afraid that you’re not good enough.
Stop the habit of writing off your success as luck. When you put in the work to learn a new skill or achieve a goal, acknowledge that it was because of your hard work. Recognize that you can accomplish your ambitions because you have the skills and talent to pull it off. You make the shoes you’re filling.
Because a mindset can be trained, it can also be untrained. Take baby steps to unlearn this cycle of thinking. Some ways to do so would be journaling, keeping a goal tracker (for both business and personal goals), or share your feelings with trusted peers. Who knows, they might even be feeling the same too.
Don’t mind the hesitance and take the plunge. It might just be the growth spurt you’ve always needed.