Have you ever felt that you didn’t belong in the entrepreneurial world or that you were a fraud? You may be experiencing imposter syndrome, where you doubt your abilities and feel like you aren’t deserving of the success you’ve earned.
Imposter syndrome is a common phenomena for many people, and isn’t limited to certain demographics such as age, race, or gender. Anyone at any age may recognize the underlying feelings of doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty throughout their lifetime. The condition often arises during periods of transition, such as moving careers or job positions, or during times of stress, like when an entrepreneur is launching a new business.
More that Just Self-doubt
Self-doubt is a topic not often discussed among entrepreneurial communities. Large egos, overconfidence, and bluster are far more likely to be used to describe an entrepreneur than doubtful or insecure may be. But that doesn’t mean that those feelings of hesitation and uncertainty are not prevalent. Everyone has experienced some level of self-doubt, whether they talk freely about it or not.
Imposter syndrome is not just self-doubt. Rather, it is the overarching feelings that you do not belong, that you are uniquely unqualified for the success that you are experiencing, and that you are a fraud. I first seriously dealt with those feelings while I was in graduate school. Thankfully, I was able to articulate how I was feeling with a few close friends who were in my program. I found out that I was not alone in those feelings; in fact, all of them were experiencing the same feeling of being out of place at our world-renowned institution.
Combating Imposter Syndrome
Talking about our feelings of self-doubt allowed us to confront them, rather than letting those feelings take control and root in our heads. Insecurity and doubt are not logical; often, those who are experiencing imposter syndrome are more than capable, intelligent, hard working, and deserving of whatever success they have earned. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a recent graduate hunting for your first job, or a mid-career professional looking to make a major change, feelings of doubt and inadequacy are normal.
Dealing with the fear
Fear is a secondary characteristic of imposter syndrome. Many people report that they feel like they are frauds, and that they live waiting to be unmasked or revealed. This fear can keep you from succeeding, from taking risks, or from pursuing your passions. Confronting this fear head-on is a helpful strategy. The fear of failure often holds us back from working towards our goals, so it can be helpful to think through the worst case scenarios. For example, your feelings of being a fraud might stem from your lack of confidence in your skillset.
Thinking it through
Thinking through the worst case scenario of being “exposed” for your skills, or lack thereof, may lead you to spending additional time practicing those skills, or taking a continued education course online. When you are able to confront your fear, even hypothetically, you can start to work through the logic behind your doubt.
Seek out those who know what it feels like
Another strategy is to seek out others who are in a similar situation to you. Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate by demographic, but it is associated with individuals feeling out of place. You may be the youngest in the office, the only one with your skin tone, or a woman surrounded by men.
Feeling like you are alone in your experience can heighten self-doubt and insecurity in ways that would otherwise fail to come to the surface if you were around others who shared your background. This isn’t to say that you don’t belong, you do. It can be helpful to seek out others who are in similar situations to yours and to share in your experiences. Joining a group for young professionals, an incubator that lifts up entrepreneurs of color, or utilizing your alumni network are all good ways to combat feelings of inadequacy.
Giving a voice to your feelings can be a powerful way to combat self-doubt and feelings of imposter syndrome. Telling a trusted adviser or mentor that you are experiencing doubt is not necessarily a sign of weakness. In fact, you may find that they have experienced similar situations, and can offer you guidance and wisdom to navigate intimidating environments or periods of transition.
Talking to a friend can be helpful as I found. I was able to share my experience of doubt with a group of women who were also navigating the complicated terrain of graduate school and elite academia. Their experiences were similar to my own, and helped me to realize that I was not alone in my feelings.
Imposter syndrome is not a death sentence. It is normal to feel some amount of insecurity or doubt, even for individuals who are otherwise confident. For entrepreneurs, there is often an added layer of fear surrounding failure and inadequacy as they are venturing into uncharted territory. Working through your feelings of doubt and insecurity will likely involve tackling them head-on and directly facing your imposter syndrome.
Keeping in mind that these feelings are normal is also helpful. While we often hope that we can plan ourselves out of the unknown, some level of uncertainty will always accompany us in life. It is being able to work through these feelings, process them, and move past them that is the mark of a successful individual, not the absence of self-doubt and insecurity.