The internet has turned the vast majority of us into hypochondriacs. Feel an unfamiliar pain in your back? Notice that your mood is shifting more quickly than usual? Probably best to do a quick Google search and see if you’re on death’s door. Of course, we all know this is unhealthy — and largely unproductive — behavior. However, it speaks to a tendency to fear our own frailty. We’re only human, after all.
On top of worrying about our physical and mental health, many of us have to deal with that nagging voice in our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough. Though it’s likely not a modern phenomenon, it took roughly a century of psychological study to give that annoying little voice a name — Imposter Syndrome. Studies have shown that Imposter Syndrome may affect women, especially women of color, more than men, but I can say from first-hand experience that it is a common issue for entrepreneurs, regardless of race or gender.
Why? Because Imposter Syndrome is identified as the feeling of self-doubt and the belief that you are somehow inadequate, even if you have plenty of real-world accomplishments to prove otherwise. Entrepreneurs, by nature, put their personal and professional reputations on the line for the sake of building a business. This career choice requires you to take on even greater responsibilities and put even more faith in your abilities than you would with traditional employment.
Consequently, if an entrepreneur lets Imposter Syndrome mess with their head, the negative consequences are amplified. It can put the future of your business at risk simply because your brain doesn’t want to recognize your talents, capabilities, and achievements. This is why I’ve come up with a few ways to fight Imposter Syndrome. These methods have helped me overcome my self-doubts and, in turn, be a better entrepreneur.
Get out of your feelings by getting your feelings out
One of the most difficult parts of Imposter Syndrome is separating fact from fiction. You may feel a certain way, but that doesn’t mean your feelings accurately represent reality. In fact, this is the essence of the condition. You could be the Bill Gates of your industry, but your brain is telling you otherwise. You’re letting your feelings rule you, your decisions, and by extension, your professional life.
For people who don’t have to deal with Imposter Syndrome regularly, it’s easy to say “just get out of your feelings” or “stop being so negative,” but of course, it’s never that simple. Yes, you must actively work to separate what you feel from what you know to be true, but this often requires external reinforcement. You can talk your feelings out with someone you trust — whether they’re a family member, a friend, a therapist, or a business associate. This way, you can get honest feedback (positive or negative) that reinforces a more objective sense of reality.
Develop the skill of accepting failure — without succumbing to it
Oddly enough, entrepreneurs who struggle with Imposter Syndrome are often plagued more by their successes than their failures. If you are a high achiever with plenty of accolades under your belt, you are even more likely to believe that you somehow don’t deserve any of them. However, this low self-esteem also has the undesirable side effect of making every failure into evidence that the negative voice in your head has been right all along.
So, rather than letting failures overwhelm you with even more self-doubt, cultivate the ability to accept failure as a natural part of being an entrepreneur — and a human being. Of course, this won’t happen overnight. It takes time to accept failure as a natural part of life, especially when each one can feel like such a major setback. Just remember: everybody fails. As you’re reading this, millions of people around the world are experiencing different types of failure, both large and small. While that may not sound overly cheerful, it should help you see that failure isn’t a reflection of personal inadequacy; it’s a reflection of human nature.
Ask your Imposter Syndrome the tough questions
Again, Imposter Syndrome often strikes whether you fail or succeed. The negative part of your brain wants to convince you that you’re not educated, experienced, or skilled enough to achieve your goals, even if you’ve already achieved them. So rather than just assuming that the annoying little voice in your head is right, ask it some tough questions. And when I say “it,” of course I mean “you.”
Ask yourself what skills you lack that others possess. Inquire about your education, your experience, and anything else that has you doubting yourself. Then, do your best to answer the questions honestly, without letting your emotions get in the way. Nine times out of 10, this practice will help you realize that some or perhaps even all of your doubts are completely unfounded. At the very least, it will help you question your negative self-image. And ultimately, the key to beating Imposter Syndrome is introducing doubts to your doubts.
The bottom line
Imposter Syndrome is not a recognized mental illness, which puts it in that strange gray area between a normal psychological response and unhealthy mental behavior. However, it is intrinsically linked with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, making it a common barrier to business success.
While Imposter Syndrome could be a symptom of something more serious that requires medical intervention, it is most often a problem that high achievers — like many entrepreneurs — experience by virtue of reaching their goals. Fortunately, if you find the strength to follow some of the tips above, you can work toward silencing that voice that’s holding you and your business back.