Imposter Syndrome Will Kill Your Business
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Deep inside many entrepreneurs, there’s an unwanted emotion lurking, just waiting to rise to the surface to override their hard work. It’s an ugly feeling that impacts the best of us from time to time. If you allow it, this unwelcome emotion can completely derail your mental and emotional strength, bringing your business to a paralyzing halt.
That secret emotion that no one likes to talk about? Impostor syndrome.
The term was coined in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, “referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a‘fraud.’”
In short, when you experience impostor syndrome you worry others will discover you’ve been “faking it” all this time. It's when you do something great, but you feel you will be found out, instead of praised. You may feel undeserving of the success you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Related: Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?
When impostor syndrome creeps in, you feel not good enough; not worthy. And from there, danger can strike...and it can seriously impact your business.
Falling victim to impostor syndrome can lead to intense negative repercussions. Perhaps your motivation and drive start to decline; after all, why work so hard if you’ll just get exposed? Maybe the quality of your work starts to slip because you’re so wrapped up in your own insecurities that you can’t stay clear-headed and focus on the task at hand. Even worse, in an effort to “fake it until you make it”, perhaps you start taking on work that’s actually beyond your capabilities, leading to an even more intense case of impostor syndrome.
Be careful; impostor syndrome is a slippery slope.
Contrary to popular belief, imposter syndrome isn’t reserved for the overly accomplished. It can impact anyone who is being held to high standards; a cook, an athlete, and even a stay-at-home mom. Here are some interesting findings:
Impostor syndrome is often most prevalent among high achievers. Demographic research shows that high achievers experience impostor syndrome more than any other group. If you experience impostor syndrome, congratulations! You are likely a high-achieving person who has big, scary goals you aren’t afraid to tackle.
Impostor syndrome may get worse as you get better. Oliver Burkeman, a published author who pens a column on psychology for The Guardian explains it perfectly in his aptly-named article, “Nobody Knows What The Hell They Are Doing”: the better you become at something, them more likely you are to experience impostor syndrome. He writes, “the more accomplished you get, the more likely you are to rub shoulders with ever more talented people, leaving you feeling even more inadequate by comparison.” So know, if you’re experiencing this ugly feeling, it may be because you’re actually getting better at what you do.
Everyone experiences impostor syndrome from time to time. Burkeman says, “If you’re worried you don’t measure up, that could well be a sign that you do.” Know that everyone experiences this feeling, even many of the greats! We are not alone. Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'” -- Maya Angelou
Ready to banish impostor syndrome? Here are four ways to do just that:
1. Write down your accomplishments.
It may seem silly and even a little bit vain, but take a few minutes to write down your accomplishments, both small and large. Don’t hold back. Take pride in all that you’ve done. When you sit back and take stock of all that you’ve achieved, it becomes easier to silence the nasty impostor syndrome monster. This list proves that you know what you’re doing -- that you’ve experienced success and will continue do so with hard work and dedication.
2. Create a positivity folder.
Do you love receiving positive emails and complimentary comments on social media? Don’t be afraid to say yes! (Who doesn’t?!) The key is to use these positive messages to help move you forward. The next time you receive one of these notes, add it to a folder in your email (fun name idea for this folder: warm fuzzies) and the next time you experience impostor syndrome, spend some time digging through this folder. Reading kind words from those who admire and respect you and your work can help turn your thinking around. Their words can remind you of why you do what you do, despite any feelings of inferiority.
3. Talk it out.
When you feel impostor syndrome coming on, have a trusted friend or mentor you can lean on. Talking it out with others can serve multiple purposes. First, your friends and mentors can bring you back down to earth. They can remind you that you are not an imposter. Second, your mentors can share their own experiences with impostor syndrome; when we talk things out with one another, we are reminded that we’re all in this together.
4. Embrace the feeling. Let it move you forward.
Sometimes the best way to eliminate a problem is to simply embrace it. When you feel impostor syndrome, let yourself feel those feelings...and then move on. The truth is, if you’re doing the work, each and every day, there’s no way you can be an impostor. When you care so deeply about your business and your goals, you are not an impostor. The best way to deal with these not-so-fun feelings is by diving in and fully throwing yourself into your work. Turn those negative feelings around and instead of letting them paralyze you, let them propel you forward.
Everyone feels inferior from time to time, but the key is to not let the feeling stop you from moving forward. The next time you feel impostor syndrome creeping in, take a moment to pause, reflect on why you may be experiencing the feeling, consult our handy list of tips and then let it go. Don’t let this ugly feeling diminish your hard work. You and your business are better than impostor syndrome.