4 Ways I Overcame Impostor Syndrome as an Entrepreneur
Let's talk about why entrepreneurs are so susceptible to impostor syndrome and four ways we can overcome it.
The worst part of imposter syndrome is that it can affect anyone, regardless of how objectively successful they are. According to a recent survey, 58 percent of tech employees at major companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google even experience these feelings.
A typical (but misguided) way people try to overcome impostor syndrome is to push harder to "prove" that they're worthy. Unfortunately, this worsens the situation and inevitably leads to burnout.
Despite founding a thriving health tech company and leading more than five other projects to success, I have dealt with my own intense struggles with impostor syndrome throughout my life. Let's talk about why entrepreneurs are so susceptible to impostor syndrome and what we can do to overcome it.
A deeper look at why impostor syndrome affects entrepreneurs
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that leads low-ability people to believe they are smarter and more capable than they are. They don't possess the self-awareness to understand that their capabilities are limited, and many experience success despite themselves. This feeds into their overconfidence, so the idea of being a fraud never crosses their minds.
It's no secret that it takes a specific type of intelligent, driven person to be a successful business owner. These same traits also bring a high level of self-awareness. When you combine heightened self-awareness with high cognitive ability and analytical nature, it's a recipe for spotlighting every flaw and failure. So, even if you're competent, you tend to zero in on mistakes and diminish your achievements.
4 powerful strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome
1. Talk about your successes.
We're often so afraid of saying or doing the "wrong thing" that we shrink our successes and hide our achievements. It's common to feel that we shouldn't brag about our accomplishments in case we offend someone or sound "too full of ourselves."
The truth is that these feelings aren't objective reality. They're a product of our subconscious conditioning. Many people who experience impostor syndrome also experienced a lack of support and positive emotional contact as a child. This leads to fears of feeling judged or unworthy of achievement later in life.
To combat this, I like to use a kind of exposure therapy where I talk to myself about my fears.
Here's an example of what I mean. At 19, I decided to build smart houses. Within six months, I had successfully funded the project and built the first street of homes, but I was terrified to tell anyone about my success. I was afraid of alienating myself from classmates and being judged by potential buyers as too young or inexperienced to be taken seriously.
To overcome these fears, I made myself logically work through the worst-case scenarios I had created. Doing so weakened the hold these fears had over me, and the more I thought over them rationally and accepted all possible outcomes, the faster the fear went away.
2. Notice your achievements.
Impostor syndrome makes us underestimate or ignore our achievements. We feel we "could have done better" or "it wasn't a big deal," not realizing that our peers may not have accomplished even a fraction of what we have.
My strategy to combat this? Compare yourself to others! Make an honest inventory of your accomplishments (using the Six Thinking Hats method helps here.) Then compare yourself to your peers. See where you feel envious or inferior; these areas of "soft envy" can motivate you and help you grow. It can also put your achievements into perspective.
In my university years, I was made chairman of the association of foreign students. I felt totally out of my depth and could only see my flaws and perceived shortcomings: I didn't speak enough languages well; I was too young; I was too inexperienced. I felt certain I was the least qualified person for the job.
I desperately wanted to succeed in my role, so I decided to use the Six Thinking Hats strategy to uncover all of the personal advantages I was overlooking. I discovered a lot of abilities I had waved aside. I paired that knowledge with the things about my peers that caused "soft envy" in me because I knew they were areas in which I needed to grow.
I used my unique gifts to turn those things I felt bad about into positives and ended up receiving a certificate and a letter of thanks from the dean's office for such a successful tenure.
3. Share your knowledge.
The more you can share your experiences with others, the more you'll receive support, connection and appreciation. Even if you feel uncomfortable broadcasting your successes to the world, at least sharing with your social network will allow you to experience a sense of progress and meaning, which helps to combat impostor syndrome.
I used to believe that you had to act first before sharing your dreams or ideas, but over time, I learned that was backward. I found that the more I began to share my mission and ideas with everyone, the more I could attract like-minded experts to myself. Now, I have some of the best scientists in the world on my team, but I would not have found them if I had stayed quiet until I had something to show.
I believe in fairytales — in those stories, characters help each other along the way if the hero is courageous enough to set aside their fear. So, share more often, and when you receive help, let it inspire you to achieve even more.
4. Talk about the small wins.
You'll reach a time when you start accomplishing "big" things, and the "small" things will fade in your mind. However, the small victories are just as important as the big ones. Sometimes, sharing those "small" stories offers someone else the key to the success they've been searching for.
Remember that people love to share in the process, too. For example, I once decided to open a cafe in Kiev. My idea was unique, but the process was scary and difficult. So, I created an Instagram account to showcase the "behind the scenes" struggles and successes of the cafe to stay motivated and show my progress. When the cafe opened, the community was invested in my success and celebrated with me.
Impostor syndrome is often inevitable for entrepreneurs, but it's not insurmountable.
Look inward and figure out why you're afraid of feeling and sharing your accomplishments. Start seeing yourself in the same positive light that others do. Don't ever shrink yourself down. Talk about your ideas and achievements, no matter how small. Tell everyone, and talk often. This is how you find a support network. Finally, pay attention to every step on the path to success. Each step is an achievement worth celebrating.
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