How Imposter Syndrome Can Actually Be an Entrepreneur's Secret Weapon With the right mentality, you can turn your feelings of inadequacy into a strategic asset for your business.
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"Every time I didn't embarrass myself or even excelled, I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up." These aren't the words of a phony or a fraudster, but billionaire businesswoman Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's former COO, and a lifelong sufferer of so-called "imposter syndrome."
If you've felt the same nagging sense of inadequacy Sandberg experienced on her way to the top, you're not alone. Statistics differ from study to study, but there's clear evidence that at least half of us experience imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. For entrepreneurs, this figure is almost certainly higher — perhaps in excess of 80% — a reflection of the fact that, in today's fast-paced business environment, there's always another KPI to meet, a new competitor to stack up against or a fresh investor to impress.
This is something I know all too well. A man from a poor part of northwest England, I started my first business at age 26, sold it a few years later and took the reins as one of the U.K.'s youngest-ever FTSE 100 executives. Throughout it all, during the highs as much as the lows, there have been times when a negative doubt flashed in my mind: Am I out of my depth?
But like Sandberg, I haven't let my crises of confidence hold me back. Quite the opposite, in fact — with the right mentality, I've found that imposter syndrome can be a powerful asset when taking on the business world. Here are some of the key principles I follow to flip any fleeting feelings of inadequacy into a strategic advantage.
Don't be afraid to fail
First and foremost, you must alter how you view imposter syndrome. True, the name conjures images of illness and incapacity, but imposter syndrome isn't a disorder. It's a way of thinking that can be changed, and ultimately benefited from, with the right techniques.
This starts with a realization that we all make mistakes. Not some of us; all of us. These errors aren't evidence of a shortfall in ability or a sign that you're not cut out for the job — they are a golden opportunity for growth. Failure is the best teacher, after all.
In the unforgiving entrepreneurial environment, there's a near-endless list of blunders waiting to befall you. Whether you're starting out, scaling up, hiring, firing, raising capital or trying to sell, I've found that Murphy's law — anything that can go wrong will go wrong — can apply at all stages of the business journey.
Make friends with your inner saboteur
Pacifying a hostile inner monologue isn't easy, however. That little voice making you second guess decisions, avoid new opportunities and most of all, question whether you deserve to be where you are, is a formidable enemy.
Or is it? Sure, it may seem like a menacing adversary, always trying to do you down, but that's just one perspective. Why must we view our consciousness as a saboteur of self-confidence, and not a benevolent coach offering guidance and motivation?
By regarding my imposter syndrome as a beneficial force, it has become precisely that — something that doesn't constantly undermine my abilities, but instead offers advice on how to improve. Rewiring your mind like this doesn't happen overnight, but with plenty of positive self-talk and visualization, it's possible to become firm friends with that voice inside your head.
Overcoming imposter syndrome isn't something that you can do totally alone, though. At times of acute self-doubt, breaking free of the echo chamber of your own mind is crucial.
Talking with colleagues, friends and family members goes a long way to alleviating the discomfort of a confidence crisis. This can be difficult — imposter syndrome often entails a reluctance to speak out — but trust me, verbalizing your doubts is a powerful way of undermining them.
Within this, I recommend seeking out a business mentor; someone who's ridden the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship and has likely experienced imposter syndrome along the way. Having been there and done that, they'll know that true innovation requires a disruptive mindset and a willingness to break the mold — and thus, ironically, feeling like an interloper, an imposter, is actually a sign that you're doing something right.
Embrace your inner imposter
The essential truth of imposter syndrome is that the dizzying sense of self-doubt can be jarring, but if you strip back the unpleasantness, it tells you something important: You're challenging yourself, pushing boundaries and breaking free of your comfort zone. To succeed in business, each of these is vital.
Switching your imposter syndrome from a destructive force to a strategic asset takes practice, however. You must realize that failure is always a growth opportunity, make peace with (and take motivation from) your inner monologue and seek advice from those you trust.
Get this right, and those crises of confidence will become a competitive edge, driving you to reach your full potential. So, from one entrepreneur to another, I finish with this: Embrace your inner imposter!