Dear Foundr readers,
Today, I’m going to be very honest with you. Because I’ve learned, when it comes to talking about this particular topic, not being honest does everyone a disservice.
So to all of you reading this right now, here’s the truth: I feel like I’m a fraud.
I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, to have everyone suddenly realize that this guy has no business speaking his mind on such a large platform. I feel, regardless of praise or other outside validation, that I must have gotten to where I am in life right now because of a bizarre mixture of luck and trickery.
If you’ve ever felt this way, there’s a good chance that just like me, you’re suffering from impostor syndrome.
But if, just like me, you’ve made a resolution to be a better, more confident person this year, then let’s be done with this demon once and for all. Let’s start with some bulletproof ways to feel more comfortable in your own skin and believe that you actually deserve all of your success.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
If you’ve ever found yourself:
- Having difficulty accepting any sort of praise or compliments
- Feeling that others in a similar position are somehow more qualified
- Undermining your achievements by attributing them to “luck” or “trickery”
- Anxious anytime anyone mentions a mistake you’ve made
- Afraid to accept any new responsibility due to a fear of failure
Then you might be experiencing some level of impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is one of those annoying tricks of the mind by which you convince yourself that, for one reason or another, you don’t belong. That somehow you’re not worthy of all your success.
According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, people who have impostor syndrome have by “intense feelings that their achievements are underserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud.”
It’s an unshakable mixture of fear, guilt, and shame that can drag you down if you’re not careful. Keeping such a cocktail of negative emotions around can only serve to burn you out, and even develop serious issues with anxiety and depression.
Like all personality disorders and mental health issues, these things exist on a spectrum, and at some level, require professional assistance from a doctor or therapist. So if you’re experiencing chronic feelings of anxiety or depression, or find yourself unable to function in daily life, please do seek out assistance. We’re not doctors or therapists here at Foundr!
But elements of impostor syndrome are quite common among young professionals and entrepreneurs, and it’s the kind of thing a lot of us can work together to recognize and overcome.
Impostor Syndrome: The Reality
The term “impostor syndrome” was first coined in the 1970s, when researchers found out that many women in executive positions were more likely to believe that they weren’t intelligent or qualified enough for their positions.
Indeed, for women or people of color in the workplace, where gender and racial equality are often lacking, this is a familiar experience. In fact, a lot of people struggling with impostor syndrome are responding very real discrimination and inequality in the workplace.
But as research into the phenomenon continued, it became clear that it’s not just professional women who are affected.
It doesn’t matter what age or gender you are, or what profession you’re in, anyone experiencing some form of success can feel like they’re an impostor on some level. In fact, an estimated 70% of all people feel have suffered from impostor syndrome at least once in their lives.
The point being, even though impostor syndrome can feel very isolating, lots of people around you likely feel exactly the same way.
Much of the anxiety that comes from impostor syndrome stems from unfairly comparing yourself to even one person. That one person can be a coworker, a family member, or even someone you’ve never met.
But in your mind, that person represents the more successful, deserving version of you. You might be thinking to yourself if you could only get your act together, then maybe you’d magically be just like that person, with all their accolades and easy confidence.
The truth is, though, that one person has probably felt, at least once in their life, just as fraudulent as you do.
No one started off being incredibly successful and always knowing the right thing to do. Even your mentors and heroes were amateurs themselves once. There is, in fact, one big reason that entrepreneurs feel impostor syndrome so intensely—we frequently don’t know what we’re doing. Entrepreneurs are making up our expertise as we go along, and there’s often no template or structured training program to get us to where we want to be.
In other words, to be an up-and-coming entrepreneur is to fake it until you make it. We’re all figuring this thing out as we go along!
When you ditch the notion that you need to know all the answers, and you start talking to people and asking questions, you’ll be surprised at just how imperfect everyone else is. And you’ll be far better off once you accept it.
How to Deal with Impostor Syndrome
Look at Your Accomplishments
One of the worst things about impostor syndrome is that tiny voice in your head always telling you that you’re not good enough because there’s more to be done.
It can be extremely easy to feel like you know nothing and that you’re not accomplishing much when you’re an entrepreneur. It feels like there’s always a new goal to achieve, always more work to be done, and always something else to figure out.
It’s like every time you think you’re getting close to the finish line, you look up and realize that it’s been moved another 10 miles down the track.
But the problem with always looking forward is that you never stop to take a moment and see how far you’ve actually come.
You might not think that you’re doing much, but remember that you’re always your own worst critic. One of the best ways to deal with impostor syndrome is to take a moment to step back and realize just how much you’ve actually accomplished. Oftentimes you’ll surprise yourself.
It can be as simple as reaching out to your mentors and simply asking, “How am I doing?”
Look at yourself through the eyes of someone else for a change. If you don’t feel like you can ask your mentor, then ask your coworkers, your friends, and family. More often than not, you’re going to find that their opinion of you is a lot more positive than you originally thought. Listen to them and take what they say to heart.
Something else you can do is take a page out of Kyle Eschenroeder’s book and start keeping a file of all the nice things people have said about you.
I don’t mean going out and asking people for compliments, although you can certainly do that, but start keeping a record of all the times you’ve actually helped people and how they’ve appreciated it.
Any time someone sends you an email, or a letter, or leaves a comment saying thank you for how much you’ve helped them, save it and keep it in a folder. What you have then is living proof that what you’re doing is valuable and that you’re definitely not a fraud.
Anytime you fall into a impostor funk, take out that folder and look at it again. Nothing will motivate you more.
Accept that Mistakes Don’t Define You
Did you know that SpaceX was on the verge of bankruptcy before its first successful launch? SpaceX had actually attempted three launches and all of them failed, leaving investors highly skeptical about Elon Musk and his vision.
The reason I bring this up is to remind you that even the best in the world aren’t immune from failing.
And yet, we tend to forget or accept other people’s failures and shrug them off as “mistakes” or “necessary milestones” in the journey to success. We are far less forgiving when it comes to our own mistakes.
A large part of impostor syndrome is when we get in our own heads and convince ourselves that we’re not good enough. When we expect perfection from ourselves, it’s only inevitable that we’ll fall short, and when that happens you feel like a fraud.
Someone with impostor syndrome often conveniently ignores the fact that perfection is impossible, or that maybe their goal was unrealistic to begin with.
It’s okay, and healthy even, to analyze your failures and figure out what went wrong. What isn’t healthy, however, is fixating solely on your mistakes and nothing else. It’s very easy to see yourself as a failure when all you do is think about the times you’ve fallen short.
In order to stop feeling like you’re an impostor, accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes, and that you’re certainly not immune to them either. Instead of just focusing on your mistakes, take some time to look at all the positivity and value you can bring into the world.
Take some time out of the day to genuinely help someone.
I remember a time when I was deep in an impostor funk and a friend of mine asked me for some advice on this business idea he had. So I sat down with him to see if I could share the one or two things I knew.
But what surprised me was that I actually had a lot more knowledge on the subject than I had originally thought. I didn’t consider myself an expert, but it turned out I knew what I was talking about and my friend was better off with my advice.
Seek out, or at least be open to, people who are experiencing problems you know how to deal with. If you don’t have any immediate friends to talk to, you can always check out places like Quora and Reddit and help people by answering their questions.
Surprise yourself with the depth of your own knowledge and remind yourself how much you do belong in whatever it is you’re doing. Help yourself through helping others.
Distinguish Humility From Self-Sabotage
Humility is often seen as a positive trait. To be modest and humble about your achievements not only shows a great leader, but someone who is confident in their level of success.
But there is a very thin line between knowingly attributing your success to factors outside of yourself, and disregarding yourself entirely.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis
A common tendency of anyone feeling like an impostor is attributing much of their success to something like luck. That you’re somehow unworthy of your accomplishments because someone must have made a mistake somewhere.
We feel like frauds because we’re unable to believe that we’re responsible for our own success. We always make up some excuse or reason as to why we don’t deserve our achievements.
That’s got to go. Easier said than done I know, but you need to realize that you played a role in your own success. Sure, no success happens in a vacuum, and there are many factors involved. But guess what? Your skills, persistence, and personality are all included among those factors.
Yes you may have been given opportunities that other people weren’t, but that doesn’t devalue the amount of work that you’ve put in yourself. You didn’t coast on a wave of luck, you worked hard to get to where you are today.
For the longest time, a lot of my anxiety over being a fraud was because I got my job at Foundr by meeting our founder Nathan at an entrepreneurship event. I didn’t apply for the job of being a content crafter, or go through any sort of particular training or education when I first started. After all, when I started, we were a very small operation.
So it felt like I had lucked into my position because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
But you know what?
I work hard at my job. I bothered to show up to that event and gave myself the opportunity to talk to Nathan. While I admit, I had no idea what I was doing at the start, and sometimes it still feels like that, I hustled hard to learn as much as I could. And now, I feel like I can finally say with comfort, I’m pretty damn good at what I do.
Whenever you feel those thoughts creeping up on you and whispering in your ear, stand up for yourself and tell them why you deserve to be here. Give yourself some more credit because no one else can do what you do.
It’s time to stop running away from impostor syndrome.
When it comes to those negative feelings of fear and inadequacy, trying to ignore them completely or view them as another inadequacy to be “fixed” only makes things worse.
The reality is that you’re never going to be completely rid of it, and as you continue to rack up even more accomplishments, those feelings will return. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. In fact, a little bit of self-doubt can even be a good thing when used correctly.
Sometimes the best way to eliminate a problem is to simply embrace it like an old friend. You’ll never be fully rid of it, so why waste time trying to do so? Instead find a way to recognize when it’s happening, redirect it, and channel it into a tool that you can use to push yourself even further.
Studies have shown that taking the time to examine and, most importantly, articulate those feelings of fear and doubt greatly reduce the amount of stress and anxiety you feel.
Whenever you cut yourself off from exploring these feelings, unpleasant as they may be, you’re not giving yourself a chance to figure out what the cause of these feelings are. This is preventing you from potentially addressing the cause of your anxiety.
When you start feeling inadequate and shut those feelings down, all you know is that you feel inadequate for no reason. But if you’re willing to explore that feeling of inadequacy you might find out that it’s because you don’t think you’re educated enough, or that someone else is doing better for example.
Suddenly that feeling of looming feeling of inadequacy goes away, because now you know what’s causing it. You have a solution to the problem, which can be to take some time to learn more or talk to that person and ask for their advice.
By putting a name to that fear, it’s no longer a cloud hanging over your head, but a problem you can approach head on. This way, anytime impostor syndrome rears its ugly head, it’ll be easier to engage with and determine what factors are behind it.
And it’ll turn out that, most of the time, those factors were never real in the first place.
How To Overcome Impostor Syndrome
To anyone out there feeling like they’re an impostor, I hope that this article equips you with all you need to know to continue on your journey without feeling like you’re a fraud. Or, at the very least, know that you’re not the only one out there who sometimes questions whether or not they really deserve all their accomplishments.
Unfortunately, as far as I know, there’s no way anyone can every fully be rid of impostor syndrome, and chances are the more successful you are the more that feeling will linger. But know that almost every successful person has felt like an impostor at some point, and that no one else but you can decide how far your story goes.
Do you sometimes have thoughts of feeling like a fraud? Have you ever felt like an impostor? If so, share your experience in the comments below.