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How to beat impostor syndrome

By Pauline Muindi | July 8th 2020

The goal of any entrepreneur is to be successful in business. However, many entrepreneurs are not psychologically prepared for success, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. You might feel as if you don’t deserve your accomplishments. While you might accept press interviews and accolades, you might feel you’re a fraud and worry that people will discover that you aren’t good enough.

Many entrepreneurs, perhaps because they tend to be high achievers, wrestle with feelings of being unworthy of their achievements. This psychological phenomenon is known as the impostor syndrome. When it strikes a small business owner, it might lead them to doubting themselves and prevent them from taking business risks.

Studies show that 70 per cent of the population experiences the impostor syndrome at one time or another. Hugely successful and talented leaders and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, David Bowie, Sheryl Sandberg, Serena Williams, Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, Arriana Huffington, and even Barack Obama have all spoken about their experiences with impostor syndrome.

“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true,” Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz said in an interview with The New York Times.

Because entrepreneurship doesn’t have any standardised training or certification, it makes sense that many entrepreneurs feel unworthy of their success.  After all, there’s no fancy degree to prove that you are qualified. Additionally, unlike working in traditional careers, entrepreneurship doesn’t come with external validations such as promotions, job titles, and a neat ascent up an organisation’s chart. For many entrepreneurs, you have to chart your own path without any familiar signposts.

The impostor syndrome can take various forms, depending on a person’s background, personality, and circumstances. In the book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the impostor syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr. Valerie Young categorizes how impostor syndrome manifests into five subgroups: the perfectionist, the superman/woman, the natural genius, the soloist, and the expert.

Many entrepreneurs are likely to fall under the perfectionist category, where they feel like everything has to be 100 per cent perfect. If you’re a perfectionist, you might also be a micromanager who has difficulty in delegating tasks.

But whatever subgroup you fall under, impostor syndrome can hold you back from achieving your full potential as an entrepreneur. If you are struggling with impostor syndrome, here are some tips on how to deal with it:

Recognise the signs

Recognising the signs and symptoms of having impostor syndrome will help you figure out ways to cope with it.

·Do you often feel like you aren’t good enough and your success is down to serendipity?

·Do you dread that people will find out that you’re a fraud?

·Do you feel like you’ve somehow tricked people into believing that you’re more capable than you actually are?

·Do you feel like others over-vale your success?

If you found yourself nodding and saying yes to at least two of these questions, you have probably experienced the impostor syndrome.

Once you have recognised the signs, acknowledge the syndrome for what it really is – a desire to conform to your self-concept by keeping entrenched in your comfort zone. As any psychologist will tell you, the bulk of your self-concept is formed pretty early in life. As an entrepreneur, you will probably be successful later in life. If these accomplishments don’t match up with your self-concept, you are likely to experience impostor syndrome.

Engage it directly

Most people just ignore their feelings of being unworthy of their accomplishments, hoping that they’ll eventually go away. But the impostor syndrome can be a niggling pain that never goes away, no matter the number of set goals you achieve.

The best strategy is to address your impostor syndrome directly. Whenever it rears its ugly head, just remind yourself that despite feeling unworthy, your accomplishments are really yours and you deserve every one of them. You can use words such as in spite of, however, maybe, and nevertheless to counter the negative feelings.

For example “in spite of having only three years’ experience, I can do this like any other expert.” When the voice in your head says you’re not good enough, you can reply “maybe, but watch me do it anyway!

Appreciate the benefit of being a novice in your field, and therefore having a fresh outlook and approach. By being new in the field, you bring an outsider’s perspective which can solve problems. According to a study by Harvard Business School, many problems end up being solved by people from outside the field in question. For example, a physicist can solve a chemistry problem.

After some time, the negative whispers in your head will start losing their power over you. Most importantly, they will no longer hold you back from making progress in your business.

Assume an alter ego

Who do you admire the most as an entrepreneur? Do you wish you could do business like Steve Jobs, Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey or your mentor?  One of the reasons you put these people on a pedestal is probably because you imagine them to be capable of achieving great things.

To counter the impostor syndrome, you can assume the identity of your hero when necessary. In his book The Alter Ego Effect, Todd Herman describes how you can use this technique to overcome self-doubt. Assuming an alter ego allows you to step outside yourself and act as if you have fully embraced and even surpassed your accomplishments instead of diminishing them.

Keep handy reminders of success

Have you won a prestigious award? Have you been featured in a respectable daily? Displaying reminders of these accomplishments in your office can remind you of your capabilities. Reminders don’t even have to be big awards and certificates. It can be an email from a satisfied client, pictures from an event you’re proud of, or a print out of your business statistics.

When you are feeling overwhelmed by the impostor syndrome, you can also take time to write down some of your most memorable achievements. This exercise is bound to get the good juices flowing and bolster your confidence.

Choose a learning mindset

Instead of focusing on your failures and feelings of inadequacy, you can choose to focus on what you are learning as you go. If you make a mistake, don’t use it as evidence of your underlying limitations. Instead, see your mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process. Consider every mistake and failure as your opportunity to learn and get better at what you do. Infact, failure is often a better teacher than success.

Overcoming impostor syndrome might feel impossible, but with effort and the right information, any entrepreneur can learn how to deal with it and eventually beat it.

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