If you’re reading this, you and I probably share a dirty little secret that we don’t want anyone to know about. We both suffer from a sometimes crippling feeling that we’re not actually good at our jobs and everyone is going to find out. That feeling has a name – imposter syndrome – and it’s wrong. Getting over imposter syndrome isn’t easy, but understanding why we have it and recognizing that it doesn’t define us is the first step.
I know it sounds scary; I’ve been there (I’m there now as I write this blog). I have a little voice whispering in my ear, telling me that no one wants to learn about marketing from me, that I must be mad to think that I have anything to say that will help people.
That little voice is trying to drown out the mountain of evidence to the contrary. It distracts me from remembering that time I pulled off a successful PR campaign within 72 hours of an outdoor event, even though it rained the morning of. It tries to erase the articles I’ve published in international outlets. It wants to wipe out every successful accomplishment I have earned.
I bet you have that too. What are some of your accomplishments that your imposter’s voice is trying to erase? Go ahead and take a minute or two to remind it of your successes. Hint: that’s one of the most critical steps to getting over imposter syndrome.
Getting over Imposter Syndrome Step One: Defining the Voice
The first step to work through your imposter syndrome is to define it. When you recognize the symptoms, you can start counteracting them before they drag you down. Getting over imposter syndrome means separating it from your reality.
Imposter syndrome was first recognized in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D. and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D. They defined the condition as the Imposter Phenomenon (this is certainly a better term than “syndrome” but most people know it as imposter syndrome, so I’ll stick with that) which occurs when high achievers are unable to internalize and accept their own successes and competencies.
People suffering from imposter syndrome don’t take credit for being badasses and doing great work. Instead, they give all that credit to luck or a mistake, and they fear someone will find out. Imposter syndrome often comes across as crippling self-doubt, anxiety, and intense fear. If we lean into it, we may just pack up our dreams in a box and high-tail it back to safety.
Are you starting something new? Oh yeah, imposter syndrome is most prevalent when we are embarking on something new that we’ve never done before, like starting a business or trying something drastic to grow your business, speaking in front of a group of strangers, or taking out a big loan for a new space. If you’re starting something new and you suddenly feel crushing dread, you might be face-to-face with imposter syndrome.
Getting Over Imposter Syndrome Step Two: What’s Your Motivation?
Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, has broken this phenomenon down into five categories. Most people identify with one or more of the categories. With everything else in our emotional lives, most of what you feel comes down to childhood experiences. Here are the five categories Valerie has created. Which ones resonate with you?
- The Perfectionist:
Have you ever been called hypercritical or accused of setting your standards too high? Perfectionists often set their goals so high that they are impossible to achieve. When they inevitably fail to reach those goals, they see it as a flaw in themselves. Do you have a hard time giving up control? Do you discount your hard work and accomplishments because you missed your one, ridiculous goal? I sure do. This is me 100%. Shout out to all my perfectionists!
- The Superwoman/man:
Do you feel like you have to work harder than other people with similar businesses because you don’t measure up? If you feel like you have to stay later, offer more to your customers, or just feel underqualified and try to make up for it by working, you might be a Superwoman/man. While you may get satisfaction from the number of hours you put in, you might lack balance, and all that hard work can take its toll. You don’t have to kill yourself with work to be successful.
- The Natural Genius:
These folks are similar to perfectionists in that they set their internal bar impossibly high, but they also judge themselves on their natural ability. The Natural Genius fears not being good at something on the first try and will back off if they don’t get something correct on the first attempt. They might think they are just naturally bad at something and not risk pursuing it further. If you’re telling yourself you’re just bad at marketing, this might be you.
- The Rugged Individualist:
Is asking for help difficult? Do you fear that if you ask for help, everyone will find out what a fake you are? If you feel like asking for help will expose you as the “man behind the curtain” and not the almighty Wizard of Oz, then you might be a Rugged Individualist. I have some of this too. Let me tell you, it took me a while (and a previous business) to realize no one has it all together, and asking for help is the key to growth.
- The Expert:
This profile type constantly feels like they don’t know enough compared to their colleagues. They may think their clients made a mistake in hiring them, and that they need thousands of certificates and courses to finally reach the required competency. The Expert fears her bosses, colleagues, and employees will find out she really doesn’t know what she’s doing, even though she is excellent at her job. If you feel like only a certificate or course will validate your knowledge, this might be you.
Getting Over Imposter Syndrome Step 3: Create a Plan
I’ve got some bad news for you – imposter syndrome will never go away. Yup, you won’t be able to kick that little voice to the curb, so you’d better learn how to make it a little quieter. Now that you know what it is, you need to have a plan for getting over imposter syndrome in the moment. Here are a few ideas for managing your imposter syndrome so you can keep kicking ass and sharing your gifts with the world.
Imposter syndrome works by worming its way into your brain and taking over. Most people suffer in silence, and this can lead to awful depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. Tell someone you are feeling like an imposter, that you are having doubts about your abilities. Simply saying it out loud will loosen the grip imposter syndrome has on you. Don’t suffer in silence.
Join a Group or Club
If you’re a soloprenuer or a small business owner with little interaction, those hours working alone are the breeding ground for imposter syndrome. Combat it by joining a local business group, a Facebook group, or organize a group of other people in your situation. Attend regular meetings or get-togethers where you talk about your fears and self-doubts. Exchange phone numbers and group text each other when you need a little help getting rid of that false voice.
Write Down Your Accomplishments
Write down everything you’ve done on a piece of paper – all your successes and everything you’re proud of. Keep that paper pinned above your desk, in your notebook, or somewhere accessible. When your imposter voice starts running, kindly show it this list to remind them, “actually, no, I am not a fraud. I’m a badass.” It doesn’t matter if the success is something that has to do with your current business or job. Each win shows your tenacity, determination, and ability to accomplish anything.
Talk to it
Ok, hear me out. I first heard of this technique from listening to an interview on the XYPN Podcast with Carl Richards, a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and mega-successful speaker who suffers from imposter syndrome himself. When he feels that old devil on his shoulder telling him he’s a fraud, he talks to it. He thanks it for being there because it means he’s going to do something cool, and he asks it to chill out for a minute so he can get some things done. Just saying “hello darkness, my old friend,” can separate you from that feeling. Acknowledging it and making a little space for it to hang out can sometimes be the key to getting over imposter syndrome in the moment.
In that same podcast (listening to that podcast has helped me reframe imposter syndrome more than anything else. I highly recommend it), Carl talks about realizing that his imposter syndrome might actually be a signal that something incredible is happening. He realized that imposter syndrome always shows up when he’s about to do something really, really cool, whether that be giving a talk to a theater full of creative entrepreneurs or at the start of a really hard mountain bike race. Now, when he feels the old twinge of fear, he thinks “Awesome, this is going to be really kickass, and I’m on the right track.” When your imposter syndrome kicks in, it means you are doing something incredible, and it’s going to be fantastic when you get to the other side.
You deserve to be free and happy, pursuing the things you love to do. Imposter syndrome is merely a speed bump (or a frost heave if you live in New England), in the road to sharing your awesome gifts with the world. Some are bigger than others, but you know how to navigate them, and they don’t stop you from getting to your destination. Sometimes you might need some help learning to get over the trickiest ones, just like you needed a driving instructor to help you learn how to drive a car. It’s ok to ask for extra help, especially if you’re feeling really stuck. Talk to a counselor, hire a marketing coach, read inspiring books, but please don’t let this silly voice keep you from doing what you’re meant to do. Getting over imposter syndrome each time it rears its head is possible.
When do you feel imposter syndrome creeping up? Let me know in the comments.