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Whether we choose to indulge it substantially or not, a sense of not being quite enough in our profession virtually all entrepreneurs have felt to some degree. It creeps up unexpectedly, and all of a sudden you’re stuck in mindset mired in thoughts like, “I don’t how I got here… don’t know where I’m headed,” and worst of all, “I feel like a fraud. What if someone finds me out?!”
Our new era of hybrid working world has exacerbated this. You might have returned to the office recently and forgotten how to interact with peers face to face. Perhaps you might have on-boarded a member of staff (or been on-boarded yourself) from behind a screen, or might have found it hard to strike the right work-life balance, and thus feel inadequate as a result of being spread so thinly.
While we’ve all been similarly tested mentally over the past year or so, it’s vital to be reminded that this so-called Impostor Syndrome is, in fact, not a mental disorder, but by letting it take hold too long, it has the power to stall us in our tracks, sabotaging worth and a capacity to invite success.
Isn’t this just the same as feeling anxious?
We’ve all felt flashes of anxiety — most likely at the last moment and/or the brink of something important. That pause before presenting (whether on screen on in person); that second before sending a business-critical email; that rush before accepting a well-earned promotion. To feel nervous is to be human (it’s how we’re wired). But Impostor Syndrome goes beyond any butterflies-in-the-belly feeling — it can be a persisted negative voice you indulge no matter how much colleagues, friends and family might try to dissuade you.
What are the tell-tale symptoms?
Picture the last time you succeeded or were praised for something. You’ll know you’re experiencing Impostor Syndrome to some degree if your response ticks any of these boxes:
• “I just got lucky that time”.
• “I had the right connections”.
• “I had a lot of help with that one”.
• “I made it up as I went along”.
• “They were just being polite”.
• “If I can do it, so can pretty much anyone”.
Those experiencing bouts of the syndrome feel compelled to work harder in order to cover up a perception of failure or other conjured inadequacy. Perhaps you feel the need to make up for a perceived lack of intelligence, or are working day and night in order to be deemed “worthy” of your job title. The process can devolve into one in which you are perpetually trying to seal cracks so as not to be viewed as a failure for making the odd (and inevitable) mistake.
For me, the biggest component of Impostor Syndrome was the fear of failure. The fear of losing was so all-consuming that it felt like my professional journey was at and end. Yet, in time, and with effort, not only did I find myself ignoring those voices and choosing success, but I found myself living that choice. The impostor had well and truly left the building, and it can for you, too.
Needed Steps to Take
Plaguing thoughts of self-doubt are complex beasts, and are often triggered as a result of multiple causes, but there are actions that can help take back control.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others
Focus on your own triumphs (no matter how big or small) and not the achievements of those around you. There will always be someone better off (and worse off). The only person you can control in just about any scenario is you, and you alone.
2. Sift feelings from facts
When Impostor Syndrome strikes, to acknowledge it is also to remind yourself that it is just an illusion. While you may suddenly think yourself unworthy of success, that does not make it the truth. Remember your journey, and logically trace steps back to how you got here. Take a deep breath, and acknowledge and respect everything you have achieved up until this point.
3. Start talking
Whether with friends, family or a therapist, speaking your thoughts out loud can help you realize that this syndrome is not based in reality, and is also perfectly normal. Sharing experiences in this way is not only cathartic, but can encourage others to come out of their shell, should they be feeling the same.
4. Recognize why you’re feeling this
At the end of the day, feelings of illegitimacy are commonly felt among high-achieving people, so don’t be so hard on yourself; the fact of the matter is, real impostors will never experience this feeling at all.
It may take days, weeks or months to rid yourself of stifling self-doubt, but try to consider addressing it as a crucial learning experience. To admit there’s a problem takes courage, and to act on it more courage, still. Be proud that you’ve committed yourself to a positive change, and celebrate the steps you take to do it.