In today’s episode, Anna looks at what imposter syndrome looks like, why it happens, and how to deal with it.
The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was coined by clinical psychologists Langford and Clance in 1978*, to represent “an experience of feeling incompetent and of having deceived others about one’s abilities”. It is “associated with such characteristics as introversion, trait anxiety, a need to look smart to others, a propensity to shame”. The ‘syndrome’ can often arise from pressures in the family environment to please your parents, for example, and to prove to others that you are intelligent in order to gain the approval that you so desperately crave. When you first start your own business, you’ll likely begin with a huge amount of enthusiasm and confidence that it’s going to work out amazingly well. Soon, however, the reality of the day-to-day work sets in: you’ll be on your own (this is your dream, and fundamentally it’ll all come down to you); it’ll be hard work; and you almost certainly won’t see immediate results. And, as time goes by, you’ll begin to question if this is actually going to work. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome often rears its head when you want to be at your most confident, as you get ready to level up in your business…
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
The One Step Outside Facebook group– Join us over in the Facebook group to meet like-minded people who are working on reimagining success in their life and business and to get access to direct support and free training sessions from Anna. www.facebook.com/groups/onestepoutside
Hello. Hello. And it’s another important topic today. It’s something that is familiar to you all, I’m sure. Certainly you heard about it. And unfortunately, probably you’ve felt it too. So we’re talking imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome. Now I’ve written about this before, several years ago, two, three years ago, and it really resonated. It’s an article, a couple of articles actually, I’ve shared with prospects, with clients before many times. And I’m going to admit something here, which is that in doing so I rather arrogantly was thinking, “Oh, well actually I don’t really feel imposter syndrome. I feel really comfortable with what I’m doing. I feel confident with my services. I know I’m a good coach. I know I’m doing well in my business. I know what I’m doing. Boom, no imposter syndrome here.”
That may have been the case. However, more recently I’ve realised and recognised that the reason for that is that I’ve been in my comfort zone. So we talked about how everything you’ve ever wanted is one step outside your comfort zone a few episodes ago. So do go back and check that episode out. All the growth comes from pushing, extending the boundaries, stepping out of that comfort zone. So yes, my comfort zone has grown, but it is still my comfort zone. So things that were scary and completely out of the realm of the possibilities that I was aware of a few years ago have now become commonplace. Fine. So-called sales calls, I’m more comfortable because I’ve done so many of them. The pressure’s off. If I have a call, yeah, the client says, “Yes.” Great. So excited. Client says, “No.” Actually it wasn’t the right time, wasn’t the right relationship, and hopefully they’ll find someone else or they’ll come back and work later. I take it less personally.
I’ve been podcasting for over two years. I do a lot of video. I do lots of live webinars in front of hundreds of people. So lots of these things that would have seemed terrifying years ago, I now feel very confident.
I’ve got the good feedback from people, I have my inner confidence, I know my why, I know what I’m working towards, and I’m great. However, again, this is my new comfort zone and I have experienced that in my personal life the last few years. I’ve settled in quite comfortably, living in London. Now we’re in the process of, maybe when you hear this, I will have already moved down to the coast, in fact. So living by the sea, a lifetime dream of mine, a lifelong dream. And that’s already shifting the comfort zone, of course, because we’re getting out of the flat we’ve been living in for a few years, the environment, the people we know and so on, and we’re going to have hopefully a very wonderful but very different lifestyle.
So personally we’re mixing things up a bit with the family. Of course, having kids has very much expanded, extended, and challenged my comfort zone. And then in business, the last few episodes I’ve been talking about what got you here won’t get you there. And how we need to shift away from autopilot to spark some new ideas, different ways of doing things, to shift our mindset, to challenge our stories and beliefs. And that’s going to be really important in order to overcome imposter syndrome and vice versa. Unfortunately, as we do those things, we will get burned again. It’s going to rear its ugly head. Because of course, when we’re doing new things, difficult things, strange things, we’re no longer in that familiar, we’re no longer in the routine, and imposter syndrome is going to come back.
Now again, the best way to overcome it is by keeping going, getting help, getting better. And then again, the comfort zone will be expanded, extended, and so we’ll get rid of that, kick the imposter syndrome to the curb, and we’ll be confident again. But again, we’ll gradually get into that comfort zone again and then there’ll be time to stretch ourselves again. So unfortunately I think it’s something that’s going to come back again and again.
Now briefly, I guess before we dig into this a little bit more, what is imposter syndrome? And I look at my notes here because I found an article from the clinical psychologists Langford and Clance, they coined this expression in 1978. It was to represent an experience of feeling incompetent and of having deceived others about one’s abilities. It’s associated with such characteristics as introversion, trait anxiety, and need to look smart to others or propensity to shame. The syndrome can often arise from, and this is me talking now rather than the quote, I’m just reading my notes there. So it can come from pressures in the family environment to please your parents, for example, to prove to others that you’re intelligent, to gain approval that you really desperately crave. And the psychologist Langford and Clance also talk about focus on performance goals. We need to prove to others how good we are and that feeling that mistakes and failures mean that we’re inadequate.
So I talk many times about the Good Girl Syndrome, the conditioning that we get, the programming from our education system, from our parents, saying, “Good girl, gold star.” Yes, we need that external validation because we need approval. We need society, we need people to be pleased and to like us, and that’s really important. So we’re constantly lapping up that external validation. Now that’s okay at school, I guess, we want to be conditioned, we want to become socialised, I guess would be the word, fine. However, as an entrepreneur, not so helpful.
How does it manifest? Well, we might be asking ourselves, “Oh my goodness. Am I crazy to even think that this might be possible? Am I good enough to make this happen? Who am I to think that I can actually do this?” And again, if I think of the different levels of that comfort zone, initially it’s, “Can I even start a business? Oh my goodness. Do I have anything to sell? Will anyone buy from me? Who am I to think that I could go on as a podcast guest because he was going to listen to me?” Once we’ve done those things, “Okay. People have bought from us. I’ve been a podcast guest.” Then it’s, “Oh my goodness. Now I’m here and I feel confident here. Now I’m trying to get up here, and up here there are all these other people.” And I look at them, “Oh my goodness, these other people who are entering the awards, they’re so incredibly talented and accomplished.”
And these other people who are operating at the level I am, the other speakers on stage are seven, eight, nine figure entrepreneurs, whatever. They’ve written 18 books, and thousands of clients and a million followers on social media and so on. So it’s very easy to look at that external validation again. The likes, the comments, the shares, even the financial targets, like the sales, the income, the number of clients and so on. And that gets us into a really bad cycle of looking for that external validation again. And those external things, certainly the likes and shares and comments and even followers, are not an accurate measure of how well we’re doing as a business owner in business. Certainly they’re not a good reflection of how much I’m enjoying my work, how fulfilled I am, and so on. I don’t have a gazillion followers on social media, and yes, I still have a very nice business. Thank you very much.
Yes, I want to grow. Yes, I want to scale. And I’d like to reach more people and that will involve learning more about how to get to more people. But actually having a small engaged audience can be more powerful than having a mass of bought, fake followers. Certainly don’t do that. And even long lists of people who you never write to who aren’t very engaged or who are never going to buy from me. So again, it’s easy when you raise the game and we’re talking up levelling, reaching the next level, reaching the next stage of our growth as an entrepreneur, as an individual, as a business as well. Unfortunately, suddenly we’re going to realise, “I’m playing in a different level here now. It’s a different field.” I’m trying to use American sports metaphors, which aren’t exactly my most familiar frames of reference. So let’s think if we can think of something else. It’s funny how so many terms come from American masculine sports as well.
But you know, those outward signs of external validation again. Unfortunately if we’re constantly chasing that, constantly looking to either side, seeing, hang on, what are other people doing? And so, and we’re going to ultimately burn out. We’re going to have that paranoia. That’s another episode to look for as well, talking about the sort of over excessively comparing yourself to other people. And so it’s not very productive. So with all that in mind, how can we lessen it? Now again, I’m referring back to this article by the psychologists Langford in Clance from 1978. You can probably do a quick Google. It’s a very short article, but very interesting. They say that we need to lessen our dependence on others’ positive evaluations for our self-esteem and build a more internalised sense of self-worth.
And this is music to my ears. This is really the core of my philosophy and my coaching approach, because that’s exactly it. It’s all those shoulds from other people. It’s the expectations. It’s other people’s definitions of success that we’ve absorbed and that we’re following, even though they’re not meaningful to us. We have to ask ourselves, number one, what does success mean to us? What and why do we want what we want? What does that look like? Maybe we do want the six, seven figures, blah, blah, blah. But if so, it’s probably more likely, okay, maybe there’s ego there, but maybe it’s more likely and more meaningfully to do with what that allows us to do. It allows us to go on wonderful holidays with our family, to be able buy the house we really want to, to not worry about the bills when we’re paying, to give our children the future we want to give them, to have the experience, to not work the crazy hours and so on. Or maybe that opens the doors to other opportunities that you can only get as a big famous, rich entrepreneurial, whatever that is.
But number one, what is success for you? Why is it so important? And probably that will already help you to shed those other people’s accolades and so on. Because both the positive and the negative from other people isn’t so meaningful when I know, “Hey, this is my lane, this is my goal. This is my focus. This is what I want to achieve and why it’s so important. Yeah, they’ve done this and the other, but good for them. Fantastic. Congratulations. That’s not what I’m about. This is what I’m about.” So number one is defining success for you.
Number two, of course, is to manage your mindset. And that’s what it’s all about. So really concretely building your confidence in who you are and what you do. So this is what I did in the past, in the initial transition from, let’s say, big corporate work into working for yourself. Don’t just draw a line under your professional experience. Think of those years and years, yes, I was a new coach as a business owner, but I’d been coaching teams, I’d been consulting internally for years before that. And it’d been something that sort of had come second nature to me as it does for many coaches. It was something I had been doing for years, first of all, the coaching. I’d also been presenting, pitching, and negotiating, writing, recommending, and managing direct reports, teams, we’ve been doing not to mention all the hard skills and things like social media and Google and content strategies and so on. Which of course I use now.
So of course, if I said, “Look, I’m a new business owner. I have zero experience. Now please pay me mega bucks.” That’s not going to help my confidence and it probably won’t work as a marketing message. However, if I can look at my past experience creatively, openly, and see all the hard skills, soft skills, unique strengths that I have as an individual, that’s really going to help me overcome the imposter syndrome because I realise I’m not starting from a white page, from a blank slate. I actually have all these years, the decades of experience. Related to that as well, thinking about your strengths, your skills, there are all these Myers Briggs Personality Test, the disc profile, Enneagram, all these, they’re not going to give you the perfect analysis of exactly who you are, but they’ll certainly be very nicely reassuring and encouraging in terms of stroking your ego and telling you what you’re good at, which is great to hear.
And another tip is to collect compliments. We all get them. We forget we have them. There’s that rule that for every one negative thing someone tells us we need five positives. And if that’s the case, we better keep every single positive. So of course, professionally, and for your business, you want to keep testimonials and reviews and so on. Even aside from that, even apart from sharing it with the world, and that is a great way to share and show the world that you’re amazing without having to tell the people that, you let other people tell them. Really, you want to keep it for yourself. So do a folder in your inbox, keep every thank you email you’ve ever got from a client, take screenshots, write down the notes that people have said. If they’ve sent you thank you cards, whatever that looks like, little messages, just keep them. You can have them in a little physical jar, in a metaphorical jar. You can have them in a folder. But collect the amazing things that I know people are saying about you, and that’s really going to help him moving forward as well.
And then also number three, surround yourself with the right people. I talk about this again and again, but there’s two aspects to this and it’s so important. Number one is to find your tribe, meaning your community. Like-minded people. Now, probably those people will be around the same level as you, but hopefully a little bit further along than you. So you don’t want them to be crazy far away from you. I then find that very intimidating and I can’t close the gap between where I am and where I want to be or where they are. Someone who is just enough to stretch you, but not so far away that you can’t imagine how to get there. That’s probably the best place to be. Right?
So if you’re just starting out in business, by all means, if you have a load of money and you really want to accelerate your progress, you can go with the top top coaches who have their 9, 10 figures, whatever. But to be honest, I would recommend you probably choose someone who’s a few years in business who still remembers what it was like, the challenges they had when they first started out. If you are sort of a few years in and you want to take the next level and expand and grow and scale, then again, somebody who’s done that already and who is at a different level than you. If you are already at a really comfortable level, super successful, now you want to build a team and get systems and operations and all those things, then again, working with someone who has already done those things will always be helpful.
So the two things, one is the community of like-minded, but hopefully a little bit stretchy and for you people. And you know them, “Oh my gosh, they’ve written books, they’ve done this. It’s totally possible.” And they’ll lift you up. And then secondly, of course, the right mentor or coach to help you get there, to cheer you on, to support you, to hold you accountable and so on. But really importantly, to help you to challenge yourself. We’ll be talking about this the last few weeks as well. Challenge you and push you, support you, build you up. A coach is always going to be 100% on your side, completely non-judgemental, and just the most amazing support for you. And I think that’s really key when it comes to imposter syndrome.
So a few ideas there, most importantly define what success is for you. Forget about what other people are thinking and doing and stay in your lane, focus on where you want to do. Work on your mindset. Collect all those compliments. Think of all the reasons why you are amazing at what you do. And work with the right coaches and mentors. Something to say at the end of this, I suppose, as we wrap up is as well, it’s normal, it’s completely evolutionary, it’s natural. We’re all the same. We all experience this at some point or another. And it’s certainly the case when we are levelling up. So if you like me are at that point and we were like, “Yes. Now is a big change. A big change is coming. I’m going to go to the next level. I’m going to go from just dabbling in business as a hobby to taking this seriously and earning proper money without having a consistent income.”
I’m going to go from earning [inaudible 00:14:42] okay, and come to no, I’m going to now make X amounts every month. And I’m going to have Y number of clients. Or I’m really going to start building my thought leadership. Icky word but powerful concept. I’m going to write books. I’m going to be on podcasts. I’m going to speak. And so on. I’m going to grow the team. I’m going to really be seen as that go-to expert. So when you’re levelling up, again, unfortunately as confident as we can have been for years and years and years in our successful business, it is going to come back.
Imposter syndrome is going to rear its ugly head. It’s okay. It’s normal. It doesn’t mean that we’re a failure, but we need to nip it in the bud. We need to be aware that it’s coming, expect it, and then work on how to manage it. Maybe not eliminate it entirely. Recognise that it’s always going to come along when we’re trying something new. It’s a good thing. It means that you’re close to getting to that next level. And there are lots of things we can do about it. Getting the right support in place, working on our mindset, and above all, knowing what we’re working towards and why that’s so important.
So I hope that’s interesting for you. Hope you haven’t experienced imposter syndrome, but if you have, I hope it was useful, valuable for you to identify and to ultimately work on overcoming it. But again, recognising that it is a natural part, unfortunately, of levelling up, of doing new things, difficult things, and that’s okay. And scary and exciting tend to come together, as I always say. Thanks so much for listening, I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
If you’re ready to start to reimagine what success could look like for you, here are some of the ways in which Anna can support you:
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