Okay, so you’ve decided that now is the time to set up your own business, you’ve found a way to leverage your existing skills, and you’ve carved out the time in your calendar to work on it. There’s one big thing that can still get in the way: YOU. As exciting as it can be when you’re first starting up on your own, the reality of the daily life of an entrepreneur is one that will inevitably allow old fears and insecurities to crawl to the surface. You have probably heard people talk about “imposter syndrome” at work – well, as an entrepreneur, this is a real struggle that you’re likely to face, now more than ever. Let’s look at what it is, and how it manifests as an entrepreneur.
What is imposter syndrome?
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.
*This is a short article, well worth a read!
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The focus on “performance goals”, the need to prove to others how good you are, and the feeling that mistakes and failures reflect your own inadequacy – these are all incredibly familiar to the experience I think a lot of us have had growing up.
I’ve written before about how our education system creates a ‘good girl syndrome’ that isn’t actually conducive to life in the real world. In fact, it reaches beyond our education and into the corporate world, where we continue to get promotions and salary increases and praise from our manager to keep us on that familiar path towards achievement – and give us that external validation as a result.
Imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur
As you take the first steps towards starting 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.
As time goes by, you’ll begin to question if this is actually going to work.
“Am I crazy?!”
“Am I good enough?”
“Who am I to think that I can actually do this?”
You’ll become dependent on external validation that you’re doing a good job, whether it’s in the form of likes and comments on your content, website traffic, or the amount of sales you’re generating. You’ll probably also be comparing yourself to people who are much further along in their business than you are, inevitably making yourself feel bad by how poor your results are in comparison. And you’re likely to be easily persuaded to adopt the latest tactic that someone is recommending, creating a complete mess in your business with no coherent strategy or plan.
In the context of entrepreneurship, this imposter syndrome, or good girl syndrome, is downright dangerous. Those outward signs of “success” are far from accurate indicators of how your business is doing (not to mention how you, the entrepreneur, are doing). If you continue to push yourself to perform, to try to prove to others how amazing you are, and take every ‘failure’ as a sign that you’re inadequate, you will suffer. You’ll burn out mentally and physically and, ultimately, you’ll make true failure inevitable.
Overcoming imposter syndrome
The way to address imposter syndrome, as suggested in the original article, is to “lessen the client’s dependence on others’ positive evaluations for his or her self-esteem and to build a more internalised sense of self-worth”. It involves removing the mask that you’ve been wearing to project a certain image to the outside, to move away from performance goals and to overcome the “catastrophic fears of failure”.
The good news is that there is a lot about entrepreneurialism that can actually build that inner sense of self-worth, increasing your awareness of your strengths and abilities, reinforcing your trust in your own intuition, and developing your clarity and conviction as to what you want to be doing – and not doing.
We’ll break this down next week, when we’ll look at how you can overcome imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur – and set yourself up for sustainable success.
In the meantime, if you recognise yourself in this definition of the imposter syndrome and you’d like to get started with addressing it right now, a great place to be is the One Step Outside Facebook group. This is where you’ll find like-minded people and an opportunity to share your insecurities, get encouragement and support, and work on overcoming that imposter syndrome, once and for all.