There is a pervasive problem afflicting small business owners. Most of us have experienced it. And yet, very few of us ever talk about it. But what is this mysterious phenomenon that leaves so many business owners feeling utterly alone and wholly inadequate? Is there a solution to such a deep-seated problem? Join me as I break the taboo surrounding this issue and provide some methods to help you overcome imposter syndrome.
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What we now know as Imposter Syndrome was first called Imposter Phenomenon. It was discovered in 1978 by psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. Interestingly enough, they believed only women were affected when they first discovered it. However, it has since been proven that both men and women experience difficulty in processing their successes. I’ve spent enough time around my colleagues to know this is true. But why am I even talking about imposter syndrome?
I believe that the best business is one where multiple people pull the line together. As such, you must allow key players to understand your vision and help you reach your goals. In our company, I have hand-selected team members with the character and values I aspire to have. Yet, I’ve also built a team with varying personalities and an array of skill sets. With such a variety of personalities, comes a diverse group of opinions and viewpoints.
I sat down with one of my key team members the other day to have a discussion. It was a very raw and candid moment, as I am dealing with some things in my home life, regarding my wife’s health, right now. However, as we were talking, my team member said something that I’ll not soon forget. They said, “Justin, watching you in client meetings is truly magical. Likewise, seeing you up on stage, speaking to crowds, you’re so engaging and command attention. You’ve got such a gift for that. But it’s different when you’re talking to the team.” They followed this up by saying, “We see through the ‘fluff.'” I was shocked, then angry, and then, I was sad. Because of my emotional state, my imposter syndrome was being revealed.
Do you have kids? If so, chances are pretty good you’ve answered the myriad of “why” questions they have. Why do birds have wings? Why is the sky blue? You’ve probably gotten this one more than once – “why do I have to eat my vegetables.” For some of these questions, you might simply say, “I don’t know. That’s just the way God made them.” However, there are others where you can get by with answering, “Because I said so!” But this answer doesn’t typically work with adults. Being unable to pinpoint exactly how or why you’ve come to a specific decision, vision, or direction can lead you to question yourself and your success. I mean, shouldn’t you know why you’ve made a particular decision in your business?
Earlier, I mentioned Dr. Pauline Rose Clance. On her website, she details her own experiences with imposter syndrome and how difficult it can be to reconcile personal success without knowing how or why you’ve gotten there. She says, “I experienced IP feelings in graduate school. I would take an important examination and be very afraid that I had failed. I remembered all I did not know rather than what I did. My friends began to be sick of my worrying, so I kept my doubts more to myself. I thought my fears were due to my educational background. When I began to teach at a prominent liberal arts college with an excellent academic reputation, I heard similar fears from students who had come for counseling. They had excellent standardized test scores grades and recommendations. One of them said, “I feel like an impostor here with all these really bright people.” In discussing these students, Dr. Suzanne Imes and I coined the term “Impostor Phenomenon” and wrote a paper on the concept.”
I have no doubt in my mind that I have experienced imposter syndrome several times in my life. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably experienced it in your career as well. If I were to shut my business down and start from scratch, I would be able to duplicate exactly what I’ve built over the past 20 years, in about 4-5 years based on the knowledge I now have. However, I don’t know what the next 3 years are going to hold for me and my business. So, as business owners, we often experience imposter syndrome at a greater level than our non-business-owning counterparts.
However, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in feeling this way. How do I know? Thanks to a study by Kajabi that was released as part of their Get Out of Your Own Way campaign to address the unparalleled and prevalent entrepreneurial challenges of imposter syndrome. In this study, Kajabi found:
In addition to these findings, Kajabi CMO, Orlando Baeza says, “Imposter syndrome can be such a heavy subject and barrier to success for many people. And since it’s perceived as taboo by many, people dealing with imposter syndrome simply don’t feel comfortable talking about their struggles with it. The biggest downside is feeling isolated and as though you don’t have a community to turn to or resources for how to move past it.”
With so many business owners experiencing imposter syndrome, feeling isolated shouldn’t be the issue that it is. But how can small business owners overcome imposter syndrome and the isolation that it brings?
To overcome imposter syndrome, you must first identify the different ways it can present itself. In total, there are 5 types of imposter syndrome. Each one bears its own unique traits, creating different struggles for the person suffering from it. Let’s take a closer look at each type so we can better understand how to overcome imposter syndrome.
If you feel like asking for help is a display of weakness, or that it could reveal you as a fraud, you might fit into this category. Rather than asking for help or collaborating with a team member, you’d rather struggle silently to keep from discrediting your skills and abilities. However, asking for help could actually show that you’re strong enough to realize when you could use a helping hand.
Are you of the belief that if you want something done right, you must do it yourself? Do you hold yourself to unbelievably high standards that border on the unrealistic? Are you ashamed when you don’t meet those standards? Perhaps, you need to overcome your fear of failure. If so, that’s okay. Having high standards can be a good thing. Just remember that none of us are perfect.
For some, knowing all there is to know about any given subject is very important. In fact, it can cause intense feelings of failure when you lack knowledge in a certain area. Nobody can be an expert in everything. It could help to look at areas where you’re less knowledgeable as opportunities to learn, rather than shortcomings.
Do you base your success on how quickly and effortlessly you accomplish something or feel shame if it doesn’t come to you easily? When you fail to meet your own high expectations, you tend to feel let down. Learning is a lifelong process, so allow yourself time to learn new things.
Finally, the last type of imposter syndrome is based on the notion that you must be excellent in all areas. If you feel like you must work harder than everyone just to prove your value, you may be seeking validation from the wrong source. Rather than seeking external validation, look inward. Acknowledge your accomplishments and celebrate your successes every day.
Now that you know the five types of imposter syndrome, you can identify which one you’re struggling with. Therefore, you’re now ready to explore different ways to overcome imposter syndrome.
Overcoming imposter syndrome can be tough. However, you’re an entrepreneur. That means you’re tough. You don’t back down from a challenge and failure just isn’t an option. I often say that we entrepreneurs would charge hell with a water pistol. It’s in our nature to be persistent regardless of how many times we get kicked in the teeth. With that said, I’d like to share 8 steps to help business owners overcome imposter syndrome.
My momma always told me, “Son, you should never lie, but especially not to yourself.” If you can’t be honest with yourself, you’re going to struggle discerning truth from lies. In fact, the famed Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Similarly, Philip K. Dick is credited with saying, “Reality denied comes back to haunt.” So, I implore you, be honest with yourself. Find a friend or confidant that you can reach out to for guidance. Having that person to connect with can help you feel less alone while you’re navigating through your imposter syndrome.
Candidly, I’ve never thought to conduct a SWOT analysis of myself before researching this subject, but it makes perfect sense. You’re familiar with the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) from a business perspective. Now, just turn it around on yourself. What area are you a rock star in? Where can you improve? What dreams do you have that you’ve yet to fulfill? How do you typically self-sabotage? How do you sabotage others? These are a few of the things to consider when conducting a personal SWOT analysis.
Oftentimes, imposter syndrome sets in because you don’t take the time to look at what you’ve accomplished. Take some time for “self-care.” Enjoy a cup of coffee while reflecting on what you’ve achieved. Spend time with your loved ones. I absolutely love to just be in the room with my kids. I often watch them with great admiration, in awe of what I’ve made, and that’s okay. Make opportunities to show your appreciation to those who have helped you accomplish all that you’ve done. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you’re taking time to enjoy your success.
This is a Biblical principle. The tongue has the power to build up or destroy. It can speak life or death. There’s even a song called Speak Life, by a popular contemporary Christian artist named Toby Mac. The lyrics to this song are so filled with truth. It goes like this:
Some days, life feels perfect
Other days, it just ain’t workin’
The good, the bad, the right, the wrong
And everything in between
Yo it’s crazy, amazing
We can turn our hearts through the words we say
Mountains crumble with every syllable
Hope can live or die
So speak life, speak life
To the deadest, darkest night
Speak life, speak life
When the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why
Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted
Watch ’em come alive as soon as you speak hope
You speak love, you speak
To overcome Imposter Syndrome, you have to change your inner narrative. Practice converting some of your negative thoughts into positive ones.
Like changing your inner narrative, you can prepare yourself for future successes through the power of visualization. Visualize where you want to be in 5 years. Get crazy detailed with it. If you want your business volume to grow by 10 percent, visualize it happening. But visualize HOW it happens and what that looks like. By harnessing the power of positive visualization, you can break through negative thought patterns to reach new levels of success.
Train yourself to recognize when imposter syndrome is about to attack and stop those feelings in their tracks. Try gentle self-talk, meditation, or mindfulness exercises to help you work through uncomfortable feelings so you can refocus on reality. Each person is going to have different signs but you can get to a point where you recognize them. For myself, I know that when I begin to feel fear and insecurity, I need to take a few moments to work through those feelings and understanding where they are coming from.
Some common signs of imposter syndrome include:
Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post, once said, “Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of success.” Failing is not the end of the world, but a regular and necessary part of growth. A little resilience goes a long way in helping you recover from a mishap. Embrace failure and try to find the lesson learned from it. As Robert F. Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Finally, you are the company you keep, so it could be time to level up! The rapper NAS understands this concept. He said “You are who you associate with. Look around at your five closest friends and that’s who you are. If you don’t want to be that person, you know what you gotta do.”
Find like-minded business owners who are driven by success and lifelong learning. When you surround yourself with people who strive for greatness, it pushes you to do the same! Unfortunately, this individual will probably not be your employee. Although they are in the trenches with you, they don’t completely understand your perspective, challenges, or vision. It’s not for a lack of trying, it’s just a different position in life.
Friends, I know how lonely it can be at the top. When you look around and see so many bright and successful people among your peers and colleagues, it can become easy to feel like an imposter. But here’s the thing… it’s a lie. You must realize that you’ve been present for every one of your accomplishments. I know this has been a hard topic. But I hope that removing the taboo helps you to see the truth.
Friends, life is hard but it’s good. Feeling like an imposter can be frustrating. However, if you put these 8 steps into action, you can overcome imposter syndrome. Let’s go out and make it a great day!
Once you work through your imposter syndrome, it’s easy to see that you’ve been integral to your business’s success. But you’ve got to keep that momentum going! Justin’s second book, Your Baby’s Ugly, is a practical guide to help you grow your business’s value while potentially reducing your stress level. Get your copy today!