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Nine Strategies to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

Aug 24, 2023

Impostor syndrome is a genuine struggle, characterized by persistent self-doubt and a pervasive feeling of inadequacy, which can overshadow your achievements. Despite your experience, accolades, and reputation in your industry, you might battle the notion that you’re a fraud, undeserving of your position, or purely lucky to have reached where you are.

While impostor syndrome can affect individuals of all backgrounds, it tends to be more prevalent among women and historically marginalized groups. This is deeply rooted in systemic issues like racism and misogyny, adding layers to this phenomenon.

High-achievers, especially those in creative fields, are particularly susceptible to impostor feelings. Entrepreneurs, small business owners, and freelancers often find themselves grappling with these feelings, hindering progress, growth, and productivity. It can also adversely affect mental health—studies have linked impostor syndrome to anxiety and depression.

To conquer impostor syndrome and silence that inner critic, we’ve compiled actionable tips to foster a healthier relationship with your professional self. Here are nine practical strategies you can implement starting today:

Voice Your Self-Doubt and Remember You’re Not Alone:

Impostor syndrome is widespread, even among highly successful business owners. Sharing your feelings can be liberating. Just identifying and acknowledging what you’re going through is empowering—it’s like finally diagnosing a mysterious ailment you’ve carried your whole life.

Moreover, talking about your struggles can reveal how many of your peers experience similar self-doubt. Even some of the most powerful and accomplished women globally, like Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey, have grappled with impostor syndrome at times. Their experiences demonstrate that these feelings are just that—feelings, not an accurate reflection of their capabilities.

Seek therapeutic help or discuss your feelings with a trusted friend or fellow small business owner if possible. The power of community can be transformative, offering ways to uplift each other.

Distinguish Impostor Feelings from Facts:

In business, making a mistake might leave you feeling unqualified, but take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Making a mistake doesn’t brand you as a fake. Understand that a small misstep isn’t the catastrophe you might perceive it to be.

Nobody can be flawless all the time; it’s simply impossible. If you didn’t make mistakes, you’d never learn, and life would lack growth. When impostor syndrome starts creeping in, take a moment to evaluate. Differentiate between facts and feelings, gleaning lessons from the situation. Above all, don’t dwell on the negatives, as excessive self-criticism can exacerbate impostor feelings.

Realize Discomfort Doesn’t Equal Misplacement:

When taking risks, it’s natural to judge yourself harshly and feel like a fraud. You might harbor thoughts that you’re too old, too young, or simply out of place. But stepping into uncharted territories doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place.

Confidence in your actions comes from feeling like you belong. If you’re out on a limb, at the top of your field, or pioneering something new, you might not have many peers to relate to. In such cases, feeling like you don’t fit in is perfectly normal.

Consider the groundbreaking achievements that wouldn’t have happened if those individuals succumbed to impostor syndrome. The first woman astronaut, Black woman vice president, or c-suite executive faced doubts and adversity, but their perseverance changed the course of history.

So, don’t let impostor feelings deter you from pursuing your dreams. Especially if you’re a woman or part of a historically marginalized community, these feelings are a common response.

Focus on the Positives:

Optimism and belief in yourself are crucial for success. When you believe something is possible, you significantly increase your chances of achieving it.

An old Sufi saying goes, “thoughts are things.” This suggests that your thoughts manifest into reality. To prevent these negative thoughts from materializing, reframe them to be more constructive.

By doing so, you rewire your brain to be more positive, shifting your inner dialogue from self-doubt to self-compassion. Instead of harsh self-criticism like “that was awful,” transform it into “perhaps not my best work, but I know how to do better next time.” This shift redirects your brain towards the next steps, helping you move forward and leaving the unpleasantness behind.

Understand There’s No Such Thing as ‘Failure’—It’s Feedback:

Making mistakes or being wrong is perfectly okay. These are excellent opportunities for learning and growth. Don’t shoulder all the blame or view them as proof of your inadequacy. Instead, leverage these experiences to enhance your strategies and efforts.

Embrace both negative and positive feedback. It might not always be constructive, but it’s always informative, providing you with a more comprehensive understanding. Remember these key points: everyone has off days, it’s acceptable to ask for help, and you have a right to be wrong.

Reframe the Stories You Tell Yourself:

Instead of thinking, “everyone here is so much smarter and accomplished, and I’m not,” try shifting to “Wow! Everyone here is so smart and accomplished—I’m going to learn a lot!”

A slight shift in your thought process can bring about significant changes in your world.

Context matters. Your approach to a situation dictates your response and everything surrounding it. To achieve this, intimately understand your inner narrative to identify triggers that lead to impostor feelings.

Every innovator starts on unsure ground, especially when there’s no precedent to validate their ideas. Even if you lack all the answers, remember that you’re smart enough to figure things out.

Visualize Your Ideal Outcomes:

Visualization is a proven practice, utilized by athletes, executives, first responders, and those focused on self-improvement. It’s even used in neurological rehabilitation to aid movement recovery after injuries. Visualization helps train your brain and aids in achieving goals while reducing stress.

Visualization combats the impostor phenomenon, where you feel like you don’t deserve your position. By visualizing your desired outcomes and the steps to achieve them, you undercut impostor syndrome’s grip on you.

Reward Yourself for Overcoming Impostor Feelings:

Celebrate your victories, big or small. If you constantly seek external validation, you might find yourself waiting for recognition that may not always come. People might not always acknowledge your good work, but that doesn’t diminish its significance. Learn to appreciate and congratulate yourself, irrespective of external validation.

Own your successes and acknowledge your accomplishments. Celebrate your journey and how far you’ve come. You’re worth the recognition.

Know That Greater Courage Comes From Taking Risks:

Taking risks is essential for a successful career. As a small business owner or entrepreneur, venturing out of your comfort zone is expected. The more you do it, the stronger and more confident you become. Change your behavior and thinking first, and self-confidence will follow.

Invite and embrace failures as they are essential steps in your journey. Learn from them, tweak your approach, and try again. Each learning opportunity fortifies your foundations and propels you to the next level.

Remember, nobody always knows the answer all the time, and it’s okay to ask for help. Embrace the process, and you’ll find peace within it.

In conclusion, overcoming impostor syndrome is a journey, and you’re not alone in this struggle. As small business owners, we’ve all faced self-doubt at some point, so remember, you’re in good company.