I’ll admit it, this isn’t an easy topic for me. Launching my marketing agency three years ago, I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur. How could I be? I was just working from my kitchen table, doing work that to me at least seemed so straightforward. Being an entrepreneur would imply that I had investments, a big vision, and a team… Of course, all of that is rubbish! Looking back, not only do I admit that it was my fear of failure that was making me say these things to myself, but I also realize that I was slowing my own growth with my imposter syndrome.
I felt inadequate despite evidence to the contrary. I was belittling myself by thinking that the work I was doing was simple when it was so only because of the years of experience that I had. At the same time, I was even dismissing the huge impact I made on my clients’ businesses who valued my expertise and sought my marketing advice.
What I realized since is, this is a common experience among entrepreneurs, and it’s important to recognize the signs to address it. If I had understood this sooner, my approach to promoting myself and my business would have been different. My imposter syndrome held me back.
As I’m tackling my imposter syndrome, I’m learning to recognize its signs and change my thinking patterns. This is huge for an entrepreneur because it impacts our well-being and our business. So if like me you want to build your confidence, improve your mental health, and set yourself up for success, read on!
5 Ways imposter syndrome creeps up on you & what you can do about it
1. Downplaying your achievements
Imagine that you receive acknowledgment for your work, but instead of feeling proud and happy, you think that you could have done more, or that it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Basically, robbing yourself of the joy and satisfaction of your accomplishments.
If you’re doing this, you are experiencing a common imposter syndrome: aka downplaying your achievements. Typically, it comes out as attributing your success to external factors such as luck or the help of others, minimizing your hard work and abilities. In turn, these thoughts can lead to a lack of confidence and the feeling that you don’t deserve your success.
Recognize your accomplishments
One of the most effective ways to combat imposter syndrome is to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements. Take time to reflect on your successes, no matter how small they may seem. Write them down and keep them in a visible place to remind yourself of your abilities and strengths. When you start to doubt yourself, take a look at your list and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
2. Overworking yourself & being a perfectionist
Setting up the scene: you stay up late working on a project, even though it’s already excellent because you worry that it’s not good enough. You might spend hours tweaking small details and obsessing over every aspect of the project, even though it’s already successful and meeting your goals. I know that feeling of frustration that comes from this behavior all too well…
We tend to glorify perfectionism but when it comes at the cost of your well-being and worse it doesn’t add anything to work that’s already outstanding, then it becomes a fault and a clear sign of imposter syndrome. When you feel like you’re not good enough, you may try to compensate by working harder and striving for perfection. This can lead to burnout and a lack of balance in your personal and professional life, leaving you dissatisfied and wondering what’s the point of it all. Not a great feeling when you’re trying to run your own business.
Set realistic goals
Setting goals that are realistic and attainable can help build your confidence and crush imposter syndrome. Dream big, but break down your larger goals into smaller, achievable steps. This will help you focus on progress rather than perfection and allow you to celebrate small wins along the way. After all, it’s a must to make the journey as pleasurable and fun for ourselves as we can!
3. Fear of failure & taking risks
Have you ever shied away from a business opportunity because you thought you were not qualified enough, even though you met most of the requirements? Saying “No I’m not good enough” before others even have an opportunity to assess your merits is a common scenario when we worry about rejection or failure, and feel like we’re not good enough.
We tend to disguise this fear of failure and taking risks by making ourselves smaller and staying within the comfort of what we already know. Yet, if we didn’t let this side of imposter syndrome play us, we could surprise ourselves with all we can accomplish! In fact, this fear can limit your growth and prevent you from seizing opportunities. In its extreme form, it can prevent us from starting altogether. Quite problematic when you want to earn a living as an entrepreneur…
Accept failure as part of the process
To overcome this, start by reframing your mindset around failure. See risks as an opportunity to learn and grow, and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Embrace the lessons that come with failure and use them to make better decisions in the future. Take small risks and build your confidence gradually, celebrating each step along the way.
4. Comparing yourself to those who’ve already “made it”
Funny how advice we would give to our friends, we often skip for ourselves… Like “Don’t compare your startup to a competitor that’s been around for a decade, you’re not in the same stage of the business journey!” Yet, it’s so easy to fall into that trap, disregarding that although we are in the early years of our business we’re making progress and achieving our goals.
When you constantly compare yourself to others and feel like you’re not measuring up, it’s likely that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome. This can lead to unwarranted feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Stop comparing yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others can be a slippery slope toward imposter syndrome. Remember that everyone’s journey is different, and what works for someone else may not work for you. You don’t know how many setbacks or sleepless nights these entrepreneurs have had before getting to where they are now. Plus, they didn’t build their business overnight either, but you only see the end result. So instead of focusing on others, focus on your own growth and progress. Use others’ successes as inspiration rather than a measuring stick for your own achievements.
5. Self-doubt & procrastination
Procrastination is one of my biggest self-sabotaging traits… I could blame it on technology and that social media is designed to trick our brains into mindless scrolling and that’s why I didn’t start something or other… Yet I know that when I’m putting something off, it’s my self-doubt playing tricks on me.
When you doubt your abilities, you may put off tasks or avoid taking action altogether. This side of imposter syndrome is particularly pernicious because we tend to make excuses or rationalize it to ourselves. Just think of all the opportunities you didn’t pursue, all the ideas you didn’t see through because you didn’t think you had what it takes. Sickening right?
To overcome this, start by being kind to yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you would offer a friend. When negative self-talk starts to creep in, challenge those thoughts with positive affirmations and remind yourself of past challenges you’ve overcome. Be gentle with yourself and accept that no one is perfect, not even you.
Now, take action!
If any of the patterns I described above sounds like something you do, it’s time to correct course and take action! Because it’s one thing to recognize and understand imposter syndrome, but it’s another thing to do something about it.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Start by reflecting on your own experiences with imposter syndrome and identify the ways it creeps on you.
- Seek support from others. Talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist about your experiences and feelings. They can offer perspective, guidance, and encouragement when you need it most.
- Decide on positive behavior changes, such as: “When I’m doing this because of imposter syndrome, then I’ll do that, to change my thought pattern and my behavior.” For me that would be “When I’m scrolling mindlessly on Instagram because I’m procrastinating, then I’ll say out loud that I don’t need to be scared because I’ve done much more challenging things before and I’ll put my phone away out of sight.”
- Build your self-confidence by embracing discomfort and stepping out of your comfort zone.
In my experience, fear of failure, self-doubt, and procrastination are the biggest ways imposter syndrome manifests itself. What works best for me is to gain perspective by reminding myself of my journey. What I wanted to achieve when I started a few years ago, the challenges that felt huge at the time and how I’ve overcome them, the mistakes I made, and how I was able to deal with them and learn. Basically, it makes me aware of what I’ve achieved thanks to the choices I’ve made and the efforts I’ve put in. It gives me clarity, a strong sense of accomplishment, and the energy to strive toward my next milestone.
Of course, dealing with imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur is a work in progress, but I can see myself growing, learning, and feeling immensely proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. And I’m sure that with a little self-compassion, you can too!