Imposter syndrome is something that most of us have felt at one time or another. Even if you know you have all the right qualifications and experience to be in a position, it can be all too easy to feel like you don’t belong. Whether it’s someone dismissing your work or even just casually telling you about something you’ve never heard of as if it’s common knowledge, it can be an incredibly difficult space to climb out of.
Imposter syndrome can be especially insidious among entrepreneurs, who already have to deal with ecstatic highs and crippling lows. In fact, a 2020 study found that 84% of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome. Many also worry that they’ll be “found out” for their lack of knowledge and ability.
That chimes with my own experiences as an entrepreneur and investor. When Alen (my husband) and I first started SweepSouth back in 2013, I had no experience as an entrepreneur. I’d come from an academic background and everyone at the various startup events and pitching competitions we attended seemed so much calmer and more confident. I couldn’t help wondering what I was doing there and why I’d sacrificed a potentially comfortable life for something I was certain everyone else was doing better at.
While that feeling occasionally rears its head again, I’ve learned a number of strategies over the years to effectively tackle it. Here are five of them.
1. Remember that your journey is your own
For entrepreneurs especially, imposter syndrome can be fuelled by comparing yourself to others. It can strike when a business that started at the same time as you gets a batch of great write-ups in the press or when they raise a massive funding round. At times like that, it’s important to remember that you’re on your own business journey, no one else’s. By trying to match someone else’s success because it makes you feel inadequate, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Remember, if you’re making progress, you’re doing the right thing. Many of the entrepreneurs who seemed so confident at the early events I went to have seen their businesses not perform as well as they’d hoped. The same is true of those who raised headline-grabbing early funding rounds. If I’d let comparisons to them cause me to waver from my focus, SweepSouth would be in a very different place today.
2. Address your weaknesses
Sometimes the feelings associated with imposter syndrome come about because someone brings up a legitimate issue that your business needs to address. It might, for instance, be something that a potential investor brings up. The trick is not to take it as a sign that you don’t belong, but as something fixable that you can address. Every person and every business has weaknesses. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong or shouldn’t exist.
3. Remember your accomplishments
Write them down if you have to. Chances are you’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where you are. This is especially important if you don’t look like everyone else in the room. If you’re a woman, for instance, nothing about your male peers’ maleness makes them any more suited to their jobs or running a business.
4. Have a support network
Remember that stat from the beginning of the article about 84% of entrepreneurs suffering from imposter syndrome? That’s not an indictment on entrepreneurs but an opportunity. By joining a local, regional, or even international entrepreneurs’ organisation, you expose yourself to people who’ve been through the same things as you (including imposter syndrome) and who can guide you through any issues you might face.
5. Turn it on its head
Finally, remember that real imposters are unlikely to feel imposter syndrome. Being a successful imposter depends on outsized levels of confidence. So, if you’re feeling like an imposter, you can take it as a sign that you’re probably on the right track.
By Aisha Pandor, CEO, SweepSouth