“I’m out of my depth, it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be found out"
“Who am I to be doing this?”
In a ‘zoom room’ of business owners at any level you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at some point felt the dreaded feelings associated with impostor syndrome. So what is it and why is it important to lift the lid on it right now?
Impostor syndrome is often associated with high achieving, intelligent and successful people. Studies cite the prevalence of the phenomenon among elite academics and more recently have expanded into looking at the impact in the the corporate world and among minority groups, where feelings of ‘phoniness’ are exacerbated by fewer examples in more senior leadership, board and 'expert' positions. Some very talented famous people, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama to name but a few, have all identified with the feelings associated with impostor syndrome, so if you do too, you're in very good company! However, I’ve found little about how it impacts entrepreneurs specifically and yet, here it is, the great big elephant in the room and a massive problem. Here’s three reasons why I believe it's such a huge challenge for us small business owners specifically.
Reason 1 - The impact of Impostor Syndrome
When someone feels like an impostor it is those thoughts and feelings that are driving their behaviour and, of course, it's our behaviour (in particular our habits) that drives our results. When you feel like a fraud on the inside, it’s abit like driving with the brakes on - despite what someone consciously wants to create for themselves these inner thoughts and beliefs have the impact of slowing them down. When it comes to business owners this 'slowing down' and holding back stunts business and personal growth and creates frustration, anxiety and sometimes burnout. Outward the effect ripples: it impacts relationships with others, both professional and personal, it impacts the clients we serve, and because small business is such an important contributor, it impacts the economy too.
Here are just a few examples from the stories I've collected of how impostor syndrome plays out for some such business owners:
“Recently I completed illustrations for a well known best selling author, the book was a success. All I could do is criticise and compare myself to others. That's part of it...I looked to others as the shining experts and I became the follower as if I didn't deserve to stand tall and be proud…...I suffer from a huge amount of anxiety and self-limiting beliefs. I feel that I will never succeed as I'm just playing at being this fabulous illustrator with a business. the anxiety makes me less productive and sure of my decisions so growth becomes nil or very slow. It's exhausting playing the part...I wish I could believe I was that person” Kat, Illustrator and provider of education and illustration services
"I compare myself to other hypnotherapists who have been practising for years and feel who am I to say I'm a hypnotherapist that specialises in women’s well being. It’s my passion I’m always researching and doing courses but that underlying feeling of being a total impostor is always there...it can hold me back from taking on complex clients. So I end up referring a few to others as I feel I don’t have any weight in helping this person” Helen, Hypnotherapist
“The impact is that I am moving slowly towards my goal and hesitating where in my 20s I didn't I just did it. I am very fearful now and wary about what other people will say. I don't like rejection.” Jayne, PT and Life Coach
These are just a few stories, there are so many more just like them.
Reason 2 - The online world perpetuates it
Impostor syndrome is rooted in negative bias (more about that in the next blog) and it’s easily perpetuated by the culture of the online world: combine the fact that it’s hard to see the full picture of anyone’s competence/success (and many can and do manipulate this ‘view’), with the volume and frequency of opportunity to make comparisons in the blink of an 'eye' and scroll of a finger, together with an inbuilt predisposition to compare ourselves less favourably to others, adding in an inability to recognise our own strengths and competence...you can see the mounting problem, can’t you?
Reason 3 - It’s not talked about enough
Impostor syndrome is a label that’s commonly bandied about, it’s a recognised term and it seems that when you ask, everyone feels that way at some point..but so few openly talk about it, therefore it remains hidden and buried and the individual’s problem to deal with (or avoid dealing with).
I think it’s time to see Impostor Syndrome for what it is - a pretty big trap!
Time to really look at this in the depth a problem of this magnitude deserves and to expose, educate and neutralise this phenomenon so it harms and holds back fewer business owners so they can step more confidently into their mighty missions and the vision they have for themselves.