How I overcame impostor syndrome
Have you ever felt like you’re on the edge of failure? Like you’re just one inch from everyone around you discovering that the reason for your success is pure luck and nothing else? You’re not alone. That feeling is called impostor syndrome, and it affects almost everyone, believe it or not.
I once had the opportunity to hear Joan Prince, former Vice Chancellor at UWM, speak about the moment when she got the call telling her that Barack Obama wanted her to serve as an ambassador to the United Nations. She said that when the person on the other end of the phone call identified themselves and explained the reason for the call, she thought they had the wrong person. At that moment, I learned that if SHE could feel like an impostor, I certainly wasn’t alone.
Impostor syndrome often affects high achieving women. It can make entrepreneurs, who are already likely to allow work to take over their lives, even more driven to overworking. When I started my marketing company, I had only worked at one agency for about a year. I didn’t have a degree in marketing. I’d never owned a business before. I thought there was no way I was actually qualified to succeed. It turns out, I was wrong. I owned that business for 9 years and sold it to a much larger agency. While I was growing my business, I slowly came to realize that there is no one qualification that drives success. But like most entrepreneurs, I worked really hard and way too many hours trying to prove to myself that I could succeed.
As I grew my business from just me working out of my dining room to a real agency with employees, and and office, and clients including Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Alverno College, I learned to doubt myself less. One thing that really helped me was realizing that in general, I made pretty good decisions. If you feel like you’re an impostor and about to be “found out,” I think the best thing you can do is research your decisions to the best of your ability (without overthinking them), then do what makes sense to you. As I became a more knowledgeable business owner, I realized that the way I ran my business was pretty smart. Most of the time, I did things the “right” way, and when I didn’t, I usually came up with something better because I wasn’t trapped by traditional thinking.
If you’re feeling like a fraud and impostor syndrome is really getting to you, try looking back on some of the more difficult decisions you’ve made as a business owner. There’s a good chance you made some good decisions and you wouldn’t change a thing.
Another way to beat impostor syndrome is to educate yourself. Surround yourself with experts you can trust to give you good advice. Your banker and CPA are often excellent sources of information. They deal with small business owners all day long and can provide an outside perspective that can give you confidence. You can also take classes or hire a business coach. I took classes on reading financial statements from my local chapter of SCORE and hired a business coach. Knowing more will boost your confidence level. Having a career coach you can talk to - someone who will both boost you up and keep you on your toes can really help build confidence.
You might never get past your impostor syndrome, but just knowing that many people experience impostor syndrome at one time or another in their career can help you realize that you’re not an fake - you’re a business owner with a dream. And you’re on your way to a successful future you deserve and earned.