Overcoming Impostor Syndrome (Advice From 12 Successful Entrepreneurs)

Want to get notified when we post new content? Click here.

For many of us, one of the most difficult and persistent challenges we’ll face in our lives is dealing with impostor syndrome.

You know what it is I’m talking about. It’s those feelings of guilt, of unworthiness and inadequacy. It’s the voice in the back of your mind that incessantly whispers things like, “You’re a fraud and everyone’s going to find out. You got lucky. You don’t deserve this.”

Impostor syndrome can rob us of our achievements, invalidate our accomplishments and make us feel like we’re fakes walking around in a world full of real achievers.

But you want to know the real truth? Even the best amongst us can feel like they’re frauds.

To prepare for this article I reached out to 12 amazing entrepreneurs, people who have built global brands, people with millions of followers, people whose businesses generate millions of dollars in revenue, and guess what? Even they’re not immune to feeling like an impostor.

If, like me, you’re tired of living with impostor syndrome then make sure to read through our entire guide on How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome.

Free Bonus Download: We’ve assembled 40+ resources (videos, podcasts and books) into a single guide that will help you beat imposter syndrome and keep moving forward in your business. Download the guide here.

What is Impostor Syndrome Exactly?

It was in the 1970s when psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes began researching the psychological phenomenon that we know today as “impostor syndrome,” they described it as:

”High-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, [they] are convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

In essence, it’s the inability to believe that you are responsible for your own success. That, despite all evidence to the contrary, all your achievements have nothing to do with your own abilities, skills or intelligence.

In his TEDx talk on the subject, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlasssian, Mike Cannon-Brookes described his experience with impostor syndrome as a feeling of being trapped in a situation where you’re well out of your depth and have no way out. That it’s less a fear of failure and more a fear that you’re going to be discovered somehow and everything is going to be taken away from you.

While initially believed to affect only high-achieving women, subsequent research has discovered that impostor syndrome can affect anyone regardless of who they are. With as much as 70% of people having experienced impostor syndrome at least once in their lives.

To experience impostor syndrome is to experience a harmful combination of fear, shame and guilt. Fear over being discovered by your peers as the fraud you think you are, shame over the fact that you’re fooling people into thinking that you’re successful, and guilt over having achieved so much despite having so little input.

And what’s worse is the fact that more than just manifesting itself as a series of negative thoughts and feelings, impostor syndrome can have some very serious, very real effects on your life if left unchecked.

Is Impostor Syndrome Holding You Back?

While a certain degree of self-criticism is normal – and healthy even – impostor syndrome happens when those feelings of negativity and self-doubt start to spiral out of control and become harmful.

Without realizing it, impostor syndrome can rob you of your self-confidence, prevent you from pursuing opportunities and, if not properly dealt with, lead to more severe mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Here are just a few ways that impostor syndrome can negatively impact your life:

Self-Sabotage

People with impostor syndrome are often caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy that they’re not worthy enough or that they’re somehow a failure.

Image via Capital FM

One study found that those with impostor syndrome have a tendency to set themselves extremely high goals, or hold themselves up to an unrealistic standard. When they inevitably fail to reach those goals it culminates in intense feelings of shame and disappointment, and they’ll take it as confirmation of their earlier assumption that they are indeed a failure.

All the while, completely ignoring the fact that they’ve set themselves up for failure in the first place!

Trapping Yourself in the Impostor Cycle

Now, I don’t know about you, but throughout my entire professional life I’ve often found myself trapped in something called the “Impostor Cycle.”

It usually begins with me feeling some form of anxiety and self-doubt, and then to overcome it I’ll throw myself into a piece of work or task while telling myself that if I just do this then somehow it’ll mean that I’m no longer an impostor. I’ll do the task, I’ll feel good for a moment, and then the impostor feelings come back and I’m back at where I started.

Image via Imposter Syndrome

I can say for myself that being trapped in this cycle is just plain exhausting. It’s exhausting to feel a constant sense of self-doubt and to feel as if all your hard work means nothing. It’s exhausting to always feel as if you’re a failure because you can’t meet some insanely high standard that you’ve set yourself.

Being caught in the impostor cycle can cause you to chase that momentary high so relentlessly that you don’t realize that you’re burning out, or you can end up getting so frustrated and demotivated that you just give up entirely and sink further into anxiety and depression.

Not Pursuing Opportunities

Image via Medium

Perhaps the most limiting part of having impostor syndrome as an entrepreneur is that it can prevent you from going after opportunities.

As an entrepreneur, perhaps your greatest asset is the ability to identify and pursue the right opportunities, wherever they may present themselves. However, those with impostor syndrome are more likely to avoid taking on responsibilities that could lead to bigger and brighter things.

Either believing that it’ll distract them from their current work or that they’re too unqualified to pursue it in the first place. Eventually leading to them feeling even more dissatisfied and unhappy with their current situation, but unable to make the changes necessary to move past them.

Why Do We Feel Like Frauds?

There are a variety of reasons of why we can become victims to impostor syndrome and there really isn’t one single answer we can point to.

But while we might all have different reasons for feeling like an impostor from time to time, what’s important is being able to identify the triggers behind your own impostor feelings so we can find the best way to overcome them.

To help you out with this, we turn to the work of impostor syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young who identified in her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, five main types of impostor syndrome. While there’s certainly overlap between all five, it’s helpful to identify which type you align with the most so you’re better equipped to deal with those negative thoughts and feelings before they arise.

Image via Medium

The Perfectionist

For perfectionists, it’s their inability to accept anything less than perfect that causes their impostor syndrome to flare up. Perfectionists often fall into a pattern of behavior where they set extremely high expectations for themselves, and if they make even one small mistake that prevents that prevents them from achieving them they’ll immediately begin questioning their own skills and abilities.

Even if they’re able to achieve all of their goals, perfectionists will still berate themselves for not being able to do more. Often comparing their achievements to others who, in their eyes, have been able to achieve more and hating themselves for not being more like them.

For the perfectionist, the most important thing they can do is learn how to set more realistic goals for themselves. Get into the practice of writing down your goals as it can help you stop stressing about how overwhelming something is and actually see it for what it really is.

The Natural Genius

Natural geniuses are people who are used to being able to master new skills or achievements quite easily. However, the problem arises when they’re faced with a challenge that requires them to be put in more effort than they’re typically used to. This, in turn, causes them to feel ashamed that they’re not able to get things right on the first try and that this is evidence that they’re an impostor.

People who fall into this category will often avoid seeking out new challenges out of a fear of failure. Similar to the perfectionist, the natural genius will view themselves as an impostor anytime they’re not able to meet 100% of their own expectations.

Natural geniuses need to learn to accept that they are a work-in-progress and that it’s unreasonable for them to be able to excel at everything that they try. It’ll help to adopt the practice of celebrating incremental improvements as opposed to viewing the inability to master something immediately as a failure.

The Soloist

For the soloist, anything other than completely self-sufficiency and independence can induce feelings of shame and inadequacy. Soloists believe that accepting any form of help is a sign of weakness because they believe that if they’re truly qualified then they should never need any help.

This can cause them to accept more than they can realistically handle, often prioritizing the project over their own personal needs, and to commit to suffering in silence. Causing them to feel increasingly isolated and out-of-touch with the expectations of the people around them.

People who identify as soloists must learn how to delegate and, most importantly, relinquish control. Simply learning how to accept help when it’s offered is a great first step to overcoming this type of impostor syndrome.

The Superwoman/man

The main trigger for “supermen” or “superwomen” is the belief that they’re not measuring up against their peers. This can cause them to work harder than they have to, and often taking on extra responsibilities and tasks, in order to prove to themselves that they’re not impostors.

At extreme levels, these tendencies can push them to ignore other aspects of their lives such as family, friends and hobbies, in order to continue working. More than anything, this is driven by a constant need for external validation from others as proof of their success.

Superwomen and supermen need to be able to learn how to seek validation from themselves instead of other people. When your self-esteem is always measured by others it can be very easy to fall into a depressive state when the compliments stop coming.

The Expert

I have to admit, that this is the one that I personally struggle with the most. People who fall into this category often feel as if they have to have the right answer all the time, and that any lack of knowledge means that you’re not a real professional. They’ll especially feel as if the knowledge they do have is useless and that they’ve somehow tricked others into thinking that they’re experts.

For myself, I’ll find myself falling into a pattern of behavior where I’ll panic when someone asks me to do something I’m not familiar with and I’ll end up committing to something even if I don’t know how to do it. It also develops into a bad habit of refusing to complete something because I don’t have all the information yet.

For experts, the most useful activity they can do is find a mentor they can comfortable with asking for help, and it also helps to find ways to help other people with your knowledge by teaching them what you know.

How These 12 Successful Entrepreneurs Dealt With Impostor Syndrome

One of the most important things to remember is that every professional was once an amateur. Chances are that the person you admire the most has, at some point in their lives, felt like a fraud or a fake.

Which is exactly why I reached out to some of the best entrepreneurs in the world (literally!) and asked them to share what their experiences were like with impostor syndrome by asking them the following questions:

  • When did you start feeling like you were an impostor?
  • What is the most limiting part of dealing with impostor syndrome?
  • How did you overcome the challenge that is feeling like an impostor?
  • What’s your number one piece of advice to anyone out there feeling like a fraud?

Each person gave such amazing advice on how they overcame impostor syndrome that I highly recommend that you read through all their responses because there’s so much gold in there!

Free Bonus Download: We’ve assembled 40+ resources (videos, podcasts and books) into a single guide that will help you beat imposter syndrome and keep moving forward in your business. Download the guide here.

Exercise Regularly and Practice Gratitude

Like many other entrepreneurs, those feelings of inadequacy have been running in the background over the course of my career.

But one moment that stands out, was when I was receiving an honorary law degree. I was up on stage with a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, a pioneer of automated DNA sequencing, and a Harvard Professor fighting climate change. And there I was, a college dropout who started a software company.

While impostor syndrome has never stopped me from pursuing an opportunity, and although it hasn’t caused excessive anxiety or depression. But there is a feeling that you don’t deserve a seat at the same table as friends and peers who are walking more established paths and there are those psychological tests of self-doubt and regret.

That’s in part why I started League of Innovators, a charity to help build entrepreneurial traits and confidence in young people.

When it comes to dealing with my own impostor syndrome, I don’t keep a gratitude journal, however, I try to keep a practice of expressing gratitude on social media. I try to meditate regularly and do yoga. I am a big believer in the benefits of exercise and getting outside.

But by far, the best therapy is playing with my baby daughter. As a Dad, I never feel like an imposter!

Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge and accept being an entrepreneur comes with its own unique set of challenges and pressures. And don’t forget to breathe.

– Ryan Holmes, Founder & CEO of Hootsuite

Accept The Compliments of Others

It took some time, but I eventually realized that not listening to other people with regard to their opinions of your work is actually incredibly disrespectful to them.

Essentially I just decided to believe people.

If lots of people tell you that your work has helped them; that they love what you do; that what you do makes a difference and is meritorious, who am I to determine that none of that is true, and I’m actually an imposter? What really turned me around was understanding that the opinions of my audiences about me are more accurate than my own opinions about me.

I’ve learnt that the world will tell you the truth. Ironically, the truth you tell yourself may be the least accurate, not the most accurate.

Jay BaerHall of Fame Keynote Speaker and Founder of Convince & Convert

Remember Your Purpose

The greatest limitation of the imposter syndrome is doubt, doubt that you don’t have what it takes. Doubt creeps in because we are uncertain of the path and the timing. We can never be completely certain of the path we’re on, but we can be certain of the direction we’re heading and our purpose for heading in that direction.

The key to overcoming doubt and the imposter syndrome is to retreat to the clarity of our purpose and direction, our “why” and our “where”. Clarity leads to confidence and confidence leads to courage.

– Ken Coleman, National Best-Selling Author and Host of The Ken Coleman Show

Accept That You Are The Result of Your Decisions, Not Your Circumstances

Feeling like an imposter certainly can cripple me, as I’m sure it can others. I’ve given up on many opportunities where I could’ve elevated my growth and earnings simply because I didn’t feel like I deserved opportunity presented to me. And it’s still a challenge now.

I feel like there’s an interesting relationship between imposter syndrome and anxiety/depression in the sense that usually those who become victims to imposter syndrome are high-achievers, or at least, have extremely large expectations of themselves. And when you connect a high achiever who doesn’t feel like they’re ever capable enough to opportunities they don’t feel worthy of, it can become very crippling for them. It’s kind of an unexpected paradox.

To keep moving forward, I channel most of my energy towards constantly pursuing better things.

I feel fortunate for my curiosity as I think it provides me with a really strong foundation to keep charging forward and rarely stop to feel victimised by something like imposter syndrome. Honestly, I feel like this (overcoming imposter syndrome) is something I’m still learning to effectively manage and I’m not sure it’s something that could ever be completely eradicated as a possible feeling.

I’ve realised that being truly present in any given scenario allows me to feel grounded, always. It’s this grounded feeling that helps me to be humble and honest in most situations, and to focus less on the external factors and biases that can fuel those impostor feelings.

I’ve learnt that if you are making decisions on your own accord, then you are the result of your choices not your default circumstances and as such you deserve to own and be proud of both the wins and losses. Just remember, most people live life passively so if you’re living life deliberately, you’re already pretty fucking amazing.

– Sally A Illingworth, The No-Fluff Content Marketing Strategist

Find a Mentor and Join a Mastermind

I remember feeling like a fraud the day before I launched my podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. I kept on thinking: ‘Who am I to share my work with the world?’

I eventually overcame it with my mentor and mastermind’s support. Which is why I recommend that everyone should get a mentor and join a mastermind themselves.

– John Lee Dumas, Host of Entrepreneurs on Fire

Remember That The Only Who Cares Is You

The idea that I keep in mind that’s helped me most is that no one thinks about it nearly as much as you do. Even if someone does think you’re an impostor, which is incredibly rare, most people are too wrapped up in their own insecurities to be concerned with whether or not you’re an impostor.

Just think about how often you think someone else is an impostor, and you’ll realize how little anyone else is probably thinking that about you. This can be incredibly freeing because you realize how the only person judging you is yourself.

– Nat Eliason, Founder of Growth Machine

Focus On The Value You Bring To Others

For much of my professional life, there’s been low-level anxiety about being an imposter floating around in the back of my head. But, as I’ve gotten older and become more confident in my own skin, the less I have that constant sense of imposter syndrome.

However, I do find that impostor syndrome spikes every time I’m about to launch something new (a book, a big article, or some other project). I tend to call my agent or therapist a week before anything big so they can talk me out of my panic.

Impostor syndrome has definitely caused me to put off putting my work and ideas out there sometimes.

Honestly, I think the validation of seeing my work affect other people in a positive way has helped me the most. I think when I focus on helping people, and the practical application of my work, I tend to focus more on the positive effect my work has on people, which in turn reinforces that I’m on a good track.

My number one piece of advice would be to admit that you’re not going to be perfect or right about everything anyway, then move on and treat everything as a journey of learning.

– Shane Snow, Author of Dream Teams

Let It Serve As Your Motivation

I tend to encounter impostor syndrome whenever I start something aspirational. I felt it when I became a Partner, then when I became a mentor at an Accelerator.

But, I don’t view it as a weakness. Instead, it helps me by serving as my motivation, and by making me think of what risks are involved and the best way to manage them.

I deal with impostor syndrome by adopting a ‘let’s see’ mindset. I also tend to obsess over getting better and being patient with an unswerving eye on the target.

To all young entrepreneurs out there, remember that impostor syndrome is natural. It demonstrates humility, but don’t let it stop or define you.

– David Kenney, Partner at Hall Chadwick

Be Authentic To Yourself

I started feeling like an imposter when I was about 26 and after I levelled up my income in a big way after my real estate investing business took off. Because I had flipped a couple hundred houses over the past few years and built a multi 7 figure real estate portfolio, I started getting featured in publications online and was getting asked to speak at different events around the country for being a young, successful real estate entrepreneur.

The challenge mentally was, even though I’d gotten great results in business and felt financially abundant, I didn’t feel like the rest of my life was in balance whatsoever and I felt like I was “still figuring it out”.

I didn’t feel like I’d “earned” some of the titles and things that people were saying about me. They were flattering to hear, but many of those things felt inauthentic to me.

Imposter syndrome can be debilitating on many levels. Not only can it be mentally exhausting, but it’s also a physical force that has repercussions. Not only will it prevent you from taking the actions you know you need to take, but it will often lead you to take actions that aren’t aligned with the goals you want to achieve.

When feeling like an imposter, I found that I felt pushed/pulled in making decisions that weren’t aligned with who I was at my core or the outcomes I desired. I ended up making decisions and taking actions that were based out of fear.

Imposter syndrome will pull you out of your genius zone and drain you of your real-life superpowers. It will dim your light. It will cap your creativity. It will restrict your ability to show up as the most authentic and powerful version of yourself. When I am out of alignment with my truth, I know it. I feel a friction in my mind, body, and spirit that cannot be ignored.

I relate it to a car with 4 tires. When you are feeling like an imposter, you aren’t going to show up as the most powerful version of yourself. It’s because something is out of alignment. Just like when you have a car and one of the tires is out of alignment, the driver knows. They also feel the physical impacts of it. You won’t go as far, as fast, and the ride won’t be as smooth and it will impact the experience the driver has versus if all 4 wheels were in complete alignment.

I managed to overcome, or at least live with, impostor syndrome after reading a book by Brene Brown. It gave me the confidence and permission to be, and share, the most authentic version of myself. I found out that the greatest gift I can give to anyone, and to myself…is the most authentic version of Matt.

By doing that, I can trust in the fact that every relationship I build, every experience I encounter, every conversation I have, and every result I get will be a direct reflection of the real Matt, not the imposter Matt.

One of my daily affirmations is, “I operate with integrity, always tell the truth, and walk my talk.” I affirm daily that I AM these things, and as a result, they keep me congruent with who I want to be and the impact I desire to have while I’m still here.

My number one piece of advice would be to always be authentic with others, be true to yourself, and never sacrifice your core values in spite of any pressure to be something other than yourself. Being anybody but yourself isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Your greatest achievements in life will come from the moments when you’re giving the world the most authentic version of yourself, not when you’re trying to be someone that you’re not.

– Matty Aitchison, Host of Millionaire Mindcast

Surround Yourself With Great Talent

I managed to overcome Imposter Syndrome by doing A LOT of research and modelling successful businesses in my field. Time and time again, I found that the founders of these well known companies had a core team executing the work, despite them still acting like the face and authority in their space. I realized that they all started in the same position as me, and the big difference between me and them was that they hired the right talent to do the job for them.

– Blake Micola, Founder of Growth Marketing Systems

Find Like-Minded People

At each stage of my career, I’ve been waiting for someone to discover that I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time!

While I’ve learned that this feeling of being out of my depth is actually what drives me to continue learning and challenging myself. I also still constantly struggle with imposter syndrome and beat myself up about the smallest mistake.

I managed to overcome impostor syndrome through organisations like SBE Australia – Springboard, where I was fortunate enough to build a supportive network of other female entrepreneurs going through similar challenges. This helped me to realise that my perceived failures were not unique, but actually were par for the course in this startup journey we had all embarked upon.

For anyone struggling with imposter syndrome, my advice is to fake it till you make it – if you speak with confidence, people will believe you know what you are talking about!

– Noga Edelstein, Co-Founder of UrbanYou and Director of SBE Australia

Act On Facts, Not Emotion

I think you sometimes worry after big successes if was a fluke or a one-hit-wonder and you just hope you can keep replicating the success. I know I definitely started feeling like I might be a fraud after we hit our first couple of million dollars in turnover, after that the pressure mounted and I started to wonder if I could do it again.

At times, it’s certainly caused us to be overly cautious and delay opportunities due to the knowledge of what would be required to make it work, and our concern that we wouldn’t have what it takes.

I managed to overcome impostor syndrome by finding a mentor that could pull me out of my own head. Mentoring with Mitch Harper, a founder who’s achieved more than I have, gave me someone who keeps pushing me to think bigger and stop limiting myself.

I also think that it’s so important to build a Circle of Influence around you who knows what it takes to build a successful business so you can check-in, remove the unnecessary worries or concerns and start leveling up in how you think.

For me, it’s been important to remove any emotion and get to the cold hard facts of the matter.

I review my past campaigns and successes to discover the exact formula and steps that made it so successful, and map it all out so that I’m confident to duplicate it again and can remove myself and any doubts from the equation.

– Adam Lever, CEO of The Doers Way

Conclusion

Many of us struggle with impostor syndrome to some degree, and it can be difficult to overcome those feelings of self-doubt. But, the important thing to remember is that even though it might feel like it, you’re not the only one.

And though it might be hard to believe that you deserve all the accomplishments, compliments and praise, it’s important to remember that your perceptions don’t always reflect reality.

At the end of the day, impostor syndrome is something that we inflict upon ourselves and it can be easy to trap yourself in that negative mindset without realizing it. I hope that this article has given you some ideas on how to overcome impostor syndrome or, at the very least, made you realize that even the people we admire can feel like frauds from time to time.

Do you ever feel like you’re a fraud? How do you deal with those impostor feelings? Let us know in the comments below!

Free Bonus Download: We’ve assembled 40+ resources (videos, podcasts and books) into a single guide that will help you beat imposter syndrome and keep moving forward in your business. Download the guide here.

Want to get notified when we post new content? Click here.

2
Leave a Reply

avatar
1 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
Jonathan ChanJohn Lee Dumas Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
John Lee Dumas
Guest

Thanks for the opportunity to share!