Ever had this nagging feeling that even though you’ve become successful at what you do – career-wise or even as an entrepreneur – you could actually be a fraud?
It sucks, doesn’t it?
This terrible feeling can kill any shred of joy or healthy pride in your accomplishments. To me, it’s like an annoying mosquito in a 5-star resort on a paradise-like island. It’s incredibly tiny but also incredibly annoying.
Most people who feel this way tend to constantly think they succeeded or are succeeding not because they actually know what they are doing but mainly because of sheer luck or by just being at the right place at the right time.
And guess what, we have all had these strange thoughts at some point in our lives. However, for some people, especially the more accomplished ones, it’s more pronounced. Straight out of a Kafka novel, right?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is commonly known as imposter syndrome. And yes, it might sound super scary but it really isn’t. You just need to be aware of it and know exactly how to manage it.
So, How Can You Tell If You Are Experiencing Imposter Syndrome?
Well, some of the common traits that you need to be on the lookout for include self-doubt, which is rather obvious, always underrating your performance and skills, constantly attributing your successes to external factors like luck, along with the constant fear that you will not live up to expectations.
Some people also feel like they are not in a position to realistically assess their competence and skill while others, especially SME owners and solopreneurs, end up sabotaging their own success.
All these and many other traits will get in the way of rightful not so mention well-deserved achievements, which could ultimately affect your company’s bottom line.
For centuries, imposter syndrome has always been viewed negatively by society – both at the social level and professionally. However, several studies have somewhat demystified imposter syndrome deeming it a double-edged sword.
How to Spot, Tame, and Use Imposter Syndrome As Needed
You see, while this syndrome has not been categorized as a disorder, at least according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders manual, which is used by clinicians and psychiatrists in the United States to diagnose psychiatric illnesses, it can also be used to significantly improve one’s career and business growth prospects.
In the words of the immortal Leonard Cohen: “there’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”. I used this poetic intermezzo to say that nothing’s all bad. Not even imposter syndrome.
If you have decided to take a leap of faith and kickstart your journey as an SME owner or solopreneur, you need to be well aware of imposter syndrome and how it can affect your business in the long run. And, of course, of how you can leverage it to your benefit.
Most of the time, especially when your business seems to be doing particularly well, you will, at least every now and then, begin to doubt your ability to effectively and efficiently manage the day-to-day affairs of the business.
Imposter syndrome experiences may also differ. Some might only experience them in the first few weeks or months of setting up their business while for others it could be lifelong.
This, believe it or not, is perfectly normal.
Ask any successful entrepreneur and depending on how close they are to you, they will most certainly admit to having such disturbing feelings either throughout their career or at some point.
But as pointed out earlier, you can actually turn around imposter syndrome and use it to drive growth while building your profile at the same time.
This syndrome can easily be identified, which is the first step in turning the experience around and really making it work to your advantage and that of your business.
Do any of the below feel familiar?
- You doubt your performance
- You feel unable to deliver what is asked of you
- You’re petrified of taking on more responsibilities
- You focus on small, meaningless tasks too much
- You have a hard time recognizing and celebrating your achievements even when those around you cheer for you.
If you know at least two of the feelings above, your imposter syndrome has kicked in. But there are more ways it can creep in: job dissatisfaction, consistent burnout, and constantly undervaluing your skills and abilities are also notable signs that imposter syndrome has finally checked in.
SME owners and solopreneurs that experience imposter syndrome can fall into various categories depending on the severity of the condition.
There’s the expert, who will basically feel not satisfied until he or she knows every little detail about whatever they could be working on.
There’s the perfectionist. This one constantly experiences flashes of doubt, anxiety, and worry, especially when performing mission-critical tasks. Perfectionists are only comfortable undertaking less complex duties that they can easily and comfortably ace.
We also have the superhero, who is more of a workaholic that ultimately ends up suffering burnout followed by physical and mental health issues.
Other categories include the natural genius, who despite acquiring critical skills may also feel ashamed and weak whenever they are faced with challenging situations. And finally, the soloist, who basically always wants to work alone and prefers not to ask for help, maybe because this will reveal his or her incompetence.
But really triggers these frustrating feelings? Well, there are several factors that contribute:
- New challenges, like a new job or opening a new business can make almost anyone feel like an imposter. The key here is the duration: if the feeling lasts too long, you need to take action. The fear of the unknown can immediately trigger a sense of “imposterism”, which makes you feel undeserving and not capable of running a successful business.
- Family environment and coming from a marginalized group can also fuel imposter syndrome experiences and the feeling of being inadequate.
- Depression and anxiety are also very common and contribute significantly to this condition.
Bus as scary as these experiences might seem, it’s not always doom and gloom.
As a SME owner or solopreneur, imposter syndrome can actually be what your personal growth and development needs. This is because you are always pushing yourself to perform better and also exceed your expectations. By constantly challenging yourself to accomplish a goal or objective, you are also growing as a person.
Imposter syndrome can also be a sign that you are actually gaining the much-needed experience in your respective industry. It could also be a sign that as a business owner, you are steadily becoming more accomplished at what you do. It will also drive you to seek more knowledge and expertise, which will ultimately enable you to get better at what you do.
It’s a common thing to see SME owners and solopreneurs with overinflated egos. This leads them to relax and get comfortable, which can expose them to unimaginable risks.
Imposter syndrome does the exact opposite. It will not allow you to have an oversized ego and get cozy in your comfort zone. All opportunities that come your way will not get wasted in the process allowing you to continue learning new things and sharpening your skills as you go along.
While imposter syndrome is a good way to keep you down-to-earth and realistic, if kept unchecked it will do more harm than good. As always, balance is key.
As soon the symptoms are positively identified, you need to, first and foremost, talk about it with a trusted business associate, family, or friend to help you develop a more realistic perspective on what you can and cannot accomplish.
It is also extremely important that you become fully aware of all the symptoms and understand what imposter syndrome is and why it happens. By doing so, you’ll be in a better position to apply the right strategies to put it under control.
You also need to challenge any negative thoughts with positive ones. Celebrating small wins is a good place to start as it reminds you of what you can accomplish and it fuels the desire to win some more.
Feel like you can’t get these nagging feelings under control? Talk to someone — a specialized someone if need be. Much like any “illness”, the sooner you act, the better. When pain becomes chronic, it’s a matter of managing it, not curing it.