Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back from Starting a Business

Seventy percent of people experience imposter syndrome in their careers, but you shouldn’t let it stop you from starting your dream business.

While starting a business is already a nerve-wracking experience, many would-be entrepreneurs make it even harder on themselves by letting feelings of doubt and insecurity creep in. These feelings are frequently referred to as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a real occurrence that most people experience at some point in their lives. 

What is imposter syndrome?

In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes described a phenomenon of “people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” They called it imposter syndrome. You’ve probably experienced it before, and many high-profile people have talked openly about dealing with it (think Maya Angelou, Sonia Sotomayor and Chuck Lorre). In fact, according to research by Imes, almost 70 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career.

What does imposter syndrome look like?

When experiencing imposter syndrome, individuals may have some or all of the following feelings, thoughts or behaviors:

  • Inability to recognize own accomplishments
  • Feeling like a phony or fraud or fearing that they will be exposed as such
  • Feeling undeserving of the success they have
  • Dwelling on mistakes or possibility of extreme failure
  • Downplaying or discounting success, including attributing success to luck

While most people experience imposter syndrome at some point, it’s important to learn how to manage it so it doesn’t prevent you from pursuing your goals. This is especially true if you are planning on starting a business. Below, we list some tips and strategies to help new entrepreneurs overcome this syndrome.

Talk to a friend, mentor or another entrepreneur

Speaking with someone you trust is an important first step in learning to manage imposter syndrome. Saying the imposter thoughts out loud will help you realize how silly or illogical they sound (or perhaps the person listening will tell you how ridiculous they sound). It can also be reassuring just to know that someone else has experienced similar feelings. If you can, speak with other entrepreneurs about how they handled these feelings when starting their companies. They’ll likely have valuable insight into how deal with them.

Question imposter thoughts

When you’re experiencing self-doubt, it’s easy to accept thoughts at face value—especially negative, self-critical thoughts (“Who said you were good enough to do this?” or “You don’t know anything about this, you’re going to fail”). Instead of being your own worst critic, identify these thoughts for what they really are: imposter thoughts. Sometimes even telling yourself that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome can be enough to banish the negative thoughts.

Accept your failures and successes

Both success and failure are a natural part of life. You should recognize your role in your own success. Your achievements are not merely a product of luck or opportunity, but a product of your contributions and effort. It’s also helpful to think of your successes in terms of the value you provide to others. Thinking of the value you contributed can help shift your negative feelings to feelings of empowerment and worth.

Another crucial step in overcoming imposter syndrome is accepting failure. It’s important to recognize that a mistake or single failure doesn’t make you a failure as a person. Many successful entrepreneurs have failed many times before ultimately launching a successful business. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and worth over $20 billion, failed his entrance exams to college multiple times, was rejected from Harvard 10 times and from 30 jobs, and had two failed business ventures. Even after founding Alibaba, he struggled to make the company profitable and failed to secure funding. Now, the company is one of the most valuable tech companies in the world. The lesson here is that failure doesn’t preclude you from success (unless you let it).

Write a strong business plan

A great business plan will make you accountable for your business, which is a great way to combat imposter syndrome. It will also either showcase why your idea will succeed or save you from a bad idea. If you don’t write a business plan, but your business is wildly successful, it’s simpler to attribute that achievement to luck rather than your hard work and effort (classic imposter syndrome behavior). Similarly, if your business fails, it’s easy to avoid taking responsibility when there was no clear plan in place.

Writing a business plan is an actionable first step that will force you to get feedback from others. This can help you break out of “playing it safe” for fear of being exposed as a fraud or fake. You won’t have to wonder “what if” because you weren’t able to step out of your comfort zone. Moreover, getting concrete, objective feedback from a third party can help solidify your resolve to launch your company.

Final thoughts

While it’s normal to have these feelings, you shouldn’t let them stop you from pursuing your dream. And while there is also real risk in starting a business, you shouldn’t let imposter syndrome amplify that risk. By tackling these thoughts and feelings, you can focus on what actually matters for your business and take the steps necessary for your success.

Photo credit: Alex_Po/Shutterstock

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