Hello friends and welcome to this episode of the conscious of women entrepreneurs podcast. Today I’ll talk about a much sought after topic that pretty much everyone I’ve coached has experienced: Imposter Syndrome. I’ll talk about what it really is, how it’s holding you back from growing your business and how to overcome it!
If you have thoughts like: “Who am I to do or say this,” “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t have enough knowledge, experience or know-how to be in this position,” “this other person is so much more deserving of this opportunity than me” etc… You feel unworthy, insecure and feel like a fraud, no matter how amazing people around you tell you that you are. You think that what you’ve accomplished is just a fluke or strike of luck… If you have any of these thoughts or feelings, you probably have what’s called imposter syndrome.
I want to emphasize, before we really get into this, that this isn’t a real syndrome. It’s not a psychological condition that you can look up in the register of psychological illness – or whatever they call it. So, if you struggle with imposter syndrome, it’s nothing wrong with you. You just have a human brain. In fact, according to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, as much as 70% of us suffer from imposter syndrome.
Harvard Business Review’s article on Imposter syndrome claims that the “condition” can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
Megan Dalla-Camina of Psychology Today also defines imposter syndrome as “a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Furthermore, she points out that “the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have”.
Perpetually thinking that you’re not good enough and feeling like you’re not as good as you should be definitely has an effect on your business. When we think negative thoughts, there is a chain reaction happening and your beliefs will always end up to be the results that you’re creating. So, let’s say you’re a holistic wellness practitioner. Your thoughts might be that there are so many people out there doing what you do and that you don’t have a good enough expertise to really help people. You might also think that you’re not good enough with social media to be able to grow your business through for example Instagram. This might cause you to feel insecure, hesitant and unworthy, and as a consequence you spend your time consuming other holistic wellness practitioner’s content, procrastinate, keep taking courses and learning without implementing, focus on less important parts of your business, don’t create your own content or market your business. The result is that you don’t help people and you don’t grow your practice.
I always like to look at the definition of the concepts that I talk about. So, an imposter, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others. So, what is the opposite of being an imposter? I would argue that being legitimate, authentic or original could be considered as antonyms, or the opposite of imposter. I’m focusing on imposter syndrome in relation to conscious women entrepreneurs who work within the field of self-development or wellness here, so, let’s run with the word original for now.
In this industry there are so many people offering similar services and talking about the same things. Hence, it’s not surprising that a lot of us start comparing ourselves to those that seem more established in this space. For this reason, I first want you to consider that there are not much original thought generated these days. In the self-development space people that we somewhat consider to be pretty much «gurus», are actually restating age old philosophies and theories. The people in the ancient past had the same human brain and the same set of emotions that we experience today. The old texts from great philosophers or old spiritual leaders are the same insights that are spoken about today. So what I’m trying to say is that you might look at your peers thinking that they are absolutely brilliant and that you could never be as good as them. But what they’re saying is very rarely ground breaking. They could be sharing new research, but that research is most likely accessible through publicly available journals, they’ve just taken the time to read it and is now sharing it.
In marketing there is a concept saying that “a confused mind doesn’t buy”. Therefore, it’s been said that the offer isn’t great unless a 5 year-old would understand it. In other words, less is more, and talking about concepts in your own simple terms might actually work 100 times better than trying to be or sound like someone else. So, keep that in mind when you listen those you consider to be experts and remind yourself that restating what you’ve learned in simpler terms may be more easily digestible to those you speak to.
You might think that others just are better than you in general. But if that’s the case; define better. Better is always relative. We often glorify skills that others have but we don’t’ but totally tend to neglect our own strengths, skills and experience. But that’s often all it is. Others might just different skill sets. Our brains so often want to map our all the things we don’t have as opposed to the things we do have in any given situation. In terms of growing a business, we tend to have a goal and then look at all the things we need to learn before we can take action on it. Instead, what’s a more abundant way to approach this, is to first map out all the things that you do know and all the reasons why you have what it takes – even if it includes people around you who can help out on the things that you don’t master – such as social media. If you don’t have experience, focus on your drive to develop, to explore, to learn about the topic at hand.
We normalize our skills and knowledge, thinking that everyone knows this stuff but we fail to recognize the countless hours we’ve dedicated to our craft. The time you’ve spent honing your craft, other people have spent their time on other things, which is why they hire us to help them. Just by having the education or taking the certifications that you have, you’re already way ahead of those who haven’t.
You can always be better. You learn and gain experience all your life. But, imagine if only 100 year-olds with PhDs were allowed to talk about any topic because they got the most extensive experience and the longest academic background in it. I like to really stretch the concepts by giving these kinds of analogies because it becomes so apparent that we see that it doesn’t really make rational sense – and it almost becomes humorous.
I quickly also want to mention something about sharing concepts that others have already spoken about; in comedy they say that it’s all about the delivery of the message. The energy behind the words, the body language and subtle cues are what, in comedy, makes a normal sentence into a hilarious joke. In the same way, listening to the guru of all gurus or the expert of all experts in their field may make things click for the listener. However, when a “normal person” says the same things in their own words, you might understand the message on a whole new level. That person has first heard or read about the concept, then interpreted in their own way. When this person talks about the exact same concept, they’ve also ran it through their filters of the way they experience this reality. The message that they then share contains the same old truths, but is packaged in a new way that may help someone to relate it to their own life in a way that works better for them. Just think about it, if a girl your age with similar background to you shares a concept and how she’s integrated it into her life, you’re more likely to be able to internalize and utilize it than hearing it from an old Indian bloke who live in the Himalayan mountains and whose life is opposite to yours.
Sidenote; You might argue that you got an insight while meditating or an intuitive hunch and therefore consider the concept to be novel. And while you might have realized a whole new concept that so far has been unknown to humanity, chances are high that there have actually been someone out there who has already thought, spoken and written about that exact thing but in their own words.
Having imposter syndrome is largely a matter of confidence; having confidence in yourself and that you deserve the success that you have or are working towards. Feeling confident is just that; a feeling. And that feeling is generated by thoughts that we have relative to any given circumstance. Therefore, our job is to find thoughts that support us in being confident. What are the reasons why you are “qualified” to share content about a specific topic. What are all of the ways your background, current knowledge and personality traits are helpful to your present or future clients? Make a list!
Don’t quote me on this, as I haven’t validated it, but it seems that women generally are less confident than men – especially when it comes to business. This is probably due to cultural and social conditioning. But, it shouldn’t have to be that way, and we do have the power to change it!
Our society is, in many ways, built up cultivating poor self confidence in consumers. Because it sells! “Look at this gorgeous model, you should buy this makeup to look more like her.” “Look at this successful person, buy this car to feel a sense of status and success too!” “Look at that amazing physique of that athlete, you should buy this protein powder to look more like him!” Etc. We are conditioned to strive for external solutions to something that are fundamentally internal matters.
It’s human to strive for something bigger, better and greater, but we need to make sure that we don’t use the quest for improvement against ourselves. It’s okay to have an ideal that we want to work towards, but don’t shame yourself for not being there yet or never being good enough.
In a marketing seminar that I went to for businesses who wanted to become more sustainable and ride the wave of the green shift, there were several experts in their field speaking. One of the major take-aways that really stood out to me was an idea that is pretty well known in marketing. But, I hadn’t thought about it in this way before. In marketing we speak about a brand story – or a journey if you will. Brands want to create a feel and sense of following them on a journey. And that makes sense. For the longest time, storytelling has been one of the things that captivates us the most. Just look at your own life; you probably love movies or spend countless hours watching series. You’re getting to know the characters, their struggles, their wins, their flaws and their strengths. And because of this, you feel like you kind of know them or have some sort of connection to them. So, coming back to what I was saying about the seminar, what they found to be the most effective in marketing a sustainable shift for the business, was to take the audience on a journey with them. Through social media and on their website, sharing what they were currently doing well, what areas they need to improve, what their plans are and what steps they are currently considering to implement attracted attention. Their authenticity around not yet being where they wanted to be created trust, and consistently sharing steps they were taking to improve, created engagement and support.
This also applies to entrepreneurs and building their business. We don’t need to have it all figured out. By sharing our journey, letting our followers know what we’re working on and celebrating when we’ve reached goals or helped others reach theirs, we take them on a journey that sparks curiosity and engagement.
One of my mentors always say that by living in “the breakthrough” and sharing from that space not only give you lots to create content around, but also puts you in a position where you feel comfortable about sharing from your process. People get inspired by you when you’re inspired and they like to see how what you’re doing might apply to their life.
When I wrote my master thesis in digital marketing, my focus was to find out what factors made people follow influencers in the field of sustainability. What I found through my research was that some of the most valued factors were that the person was relatable, authentic and that they shared quality content. We make up all the excuses for why we’re not good enough or sit in shame feeling fraudulent for sharing our version of information.
You don’t have to have a PhD in environmental science to talk about sustainability, just look at Greta Thunberg. She was only 13 years old when she started taking action and speaking up about the environmental crisis. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and hadn’t even started high school. Now she speaks to the global leaders at the United Nations and encourage them to take immediate action.
The reason why I spend some time really going into this is that I want to underline a simple mindset shift: You don’t need to be the best person in the whole world to talk about something and for people to benefit from it. You just have to contribute to the conversation with your take on the topic at hand.
When we’re caught up in feeling like an imposter, something that’s really simple and effective is to shift our focus away from ourselves and onto our clients. Do you think Mother Theresa was caught up in thinking who am I to travel across the world and teaching poor children to read and write in a time where the majority of women would be stay at home house wives? NO! Her focus was obviously on how she could help! This, again, is to put in on the edge, but I want you to see the parallel there. What makes the whole difference, is our perspective on the situation. And our perspective is built up by thoughts and feelings about the circumstance.
As I was saying, imposter syndrome is largely about our confidence relative to the situation at hand. What we tend to do is to try to change our circumstance rather than our thoughts. As I touched on earlier, we tell ourselves that we need to learn more, that we need more experience, that we need more certifications etc. So, it becomes an endless chase. You tell yourself that once I get certified in this I’ll feel better. When you don’t feel less of an imposter after getting that certification, you tell yourself that once I take this course I’ll have what it takes to level up my business! But you finish your course and have learned a bunch of new things but you still feel like a fraud, not good enough at what you do, and again you search outside of yourself for things that you can do or learn to feel better about yourself . You see how this shit fight just keeps going? Hell, I’m sure even Einstein doubted himself!
And the funny part is that those people who seems to be self-proclaimed world champions, the know-it all’s who radiate excessive amounts of confidence – are often those people who don’t have the greatest education, who doesn’t spend years and years on honing their skills and reading up on things. You know the types I’m referring to, right?
I also want to mention Frank Abagnale Jr., who was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Catch Me if You can’. He is referred to one of the history’s most famous conmen. He had begun to con people and pass bad checks when he was 15 years old. During his teens, he estimated that he flew more than a million miles deadheading while pretending to be a Pan American World Airways pilot. He states that he also pretended to be a physician and an attorney. The word “con man” is said to originate from an article in the New-York Herald, in 1849, with the headline reading: “Arrest of the Confidence Man.” And it makes sense, people with utmost confidence are convincing. In Frank Abagnale Jr’s case, he impersonated being a pilot, a doctor and an attorney. He was a REAL imposter. You’re NOT!
Don ‘t make you not knowing certain things or having certain experience mean that you’re not qualified. As a friend, Cecilie, so brilliantly said, we can’t know everything that there is to something. We have certain strengths that we bring to the table, including tools, experience, skills, know-how and personality traits, but we all have limitations. And that does not translate to us being fraudulent or not deserving of sitting at the table! In fact, saying:” I don’t actually know, but I’ll look into it” makes you trustworthy and show that you’re willing to figure things out!
No matter how competent we are in our field, we’re likely to experience imposter syndrome. Remember the statistics I shared earlier; 70% of us experience it! I’m not very interested in celebrities, but I’ll use some examples for the sake of the argument I’m making here. The general consensus is that we perceive famous movie stars or artists as highly successful individuals who has the talent, skills and experience to be where they are. However, as you’ll hear, these too just have human brains with limiting beliefs about themselves. Here are 4 examples of celebrities talking about their imposter syndrome after they’ve made it big:
So, it seems that most humans have a cognitive dissonance. We know that we have a lot to share about a certain topic or that we are skilful. We often get external validation that we’re good at what we do. Yet we still have the constant doubt, that inner voice that keep thinking that we’re not good enough, that we’re a fraud and that we’re going to get caught.
There is no level of accomplishments that will put an end to those thoughts. There is nothing that you can do externally that will make this internal battle end.
We have to change it from the inside out. As everything else in life, it starts with our mindset. You need to change your thoughts to change how you feel – in this case, feeling like an imposter.
But how do we do that? There are several techniques, but I like to use a tool that I call Thought Bridging. You write down what your thoughts are now at the bottom of the page. Then, at the top, write what you’d like to believe. In the middle, you write down something that you do believe now that are in alignment with the your most desired thoughts around the situation. This way you bridge the gap between the thoughts you have now (which are limiting you) and your desired thoughts (that supports you in reaching your goals).
Changing a mindset isn’t done overnight, but by becoming aware of what you truly think about something, is a huge first step. This can, in many ways be transformative in an of itself. But to really make a shift, you need to practice these new thoughts. Remember that you’ve probably spent a lifetime doubting yourself and not feeling good enough. Starting to feel confident and that you deserve what it is that you want, is a process. This is one of the reasons why a lot of people are starting to realize how helpful it is to have a coach and how much faster these thought upgrades happen by having someone who constantly challenge your thoughts. Someone who, every week brings you back on track with supportive thoughts.
I hope you got some good insights from this episode, and if you know someone who’d benefit from hearing this – share it with them right now!
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