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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Practical Tips From Business Owners

In this article, we'll be exploring an overview of what imposter syndrome is and then looking at some ways to help you build your self-awareness and integrate some mindfulness into your daily life. I'll also be including personal tips and advice from business owners on how they overcame imposter syndrome.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Table of Contents

 

Where does Imposter Syndrome come from?


The theory of imposter syndrome was developed in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes and introduced through an article titled "Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention". Their research found that high-achieving successful women felt their success was attributed to luck or chance and that they, at some point, would be found out to be frauds or imposters. While this research first focused on women, it has since become well-known that imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of gender. Further studies include Villwock, Sobin, Koester, and Harris in 2016 and Legassie, Zibrowksi, and Goldszmidt in 2008.


Common Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome


Everyone experiences imposter syndrome differently, but the common characteristics are:


  • A fear of being exposed as a failure or fraud.

  • An inability to realistically assess competence and skills.

  • Critising self or performance.

  • Feeling low self-esteem and/or low self-confidence.

  • Seeking perfectionism and setting impossibly high standards.

  • Overworking and experiencing burnout.

  • Undervaluing yourself and crediting any wins to external factors.

  • Self-sabotaging your own success.



Five Types of Imposter Syndrome


According to Doctor Valeria Young, there are five types of imposter syndrome.


  • The Perfectionist: This type of individual is focused on how well something is done and always requires 100%; achieving anything lower is a sign of failure.


  • The Expert: This is the same as the perfectionist, except it's about knowledge, and any lack of knowledge is again seen as a failure.


  • The Natural Genius: This is all about competence and the ease and speed of completing a task. If this type of person struggles to master something on the first try, this will be seen as a sign of failure.


  • The Soloist: This type of individual must complete everything themselves. Asking for help is seen as a sign of failure.


  • The Superperson: This type of imposter syndrome is focused on how many life roles a person can juggle at once. If they are unable to adequately handle a role, this is seen as a sign of failure.


How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome


Now we have an overview of what imposter syndrome is and its common characteristics; we'll explore some ways of helping to combat imposter syndrome with insights and advice from business owners who overcame it.


Share Knowledge and Embrace Vulnerability


In the spirit of embracing vulnerability, It felt only right to share my own experience with imposter syndrome. I first encountered imposter syndrome after completing my postgraduate in career development, and upon reflection, I'm adamant it was down to a serious injury I had during my studies; from that point, it became a blur of assignments, work experience and employment. This caused a misalignment in my knowledge and the way I saw myself, and what worked for me was giving myself a voice. I started to guest write, contribute to articles and speak at events and on podcasts. Doing these things enabled me to bring my knowledge and self-awareness back into alignment, and I kicked my imposter syndrome to the curb.


David Mattock, a Content Creator and owner of Little Bug Lovers, had a similar experience in finding his voice:


"As a business owner who started a blog without writing experience, I struggled with imposter syndrome. I worried that anyone would find value or just judge everything based on my poor writing skills. I kept thinking, 'I'm not a copywriter!' What helped was realising my authentic personal stories and advice could still help others. I focused on sharing actionable insights from my experience and adding more of my art and creative skills to my articles. As I saw my blog resonate with readers, I gained confidence that my voice mattered.


My advice to other owners with imposter syndrome is to remember you don't need to be perfect or the ultimate authority to share your knowledge. Find the courage to put forth your ideas, see what resonates, be open to feedback, and show some vulnerability. Focus on serving your audience from your experience. As people respond positively to your insights, it will build your belief in the value you provide."


Build self awareness and mindfulness to beat imposter syndrome

Record Successes to Counter Self-Doubt


This brings us nicely to one of my favourite mindfulness writing tools, keeping a lessons-learned journal. I frequently use mindfulness when coaching my clients as it helps us to stay present in the moment and is great at building our self-awareness. By spending just 10 minutes a day recording our daily experiences, we can learn from our failures, help prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes and identify growth learning opportunities. By keeping a record of your progress, you can reflect back and review earlier days and remind yourselves just how awesome you really are.


Nicolas Krauss, the Founder and CEO of dasFlow Custom Sublimation Apparel, explains how keeping a journal helped him to overcome self-doubt:


"To overcome impostor syndrome as a business owner, I recommend focusing on your achievements and learning journey. In my experience with DasFlow, keeping a record of successes and positive customer feedback was crucial in combating self-doubt. This tangible reminder of accomplishments helps counter feelings of inadequacy. Also, networking with other entrepreneurs and sharing experiences can be enlightening; it reveals that these doubts are common, even among successful business owners. Remember, impostor syndrome is more about perception than reality, and acknowledging your progress is vital in overcoming it."


Combat Impostor Syndrome with Self-Awareness


Those with imposter can struggle to see a situation clearly and overly criticise themself when a mistake is made. Building self-awareness is a continuous process and a key factor for personal growth and advancement. It's about understanding how your feelings, behaviours and characteristics feed your actions and reactions. By building awareness, you can fully comprehend your strengths and weaknesses, more accurately recognise your thoughts and emotions, and change behaviours that are not serving you well.


One way of doing this is through using a coaching tool called 360 feedback. 360 feedback was originally used in businesses as a method of reviewing a supervisor's or manager's performance. I've adapted its use, to help build a client's self-awareness and self-confidence.


Here's a recent podcast episode that I was a guest on, which explains in just 5 minutes how you can use it as a growth-building tool.


Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter, shares his experience and the methods he uses when imposter syndrome creeps in:


“Look, imposter syndrome is like that annoying friend who just won't leave the party. But you've got to show it the exit door. How? Well, my secret sauce is self-awareness. Whenever that imposter feeling creeps in, I take a pause and acknowledge it. I dissect it like a business problem. What triggered it? Is it a new challenge? A big decision? Once you identify the source, it loses some of its power. Next up, surround yourself with a tribe of truth-tellers. I've got my inner circle—folks who call it as they see it. No sugar-coating, just real talk. They're the ones who remind me of my strengths when imposter syndrome tries to dim my shine. Remember, you're not alone in this game. So, own your journey, embrace the discomfort, and kick imposter syndrome to the curb.”


Foster Continuous Development and Support


As the saying goes, "no man is an island"; it's important to build a support network. Be that family, friends or work colleagues, networks are people who can support us through the hard times and celebrate the wins.


The economic landscape is continually changing, and the leaps in technology mean that as a business owner, you need to keep honing your skills to stay relevant. Continuous professional development is my middle name! Abiding by my code of ethics as a coach, I need to carry out at least 25 hours of professional development a year. However, my professional development is weekly. It can be the simple things like reading a magazine from your work sector or completing a short training course. Use your lessons learned journal to reflect on and identify those growth learning opportunities that can help you stay ahead of the game.


Ahmad Faraj, Owner, Principal and Senior Criminal Lawyer of Faraj Defence Lawyers, has this to say about continuous professional development:


"Early in my professional life as a criminal lawyer and business owner, I struggled with impostor syndrome. Embracing continuous development and recognizing accomplishments are fundamental in surmounting this obstacle. Create a support system comprising mentors and colleagues who can offer valuable guidance and insight. In light of previous accomplishments, acknowledge that competence and a degree of uncertainty frequently coexist. Set attainable objectives and commemorate significant achievements throughout the process. Concentrate on skill development by engaging in continuous learning and bolstering your expertise. Keep in mind that while impostor syndrome is a prevalent condition among high achievers, it in no way defines your abilities. Adopt obstacles as learning opportunities. Regularly reaffirming your competence and surrounding yourself with positive influences are effective strategies for developing resilience against the negative effects of impostor syndrome."



Focus on Successes and Seek Mentorship


Being a mentor and mentee are both rewarding experiences. I've mentored people for over 20 years, and it's amazing the amount things you can learn about yourself and learn from your mentee. The journey you take together can change you both for the better.


You can find mentor programmes through your networks on LinkedIn at networking events or through forums related to your sector. For example, in the creative industry, Women in Film and TV offers a yearly mentoring scheme.


Remember, the key to building any network is creating authentic relationships, and the more you give, the more you gain. Don't just click connect and leave it. Visit your new contacts profile and send them a personalised message. Doing this fosters trust and familiarity, leading to more interactions and increasing the potential for recommending you to a broader network.


Matt Little, Owner of Festoon House shares his thoughts on the importance of networks and having a mentor:


"The dread of being discovered as a phony is a common cause of impostor syndrome, but in actuality, you have probably conquered many obstacles and accomplished important milestones along your entrepreneurial journey.


Surrounding oneself with a network of mentors, peers, and fellow entrepreneurs who can offer support and comfort is another beneficial tip. They can provide helpful insights to assist you in overcoming impostor syndrome, as they have probably experienced similar worries themselves. Gaining confidence and realising that you are not alone in these feelings can also come from working with others and sharing your experiences. Being surrounded by mentors and like-minded business owners who had faith in my abilities also went a long way toward helping me get over my impostor problem."


Final Reflections


Charting a journey to business success takes great courage and an enormous amount of energy, and what I've hopefully shown you is that you're not alone in the world of imposter syndrome.


Remember to celebrate even the smallest of achievements and write in a journal each day all of the things that went well so that you have evidence of your accomplishments to read in times of doubt. It's important to reframe and challenge any negative thinking; negative self-talk traps us in a cycle of demotivation. Instead, try the positive daily affirmations from my podcast episode that remind you about your key strengths.


If you want to connect or stay updated with the latest industry news, make sure to follow me on LinkedIn or sign up for my monthly newsletter, which also includes receiving updates on when a new blog post goes live.


If you or a loved one is struggling with your mental health, you can find more details on the Mind.org.uk website, including helplines that you can call.

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