My first job as a graphic designer began with a lot of worries. I had been hired because my employer saw that I had the skills and ability to do the work, but I wasn’t so sure. Some of the skills I had typed on my resume were exaggerated so that I could get an interview (much less hired) in a tough job market. I had a lot of self-doubt in business. I felt like an imposter.
Sure, I could do the work. My work ethic had always been strong, and I was committed to the furniture company that had believed in me enough to give me a chance. What’s more, the company that hired me never suspected that I wasn’t always the designer I had portrayed on my resume. But my feelings of inadequacy never completely went away. Nine years later, they would resurface when I started my own company.
Limiting beliefs about my abilities that I carried around early in my career resurfaced when I became an entrepreneur. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? The questions and “not good enough” feelings that came with them swirled in my mind.
Today I know the “not good enough” feelings by another name – imposter syndrome. Millions of entrepreneurs just like me have had to deal with this heavy self-doubt in business at one time or another. Our drive to innovate and succeed can create the perfect environment for feelings of inadequacy to grow. But we don’t have to let those feelings define us.
And we don’t have to let imposter syndrome get in the way of our success.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
I started to understand my “not good enough” feelings in business when I sat down and put an actual definition of imposter syndrome on paper. I discovered that imposter syndrome is that internal voice that says you are not good enough, or that you don’t deserve to be where you are in your career, or that you are a fraud. It is an avalanche of limiting beliefs that, if unchecked, can smother your chances for a long and happy entrepreneurial journey.
In short, imposter syndrome is self-doubt in business.
And it’s a big problem for entrepreneurship. Imposter syndrome keeps as many as 60 percent of women from striking out on their business journey globally, according to research published by NatWest Group in 2019. Many women who took part in the study cited a lack of confidence as their self-doubt in business. This was often the case despite the fact that these women have the skills to succeed.
Recognizing when imposter syndrome is creeping into my mindset has helped me to reframe my thinking before I start to go down a rabbit hole of self-doubt. Still, that doubt will inevitably return from time to time – even though I know logically that I deserve to be where I am. And it resurfaces in a number of ways.
Ways Self-Doubt In Business Shows up as Imposter Syndrome
For me, there have been quite a few ways that self-doubt in business has reared its ugly head over the years. Perhaps you have seen them crop up in your own business or career. None of these doubts are fatal, but they can set back your chances of success if you don’t face them.
Lack of Confidence Around Money
According to the NatWest, around 44 percent of potential entrepreneurs say imposter syndrome is keeping them from applying for funding to start a business. That’s nearly half of those who want to go into business for themselves but stop because of money fears. I have faced these fears, and perhaps you have, too – especially when it comes to asking for loans or other types of investment you need.
Fear of Making Mistakes
Self-doubt in business also creeps into my life when I think about making mistakes. This has proven most true when I start working with a client in an industry that is unfamiliar to me. There are times I’ve been terrified that some minor slip will make me seem like a novice, or that I’ll ask a question that makes me seem unqualified. When this self-doubt appears, I try to remember that clients come to me because of a glowing recommendation or because of my portfolio of award-winning work, and that my company can do the research to find answers to a client’s questions.
Hear me out: self-sabotage is not the same as humility. There is absolutely no harm in being modest about your skills or talents, or your ability to attract clients. What is harmful is telling yourself that you don’t have the skill or talent – or even the potential – to start a business because you feel unworthy. Self-sabotage happens when we feel undeserving of the good things we have in life and in business. Feeling like you don’t deserve success is self-sabotage, and self-sabotage is a textbook example of imposter syndrome.
Other Types of Self-Doubt in Business
Not everyone has self-doubt in business tied to money, or a fear of making a mistake. Some entrepreneurs might never feel undeserving of their success like those who struggle with self-sabotage. But most everyone has stared down imposter syndrome at one level or another. Here are a few other ways self-doubt shows up as imposter syndrome in our lives and careers:
Having difficulty accepting compliments. Good work deserves recognition, and that goes for your good work, too. If you have trouble accepting praise for a job well done, it’s possible that you are struggling with imposter syndrome.
Feeling that others are more qualified than you. Ah, the dangers of comparison. Everyone has their own blend of skills and talents. Imposter syndrome might be at play if you feel that your skill set is lacking merely because it is different from your peers.
Afraid to accept new responsibility. Nothing seems to kill success like a fear of failure. After all, we can’t really know if we can do something until we try. Imposter syndrome feeds on our self-doubt in business and stops us from taking on new challenges that we might handle beautifully if we give ourselves the chance.
Ways to Handle Self-Doubt in Business Tied to Imposter Syndrome
If you are like me, self-doubt in business is easy to spot but hard to tame. Sometimes it is much easier to tell yourself that you can’t do something than to silence the “not good enough” feeling and work around the limiting beliefs that stand in your way.
The good news is that there are dozens of ways to tackle imposter syndrome when it comes to self-doubt in business. Business advisor firm Enterprise Nation offers some really concrete tips on its website for overcoming self-doubt in business tied to imposter syndrome. These are tips that anyone can use to start moving in another direction. Here are a few:
Call Out Your Doubt
Entrepreneurs are great at trying new things, or we wouldn’t be entrepreneurs. Sometimes trying new things means calling out the self-doubt in business that is holding you back. Try to see each “not good enough” feeling as an opportunity to call out your doubt and challenge it. If your inner voice is calling you a fraud, ask yourself “Why am I feeling like this?” or “Am I justified in feeling this?” Calling out what you are feeling can help you assess whether or not your feeling is, or isn’t, really fact.
Find Your Work Tribe
It is exciting striking out on your own in business or taking a step or two up the company ladder. But being an entrepreneur can be isolating. Having a group of peers with whom you can share your thoughts (and fears) helps you to work through some of the self-doubt in business – and may even cut short your rendezvous with imposter syndrome. The larger your circle of friends, the more support you will have the next time doubts come knocking!
Acknowledge Your Success
Anyone who has experienced self-sabotage knows how uncomfortable it is to acknowledge your success. It took me a while to accept my success in my own business and I know other entrepreneurs also struggle with acknowledging their success. But your success is your success. Your accomplishments are tied to your hard work, your skill, your talent, and your personality – not someone else’s. It is possible that you got a job or a client because of your relationships with others but they didn’t finish the job – you did! It is okay to acknowledge your success and even keep track of your achievements as you build your business and career.
Entrepreneurs struggling with imposter syndrome can work through feelings of self-doubt in business that impact their chance at success. The ways we work through these “not good enough” feelings depend on who we are and where we find ourselves. I might need to work on overcoming self-sabotage by acknowledging my success. You may need to focus on a fear of making mistakes. We both might need to become more confident when it comes to money.
That’s not to say that imposter syndrome will go away for good. After 15 years in business, I am continually challenging myself to push through my self-doubt in business and find new successes that I might have never thought possible years ago. I believe that you can do it, too.
By acknowledging our success, calling out our doubts, and finding support when we need it, we can get through the “not good enough” feelings and stay on our journey, no matter what it holds.