Imposter Syndrome in Business + Entrepreneurship

Confidence and Imposter Syndrome

Your confidence level will influence every facet of what you do. It will affect the energy with which you get up in the mornings. It will influence how you choose to greet and meet people throughout your day. It will have a say in what you wear, how you speak, and your choices. Your confidence level will affect how you approach your brand new business every day and play a part in the risks you take and opportunities you follow. Confidence is crucial. But we also know it can be really, really hard. 

Most, if not all of us, have had days where we’ve woken up and thought, “I am a phony, I don’t deserve what I have, and one day, everyone’s going to realize.” This phenomenon is called Imposter Syndrome, and some studies estimate that up to 82% of people will experience it in some way, shape, or form. Verywell Mind defines Imposter Syndrome as “an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be, which has links to perfectionism and the social context.” In this section, we’re going to take a closer look at what exactly Imposter Syndrome is and how it can mess with your confidence as an entrepreneur, some signs to look out for, and some exercises you can do to banish that fear and live your best life.

What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

Before we dive into the phenomenon, we need to examine WHY people experience fear and WHY it’s such an intense, sometimes crippling, emotion. Fear is what we consider an “adaptive” feeling. Evolutionarily, it was much more urgent for our ancestors to notice and avoid the poisonous snake entering their cave than it would be to see and go smell the lovely flower on the hill next door. Our genetics are trained to seek out potential danger and react strongly. Unfortunately, this also means that we tend to remember every excruciating detail of bad times but only remember a vague sense of blurry joy around the good ones. We hold on to the bad, the painful, and the scary experiences to protect ourselves from getting into these situations again. These painful fragments affect the narratives we form about ourselves. For example, say you were waiting tables at 16 and dropped a tray of fragile dishes. You could never drop another dish again and STILL think of yourself as a clumsy person way into your thirties. Low self-confidence and Impostor Syndrome experiences come from these stories you tell yourself based on the negative stimulus you hold internally and generate from external negative factors, such as unrealistic Instagram comparisons or toxic interactions. Basically, your confidence is probably low because your brain is sitting around a campfire telling you scary stories where YOU are the bogeyman. Silly when you actually think about it, huh? 

Imposter Syndrome is an example of this fear-based narrative creation that centers around feeling like you aren’t good enough and don’t deserve what you have. As an entrepreneur, it can be incredibly easy to fall prey to this sort of thinking, mainly because you don’t yet have any POSITIVE experiences to call on when writing your story. You may find yourself consistently agonizing over whether your business is actually a good idea or thinking that you don’t know enough or don’t have enough experience to embark on this new journey. Even if you do well, your Imposter Syndrome will often try to tell you it was a once-off and you didn’t earn it. What’s important is recognizing that these internal voices are NOT the truth but rather a protective construction that is limiting you. It’s time to let them go. 

What are the signs of Imposter Syndrome? 

These are the most common signs of Imposter Syndrome, but it can lower your confidence in a multitude of other ways, too: 

– An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills

– Attributing all your achievements to external factors

– Berating your performance, even when it’s at a high level

– Fear that you won’t live up to expectations

– Overachieving through consistent overworking and anxiety

– Sabotaging your own success

– Self-doubt 

– Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you can’t achieve them

If you read this list and thought, “uh-oh,” don’t freak out. There are tonnes of incredibly successful people who feel the same thing. Tom Hanks, one of our generation’s most beloved actors, tells the story of being on a set and thinking, “How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?” Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, says that “very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO.”

On her social media, even Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal, Girlboss Media, and a New York Times Bestselling Author, said, “Is anyone ever 100% qualified for anything…HELL NO. I’m certainly not…How to go from total impostor to 99% confident (or, let’s be realistic, even 50%)? Homework. I hate it… Preparation breeds confidence — so bust out your textbooks and give yourself some homework.” Are you ready for your self-confidence homework?

What can I do about this?

Now that you’ve identified what that nasty little voice in the back of your head is, we’ve got a few exercises that could help you squash it and allow yourself to flourish to benefit your business AND your life. We’ll start with the fastest option, then work our way up to more time-consuming but effective exercises.

  1. Reflection Exercise

We live in a corporate world where we’re told that how busy you are is a direct measure of your worth. While this is a whole other subject to dive into, it does mean that we tend to spend a lot of our time running from task to task, maximizing our productivity, and never really sitting down to just reflect. During busy times, it’s easy for the Imposter Syndrome story to rear its head and start making us feel inadequate. When we’re not taking stock of where we are really at, the negative fears creep in and take the wind out of our sails before we even notice them coming. 

For this exercise, we want you to clear 20 minutes of your day and ask yourself, “how are you?” Don’t just say “good,” “fine,” “tired,” or “hungry.” Take time to really listen for the honest answer and recognize it as truth. The answer could be something like, “I haven’t been sleeping well, so I don’t feel in control of my time, leading me to rush tasks and make mistakes.” It could be “I am filling my time, but it’s not making me happy because I am neglecting my social relationships to make this work, so my work is halfhearted and uninspired.” 

When you take the time to listen to how you’re TRULY feeling, you can reframe your “I am not good enough” thoughts positively. Instead of “I don’t deserve to start this business,” your thoughts will go to places like “this business deserves an owner that is well-rested and in control, so I will sleep 8 hours tonight.” By simply pausing, to be honest with yourself, the core truths of bad feelings can immediately discard those pesky imposter thoughts. 

2. Question exercise 

Like the “reflection” exercise, this one is about examining the truth to combat the fictional, fearful thoughts you’re generating. For this exercise, we suggest that when a spell of painful, low confidence thinking comes around, you sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and write out your answers to the following questions: 

  • What do I know to be true about me or the situation? 
  • What am I feeling? 
  • Can I identify where those feelings are coming from? 
  • What is the story I am telling myself? 
  • If I had zero fear, what would my outcome be? 
  • If someone I love was in this scenario, what would I tell them to do? 

The stories we tell ourselves influence how we show up in our lives. By deconstructing the story and reframing it from a place of love, you’re approaching your imposter thoughts with a self-love mindset, which will allow you to perform at your highest level. 

3. Action exercise 

This third exercise is the most effective for long-term results but can be tricky to commit to. It’s challenging to actively rewrite stories we’ve been telling ourselves for so long and rewire our self-confidence triggers. We’d recommend repeating this process whenever you need it and allowing these mindful practices to become part of your routine. 

Step 1: Cast Yourself as the main character.

Think about the most common stories you tell yourself and memories you relive. What role do you play in them? Are you the sidekick? Maybe the mom or dad character? The quirky one or the quiet one on the sidelines? No matter the role, take that character and make them the lead. Relive the memory as if it’s about YOU. By creating internal narratives in which you take the lead, you’re more likely to feel comfortable doing so in daily life. 

Step 2: Write a letter to your fear. 

Yes, we mean an actual, physical letter. Pretty old-fashioned, we know. Take the time to name your fear and address it fully. You can thank your fear for protecting you, then send it on its way. For example, to your fear of risk-taking in starting a business, you could say, “Thank you for being present to protect me from making hasty choices, but now I say goodbye to you as I embrace new chances.” If you’ve got a flair for the dramatic, you can even burn up this letter once it’s all out on paper. 

Step 3: Shift your self-talk narrative.

What we say to ourselves internally contributes massively to our confidence level. To start this shift, one should first observe one’s thoughts. Jenna Kutcher uses the fantastic analogy of acting as an observer on the sidewalk, watching the “cars” of your thoughts on a busy road. You don’t stop them, judge them, or try to steer them. You just observe their direction and flow. Then, when you’ve observed these “first thoughts,” you step in and follow them up with truthful second thoughts. For example, an intrusive thought you can’t help would be, “I have no experience as a business owner, so I will fail.” Try to step in immediately with “no first-time business owners have had the same idea and life experiences I have, so my offering is unique.” You can’t help the bad thoughts, but you CAN train yourself to see them and balance them with positive ones immediately afterward. Focus on the follow-up. 

Step 4: Create boundaries that support you

When you set boundaries that construct the working environment you desire, you’re much less likely to be victim to fear and anxiety narratives. Say you started a business because you want to work a four-day week. By respectfully enforcing your out-of-office hours with employees and clients, you’re creating the space you initially set out to and won’t feel unnecessary pressure. Remember, your response to things directly reflects your confidence level. You can significantly improve that confidence level by constructing a context that you are satisfied with!

There are very few people in the world that can get up every morning, look themselves in the mirror, and think, “there’s a gorgeous, competent winner with a bright future, a thriving business empire, and immaculate hair!” It’s ok if you don’t feel that you have a handle on everything all the time, as most of us don’t. You don’t need to know everything, be everything and do everything to run a business. You just need to be authentically yourself. When facing fear and negative narratives, you must take the time to assess your thoughts, find the truth, and navigate yourself towards recognizing your capability. Throughout this program, the Dawning Digital team is here to support you in doing that.