It’s okay, you’re on the list…
Ever get the feeling you shouldn’t be where you are?
You know when you have a really good idea, decide to put on your big pants and pursue it, it goes really well then all of a sudden you feel like a total fraud, completely inadequate and undeserving the success you’re having?
Well as it turns out, that is an actual thing, it has a name and it happens to all of us — even those multi-millionaire business leaders who look like the most confident and self-assured people on earth.
It’s called “imposter syndrome” or sometimes “fraud syndrome” or even “imposter experience” (which I prefer as it’s something we experience and can get rid of, rather than a condition or illness for which we need treatment), and not only is it very real, it can also be quite debilitating so it’s important to get your head around it quickly as you’re building your business or career.
I have been in the clutches of this imposter experience on many an occasion — the first time I can remember it happening was back in 2005…
I had just started working with Nike as a dancer. I went through an extensive audition process against hundreds of much more experienced and much more capable candidates but managed to snag the prize of having a solo spot in a Europe-wide Nike campaign. Woo-hoo you might say! But not me.
I was so certain that I was undeserving of this particular gig that I spent the entire time during rehearsals, fittings and filming a nervous-wreck, absolutely convinced and utterly terrified that at any moment Nike would tell me they had made a mistake and to sling my hook due to my dance ability being below par. I should have really enjoyed the production experience as Nike was (and still is) my favourite sports brand and my days were filled with doing things I absolutely loved, but I didn’t enjoy it, I just kept under the radar — interacting with the team enough so that I didn’t come across as “unsociable”, but not too much so as not to draw attention to the fact that I probably shouldn’t be there. It was so bad that I was convinced they would look through my shots during the editing stage and more than likely scrap my advert entirely. It wasn’t until I actually saw myself in a Nike advert on television that I began to accept that this great thing was happening to me and I was, maybe, good enough!
Fast forward 12 years and a familiar feeling begins to creep in. I’d started a visual communications company specialising in animated content that is gaining some traction but sometimes I do struggle to comprehend why it’s actually working — after all, I started this company with minimal experience in communications (visual or otherwise), animation, design, marketing, sales or anything I bloody well needed to typically get a business like this off of the ground.
It wasn’t until I looked deeper into what I was feeling, that I realised I wasn’t alone, and in fact “imposter syndrome” is a known and documented issue, which crucially, can be overcome. Phew.
“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now.’ I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” Maya Angelou
It might make you feel a better too, to know, that it is something that can affect us all (yep, even that Fortune 500 CEO is feeling imposter experience as you read this).
Imposter syndrome manifests itself in a few different ways but you can learn to recognise it in order to overcome it. Here’s what I’ve experienced and how I have dealt with it:
Perfectionism/Fear of failure
What is it — Exactly what it says on the tin. Nothing is ever good enough and you’re scared that if you put yourself or your ideas out there the whole world is going to end.
How might it negatively affect you — You never move forward with the development of yourself or your business. Stuck in the hamster wheel of doom whilst someone else has the same idea as you, gets it out there and makes it work. Oh well, there’s always “next time”, right?
What can you do to overcome it — Forcibly get yourself off of the hamster wheel of death, also known as the “comfort zone” by putting your ideas into action and seeing if they indeed have legs. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to WORK. I spoke about this in a previous blog (read it here) — everything is re-iterable (is that even a word?), what I mean is, once the first version is out there and in the market you can be using feedback to create a better version, and then a better version, and so on and so on, forever changing and adapting to make it better because that is what business demands nowadays. It’ll NEVER be perfect, there will always be something that needs tweaking somewhere, so forget perfection and make it just good enough to generate some revenue, get it out in front of people and reclaim your sanity by no longer chasing unicorns.
What is it — Again, you believe that the more hours a day you work, the better your business will become. Been there, done that and it is wholly untrue. There’s this idea floating around that anything you work beyond 6 hours per day is totally counter-productive and I completely believe this.
How might it negatively affect you — You’re heading for burnout city, whether you like it or not. Whether you think you’re superhuman or not. Burnout means you make mistakes and poor decisions, things take longer than they should and time is wasted, your physical and mental wellbeing is being compromised, your relationships are being tested, you’re beginning to hate this idea of being in business for yourself, bang, crash, wallop. You’re unhappy.
What can you do to overcome it — Knowing when to stop the train, get off and rest is 50% of the battle. It takes time to recognise that you need to slow down and give yourself a pause — stop listening to the Wolf-of-Wall-Street style “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” meme’s from the so-called successes you follow on Instagram and take a nap, dammit.
Okay, I’ll be honest, I am still guilty of working 8–10 hour days but it’s a massive reduction from the 36 hours straight which is where I began!
I am working hard to reduce this further by implementing tools to enhance my productivity (working on a blog post for this too) so that I get the most bang for my buck out of the 6 hours that I will work. This includes things like pausing my email so that I can only receive it and be tempted to reply to it at limited times during the day. Similarly, with social media — I now check it once per day and it’s usually during my final 30 mins of my work day. I also utilise things like “timed to-do lists”, scheduling any calls to last a maximum of 15 minutes and in-person meetings to last a maximum of 30 minutes (unless it’s over lunch or dinner in which case I’ll allocate an hour, it takes me twice as long to talk when there’s food involved, obvs). Then when it comes to shut-up-shop time, do exactly that. No more checking emails, making calls, nothing. Spend time with family, friends, or alone or just doing whatever makes you feel great. I am living proof that your business will not suffer if you take some time out every day for yourself, in fact, you’ll arrive at your workspace the next day more motivated and productive than ever.
Undermining achievements and the inability to accept praise
What is it — It’s that thing where someone says “congratulations on your success, you’ve done so well!” and you say “aww, not really, I didn’t really do anything, it was nothing, check out Stacey’s business, I mean she’s really doing great things, but not me…” yep, that. You just can’t bring yourself to recognise your successes (which everyone else sees btw) and accept the compliment — even though you know deep down you’ve worked your socks off to get there. You feel slightly humiliated, then worry that the person who complimented you might see that you’re a fraud. We often do it in other areas of our lives too, how many of these replies do you recognise?:
“what, this old thing? I just threw it on quickly, I didn’t even have chance to iron it properly” (read: it’s brand new from the store, it’s been freshly pressed and I spent forever finding the matching accessories for it)
“Naah, it was quick and easy, I just threw together a few veggies and noodles” (read: I’ve been perfecting this recipe for the past 12 weeks, I’ve made it 7 times and this is the best it’s been yet)
“well, not really, I’ve started back at the gym again but I don’t really know much about it or spend much time there, I just do what I can” (read: I’ve been at the gym for the past 12 weeks twice a day every day. I follow a strict training regime with muscle Mike that sees me up at 3:30am every day shovelling shed loads of BCAA’s down my throat and squatting weight akin to that of a Volkswagen Beetle)
How might it negatively affect you — Every time you refuse to accept a compliment, you’re knocking yourself. You believe that by refusing the compliment it makes us look humble — It doesn’t, it devalues us even further. Constantly believing that you’re not worthy means you’ll embody this and begin to radiate fragility, and that’s not where you want to be as a business owner, or as a human being in general. You are worthy of every compliment you receive, no matter what part of your life it pertains to, and you should be complimenting yourself too, daily in fact.
What can you do to overcome it — Spoiler alert: you’re not a fraud. Accept the compliment. All you have to do is nod and say “thank you”. That’s it. Next time someone compliments you on anything, you nod and say “thank you” — that’s where it begins. Then be sure to compliment yourself, at least once a day. Doesn’t matter what it’s for, find something to compliment yourself about and do it. It doesn’t matter if it feels weird, there’s only you in the room (unless you’re ballsy enough to do it in public, in which case you probably don’t need any of the advice in this post!). All done? Great, now go and complete the circle by complimenting someone else.
I want to hear about your impostor experiences, sharing is halving, or whatever — let me know right here in the comments below or connect with me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook @KymberleeJay.