Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

I talk a lot about the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship but seldom do I address the emotional/mental side of the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship. I would be remiss not to touch upon it to some extent.

Have you ever felt like a phony in your personal or professional life? Do you ever feel like you haven’t achieved “enough” to consider yourself a subject-matter expert? These thoughts can cloud successful and high achieving entrepreneurs’ minds in all stages of business venture development.

Blame it on Imposter Syndrome. I know, this is a strong word but there is considerable psychological research in the late 1970s and 1980s behind the term. Studies range from 40-70% of successful people feel like imposters at one time or another. Also, please note imposter syndrome is not a mental disorder. This is good news for all of us!

In graduate school, one of my professors in a class said, “99% of all people in the world come from a dysfunctional family, and the other 1% lie about it.” The same can be said about imposter syndrome with high-achieving and successful people. In addition, this syndrome is highly common with successful women (but it is not exclusively a women phenomenon). The key is to realize we are human, and we all make strides to hide or work on our imperfections. Instead of focusing on them, take some time to focus on your strengths/talents, and how you can add value and channel this energy productively.

Consider these 3 ways to “get out of your head”:

  • Help someone without expecting anything in return. Seek out, or at least be open to, people who are experiencing problems you might be able to help. You might pleasantly surprise yourself with your depth and scope of knowledge and how someone else can apply it. Paying it forward is a great thing for your own self-worth and making the world, your community, and other people better.
  • Be humble—but not too humble. It’s okay to own your success and acknowledge that we are the masters of our fate. Sure, no success happens in a vacuum, and there are many factors involved that come together to form the whole package that is you. While some people are privy to certain opportunities that others aren’t, that doesn’t negate the effort put forth. Success is no accident, even if the cards are stacked in your favor. Emotional intelligence focuses on self-efficacy, and how we deal with professional mastery and recovery from failures.
  • Learn to embrace it. A little bit of self-doubt every now and then is normal and healthy. Whenever these feelings take over, you are best served to examine and articulate your doubts and anxieties. Sometimes verbalizing your fears, seeking out other’s opinions, putting pen to paper may be optimal ways to overcome and find the potential solutions to the problem. There often can be more than one right answer to a problem.

For what it’s worth, I have observed that almost every successful person has felt like an impostor at some point—no matter how confident, self-controlled they seem on the surface. Vulnerability and opening yourself to self-disclosure -strengthening relationships and improving self-awareness – is key to professional and personal growth. (Reference a great tool for this – Johari Window)

Challenge questions:

  • How can you be more vulnerable and open to increasing your self-awareness?
  • What tips and tips or tricks have you found helpful to silence this voice in your head?

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