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Imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud or like you got where you are by luck or other external factors that were not on your own merit. However, this syndrome is sneaky and doesn’t always show up as a clear thought. We need to examine its nuances and how you can identify it even if it’s not so obvious.
This author has even experienced it — I wanted to write for Entrepreneur.com for two years before it finally happened. At the end of 2021, I received an email saying I was accepted as a contributing writer. I was ecstatic; I’ve been an entrepreneur for five years and was a corporate executive for nine years before that. Although I wrote a lot throughout my career in public relations and even when crafting copy for my own business, I wouldn’t refer to myself as a writer even though I love to write.
I was so excited to get the news, and I had so many article ideas to write for the new year. I also felt the pressure to write at a higher level than ever before. The next thing I know, February came around and I had yet to submit an article.
Fast forward to today. I was sharing with a friend that I still hadn’t submitted any articles. She candidly replied, “Do you think it’s impostor syndrome? Maybe your need for it to be so good is an excuse. Maybe this story should be your first article.”
It became so clear. I speak to entrepreneurs all the time about taking the leap, doing what they love and following their dreams. And yes, I mean it and I live it. But just like with everything else, there is always something to work on.
Imposter syndrome can sneak up on us. Here are some of the ways you may be letting imposter syndrome get to you.
Current or recovering perfectionism
It sounds good to say that you just want to do the best. Most of the time, people won’t call you out on procrastinating or coming up with an excuse. They’ll let you go days, weeks or even years, thinking you have a good reason to hold back.
Hopefully, reading this can be the wake-up call that you need. You are deserving of the position or opportunity presented to you. There is a reason you got it in the first place, and no, you don’t have to be perfect — that doesn’t exist.
Entering a new arena
Sometimes we are so confident in what we do that we let our guard down. I wasn’t thinking about imposter syndrome because I show up with confidence in my arenas and know I’ve earned my spot at the tables that I’m so comfortable sitting at.
But the moment Entrepreneur.com emailed me to sit at their table, the pressure was on. Now I had to be a good writer. This can manifest as a new business venture, a new collaboration opportunity, or even new funding that you don’t feel comfortable enough to engage in because you haven’t “conquered” this new arena. However, you never will conquer it unless you get out there.
Outside factors and programming
While imposter syndrome is something that usually starts in our minds, there are external factors to consider as well. Women have historically heard messages like “she must be sleeping with her boss to get that promotion” or “she only got that deal because of her husband.” Women of color have heard messages like “you’re only here for diversity” or “she’s in that school because of affirmative action.” If you are a woman or person of color, these are narratives that can very much affect the way you see yourself and whether you belong there.
This goes beyond confidence or self-assurance, it’s programming that’s internalized and most of the time hiding in the subconscious mind. Part of doing the work is stepping up and tackling imposter syndrome from the inside. However, another crucial part is changing the narrative.
Ways we can collectively get better
Here are some ways that we can collectively get better and overcome imposter syndrome:
- Champion others who are coming up.
- When someone has an idea, give them public credit in that meeting, article, etc.
- Support your friend’s big dreams.
- Acknowledge people’s talents, qualities and accomplishments even if you think they already know.
- Inspire change by being the change. Own your light, position, and perspective, and don’t let imposter syndrome keep you from doing the things you want to do.
- Don’t spread the toxic narrative or diminish others’ experiences and accomplishments.
- Instead of entertaining thoughts like “that person got their spot because of…,” think about all the extra hurdles that person had to endure to get there and appreciate it. Learning to appreciate others also trains you to appreciate yourself and your own merits healthily.
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