February 9, 2023Inspiration
The Truth About Impostor Syndrome: Understanding and Overcoming the Feeling of Being a Fraud
Being a business owner has its highs and lows; the adrenaline rush when you first start and the anxiety that follows when you realize you can’t do it alone. While the rewards of entrepreneurship are plenty, the journey is not without its challenges, including the dreaded feeling of being a fraud. This phenomenon, known as Impostor Syndrome, affects many people, not just business owners. I’m going to dive deep into this, as for a 23 year old college drop-out, I can attest how brutal the feeling is.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome can be defined as a persistent, often subconscious, belief that one's achievements are not genuine and that they are only a matter of luck or deception. Leaning heavy on luck, my first business was in the event photography industry, and it started without any experience.
Fake it till you make it right? It’s what I did, acted like I was a professional and eventually I was booking enough gigs to support a staff of 6 people. The more I faked being a professional, the more I could not shake the feeling that I was a fraud: just a 16-year-old kid trying to make a quick buck. Every photoshoot, every event, every contract signed, my work was getting better but I kept feeling I wasn’t at the level I was selling... I wasn’t even at the level to sell.
I didn’t feel comfortable talking to people about this. I felt if I mentioned it even once to someone, I would just be exposing myself and killing off my business. It's important to recognize that Impostor Syndrome is a common experience. In fact, research from InnovateMR has shown that 65% of professionals experience Impostor Syndrome at some point in their lives. The good news is that it is possible to overcome this self-doubt and achieve success.
One of the first steps in conquering Impostor Syndrome is to acknowledge that it's a normal feeling and that you're not alone in experiencing it. It's also important to focus on your strengths and accomplishments, rather than dwelling on your perceived weaknesses. I was too focused on not being anywhere near my goal, that I failed to realize the drastic improvements I was making with every event. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, and colleagues can also help to boost your confidence and provide you with the encouragement you need to keep moving forward. You can also treat it like a game, my friends and I turned it into a competition to strive for the best photo. Note, this may backfire if you lose constantly, but for me, it distracted me from treating it like a job, but back to it being a hobby, something I enjoyed and wanted to improve on naturally.
Another effective strategy is to keep learning and developing new skills. By continuously expanding your knowledge and abilities, you can boost your confidence and feel more secure in your abilities. I like the way Mark Hargrove puts it from Sun Control of Minnesota: go to bed smarter than when you woke up (I believe it’s also a quote from Charlie Munger) Whether it's taking courses, attending workshops, listening to podcasts, or networking with other professionals, there are plenty of opportunities to grow and evolve.
It may seem a bit ridiculous, you may be thinking “Wouldn't learning more make me feel worse for not knowing already?” and honestly, it does at first. But feeding your brain, adapting to changes, makes you feel more prepared and surer of your abilities: that you are providing your customers with value.
Finally, it is essential to have a growth mindset, which means embracing challenges and failures as opportunities to learn and grow. By viewing failures as lessons, rather than as evidence of your own inadequacy, you can build resilience and overcome Impostor Syndrome.
I make it sound easy, but honestly, it was a five-year journey for me. My first photography business was shut down after a year and a half, and my first attempt at a marketing agency did not even make it off the ground. But once you start coming to peace with yourself, realizing you are better than you give yourself credit for, you can really grow and achieve what you are setting your sights on.