It’s nearly Halloween – the so-called spookiest time of the year – when we dress up as someone else, wearing a mask to hide the person beneath the costume. And you might not realize it, but in business, that’s something many of us do every single day. The daily “looking good” mask often hides deep feelings of self-doubt.
I’m talking about imposter syndrome because research shows 75% of people suffer from it – particularly women.
Take a few seconds and ask yourself this: Have you ever felt like a fraud? Told yourself, “If they only knew…”? Convinced yourself that everyone else is somehow better, more intelligent, or more ambitious than you are? Certain that you don’t have what it takes to run a successful business? If your answer is yes, then perhaps you, too, have experienced it.
Feelings of inadequacy or inferiority often surround thoughts of being an imposter. If you tell yourself you’re a fraud repeatedly enough, you will be quite positive you have no idea what you are doing. Interestingly, it can make you ignore your actual skills and accomplishments, leading you to internalize and believe the idea that you just aren’t good enough.
But the reality is, these thoughts are usually wrong. In fact, according to psychotherapist Melanie Lopes, “People who suffer from imposter syndrome often are quite skilled and competent at what they do, and consistently striving to be better and achieve more.” Yet, they internalize these thoughts and feelings for so long that it becomes part of how they view themselves and their work.
If you want your business to succeed, you need your mind to get in the game and play ball. So, it’s time to unlearn those thoughts of inferiority. Here are three of the most common signs you suffer from imposter syndrome.
1. You constantly doubt the decisions you make
You might be a solopreneur, spearheading your own business to great success. And while on the outside it looks like you’re on an upwards journey, on the inside, you may be questioning and overthinking every single decision you have to make. Perhaps you’re struggling to find the best way to market a project, or you can’t decide if hiring a new employee will be a good business decision. You might have to deliver an important presentation or training to clients, only to finish it convinced someone else would have done it better. These doubtful thoughts? They’re signs of imposter syndrome.
2. You overwork yourself
Everyone is prone to being a workaholic at times in their lives – when you’re building your business on your own, it can be hard to take a break. Of course, if you have a timely project that needs finishing or a client with an urgent issue, work may blur into leisure time. But a sure-fire sign your ‘overworking’ is due to feeling like you’re an ‘imposter’ is when you overwork yourself every day – even during quiet periods. You’ll push yourself to go above and beyond on every small task – working longer and harder than needed – and the end result still won’t be satisfying to you because you can’t pause to celebrate your wins.
3. You can’t accept praise
When you suffer from imposter syndrome, you don’t believe anyone thinks you’re doing a good job – even if they say you are. Your business partner may congratulate you on a solid year of profits, or a member of your team might commend you for the end of a successful marketing campaign. Yet what do you hear in your head? “It’s not enough”. This means you’re rarely able to enjoy and really see the successes you’ve created for yourself, focusing only on what went wrong.
So, how do you fix it?
There isn’t a quick-fix solution to overcoming thoughts and feelings of insecurity. In fact, it could take months of slowly re-training your brain to realize that you are good enough – and your work matters. But one of the most important things you can do to shift your mindset is pay attention to your negative thoughts.
Each time you find yourself criticizing your work – telling yourself you’re not working hard enough or well enough – catch yourself. Tell yourself: “This is not true! I’m not being kind to myself.” Say it out loud if you need to!
The next step is to focus on what’s fact and what’s negative thinking. Fact: you’ve worked a 10-hour day, delivered a two-hour webinar, and got around to doing those small admin tasks that had been on your to-do list for ages. Thought: “I could’ve done more; it’s not good enough.” Remind yourself of what is fact and what is just a made-up story designed to make yourself feel anxious. Focus on the former. Exhale and release the made-up story. Create a new thought based on the facts: “I’ve had a wonderfully productive and successful day.”
An excellent way to keep track of those “facts” is to keep a running list in a notepad of your strengths and accomplishments. Have it near you at all times.
Every time something goes well, write it down. Every time you’re proud of something, write it down. And every time someone gives you praise, write it down. This is your go-to place when you’re next feeling like you’re not good enough at work.
And soon, you’ll no longer feel like you’re hiding who you really are. You can save the masks for the actual Halloween outfit.