Dealing with Imposter Syndrome as an Entrepreneur

Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve to be where you are? Like you only achieved success because of luck? Like other people think you are more capable than you really are? If any of this sounds familiar, you may be one of the many entrepreneurs who are living with imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon). 

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Broadly speaking, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a fraud. It was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. Even though it is not a clinical diagnosis, it can seriously mess with mental health. It often causes anxiety and depression, and it can have negative impacts on your career and personal life. 

It’s more common than you think

In a paper published in 1999, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger uncovered a type of cognitive bias that is known today as the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect highlights how people’s perception of their skill level doesn’t match their reality. So people perceive themselves to be either more or less capable than they really are (and the relationship between actual and perceived capability is inverse).

Research shows that approximately 70% of people will experience at least one occurrence of imposter syndrome during their lives. It is most commonly experienced by high-achievers or those embarking on a new venture. So it makes sense that when looking only at entrepreneurs, this number jumps up to 84%

What causes Imposter Syndrome?

The causes of imposter syndrome include societal pressure, upbringing, and personality traits. People who are pressured by their family and/or their community to achieve are more likely to experience imposter syndrome, as are people who score highly on the scales of perfectionism and neuroticism.

Being part of a marginalized population group increases a person’s risk of struggling with imposter syndrome. So does the introduction of a new challenge or opportunity into someone’s life (e.g. starting a business or successfully receiving your first round of funding!)

Types of Imposter Syndrome

Dr. Valerie Youn identified 5 different types of imposter syndrome which are briefly outlined below:

The Perfectionist: having a desire to always produce work that is 100% perfect.

The Expert: never feeling like you know enough.

The Soloist: asking or accepting help from others feels like a failure. 

The Natural Genius: not getting something right the first time is unacceptable.

The Superwoman/Superman: feeling unworthy of being where you are no matter how much or how hard you work. 

Most people are likely to feel like one or all of these people at some point in their lives, but when these feelings never switch off, they can become problematic. Imposter syndrome can negatively affect job performance, prevent people from taking on responsibilities that would be beneficial to them, and cause feelings of shame and depression. 

How to Mitigate Imposter Syndrome As An Entrepreneur

As with so many things in life, talking openly about having imposter syndrome is the first step to mitigating it. Talking to other people who have had similar experiences (or to a professional therapist) will make you feel less alone, prevent your emotions from spiraling out of control, and help you better understand your thoughts so that you can begin to change them.

Writing is also a helpful tool when it comes to mitigating imposter syndrome. Write down a list of accomplishments that you are proud of and then try to base your self-assessment off of that list, rather than letting your feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy get in the way. 

Other strategies include:

  1. Setting realistic goals
  2. Determining who your support system is and leaning on them when you need to, 
  3. Turning your feelings of doubt into tools for progress. For example, rather than saying, “I’m not good enough at fundraising to get the money I need to take my business to the next stage,” rather say, “Fundraising isn’t my biggest skill as an entrepreneur, so which resources can use to ensure that I get the money I need?’

As an entrepreneur, you will constantly be facing new challenges, and there will be many opportunities for imposter syndrome to slip into your life. This is a reminder that we are all works in progress, and nobody expects you to be perfect. Don’t let feelings of inadequacy hold you back from reaching your full potential!