By the nature of their work, entrepreneurs walk a fine line between success and perceived failure. No matter how much success you may have achieved, if you continually experience doubt, fear of failure, or the feeling that you’re going to be revealed as a fraud, you may suffer from imposter syndrome.
“People with imposter syndrome typically look really good on paper but don’t have that feeling internalized, so they are always feeling like something’s going to happen and the jig will be up,” Sepideh Saremi, a Los Angeles based psychotherapist who specializes in overachievers and entrepreneurs tells YouInc.
Entrepreneurs are especially prone to the syndrome, Saremi suggests, because “[They] are a particularly isolated bunch, usually working on their own for a good long while and they tend to be very singly focused.”
Being passionately focused on your work is not inherently a bad thing, but entrepreneurs must be vigilant to the critical internal voices. “I tell entrepreneurs that they don’t have to believe everything they think about themselves, but they do need awareness of what’s going on in their minds so they can check it.”
Jennifer Reitman, a California entrepreneur in publishing for 17 years, and publisher of DAME magazine, is all too familiar with the syndrome. Despite that others think of her as smart and successful for her business acumen, the voices in her head say, “I’m a fraud, I have no business having a company, who am I to do this?” she says. Fighting to be a success in a male dominated field hasn’t helped her confidence, as well as comparing herself to other successful women like Huffington Post’s Ariana Huffington, but she has learned to soldier on.
What keeps her going is a “sense of accountability and responsibility to other people” namely her employees and writers. “There’s this unbelievable sense of ‘if I don’t get up and do it everyday, somebody doesn’t make [money] off of me,”’ she says. She’s also driven by such passion for her work that when she faced bankruptcy and failure during the 2008 recession, she still found a way to rise from the ashes and start over. “If you’re really passionate about something and stick with it, what feels like in the moment as devastating failure doesn’t have to be.”
How to Fight It
Imposter syndrome isn’t all detrimental. “It’s about being able to shape and use it when it’s useful to you, and move through it when it’s not useful,” Saremi says. She considers it more like a personality trait than a diagnosis, something you may be prone to, but that doesn’t have to run your life. Like most mental health issues, the first step to making changes is often admitting there’s a problem in the first place.
Saremi recommends a few steps toward healing your imposter syndrome:
Pay attention: Just because you think a thought does not make it true, Saremi says. You can learn to circumvent what psychologists call “distorted thinking” by recognizing imposter syndrome in the moment, labeling it, and then challenging the thought with “more balanced thoughts about yourself.” This can include keeping a file, a notebook or some other form of evidence about your accolades or achievements nearby to remind yourself in times of doubt. It can also mean getting therapeutic intervention.
Seek company: It’s important for those who suffer imposter syndrome to know they’re in good company, Saremi says. “Most successful people feel this way at least some of the time.” She urges people with imposter syndrome to seek a network of others they trust, bonus points for other entrepreneurs, and to have conversations surrounding their feelings. This can remove the isolation of the experience and bring in a support network of people who get it.
Don’t confuse career success for identity: Successful people often become so engrossed in their professional work that the boundaries blur between personal and work lives, and even their identity. “I want to make sure that entrepreneurs aren’t using their career as a substitute for deep and meaningful relationships with other people.” It’s also important to her that people see that “you have inherent worth and value no matter what you achieve in business.”
No matter how loud the voices may be crying “imposter,” entrepreneurs can do well to let your success speak for itself.