How can I manage imposter syndrome as a small business owner?
Updated: Jun 13
Imposter Syndrome is a subject that comes up regularly with friends, colleagues in the freelance world and coaching clients. It can manifest in many different ways when we're self-employed, but it's often when we're on social media, asked to so something like a talk or workshop, or even when we're considering pitching an idea or ourselves to a new client.
For many freelancers and small business owners, Imposter Syndrome is a feeling that you don't belong, or haven't earned your place in the world you work in, and can lead you to hesitate when it comes to taking chances with your business.
For me, I’d say it’s ‘not-feeling-worthy-enough syndrome’, and I really believe it's exacerbated by working from home full time.
I think it’s often a lot worse for freelancers who are working from home or a space where they have no sounding board for this, too. In an office you might say to a colleague ‘oh look at so-and-so’ and they’ll immediately say ‘hey! You’re ace too!’. The four walls of the home office don’t afford such imposter-syndrome slaying skills! Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked a mixture of from home and from client offices. It gave me balance, routine and a chance to connect with other people and share ideas. I was taking myself out of my own echo chamber.
One thing I know is that for everyone that feels it, imposter syndrome is exhausting. And even if success comes your way, there’s always someone or something else to compare your own work or success to.
We read a lot about overcoming imposter syndrome, of quelling the voice inside which says ‘you’ll be found out, sooner or later’. That little niggle which tells you that you don’t deserve to be where you are, that you are not worthy compared to your peers and that you best go get a different job, sharpish, before someone realises that you have, in fact, been lying to everyone all along about your skills.
My pondering extends to whether imposter syndrome can be a good thing. There’s a power in this feeling. Sometimes it can spur me on. Sure, ‘so-and-so’ has a podcast. Well then, here comes mine! If their bio seems more illustrious, then I best up my game.
I also think there is something in the idea that we aren't always as far ahead as someone else. It's true, sometimes, that we aren't top in our field, or playing our strongest game. The thing to remember is that's personal to us - not to compare it to others. So my Instagram is growing, but it's not as big as many other people's. But that doesn't mean I'm not worthy of being on there - it does mean perhaps that the truth you tell yourself needs flipping. They're not 'doing better', they might have been 'going longer', for example.
Breaking things down like that can make you realise you're not an imposter, but just a newer player in the game.
I end up posting more on social media when I see others doing it, reminding myself it’s important to build the brand. But then am I heading towards an imposter syndrome burnout? An overload of trying to tell myself I’m worthy when through my veins often runs a narrative of comparison and negative self-judgement? Imposter syndrome might seem a bit of a lighthearted thing to some, but for many people, it’s a challenge that can stall their work, debilitate them mentally and actually keep them from reaching goals, big and small.
I spoke to coach Noor Hibbert – author of ‘Just F*ing do it’ and she said she actually doesn’t follow other coaches, because it gives her what she calls a ‘comparison hangover’. Good eh? We’re working on a feature about it, too. But the idea is that you choose to see things which have a negative impact, and that’s easy to control: You unfollow, you mute, you stop looking, if you can.
“I had imposter syndrome, I was a qualified coach, and I didn’t want to start my business as a coach because ‘who am I to coach people?!’. We just project our own insecurities on every body else. We need to accept we’re all amazing and brilliant and enough as we are. When we can understand if we’re enough as we are, and accept where we’re at in our journey instead of looking at everybody else to confirm ‘we’re not good enough’….”
Noor adds: “The question is why do you care? We all care more what other people think more than ourselves!”
How true is that? Do you care more what strangers on a group think than what you think of yourself?
“We’re so concerned with what’s next, what’s going to make you look good on paper, what’s the next thing we can buy, what’s the next piece of validation we’re going to get… and none of that makes us happy. When you jump off the comparison conveyor belt – which is actually making you feel sick – you think ‘ah, I have the power to do what I want’ and stop looking at what everyone else is doing.”
I hope we can use our imposter syndrome to fuel a fire within. Perhaps, sometimes (and this is controversial), we AREN’T as good as the person to whom we're comparing ourselves. Not as accomplished by our individual standards, perhaps. But on some levels, there are women who are more successful than me, and who I’d feel lucky to share the same table or room with.
That’s why I’ve created the Freelance Feels community – in the hope I can create a place where we all feel the same, where we explore all of this.
Is imposter syndrome something we can overcome? I’m not sure, but I would like to try and find more balance with it. One of the things that's really helped me is coaching - both training as a coach and having coaching myself. I have found a power and clarity that I didn't have before.
Want to explore how coaching can help you with imposter syndrome?