Conquer Imposter Syndrome for Unbelievable Success
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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Conquer Imposter Syndrome for Unbelievable Success
Imposter syndrome is a nightmare to tackle. Not only that, but it's the murderer of hopes and aspirations; "she believed she couldn't, so she didn't."
Think about it: if you had no doubts and no fears, how much further along in your career would you be right now? How many chances would you have taken? How many opportunities would you have seized?
While it hurts to think about all the shots we didn't take, it's the only way to move forward. Helping us conquer imposter syndrome is an Aussie entrepreneur and podcasting sensation: Doone Roisin.
Today's guest interviewee is a true firecracker – she's an entrepreneur through and through, never failing to make an impression with her effervescent personality, warmth, and down-to-earth attitude.
But, as Doone shared in her interview, she wasn't always so confident. Her own imposter syndrome held her back during school, and it was only once she overcame this self-doubt that her career began to thrive.
Let's take a deep dive into imposter syndrome and how we can overcome it to achieve our goals.
Imposter syndrome: where it began
In 1978, researchers conducted a study called The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. They described the phenomenon like this:
"Women who experience the impostor phenomenon maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact, they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.
For example, students often fantasize that they were mistakenly admitted to graduate school because of an error by the admissions committee. Numerous women graduate students state their high examination scores are due to luck, to misgrading, or to the faulty judgment of professors.
Women professionals in our sample feel over evaluated by colleagues and administrators."
The '70s saw some improvements for women, but it's no wonder that imposter syndrome was rampant. This was the time when women were breaking through glass ceilings and entering male-dominated fields, only to feel like frauds once they got there (thanks to damaging societal messages).
Although we have moved forward since then, we are not perfect and the societal messaging that impacts us (and women) from a young age can still be damaging, and although society as a whole tries to be better, imposter syndrome still very much exists. It’s something that plagued Doone, as well as many other incredible woman entrepreneurs and business leaders.
So how do we fix this? Well first, let’s describe it.
What is imposter syndrome, exactly?
'Fraud' is the perfect way to describe how we feel when we're crippled by imposter syndrome. We feel like we're not good enough, that someone will eventually find out that we don't belong and that we've been fooling everyone all along.
Imposter syndrome is a fear of being exposed and failing despite our best efforts. It's the fear of being 'found out' and it can manifest in different ways:
- Doubting our own abilities
- Feeling like a fraud or phony
- Believing that we're not as good as others think we are
- The constant worry that we'll be exposed as a fraud
These fears can lead to anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and even suicide. Imposter syndrome is incredibly damaging and it can hold us back from achieving our goals.
Doone Roisin: a true entrepreneurial success story
Before delving into some solutions, let's interlude with a few golden nuggets from my interview with Doone Roisin.
Doone Roisin is the founder and host of the popular podcast, Female Startup Club. As a digital marketing expert, she's worked for global brands such as Snapchat, IMG, and The Iconic — Australia’s largest online retailer. As an entrepreneur, she has launched her own companies, including a direct-to-consumer jewelry brand, Kincs, and the educational media company Female Startup Club.
Having interviewed over 160 of the world’s most exciting (and successful!) female entrepreneurs in the last 12 months, she’s on a global mission to motivate, inspire and advance women-in-progress.
Talk about women empowerment – that's quite a lineup of credentials! But where Doone's story all began might surprise you.
From Australian bushland to entrepreneurial success
When you think of the stereotypical entrepreneur, who comes to mind? Is it the city-goer who started out with a trust fund and an MBA? A young computer geek who struck it big with the first company he founded?
Doone is none of these. Her story starts in the Australian bush, where she was raised without electricity in a town of roughly ninety people. She was the only person in her class at school.
"We lived in this tiny pocket of the world on the side of a mountain by a creek. It was circumstantial – not necessarily by choice. And so we had this very unique upbringing...I would say it was more about survival than thriving."
Unfortunately for Doone, this was perhaps the beginnings of her imposter syndrome. "I was a bit embarrassed about that part of my story. I had this weird feeling about it because it seemed like I lived this way when other people didn't live this way."
Moving into her early teen years, however, Doone was sent away to a private school where she was embraced by new friends and new opportunities.
"I was suddenly surrounded by a lot of people who were different to me and had a really different upbringing. And this is where I kind of had this weird shame around the way that I'd been brought up, when compared to the way that these people had been brought up. But it also showed me what was possible. And then I started to have all these big ambitions."
The shift wasn't without its hardships, though.
"For the first six months, I really struggled. I was just out of place, I would say – not in terms of the people surrounding me, because I was welcomed into the school. But it was odd. I guess when you're in those weird positions, you've just gotta find your fate and keep moving forward."
From there, Doone took her hit of inspiration and ran with it – never once looking back.
Taking life by the horns
Something that struck me about Doone's story as I interviewed her was the determination with which she charged through life. She resorted to innovation at every turn, whether it was in landing her first job or launching her startup ventures.
(Yes, this is where I'll plug the podcast. If you haven't given Doone's story a listen, I really can't recommend it enough! Find the full clip here.)
To give you a general idea, here's a quick rundown of some of her best efforts:
- To land an internship at a local magazine, Doone dressed as a delivery person and snuck into the director's office with her business card and a potplant. Long story short, the director was impressed – and she secured a 12-month internship for her efforts.
- Several years later, Doone took an unconventional approach to her job application at a graphic design agency. Instead of emailing her portfolio, she turned it into a physical poster – sparkles, paint, and all – and stuck it on the building door. (She got the job).
- Doone moved to an entirely new city in the space of three weeks in order to pursue a job at fashion startup ICONIC, which is now one of Australia's largest online clothing retailers.
What I see in each of these stories is innovation. It's the confidence to take risks, to think outside the box, and to hustle for what you want.
Remember how I asked what you think of when picturing an entrepreneur? Scrap the spoon-fed MBA graduate and replace them with Doone – a woman who has battled imposter syndrome and come out on top.
Solutions for conquering imposter syndrome
I know what you're thinking: where can you find the confidence to paint sparkles on your resume, or to dress up like a delivery person in order to score an internship?
This kind of confidence can only be found in the absence of self-doubt, and that's what I want to focus on for the remainder of this newsletter: how to ditch the imposter syndrome for good.
The power of self-belief
Often, we underestimate just how important it is to believe in ourselves. It's probably because 'believe in yourself!' is such an overused phrase that it has become cheesy at best, dismissive at worst.
But the truth is, self-belief is essential for achieving success. You could have your whole family backing you, along with all of your friends – an entire army of people who believe in your ability to succeed – but if you don't believe in yourself, it won't matter.
Think back to a time when you were thoroughly prepared for a task, but your self-doubt got the better of you. A common example is speech making: you might have rehearsed your presentation a hundred times, but as soon as you walk onto the stage, all of that preparation goes out the window. The nerves take over, and all of your carefully planned words desert you.
That's imposter syndrome in action: the voice in your head that tells you that you're not good enough, that you're a fraud, and that someone is going to catch on sooner or later.
Increasing self-belief: step-by-step
If your self-esteem is at an all-time low, don't panic. It's not an overnight process, but with a bit of effort, you can start to increase your self-belief. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Recognize and reflect upon your achievements.
For high-achievers in particular, past successes often get brushed to the wayside in favor of focusing on what still needs to be done. But it's important to take a step back and reflect on all the things you've already achieved.
It could be something as simple as getting up on time every day for the past week or completing a project at work ahead of schedule. Once you've recognized your achievements, take some time to reflect on why they were successful. What did you do that was different this time? What can you replicate in the future?
2. Adopt a growth mindset.
Have you heard of a growth mindset? It's the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed over time, as opposed to a fixed mindset which believes that you are born with a certain level of intelligence and abilities which cannot be changed.
Research shows a clear link between those with a fixed mindset and imposter syndrome. This makes sense: if you believe you have no hope of improving or developing, failure is a paralyzing thought.
On the other hand, those with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. They're more likely to take risks because they know that even if they fail, they can always learn from their mistakes.
3. Fake it until you make it.
Let's learn from Doone on this one. If you don't believe in yourself, act like you do. This is a technique often used by high-achievers, and it's based on the idea that your behaviors eventually become habits.
So if you act confident, even when you don't feel it, over time that confidence will start to become a reality. This is a great strategy for public speaking, networking, and any other situation where you feel your self-doubt creeping in.
4. Surround yourself with positive people.
As the saying goes, 'you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with'. If you want to be successful, it's important to surround yourself with people who have a positive outlook on life and who believe in your ability to achieve great things.
This can be difficult if you don't have any close friends or family members who fall into this category, but there are plenty of online communities and forums where you can find like-minded individuals.
5. Use visualization techniques.
Visualization is a technique often used by athletes and businesspeople alike, and there's a good reason for that: it works.
The premise is simple: you picture yourself achieving your desired outcome, in as much detail as possible. This could be a video clip of yourself giving a presentation and receiving applause from the audience, or it could be a snapshot of you celebrating after completing a marathon.
The more detail you can include in your visualization, the better. The aim is to create an experience that's so real, it feels like you're living it.
These are just a few strategies to start you off on your journey to conquering imposter syndrome. But remember, it's not an easy process – and it takes time and effort to see results. So be patient, stay positive, and keep working at it.
As someone in the entrepreneurial space, imposter syndrome isn't a new concept to me – but it's one I love to talk about. I hate to think of all the brilliant minds that have never reached their full potential because they've been held back by self-doubt.
I hope this article has given you some tools to start increasing your self-belief. Remember, it's a process. These things are often deeply rooted in the way you were raised and the things you were taught to believe about yourself.
But it's never too late to start changing your mindset, and with a bit of effort, you can start to see results. And if you need a bit of extra inspiration? Doone's interview is a blast, I can assure you. Check it out here.
Until next time!
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