Picture this: you’ve been working hard on your business when an amazing opportunity comes along. You’ve been asked to speak on a panel where your ideal customers will be eagerly listening in the audience. The adrenaline starts pumping as you process the good news, when suddenly…
Panic sets in.
As you read more details about the panel, you realize that the other participants are established business owners with much bigger audiences, more reach, more expertise, more everything.
You want to be nothing but excited — this is the kind of moment you’ve worked so hard for! — and yet, there’s a small nagging voice in the back of your head and a rapidly forming pit in your stomach.
Why do they want me? I don’t know enough about this stuff. I’m no expert. People will realize I’m a total fraud; I’ll be found out.
These feelings have a name, and chances are you’ve heard about the Imposter Syndrome.
There are tons of versions of this scenario when success shows up with uninvited guests like uncertainty and fear. Whether you’re watching your product sales tick up or you suddenly have a chance to collaborate with an influencer, you can probably think of a time when exciting progress was coupled with paralyzing doubt.
The bad news is that this anxiety won’t ever completely go away, but the good news is that there are steps you can take to move past it. Next time you find yourself feeling like a fraud, use these tactics to recognize what’s happening and avoid getting stuck in a glass case of fearful emotion:
1. Remind yourself: Everybody deals with imposter syndrome (seriously, everyone)
Did you know that Oscar-decorated actress Meryl Streep wonders why anyone would want to see her in another movie, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin admits to regularly oscillating between egomania and paranoia? How about the fact that Maya Angelou, despite having written 11 books, worried that someone would come strip her of her success?
The point is that everyone feels this way (and often, it seems), so unfortunately it appears that even society’s “greats” aren’t immune.
Some even reason that these fears of being “found out” are a positive thing, arguing that people who are actually incompetent don’t experience the imposter syndrome at all. These feelings might just be a good indicator that you give a crap. You’re outside of your comfort zone, doing stuff that actually matters to you.
So next time you feel convinced that you just don’t measure up to someone else’s expertise or another guy’s audience size, just remember that those people started somewhere too. They didn’t have a million Instagram followers the day they opened their account, and unfortunately you don’t always get the benefit of seeing exactly how hard someone has worked to get where they are.
“Do you ever feel like a fraud? Welcome to the club. Here’s what to do!”
2. Determine what sets you apart
Even if you’re at the very beginning of your business journey, chances are you have expertise in some area that is simply not native to a group of people. Sometimes we become so familiar with something we actually start believing that our knowledge lacks value because we figure “everybody already knows this stuff.”
Are you awesome at throwing together quick and healthy meals that also taste great? Do you have a knack for keeping a perfectly organized closet effortlessly? There’s likely at least one thing that just comes naturally to you, and you might not recognize it as expertise at all.
While you might take your skills for granted, the truth is that there are people out there who have never turned an oven on or whose closets could be classified as health hazards. These people would eagerly pay to know what you know.
If you’re further along and you’ve defined your area of expertise:
You probably still find yourself trapped in moments of comparing yourself to others and deducing that you don’t have as much to offer. In these moments, rallying around the bits of your business that make you different will help you reconnect with the value you provide.
When you’re pinpointing what puts the “U” in your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), ask yourself questions such as:
- What if you challenged yourself to move away from being “better”, and instead focused on what makes you different?
- What do you bring to the party that the other guys can’t provide?
- If “they” have been in the game for a decade, is your take as a newcomer putting a fresh spin on the industry?
- Are you a woman building a business in a traditionally male field (or vice versa)? What kind of life experience colors your story and makes it appealing to a certain crowd?
With these as a starting point, you can start brainstorming the holes in your competition’s businesses that only you can fill. Use your answers to bolster your belief that you have every right to the opportunities coming your way.
3. Catalogue your achievements, and don’t make excuses for them
When you feel like you have no business being where you are, celebrating your own wins and remembering how hard you’ve worked might just bring you back to the reality that you’ve earned this.
It’s tempting to downplay every single accomplishment by reasoning that you “got lucky” or “knew the right people” or “started blogging in 2002 and so it just happened.”
There will always be some reason to believe you aren’t ready yet — your website isn’t exactly how you want it to be, you want to rewrite your service offerings, or you haven’t honed your elevator pitch. While you aren’t perfect now, you’ll likely never feel “accomplished enough” to completely eradicate these feelings of not being ready for a big opportunity.
Instead of focusing on what’s not done, try tallying up all of the things you have done. If you’ve launched a one page website, worked with some clients, taught yourself how to write code or grown an email list from zero to 100, you’re officially farther along than the version of you from a year ago.
All of these steps add up to progress, and the things you’ve learned bolster your expertise. When you find your confidence wavering, make a list of these milestones, regardless of how small they may seem or how far short of the “finish line” you might feel.
4. Keep putting yourself out there
Finally, perhaps the best way to navigate through the dreaded imposter syndrome is to just keep fighting the resistance and proving to yourself that you can.
Each time you step on a stage to speak, press publish on a blog post or hit “record” on your podcasting microphone, you take another step towards expertise and experience. There is simply no other way but through.
The truth is, you are probably going to look back on today’s work in a year and laugh a little at yourself; that’s okay. You can’t possibly know what future-you knows, and you’ll never get there if you allow the fear of being exposed to win out over your desire to make progress and ultimately succeed in your business.
So the next time an opportunity comes along that simultaneously has you overflowing with excitement and shaking in your boots, remember that you’re in good company with all the rest of us who constantly question ourselves.
No one knows what they’re doing despite how self-assured they might seem, so keep moving forward and remind yourself that the fear you’re feeling just means you’ve got some skin in the game.
How do you deal with imposter syndrome and the fear of being exposed as a fraudulent failure? Please share with us in the comments below!
[This post was inspired by a great question from a member of our community at Fizzle. You can check out the answers to this question and tons of others in our Question & Answer forum. Try it out for 2 weeks, free.]