First, Some Background
To make sure we’re clear on terms…
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. -Wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome)
“Fake it till you make it” is a common saying among entrepreneurs. No one fully understands their business when they start it. So they pretend to be “thebomb.com” until they really are.
I’ve heard the following advice given to entrepreneurs. Including in different episodes of the same podcast.
You need to overcome imposter syndrome. You will always have moments when you feel like an imposter in business. Get over it. Every entrepreneur experiences this at some point or another. You are not a “fraud.” You know your product and market better than the average person. You have every reason to be confident. When you’re confident, your business will reach its full potential.
The best entrepreneurs fake it in the beginning. They just figure it out the best they can. It is okay to pretend like you’re someone you’re not (yet). This is really the only way to get ahead in business. Be confident, even when you don’t feel like you have the right to be. People will take you seriously and you can build your business. Don’t show your weaknesses except to a few close mentors and allies.
I admit that I paraphrased the advice I’ve heard. My words may be more snarky than what you would typically hear but I think everything recorded above is either said explicitly or implied within the advice given. Re-read the advice again if you want. If you have heard similar advice before, add what you remember and rephrase what I wrote.
From my perspective, these 2 pieces of advice both seem okay but, when put side by side, there is something slightly unsettling about them. They are both about confidence – 1 about true confidence and 1 about faking confidence. How does an entrepreneur (or anyone for that matter) dance between fake confidence and real, true confidence? Is this a dance we must take?
Making heads and tails of these 2 ideas…
You can reach your own conclusions but here’s my bottom line: It’s quite a transition from “fake it” to “make it.” There’s a lot of personal growth that takes place. We can’t skim or fast forward through this part of the entrepreneurial journey.
I say this based on my own experience. I believe I’ve gone through a major part of this transition myself. Here is my story.
When I first started out… I don’t think I “faked it” as much as some people.
On the one hand, there was the sense that, even though I have learned as much as I can, I am operating on hypotheses and unknowns. Entrepreneurship is about risk-taking. I think it is 100% IMpossible to know everything when you are first starting out. This was definitely true for me. I needed loads of feedback from the marketplace. I needed to see where my plans fell through or did not measure up. Then, I would make improvements only to find out that there are kinks in the new plans too. All of a sudden, the market would change and I would need to figure out how my business should change. Sure, as my business grows, I am seeing that I do not need to make adjustments as quickly or that I can make slight adjustments rather than big, sweeping changes. At the beginning though, my knowledge and expertise were limited. I made so many mistakes because my hypotheses were wrong. I had to learn on the fly so many times when it was impossible to learn in advance. It is a scary place to be. It is a place where every entrepreneur finds themselves in their first few years.
On the other hand, I still needed to exude confidence. People believe in and support business ideas that the entrepreneur can talk about with enthusiasm, passion, and intelligence. I could not admit I did not know everything. Instead I would say my hypotheses and unknowns as facts I believed wholeheartedly. I did not do this as well as I probably should have. Maybe because I was so young when I started. Maybe because I am female. Maybe because of my brokenness. Maybe because I am introverted. Maybe a combination of these factors. These are all excuses though. I could have done a way better job being confident in who I am and the business I created.
Now… I have “made it.” Not as far as I want, by any means. We are five years in and profitable. I should be proud. Stick with it long enough and keep improving and anyone could get to this place.
But because I spent so much time “faking it,” I felt like an imposter even after I started “making it.” I had accomplished so much but I did not feel like it. We got awards. We improved the lives of our employees and customers. Because we use ethical products, we had a positive impact that extends literally around the world. I had the opportunities to meet some really awesome people. Yet, I would wonder when everyone would discover I am just a normal woman with average abilities.
Maybe you have experienced this before in another arena, like sports or the arts. You start out as a beginner and then you finally nail it (hit lots of home runs or get rave reviews from your audience). Yet you feel like those are flukes and you are not as good as people think you are. You might be able to make people laugh from the stage but you still cannot cry on queue. You can hit a home run but you still cannot bunt when needed.
Reaching a conclusion
When I read the Wikipedia excerpt with the definition of Imposter Syndrome (see above). It has a phrase, “inability to internalize their accomplishments.” My response was, “Yes, that is it! I need to learn to internalize my accomplishments. Wait, what does that mean exactly?”
I believe to internalize accomplishments means I had to take the time to truly celebrate my accomplishments. I did this poorly in our first several years.
I heard an entrepreneur share that she celebrated a big launch (where she grossed $1.9 million) by taking a vacation to Mexico. I cannot do that but I can develop my own strategies for now. I can write in my journal. I can have a nice dinner with my husband. I can throw a big party. I can take my staff out for dinner. There are lots of possibilities as long as I make internalizing accomplishments a priority.
I hope you are inspired to take action. When we accomplish something big in our businesses (or our lives in general), we cannot just rush on to the next thing. We need to take some time away and reflect on how awesome we are and what we have learned. We can celebrate with our families, co-workers, customers, whomever we want to include. It could be as simple as having a nice dinner or a special dessert. It could be a big vacation. Whatever it is, let us do it and do it well.
What do you think?
Writing this blog post has helped me to further internalize my accomplishments. I invite you to comment and share your own accomplishments. You can share your thoughts and struggles too. Mostly, I would love to celebrate with you! Do not be shy. Brag about yourself and your accomplishments in business.