Have you ever thought about starting your own business but then stopped because you felt like you didn’t quite have what it takes? Have you dipped your toe into the business world and then pulled it right back out again because you felt overwhelmed? Maybe you see what everyone else is doing and how together they looked and you ran a mile? Or maybe you’re like I used to be and despite having ALL the qualifications to be successful in your career, you’re still feeling there is some big flashing sign above your head showing everyone that you shouldn’t be here.
I don’t know why it is, but my whole life I have felt like an imposter. Maybe it is some deep seated childhood trauma that I’ve never really gotten to the bottom of, but there have been so many times in my life despite technically fitting in, I’ve have this feeling deep down like I don’t belong. And it seems I am not alone.
The other day, I put some questions out there in some of the business groups I belong to asking other mums what it is that holds them back when starting (or thinking about starting) a business. One thing that came up time and time again was mindset. In particular, the comment that mums in business often feel like an “imposter”. That word came up multiple times, and it really got me thinking about two things (1) why is it that so many women in business feel like this and (2) what can we do to overcome it.
What exactly is imposter syndrome?
I found the following definition of imposter syndrome on an article written by Megan Dalla-Camina for Psychology Today:
[I]mposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
This is really interesting to me, because the issue appears not to be that we actually lack the skills to do our job or start our own business, but because of our own fear that we are not good enough. But why, even when we are sufficiently qualified and experienced in our work do we still feel like imposters.
Why do we feel like this?
I’m not psychologist, so what I’m saying here is entirely based on my own experiences. But, because it affects so many of us, I think it is something important to address.
I don’t know about you, but for me personally, I lost A LOT of confidence when I had kids. There was something about having kids that made me doubt my every move. Pre-kids I had been fairly confident and pretty good at making decisions, but after kids I seemed to become a blubbering mess of indecision.
When you become a mum you do start to question literally everything you do. Is this the right sleep routine, am I feeding them the right thing, should I breastfeed and not know if they are getting enough milk or should I go down the formula route and be judged every day for that choice?! WTF! Then on top of all this you get all this other judgment heaped on top of you by other people, which strips another layer of confidence away. I really honestly believe that this is at least a part of the imposter syndrome problem.
I think another big part of it is probably something to do with the society that we live in and our expectations of what our achievements should look like. Every day we compare ourselves to other people. And, because of the internet world we live in we are able to do this more so than ever before.
We are constantly hearing stories of people who have made it big in our industry and we compare ourselves to them. We know we have some skills and some experience, but we look at other people and think “wow, they’re five years younger than me, and look where they are…I must be doing something wrong”.
How to overcome it?
(1) Talking about it
For me one of the best ways to start overcoming imposter syndrome was to talk to people about it. I also enlisted the help of a coach or three who helped me work through some of the issues I had around imposter syndrome.
One of most useful things for me was to hear from the people who know me, and who have worked with me, that I do actually know what I am talking about. It sounds a little odd, but a few years back I was completely stumped as to what to do next in my career. Having completely lost confidence, I really needed help to plan next steps and I worked with a coach to be able to do this.
One of the activities that this coach did was to call a few of my friends and family and ask them a series of questions about who I was and what I was good at. She then anonymously delivered the results to me. What I found quite surprising (and refreshing) was that despite knowing me in different capacities (some were friends, some were family, some were former colleagues) almost all of the responses were the same. In other words, people gave pretty consistent answers as to what I was good at. This helped to give me some confidence in what I should focus on moving forward.
Since then, I have also had personal conversations with some of these people and expanded my learning. This has been pretty huge for me, and I think a similar exercise could help you too. And you don’t need to have a coach to do this either. You could just send out a message, email or even a survey and ask people about what they think you are good at!
All of this might sound like a bit of an ego stroking exercise, and maybe it is, but sometimes that is actually what we need to do to move forward. So what are you waiting for? Ask!
(2) Brainstorm your achievementsThis is something you can do for yourself. Again, this might sound like a bit of an ego stroking exercise, and probably is, but when you sit down and look at your achievements over the years you start to realise that you have actually done OK!
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the good things we have done to show ourselves that we have something to offer either in our careers or in our business. And your achievements don’t necessarily have to be certificates or awards either. Important milestones like number of years worked, number of jobs completed or number of 5-star reviews on your Facebook page!
The other thing this does is to show us what we know that we can use to help or teach other people, which leads into my next point. You only need to know more than the person you are going to help.
(3) You don’t need to know it all to get started
One of the things that gives us imposter syndrome is that we feel like we don’t know enough to get started. We feel like we need to do that extra course, do a little more research, or gain a little more work experience. In reality, this is often not necessary.
One of the coaches I worked with pointed this very important point out to me when I was getting stuck around starting my coaching business. She said something like this “you don’t need to know it all, you only need to know more than the people you are trying to help”. This statement was a game changer for me.
I had kept thinking that it was too soon to get started because I didn’t know enough. I kept learning more and more in my business that I thought was important to share, but the longer in business the more I realised I needed to learn about business, so I kept feeling like I still wasn’t ready to coach. What my coach pointed out to me was that everything I had already done was a learning that I could share with someone else who hadn’t done those things. All the mistakes I had made and lessons I had learned were lessons I could teach to someone who was just at the start of their business journey. I didn’t need to know everything about business. In fact, no one does know everything about anything. But I did have loads of experiences that I could share to make the journey easier for someone who has not yet taken that part of the journey.
This can be the same in any kind of freelance business. Whether you’re a social media superstar, a virtual assistant or a graphic designer. You have skills and talents that someone else lacks and needs help with. Be confident that you know more than the person you are wanting to help, who oftentimes actually might know absolutely nothing about the issue they are bringing to you.
(4) Stop the comparison
This one is easier said than done, but I think one of the best ways we can get over imposter syndrome is to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. You are exactly where you need to be right now. Maybe not where you want to be, but where you are is not the end point. You are continuing to grow and develop and you can get to where you want to be. It just takes time.
Sure, maybe someone five years younger than you is doing better in their career or business than you, but who knows what their circumstances are. Their situation might be completely different to yours. They might not have three kids and mortgage, so they can devote every waking minute to their business where you can’t. Or quite possibly, they aren’t really ahead of you at all…they might just be better at tooting their own horn!
Just as an example of why comparison isn’t the best, I wanted to share another personal example. A while back I was comparing myself to a guy who I saw at a conference who was younger than us and seemed to be doing much better than we were in our property investment business. I was so curious as to what his secret sauce was, as we had been working so hard and didn’t seem to be anywhere close to where he was (based on the “talk on the town” and a couple of articles I’d read online). A little while later I found out that this guy didn’t at that stage own a single property of his own, and that his motto was “fake it til you make it”. See why comparisons don’t always work?!
Kellie Dawson is a Mama Mentor, helping mums like you to find ways to freelance from home using the skills they already have. Kellie has two little boys aged 4 and 6, and it was her desire to be there for her boys that led her to quit her corporate job and build a work from home business. You can connect with Kellie on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thefreelancemama or check out her blog and other resources at www.thefreelancemama.com