A client asked me once, “When you started your business, was there ever fear?”
I nearly fell off my chair.
In my mind, it was blatantly obvious. Fear was a huge barrier, one that I’ve had to overcome at regular points in my journey to business owner.
While I’d talked about the types of fears that plague new business owners, I realized I hadn’t shared my story, other than acknowledging, “Yes, I’ve been there, too.”
My journey through the fear
When I made the decision to start my business, it came with it a special brand of fears:
- Fear of being seen (for who I really was and what I really wanted)
- Fear of failure (What if this didn’t work and everyone witnessed it?!)
- Fear of being judged (Just try telling people that you’re quitting your lifelong career in corporate America to be a coach!)
- Fear of looking stupid (I’d always played it safe when it came to my career, and now — taking chances — I might make a mistake.)
Nearly all of these fears involved others’ opinions, which I knew I couldn’t control.
Grappling with that reality, I was left with two choices: Let other people’s opinions dictate my life, or go for what I want, despite the risk of judgment.
The impostor inside me
While I managed to hold the “what will they think of me” thoughts at bay, a deeper, more threatening fear started to take hold.
With every step closer to my goal, critical voices in my head chimed in:
“Who do you think you are?”
“What makes you think you can do this?”
“You don’t belong here.”
The voices hinted at a larger underlying fear: that I wasn’t good enough to do this.
I would later learn that there is a term for this sort of feeling: impostor syndrome. And almost 70% of us have suffered from it at some point.
A familiar foe
My impostor syndrome carried with it a sense of familiarity.
I realized I heard this judgmental voice at other times in my life — usually on the brink of a major achievement.
I felt it when…
- In high school, I submitted a tape for a coveted place in a state-wide music competition, never having auditioned for anything.
- In my mid-20s, I decided to pursue an MBA from a prominent institution despite never studying business.
- And, in my early 30s when I decided to become a certified coach and leave my corporate career for something entirely different.
Looking back, it was only natural — and expected — that I felt out of place. I was in a new arena, with new competitors and new challenges. How could I not feel like an impostor in some regard?
Impostor Syndrome Growth Indicator
I took Mel Robbins’s class on impostor syndrome last year. She said that impostor syndrome is a good thing, because it means you’re growing.
This idea helped me look at impostor syndrome in a new light. Impostor syndrome didn’t show up to hold me back, it showed up to tell me I was about to grow in a big way.
I can now see my impostor syndrome as a messenger, reminding me of my own upper limit problems. It shows me where I’m holding myself back, and what I beliefs I need to confront in order to move forward.
I didn’t conquer it. But I kept moving forward.
I learned that the voices weren’t necessarily going to go away, but I could still take action.
Though I was terrified to announce my business on social media, I gave myself a deadline and published the post. When I felt scared to send my first newsletter, I called a friend to encouraged me to hit “send.” When I’m nervous about sharing a personal story, I remind myself that it may help others.
For me, the key to “conquering” my impostor syndrome was not conquering it at all, but GOING FOR IT ANYWAY.
What I’ve found is that nothing quiets impostor syndrome faster than showing it that you CAN do the thing it told you not to do.
Much like skydiving when the plane door opens, you feel a huge wave of fear. But in the next nano-second, you remember you’ve committed to this. So you jump.
3 steps to manage my inner impostor
It’s not easy. It required (and still does!) a strong sense of self-awareness, self-compassion, and the courage to take action.
This is what I do today when I feel impostor syndrome start creeping in:
1) I notice the voice in my head and instead of identifying it as “me” or my intuition, I call it out for what it was: the voice of fear (and one that I don’t need to listen to).
2) I treat myself with compassion, knowing that this is a normal feeling to experience, because I’m out of my comfort zone and because I’m doing something important to me.
3) I take actionable steps forward in spite of the fear. With these steps, I strengthen my sense of self-belief so that it’s stronger than the voice of impostor syndrome.
What you can learn from your own impostor syndrome
Today, instead of seeing impostor syndrome as a giant STOP sign to warn me that I’ve gone too far, I view it as a green light that tells me where I need to go.
My impostor syndrome didn’t change. What changed was my perspective. And you can change yours, too.
When you can see impostor syndrome for what it really is — a growth indicator — you can stop fighting against it, make peace with it, and keep moving forward.
A note on self-care
Feeling bad or ashamed about having impostor syndrome only makes you feel worse.
When you practice self-compassion, you take time to understand and support yourself through the process.
One way to show self-compassion is to develop a regular self-care practice. Without taking care of yourself, none of the growth is possible.
Have you ever suffered from impostor syndrome? How did you handle it? What did you learn?