on imposter syndrome: diary of a highly sensitive entrepreneur
This one’s for those who are contemplating starting their own creative venture – or for those who are already running a business and are looking for a word of encouragement. (Psst, lean in especially if you are a Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur, like myself).
When people comment, “Wow, you get to work for yourself - that’s so cool!” I have this immediate reaction to play down the business or myself. And recently I’ve been catching myself mid-sentence, wondering, why can’t I just say, “Yeah, it is!”?
Someone who I follow on Instagram recently made a post about their burnout as a small business owner and the need to take a break from social media after going through an intense imposter syndrome experience. Imposter syndrome, as defined by Verywell, “refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.”
I’ve had a few conversations within the past few months with entrepreneur friends - and what I found so surprising is that even those who I considered veterans in their field still go battle through imposter syndrome thoughts - that either they don’t believe they earned the position they are currently in, or that somehow the public will figure out they’re some sort of “fraud” or “phony”.
The challenging part that no one really talks about being your own boss is that you are also the leader of your team - and if you’re a solopreneur building her business, that means that you have to know how to lead and motivate yourself. When business is going well, you feel great, but when business isn’t going the way you hope, it’s also because of you.
And that is what I both love and am challenged by in this business. It is so confronting and for someone who is so critical toward themselves already, it can be hard not to make it personal. But it has also been the most rewarding career because I know I am growing closer to the person I want to be. I can see it building my character - my resilience, my boldness, my creativity.
The other part that I wish I had known about this journey was the importance of boundaries between your business and yourself. Very often how I lead this business is a mirror of my own mental state. When I’m in a mental state of abundance, business is great; I’m thinking of creative solutions, creating new product offerings, and creating collaborations or partnerships. But when I’m in the scarcity mentality, I can see how the business is limited by my own mindset.
It is easy to start associating your identity and self worth with your business. I put so much of myself into this business and try to be as involved as possible with every part of the business process; but as a result, I often associate my own value as directly related with whether I’m reaching my business’ goals within the timeframe I set.
This becomes a slippery slope because you feel so great when business is going well. But when business isn’t going as well as you hope, what stops you from feeling like a failure? Believe me, I’ve been there - those thoughts of Is what I’m doing really making a difference? Am I really doing something meaningful by choosing this career path over work that is stable and consistent? (Disclaimer here: You can have both a meaningful career and work for someone else. Working for a corporation also isn’t a lesser choice. This all depends on each person’s values and goals. Anyways, this is another topic for another time! ) But what I find when I get into that mindset is that there is no end to those self sabotaging thoughts. And if you don’t have a support system in place, it becomes so easy to make the business a statement about you as a person.
The business is a result of your efforts, but it is not a statement about your capability or worth as a person. Learning to have grace towards yourself as a human being is so important. Of course it is key to be held accountable for the goals we set for ourselves, but if the real goal is our own self development, then aren’t we achieving success? The real failure is when we stop ourselves because of a lack of confidence or faith in those moments.
What helps me move forward is imagining how I would support an entrepreneur friend who is going through similar challenges. I would never tell them the things I tell myself because I know they are capable of achieving more and that these difficulties are an important part of the process of growing. It is so true that we are our harshest critic. What also helps is to write down the ways I have grown in my business. This gives me hard evidence that I’m growing closer to the person I want to be; these points are often hard to remember in the heat of the moment when you’re being so critical towards yourself.
When learning more about imposter syndrome, I came across three reflection questions from a holistic article from Verywell that I wanted to share:
- "What core beliefs do I hold about myself?"
- "Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?"
- "Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?"
What I appreciate about these questions is that they have nothing to do with your achievements. We grow up in a society that associates value with your net worth. Even when we are young, we are often praised only when we accomplish something, or react according to how others expect us to react.
It’s even more rare to be praised for who we are, or for our attempts to try something new. The more we can give ourselves acknowledgement towards aspects of who we are versus results or accomplishments, I think we’ll be able to crawl out of that imposter syndrome rabbit hole.
I’ll leave you with two important reminders:
- Your success is not solely based on luck or special circumstances.
- You deserve all the good things that life has to offer.