No, I'm not going to put that on my conference name badge any time soon, but if I did, I'll bet I would see a lot of people nodding their heads in sympathy. We are the people who, at one time or another, suffer from what's been called the Imposter Syndrome. Do you worry that people will finally realize that you're not the smart, capable expert they once thought you were? Do you think that your success is due to luck or a fluke rather than because you are an astute business owner? Do you obsess about making a mistake and interpret any constructive criticism as further proof of your incompetence? If you're still in doubt, you can even take the Imposter Syndrome Quiz. (And for those of us who could research anything to death, you can read one of the early papers on the imposter syndrome, "The Impostor Phenomenon Among High Achieving Women" by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (1978).
While both men and women experience the imposter syndrome, the groups among women most likely to experience the imposter syndrome are high achievers, those labeled as "gifted" as children, and those who have very specialized skills. From my own experience, it appears that a lot of women info-entrepreneurs fit that profile. In fact, one of the appeals of being our own boss is that we don't have to worry about co-workers finally discovering that we're a fake.
So, what do you do, now that you realize that I am indeed on to you and can see that you, too, sometimes experience the imposter syndrome? Barbara Stanny, the author of the book Overcoming Underearning, had some good advice: "Above all, women [and, obviously, men] must be willing to be uncomfortable, to do what they're scared to do. The number one requirement to go to the next level in your life is the willingness to do what you think you can't do. And a big part of that is valuing yourself."
The fact that we have started our businesses is a good indicator that we are willing to be uncomfortable; there's nothing comfortable about leaving a steady paycheck! Keeping that in mind, here are some tools for dealing with the imposter syndrome:
Take constructive feedback gently. If someone suggests things you could change, it means he sees you as having higher abilities than what you are currently showing.
Imagine talking with someone who has your qualifications, skills and abilities. Would you really call her incompetent?
Learn to appreciate your own accomplishments and successes. The ability to reward yourself rather than waiting for external feedback is a critical skill for any info-entrepreneur.
Let go of the need to know everything about everything. Our clients hire us because we know how to apply our skills to their need.
And finally, the best suggestion: Fake it 'til you make it.
Before you go into a networking event, find someplace quiet and create a narrative in your head that describes your experience, expressed in the past tense, after the fact. "I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this event. I just walked up to several people and asked them about their work. It was a lot easier than I had thought it would be." Take a deeeeep breath, and then go in there and pretend that narrative is true.
The same technique works for negotiating the parameters of a project with a client, giving a presentation, pitching a proposal or just about any other "performance" in your life. Take a different view of faking it and remind yourself that this is, in fact, a skill. You are creating confidence by your actions, which is a pretty cool thing.