FounderFuel: Giving Founder Imposter Syndrome a reframe

In part 1 of the founder imposter syndrome series we covered what Imposter Syndrome is and why it’s so prevalent among founders. The next question is, what can we do about it?

The first reminder is that Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon. It’s happening in our minds. It’s not a true depiction of reality. Therefore, when we’re thinking about ways to better manage these feelings, we need to address them on a psychological level. It’s about bringing in a more rational and objective view that can counter our own subjective interpretation of what’s going on.

So, how do we manage it?

Step 1 – Differentiate between Imposter Syndrome and lack of confidence

Imposter Syndrome has become a bit of a buzz word that is thrown around anytime someone is feeling a little uncertain. This isn’t helpful as it can make these feelings of doubt balloon out of proportion and make us feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with us when that simply is not true. Most of the time, what people refer to as Imposter Syndrome is actually a lack of confidence.

So how can we tell the difference and why does it matter?

Firstly, confidence is related to our ability to do things. Whereas Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that who we are fundamentally as a person is not good enough. So, we need to pay particular attention to the language we use when we’re hearing these doubts in our mind. If the voice in our head talks more about “I don’t know how to do this” or “I’m just not good at this type of thing” then it’s a good signal that it’s confidence we’re talking about, as it’s referring to our ability to perform a certain task. If however, the nasty voice is saying things more like “I’m just not cut out for this” or “I’m never going to be good enough” then it’s talking about who we are as a person, and its likely to be a signal that its imposter syndrome we’re dealing with.

Secondly, when we start a new job or business and we’re learning the ropes because it’s new to us. We’re feeling doubts because we’re not yet confident in our ability to do those things that the role or business requires of us – because it’s new. It’s temporary and circumstantial and over time we will gain confidence as we get to grips with what we’re doing. Whereas Imposter Syndrome doesn’t tend to leave us, it’s less temporary, more long lasting – in fact it can often get worse the more experienced we become because we feel like even more of a fraud the more senior our role.

Once we’re clear on whether it is in fact imposter syndrome or not, we can work towards relevant remedies and management tactics.

Step 2 – Find your reframes

When we allow ourselves to get stuck in our own inner monologues it can be hard to find our way back to an objective mindset. By introducing alternative views and narratives into our internal monologues we can re-gain perspective, especially when we’ve got those nasty voices in our heads telling us we’re not good enough.

If it’s confidence, use these re-frames

1. Confidence is made not born

A funny thing happens when we talk about confidence depending on the context we are talking about. When sports commentators describe the confidence of an athlete, we know that confidence has come from hours, weeks and months of dedicated training – it’s repetition, it’s practise. However, for some reason when we then talk about self-confidence more broadly it’s often thought of as something that an individual is either born with, or not – somehow it’s up to the gods to decide! We need to bridge the gap between these two different understandings of confidence.

Confidence is earned, it is not automatic. Yes, some people might have some natural ability in one thing more than another but if you want to become confident at something, the way to do it is to practice.

So, if pitching for investment is something you want to become confident at, create yourself a training plan. Put the hours in at the gym so to speak. Pitch at every opportunity you get. Practice, practice, practice.

2. It’s new – that’s exciting

We know lack of confidence comes when we’re doing something we’re new at, or we’ve not practiced enough to be confidence at quite yet.  If we did nothing but things that we were already good at, and confident in, all the time life would be pretty damn boring.

Yes, taking on a new challenge can be daunting but it’s also really exciting and will be so worth it when we’ve mastered the new skill. Take a minute to take in the excitement of it all, and enjoy the ride.

If it’s Imposter Syndrome, use these re-frames

1. I’m doing something that matters

Imposter Syndrome does not affect people that don’t care about their work. If it didn’t matter, you wouldn’t feel the pressure to perform at such a high level. So rather than imposter syndrome being a signal that something is wrong, it’s actually more a symbol that we’re doing something right. We’re doing something that matters and has true sense of purpose for us. It might be uncomfortable but it’s worth it in pursuit of the greater goal.

2. I’m brave

Imposter Syndrome flares up more strongly when e we’re outside of our comfort zone. Doing something unfamiliar is scary but we don’t learn and grow by only doing things we’ve already done. Being willing to be the type of person who sees the challenge and steps up to the plate – knowing that it’s not going to be easy, as entrepreneurship so rarely is – is a brave thing to do. So when that voice in your head tells you you’re not good enough. Remember that, I’m doing something that’s difficult and that means that I am brave.

I hope these re-frames can start to take the edge of those negative thoughts and feelings and bolster you in times of doubt.

The last parting thought I want to leave you with is that low confidence and Imposter Syndrome can be very lonely and isolating feelings. It’s common to not want to admit to these feelings, especially as we remember that entrepreneurship places such a high importance on appearing confident. However, the reality is that most founders feel this way at one point or another and can relate to the way you’re feeling. So, one of the most important things you can do is talk about it – whether that’s in a FounderCircle or just with a friend. Imposter Syndrome can’t thrive in public spaces because other people help us to counter our own subjective view of ourselves and the world. So please keep this conversation going!

This series was developed in tandem with our Scaleup Session on Imposter Syndrome. If you’re a FounderCircle member you can watch the recording of the session with me, Christina and over sixty other founders here.

Imposter syndrome experts for entrepreneurs - Rachel Stockey, founder coach at weare3Sixty

Written by Rachel Stockey, founder coach at weare3Sixty

Founder coach | Trainer | Head of Entrepreneurial Skills at King’s College London.

Passionate about unlocking potential in entrepreneurial leaders with an expertise in mindsets, confidence and Imposter Syndrome.

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