Monica Badiu, Email Copywriter & Copy Coach

If you’re any good at what you do, it’s likely you’re struggling with feelings of self doubt. Most likely under the form of a phenomenon called imposter syndrome. It oftentimes wears the masks of perfectionism, procrastination, fear of rejection or being criticized. A lot of entrepreneurs say they feel like a fraud and it drains their self confidence. It’s what also makes success feel like it is not deserved and down the line it’s what becomes food for your fear of visibility.

The irony is that such self doubt and imposter feelings are most common found with high achievers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and it is more frequent in women, than men.

An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.

As Aristotle famously wrote “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”. And the more you are scared of other people finding out that you’re not near as perfect (or as good) as they would like to think. You can experience impostor syndrome even if you are a beginner, a high achieving professional, a natural genius or a proven expert in your field.

What is imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Initially psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes thought that the impostor phenomenon was unique to women, but recent research reviews published in the International Journal of Behavioral Sciences (2011) revealed that men have impostor feelings. Their initial study focused on high-achieving women (Source: Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention).

Psychologists explain that many of the people who experience imposter syndrome grew up in families where achievements were a big thing. On top of that, societal pressures are adding to the self doubt as they challenge our self worth, and the media keeps glorifying overnight success. It looks like we are always asked to compete in award winning races, and win them, to be allowed to feel good enough.

“In our society there’s a huge pressure to achieve,” Imes says. “There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.”

How entrepreneurs experience impostor syndrome

Entrepreneurship is hard. It’s a tough journey to start your own business, and it can be even more difficult when you feel like an impostor. You might have the feeling that you don’t deserve what you have or that everything will go wrong at any moment. But there are ways to overcome these feelings and become successful in entrepreneurship – no matter how many times someone tells you “you can’t do this!”

Over 20% of entrepreneurs are often worried about being “found out” for lack of knowledge or ability (Kajabi, 2020)

Over 20% of entrepreneurs are often worried about being “found out” for lack of knowledge or ability (Kajabi, 2020)

Imposter syndrome impacts an entrepreneur’s confidence and mental health. It makes business owners want to hide, play small and procrastinate as much as possible.

It is particularly damaging for entrepreneurs when they engage in marketing, leadership and sales activities.

It’s what makes self promotion and online visibility a hurdle, it’s what delays publishing a new blog post, releasing a new video or even sending a newsletter.

It’s what makes selling “yucky”. It’s what makes you delay decisions around properly training your staff… or letting someone go.

Many of the entrepreneurs I have met that were struggling with imposter syndrome (myself included) are perfectionists and high achievers. It’s a combination that leads to setting high expectations and unreasonably high goals.

To some extent they set themselves up for failure and when they do fail, they feel ashamed of themselves for not having been able to live up to their own high standard.

Over time, this cycle of big goals+failure+shame leads them to have a hard time in business, and feel exhausted, dissatisfied, and unmotivated.

If you’re reading this, I bet you’ve had your own share of this imposter phenomenon. Maybe you are a business owner who stays later at the office than the rest of your team, even though all the important tasks of they day are completed. You think that if you work harder, you will finally get to a point where you will good enough.

Or maybe you find yourself stressing out when there’s no work – or you can’t work. You’re feeling guilty because not working feels like you are somehow wasteful and throwing your chances at success out of the window?

Most of us live with imposter syndrome all the time. We get used to that inner voice talking us out of taking action, become the leader that we know deep down we could be. It’s that voice that constantly doubts your expertise, your worthiness, your uniqueness. It’s the voice that talks yourself out of an opportunity or even self pampering because you don’t think you’re worth it.

I am certain that no one has ever asked you: Do you feel like a fraud?

And yet, you’re have these feelings every single day. You think you are an imposter, how can you not, if that’s what you’re telling yourself so often?

You’re not alone to feeling like an impostor in your business. Many entrepreneurs struggle with imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling that you don’t deserve your success, and at any moment people will realize this and expose you for who you really are – an imposter.

84 percent of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome (Kajabi, 2020)

84 percent of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome (Kajabi, 2020)

If you feel like an impostor you might say things like:

“I feel like an impostor”

“Do people like me?”

“Am I smart/good/worthy enough to be a business owner/lead my time/speak in front of these people/ get this contract/ publish this book?”

“This client has had great results while working with me, but it couldn’t have been my doing. It was pure luck/it was only the client’s efforts that made these results so good. I couldn’t have been the cause of this success”.

“My clients deserve better, I’m such a fraud, and all my results/services/products are so average. No wonder I can’t seem to hit my goals, I don’t really deserve it”.

“X has such amazing clients/opportunities. I wish I would be as good as X”.

“What if my clients/partners/family finds out that I don’t know as much as they think I do about this?”

“What can I really add to this topic? I’m not even an expert, who is even going to read this/listen to me/watch this?”

“Why bother with this (blog post, newsletter, video, social post)? There are others who are so much better than I am, people should be working with them, not me”.

“What if I say something stupid, and someone online will call me out on it and make a whole thing out of it?”

“What if a true expert will call me out on my theory/strategy/way of doing things and say it’s not good, true, how will I show my face the next time?”

“I don’t know enough about this, so I better wait until I can make that blog post/video/interview PERFECT”

“X said that I did very well on that recent presentation/interview/video, but I feel that people were not impressed by what I was saying”

“X praised my strategy/approach/result to be amazing, but I don’t feel like it was anything special. I was actually lucky because”

If you don’t find a way to manage it, imposter syndrome will derail your business because it will make any achievement feel average and it will feed your fear of visibility with the constant worry that people are going to find out that you are a fraud… which you aren’t, just to be clear.

However this means that no marketing strategy is going to help you increase your visibility IF you believe you are not worth it.

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“You can have all the confidence in the world and still be reluctant to self-promote out of a steadfast belief that a person’s work should speak for itself. It doesn’t.”
— ― Valerie Young, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

What can you do to overcome imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur?

How can you work on your business’ or personal brand’s online visibility when you’re dealing with imposter syndrome and a fear of being visible? How can you thrive in spite of self doubt, how can you learn to celebrate accomplishments, how can you accept that you are good enough?

As a business owner, your mental health should be a priority. Everything depends on your self worth, confidence and ability to understand how not to allow your business to be impacted by your mental health when you are dealing with self doubt and impostor feelings.

If you are someone who secretly worries that you don’t belong in entrepreneurship it is important to stop your imposter syndrome from affecting your business. It is actually possible to not feel anxious and fearful all the time.

It’s important to note that ignoring imposter syndrome isn’t just going to impact your business. It can impact your overall mental health, causing conditions such as anxiety or depression. While this syndrome is not recognized as an actual mental health condition, it really isn’t a secret anymore that it can cause harm both in men and women.

STEP 1 – ACCEPT it

It’s better you hear this now – you can’t really cure imposter syndrome. It’s there and the more accomplishments you have, the more “success” you achieve, it will still show up. That voice will not disappear. You will still feel like a failure even though everyone around you is impressed and blown away by your accomplishments.

Academy Award winning actress Kate Winslet said of struggling with imposter syndrome: “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud.”

And so did actor Don Cheadle : “All I can see is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud.”

Even Michelle Obama has her own battle with impostor syndrome: “It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

What you can do to overcome this syndrome is find ways to mute it or act despite it. The first step in stopping imposter syndrome from affecting your mental health is to accept you are dealing with imposter syndrome.

STEP 2 – RECOGNIZE the impostor phenomenon

“Most people experience some self-doubt when facing new challenges” says Carole Lieberman, MD, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author. But someone with [imposter phenomenon] has an inclined to distrust their success.”

What has helped the business owners I coach is learning to recognize the imposter syndrome so they can deal with those feelings of inadequacy rationally and calm themselves down when they enter the imposter syndrome anxiety spiral.

While imposter syndrome is not listed in the DSM, it is a type of self-doubt that triggers anxiety and depression. And because it causes this fear of being found, discovered to be a fraud, a lot of entrepreneurs are struggling with imposter syndrome in silence, and sometimes ignorance. They don’t really know they have it.

To recognize imposter syndrome in your life, start by paying very close attention to your inner voice. When you are bullying yourself that’s imposter syndrome. It helps to make a journal of the negative self talk that keeps you afraid. Make sure to also note when it happened (time of the day), what you were doing, or thinking about, and how it made you feel.

Over time you will become aware of this self doubting voice that causes you to play small. When you hear that voice questioning your expertise or worthiness, acknowledge it and ask yourself “Which part of you is scared? and Why?

As you collect that list of negative thoughts, make an effort to ask yourself if you really think those things to be true. Take it one step further and rewrite those thoughts to be positive, then say them out loud.

STEP 3 – UNDERSTAND HOW impostor syndrome WORKS

Think of imposter syndrome as a pattern your brain has learned in time.

To the brain, imposter syndrome is not a negative thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The brain makes use of imposter syndrome as a sort of alert. It uses it to keep us safe and protected against potential harmful experiences.

But our brain isn’t always right about what is harmful and what isn’t.

The patterns in your brain are networks of neurons, informational highways that have been created over years. Most of that information has been added into your brain’s patterns during your childhood and young adult years.

Your brain collected the information of the experiences and feelings you had when as a child or student you have been conditioned by an adult to speak only when being asked to. Grades have had a hand in this as well, punishing you for your failures. Or having been forced to dress or behave a certain way to make your parents, teachers etc happy.

We live in a society where there’s a huge pressure to achieve and not enough space for learning from your own mistakes. We have been conditioned to strive for perfection, when in fact we should be striving for excellency. We are conditioned to feel worthy only when achieving.

But, you are not a child anymore. You are now in control of your life. And your thoughts. So smash those negative thought patterns (really, you can visualize a hammer that smashes into a frozen lake) and start building new patterns, positive ones.

Another tactic that can help you in understanding how imposter syndrome works is to realize that the feeling of inadequacy, is just a feeling. It is not a fact. Just because you’re feeling like a fraud, it doesn’t mean you are one.

This is where you can “fight” feelings with logic and your success history. Make a list of all your achievements and results for as long as you can remember. Yes, even kindergarten counts. Whenever you feel unqualified, unworthy, or not expert enough, look at that list. Verbalize your qualifications.

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“The important thing is not to take the discomfort of feeling out of your element to mean you are somehow less intelligent, capable, or worthy than others. You are where you are because you deserve to be. Period.”
— ― Valerie Young, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

It is important for entrepreneurs struggling with imposter syndrome to take constant steps to shift their mindset towards action and courage despite this fear of being found out. This is not something that can be cured over night.

As for your fear of visibility. I have one more word of advice for you: Get out of your head and hit that publish button. You deserve to make your voice heard. You are worthy of being seen. You in your own way are unique and have a unique way of helping your ideal customer even if you’re just starting out, you don’t have the billion followers, or you’re having a bad hair day.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to do everything, you don’t need the 100 marketing channels, you don’t need to do lives, and interviews, and ads. Each business has its very own growth and visibility formula. One that matches your audience, market, product and resources. When you discover this formula, everything in your marketing becomes easier and feels aligned, even if you are struggling with imposter syndrome and a fear of visibility.

Want to learn more about developing a healthy visibility mindset? Here’s what you can read next

About the Author

Monica Badiu is an email copywriter and copy coach. She specializes in sales copywriting for online course creators who want to send emails that speak to their ideal customer and generate conversions without using fearmongering or pressure. She’s made clients over $3 million in 2023.

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