‘Imposter syndrome’ can derail an entrepreneur’s dreams, but these tips can help rein in strong emotions and anxiety about mediocrity—and bring a fresh perspective for success.
Hard-working, tenacious and determined are common traits of the self-employed.
Many, however, admittedly struggle with “imposter syndrome.” They experience an “ugly feeling” and anxiety that they “aren’t worthy” of success.
The term “imposter syndrome” was coined in the 1970s. Two clinical psychologists define it as “high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’”
Aldonna Ambler—The Growth Strategist®—owns an international consulting company and has worked with numerous entrepreneurs during her 40-year career. Many want to get away from a bad boss, a boring job or a sense of being trapped, she says.
“When you run away from a situation, that’s when fear sets in. Thoughts such as, ‘Can I really manage people?’ or, ‘Do I really know what I’m doing?’ are signs of doubt. Running from something isn’t enough for success; it’s different when you’re running toward something with a vision, and you’re creating that energy synapse.”
The language sounds the same but the motive is different, Ambler says.
A recent post on Entrepreneur.com says one advantage proprietors have is their “incredible ability” to confront fear. The ideal balance, Ambler says, is “an equal dose of fear and excitement.”
To manage fear, Ambler offers the following suggestions for business owners:
- Ask yourself meaningful questions. If you’re doing only those things you already know, it means you’re not open to change. You could, for example, be falling behind with technology. “We have to be direct with ourselves and answer the question: ‘What am I afraid of?’ Maybe it’s being embarrassed if I fail. But also ask: ‘What am I excited about?’ because positive energy dispels fears,” Ambler says.
- Let go of control issues. The classic fear of entrepreneurs is a loss of control, Ambler says. Running a business with the premise of doing things your way isn’t a business strategy, she says. “Successful businesses are about what customers need, what the gap is and what the market dictates. The light bulb around entrepreneurship is that the world doesn’t revolve around you.”
Franchisees, she says, must look at their shop through the lens of the customer: “Worry less about control and more about learning what products and services your customers want.”
- Focus on possibilities. People who worry about what might go wrong will likely have a long “drama-filled” list, Ambler says. It’s a mindset that stymies people: “If you own a franchise and are considering multiple locations, you may start thinking about competitors and losing control of what you have.”
Instead, she suggests considering the possibilities around acquisitions. Think expansively; it’s much more exciting. “Too many business owners get numb just talking themselves out of something,” she says. “If you’re starting to shut down, get other people in the room to get you unfrozen.”
Strong coping abilities are essential for entrepreneurs. Research finds most small businesses fail within the first year. Ambler—who is also an international speaker and trainer—admits she has struggled with imposter syndrome and thinking small: “The vision other people had for me was amazing. They could see things in me that I could never have imagined.”
In the book, “Trailblazing in Entrepreneurship: Creating New Paths for Understanding the Field,” the authors write that entrepreneurs “develop psychological and emotional capabilities that are the foundation for resilience.”
Small- business owners face uncertain environments and different forms of adversity, but it’s their “positive emotions, hardiness and optimism” that can set them apart.