Running a business is a pretty challenging thing to do. It comes with plenty of stress and to be successful it requires a ton of commitment. If you’ve decided to build a business on the side or maybe you’re a stay at home parent looking to establish another stream of income for your family, then you know it can be even more difficult.
With all of that stress and challenges comes some self-doubt. Somewhere in the pit of your stomach, you might be questioning why you’re doing it and maybe even doubting your own abilities. This is especially common when you’re just starting out because the excitement is probably giving way and the reality of the mountain you have to climb is staring you in the face.
Sometimes though, that self-doubt and fear, it shifts from being a small lingering thing in the back of your mind to an all-consuming panic. You may even believe that you’re a fraud and the world is going to find out that you’re an imposter!
Welcome to the strange and wonderful world of Imposter Syndrome.
Right now, there are probably some of you reading this who suffer from Imposter Syndrome. It manifests itself in a variety of ways but usually, they simply don’t believe they’re smart enough or haven’t quite finished learning everything they need to know before they can begin. Effectively, they’ve convinced themselves that they are going to be “found out” if they try to start working with clients.
The difference between a crippling lack of self-confidence and Imposter Syndrome is pretty apparent when you know what to look for. People who simply lack confidence just need to get some wins under their belt, feel good about themselves and things start heading in the right direction. People with Imposter Syndrome simply refuse to believe they are good enough even when the evidence is overwhelmingly saying they are – they effectively feel like intellectual frauds.
I’ve worked with a number of coaching clients over the years who’ve struggled with their confidence. If we were being truthful, I’d say probably 80% of my coaching clients lack confidence and my job is to help give them gentle pushes forward, setting them up to succeed so that they can get momentum and take bigger steps forward.
But I’ve only ever had one coaching client that I can think of who suffered from Imposter Syndrome. I could be self-centered and talk about how hard it was for me to work with this person, but the truth of the matter is, after our bi-weekly call I got to move on with things, this person was absolutely stuck in this quagmire of self-doubt bordering on depression.
The funny thing is, I didn’t really notice it at the time. I knew there was something not right with this individual, but I didn’t realise just how deep the problem ran. They seemed like they wanted to move forward, but every time they needed to pull the trigger there was some kind of event that held them back or threw them off track.
By the end of our three-month coaching engagement, I had just assumed that I’d failed and was pretty disappointed. During the last fifteen minutes of our last call, I expressed my disappointment that we’d not made more progress and I didn’t think it was worth continuing with the coaching. Immediately, this person spruced up – it was like a relief. They immediately started telling me how much value they’d gotten from it and how great my strategies and advice was, but that obviously they just weren’t ready.
And then it ended. I moved on and this person pretty much fell off my radar, last I heard they were working in a creative, low-pressure job. I never thought much about it.
Until last week.
I’ve started reading a fair bit recently about Imposter Syndrome – it’s the flavour of the week in the online circles. Marketers who are quasi-successful are “fessing up” to having battled this infliction themselves and having overcome it. It made me think back to this previous client and realise that those marketers talking about it have no idea what is really going on with someone who is crippled by that disorder. They’re just trying to build some cheap sympathy from their muppet-laden audience.
Reading more about it, I realised this is what my former client had. It wasn’t pretty. We’re not talking simple things like, “the dog ate my USB drive” as reasons why progress wasn’t being made. I know this person was physically making themselves sick with worry – vomiting, panic attacks and night terrors.
“Jane” the Social Media Queen who struggles with accepting just how super duper awesome she is and is so excited that she put herself out there now on Snapchat isn’t suffering from this disorder. Jane just has no talent and knows it, her self-doubt is entirely deserved, nobody cares about her smashed avocado and wholemeal toast that she ate for breakfast and took nine pictures of.
People who really suffer from Imposter Syndrome aren’t just uncomfortable sharing what they know, they will do almost anything to ensure that they don’t have to. It cripples them completely.
Now hopefully this doesn’t describe you and from my experience, we’re talking about a small minority of people. Like I said, most folks just have a confidence problem, sometimes it can even be severe, but Imposter Syndrome is something else altogether. But if you do think that you might be dealing with this, seriously, get some help for it. It can rule and ruin your life if you’re not careful and you’ll end up not meeting your potential.
For most of you, the problem is confidence and more specifically a lack thereof. You just need to set small achievable goals for yourself, take action on baby steps and realise that you’re never going to know everything you need to know before you start. Sometimes you can only learn the lessons you need once you start moving forward.