First up: if you're an established entrepreneur and you're struggling with Imposter Syndrome, you'll find this free in-depth guide super-helpful (I promise):
It includes some exercises and info to help you understand how to conquer Imposter Syndrome in a way you may never have encountered before... enjoy x
And here's the podcast episode - or you can read the written article below.
Why do we get Imposter Syndrome?
So I've talked in the past about why Imposter Syndrome isn't really a syndrome at all. Now it IS something we can all experience - no question about that.
And it isn't selective - there's nothing that determines who has imposter syndrome. Introvert or extrovert, neurotypical or neurodivergent, CEO or startup... it can affect us all. And this is something that often catches otherwise successful entrepreneurs unawares. Because all the way through their journey in life and business, they've been told "Just feel the fear and do it anyway - fake it 'til you make it - and one day it will get easier" no matter how overwhelming that can seem (I don't recommend that as a strategy, by the way - here's why).
Then they find themselves at the top of the tree - and somehow still cursed with those same old imposter, 'not good enough', people-pleasing, shameful, guilty and unworthy thoughts, feelings and behaviours they had at the very beginning. Maybe you've noticed that in your own journey?
You've kept going, kept pushing on through every time something has felt a bit hard or you've doubted yourself and whether it would work. And you've seen success.
But you still feel petrified whenever you're asked to speak and own your expertise and position.
You still feel small and almost embarrassed about your business when friends and family ask how it's going (or you feel ashamed of how well it IS doing).
You still feel uncomfortable around your competitors, so you just try to tune them out - and feel like a bit of an outsider while everyone else is having a big old riot. And I'm guessing, if that's familiar, that you also work way too hard because you're terrified of dropping a ball - but you feel like you can't let go and find it hard to trust others, too? I'm guessing you don't trust that success will last - and still fret about money and cashflow even when, on paper, things are great? Maybe you still have sleepless nights wondering what might cause it all to come crumbling down - fuelled by economic fears and all the doom and gloom out there. And despite all the 'mindset work' you've had to do along the way to shift those limiting beliefs you were told were your problem - you still feel uneasy with some things in your business - and a million miles away from those pink, fluffy, perma-positivity-filled memes you see all over the place.
You worry about letting everyone down, whilst still self-sabotaging and watching yourself passing by great opportunities and relationships.
Maybe you struggle to be assertive - or to muster the energy to even interact sometimes - even though it all feels quite lonely and hard? And all of the above feels like one, big, shameful secret. (I know because this was my exact story in my first successful, multi-6 figure business. I'll share it on the podcast some time soon, so subscribe if you'd like to hear more!).
The thing is, Imposter Syndrome isn't a 'thing' in its own right.
It's a collection of thoughts and feelings we tend to experience thanks to underlying, subconscious (or conscious) anxiety. And let me just define anxiety here, because it's often misunderstood as something we all suffer with (which is untrue). Anxiety is an over-response, a hyper-aroused reaction to stressful situations. It's NOT the stressful situations themselves - it's when our system becomes traumatised by the stressful situations and can't let go of the stress. That means not everyone suffers from anxiety, because some people diffuse and deal with their stress very well. And that's why not everyone experiences Imposter Syndrome. Because without anxiety and trauma fuelling the fire, there is no oxygen for Imposter Syndrome to burn.
What triggers Imposter Syndrome?
The first thing to understand is that this goes way back.
Imposter Syndrome is just a convenient collective label for the unhelpful things you've learned to think, feel and believe since you were knee high to a grasshopper - things that feel like they've become part of who you are. So far.
That doesn't mean that it IS who you are, or that we have to let it dictate your future, though (check out how you can work with me - an experienced anxiety & trauma therapist for entrepreneurs - if you'd like to start your journey towards overcoming it).
Ironically, a big part of the reason you feel like an imposter, is likely to be the very reason you've been so successful in the first place.
Because you've been raised to always try harder and be better. Right?
This is something that's been ingrained in you - culturally and socially.
From a very young age, some of us learn that the only way to get ahead and 'be safe' in life is to keep trying, keep pushing, keep bettering ourselves. And so we learn to never switch off that inner critic.
Hence the link between imposter syndrome and burnout:
Many entrepreneurs and senior leaders drive themselves into the ground, trying to live up to those ideals and narratives that solidified in childhood.
Add anxiety to the mix and it's like lighting the blue touch paper and standing back. The 'try harder, do better, not good enough, please everyone' button goes into overdrive. And is there anything MORE stressful and anxiety-inducing than the world of entrepreneurship and the constant challenges it brings, personally and professionally? Exactly.
So, is imposter syndrome anxiety?
No, it's just one side-effect of anxiety. Of which there are many. And in my work with high-achievers and business leaders, I've identified plenty of other ways they hold themselves back, along with other (often physical) ill-effects - like IBS, skin conditions and mystery illnesses (chronic fatigue was one I diced with). The beautiful thing is, that once we tackle the underlying anxiety and rewrite those old subconscious Imposter Identity imprints - suddenly all sorts of other areas of life and business get a whole lot better, too. And that's because it's all so interwoven and complex that I believe Imposter Syndrome is rarely - if ever - something that occurs in isolation. Here are the sorts of issues it often co-exists with, that you might experience even as an established business owner:
Anxiety around money and the longevity/stability of your business
Procrastination and indecisiveness (fear of getting it 'wrong')
Difficulty trusting others, letting go and stepping back
Finding it impossible to switch off, relax and enjoy life
Loss of motivation and lack of focus
Finding the business you once loved and were passionate about now feels frustrating and like a burden
Overcomplicating systems and procedures
Spending on things that aren't really aligned with creating a healthier bottom line
Guilt, shame and loneliness
Being unable to communicate as effectively as you'd like and struggling to build a cohesive team
So how do I overcome imposter syndrome - and everything else you've mentioned here - to help my business thrive?
Lucky for you, this is my specialist subject. The first thing I would recommend is downloading my free guide on dealing with imposter syndrome:
It will help you understand more about what causes Imposter Syndrome and what to do if you HAVE Imposter Syndrome .
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