The Art of Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Feeling like a phony can paralyze your business. Here’s how to honor the success you’ve earned.
woman stressed at work
It's hard to be productive when you feel like you don't deserve your success. (Photo: AnemStyle/Shutterstock)

Ever have that nagging feeling that everyone’s going to wake up one day and realize you’re a phony? Or that your success is merely a stroke of good luck — not something you’ve earned through dedication and hard work?

You’re not alone. It’s a condition known as “imposter syndrome,” and it affects the majority of people at some point in their lives, said Shefali Raina, a leadership and high-performance coach for executives and entrepreneurs.

“Imposter syndrome is extremely prevalent among business owners, especially new entrepreneurs,” she said. “It can hurt your ability to run your business by driving you to exhaustion as you work to offset the imposter feeling and make you feel like you aren’t competent enough to achieve big goals.”

Shefali Raina headshot

Coaching and mentoring others helps us continuously improve ourselves.” – Shefali Raina

Don’t let these feelings drag down your success. Here are some tips on how to overcome imposter syndrome.

List your accomplishments

Imposter syndrome can almost give you amnesia about your successes. Keep track of your achievements so you can refer to them when you’re feeling unworthy, said Raina.

“Objectively write down each and every one of your accomplishments as a business owner and in your general life,” she said. “[Avoid] filtering out achievements you think aren’t a big deal, and keep the list handy.”

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It can also be smart to start a success folder, where you stash thank-you emails, mentions of accomplishments and other reminders about your good work. Those positive affirmations are concrete evidence of the value you bring to others.

Upgrade your professional network


Build a solid relationship with fellow small business owners. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Rapid success can actually be an isolating experience that might leave you wondering if you even deserve it. Networking with business owners on a similar level can give your psyche a positive reality check.

“When you start to achieve success as a business owner, you can feel like you are being cut off from the herd, which leads to self-doubt,” said Andrew Longcore, partner at The Business Law Group and author of “Avoiding Million Dollar Mistakes.” “If you associate with other high-achievers, those successes can look a lot more normal to you.”

Look for professional networking events in your area, then start putting yourself out there.

Set smart goals

The self-doubt from imposter syndrome can stifle you from achieving much of anything. Next time you’re feeling inadequate, set an achievable goal and start working toward it.

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“Imposter syndrome and perfectionism go hand in hand, leading to a thought cycle that can leave you feeling paralyzed,” said Laura Federico, a psychotherapist who specializes in helping people overcome low self-worth. “Accomplishing a goal is a surefire way to shut down those thoughts and remember what an amazing entrepreneur you are.”

The best goals are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-oriented). Use that criteria to set objectives that actually make an impact on your business and life.

Engage in mentorship


Don’t underestimate the importance of mentoring. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Mentorship is a powerful tool throughout every stage of your business. Working with a mentor can help you build personalized strategies to give imposter syndrome the boot.

“These advisors know your goals and the big vision for your business. When self-doubt creeps into your psyche because you don’t know if you belong on that next level, they can flip that self-doubt into a celebration of what you’re striving for,” said Longcore.

Interestingly, becoming a mentor yourself can be equally effective at boosting your confidence. Having enough experience and success to guide someone else is a tangible reminder that you’re the real deal, said Raina.

“Be open about your own experience and mentor other business owners on how they can overcome imposter syndrome. Coaching and mentoring others helps us continuously improve ourselves, as well,” she said.

Practice self-care

Running a business is a 24/7 job, and taking care of yourself is often one of the last things on an entrepreneur’s to-do list. However, prioritizing your physical and mental health can go a long way toward helping you feel your best — and banishing imposter syndrome.

“Building a foundation of self-care where we have adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition, social connection and positive thinking helps reduce stress and mental fatigue, increase our positivity and dilute imposter syndrome,” said Raina.

If you’re pressed for time, just pick one self-care goal to focus on every day. Perhaps you take a late afternoon power nap in the middle of the week, or focus on leaving work on time to make your Monday night yoga class. Those efforts add up and prime your mind to tackle your biggest goals — then enjoy the success you experience without feeling phony.

Imposter syndrome affects most of us from time to time. By remembering your achievements, surrounding yourself with high-achievers and sharing the lessons you’ve learned with others, you can transform that inner nag into the voice of a supportive friend cheering you on.

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