Posted: 29th October 2018
With my last business, I used to email 25,000 people on my subscribed newsletter list every week. That was a lot of people.
A lot of people reading my silly comments and motivational tips for exercising.
Real people. It’s not something I really want to think about. Real people reading my stuff…
I was fine if the readers I pictured were some sort of animated avatar, “woman aged 35 to 45 who loves being outdoors, but wishes she had more time to exercise”.
Avatars don’t get critical.
They don’t know me. They can’t walk up to me in the street and say, “What was that rubbish you wrote last week?”, or worse, give me a “look”.
A look I can interpret as “Who does she think she is?”
That’s the problem with real people, they have real views and opinions.
They might judge…
I’ve run 3 businesses, I’ve got an Engineering Degree, I’ve worked as a consultant to large infrastructure companies, I have an MBA from Edinburgh Business School and I’m a Qualified Teacher.
Yet, I still wake up some mornings wondering if I’m good enough. If I’m a fake…
There’s a label for these feelings and I’m not alone.
It’s called the “impostor syndrome”, where individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a “fraud”. “Some 70% of us will experience these thoughts of self-doubt at some stage in our lives”. Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97.
Attributes of Imposter Syndrome.
You find it very hard to get started on a task. There’s always a “Really good reason”…
Maybe a family situation to take care of.
Perhaps it’s your Aunty Betty’s 70th birthday next week… so you can’t possibly start writing your business plan, write the first chapter of your book or look for shop premises for your new business until you’ve made her a cake.
You know Betty likes a special type of chocolate in her icing, so you’ll have to trek the whole way across town to get it.
By the time you finish the cake, it will be Wednesday, so almost the weekend.
Might as well wait until next week to start writing your plan, your book, or looking for a store…
Does this sound like you?
Does it! I am so good at this…
We both know there’s only one way of dealing with procrastination.
Accept it’s happening. Recognise its impostor syndrome. Face up to why you’re failing to start a task and just get on with it.
Clear your desk, shut down any distractions, and make a start. It does get easier.
We all go to amazing lengths to avoid starting something difficult.
My favourite distraction is to start tweaking bits of my website. (I’m doing it now).
Playing around with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), setting up a YouTube channel when I haven’t got any content yet… things I can pretend are important but aren’t key to launching my business.
It’s natural to want to stay in the “comfort zone”.
Sometimes we have to drag ourselves kicking and screaming out of it…
I’ve started writing down what I do every day. It helps to make a plan and stick to it.
When you have to write that you spent 3 hours just changing the header image on your Facebook page and getting distracted by a post about buying a villa in Spain, there’s nowhere to hide…
# Over Preparation
This is really just another way of procrastinating.
Instead of making a real start, with real progress, you’re spending hours and hours researching your idea.
You’ve collected so much information about your supposed business you’re practically the World’s foremost expert in your field.
Unfortunately, no-one will ever know this. Why?
Because you’ve yet to produce or start something. I have two small words for you…
# The Need to be Special, to be the Very Best
You could call this the “Big Fish in a Small Pool” attribute.
Assume you’re the best runner in your small town.
You’ve always been the best runner and when you go to the nearest big city to run a race, you expect to do really well.
Maybe still be the best. But what if you’re not? What if you weren’t one of the first to finish?
If you’re an “impostor” you’d find this difficult to take.
Of course, there’s always the “I wasn’t really trying tactic”, but deep down, you know you tried really hard.
Suddenly you’re “a terrible runner”.
You’re giving away you’re running shoes and taking up golf.
Never mind that you still ran faster than most people in the race, you weren’t the “Very Best”.
If this is you, get over it.
We’re on a planet with 7.6 Billion people.
Unless you’re Usain Bolt, you’ll always find someone who’s faster than you.
Needing to be the very best is really debilitating. Okay, I know, it’s easier said than done…
I can safely say that starting out in business you’re not going to be the best.
Definitely not on Day 1. And that’s okay. It’s a Big World.
When I did my MBA there was always talk about being the No. 1 Company, the Best Company…
It takes time to get there. It doesn’t mean you can’t be good starting out, and continually improving, and learning…
Some of those 7.6 Billion people on the planet will still enjoy buying your goods, or reading your book, or visiting your store.
Just don’t get hung up on being the best.
This is a bit like needing to be the very best but it’s more about being a perfectionist.
This is me.
It doesn’t affect every aspect of my life, oh no, but if I decide something matters, it really matters.
I can pour endless hours into a task. Obsessive doesn’t even start to explain me.
When I left University, I got it into my head I could run across Tibet and I found an equally obsessive friend to join me.
We couldn’t, but we did break a record running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu.
The venture took a whole year of planning focusing on every tiny aspect of the journey.
It had to be perfect.
The thing is, perfectionism might work for a sporting endeavour, but it’s a real handicap when you’re a one-man band trying to launch your first business.
If everything you produce must be “just-so”, your output’s going to be really low.
Setting the bar so high can feel overwhelming and it’s easy to be super critical of everything you do.
I’m working on this one…
# Fear of Failure
Everyone hates the thought of failure. People with impostor syndrome can really fear it.
Being super critical of yourself means you take failure badly.
When a business fails it hurts but you need to accept that these things happen.
A lot of businesses fail. In London, the number of startups failing in the first 3 years is 50%. Failure is part of the learning process.
If you have a backup plan and keep your exposure low, failing doesn’t have to be traumatic.
You can pick yourself up and start over.
If it’s a choice between fear of failure or lying on my deathbed thinking “What if”, I’ll choose to take the risk every time.
Life’s about putting yourself out there.
Learn to block out the negativity. Whatever helps.
Chanting positive statements, taking up meditation or putting positive slogans on your wall.
“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” Steve Jobs.
Use whatever works for you…
# Denial of competence and discounting praise.
Someone tells you they love the piece you’ve just written, and you tell yourself “Yeah, but they don’t know much about this subject”.
That’s classic impostor syndrome.
You decide you can’t set up a sales training company because you’ve only got 5 years’ experience.
You’d love to open a clothing shop because you’ve been following fashion all your life.
You won’t because you’re only an amateur, and you haven’t worked in the industry…
All examples of impostor syndrome.
# Fear and guilt about success.
This last one is perhaps the saddest aspect of impostor syndrome.
Imagine you’ve worked hard for years building up a successful business.
You should be really proud of your achievements, enjoying your wealth and making the most of your lifestyle.
Instead, you’re wracked with guilt.
Where does this come from?
Becoming successful can set you apart from your family and peers.
Impostors can feel less connected and more distant.
There are feelings of guilt about being different, a worry about being rejected by others.
Often, when people grow and change there will be resentment from family and friends who like you “Just the way you are”.
But it’s natural to change as you go through life and everyone’s affected by their learning experiences.
Remember the “Best Friend” you had in First School who used to run around with a pencil stuck up his nose?
No, I thought not. We’ve all had friends we’ve lost touch with. We’ve all found new ones.
Grow, learn and don’t feel guilty about it…
Is this you? Do you have Impostor Syndrome?
Take one small step towards overcoming your fears. Acknowledge them.
I challenge you to write a comment on this blog about how you’re affected and what you’re going to do about it.
If writing your fears in public is too much (believe me I understand), send me a private message titled Impostor Syndrome.
Imposter syndrome can hold you back. Of the 7.6 Billion people on the planet, how many are living the lives they want to live? 5%, 2%, just 1%…
So many of us are stuck in jobs we hate or jobs where we’re just going through the motions.
This isn’t just about you. We have a planet that faces so many challenges…over population, scare resources, climate change… It’s going to take all of us, in our own small ways to make a difference.
Take the step, comment and overcome your fears…