Imposter syndrome is feeling out of place in the scenes you’ve dreamed up for yourself. It’s reaching that big goal and looking around thinking, “I don’t belong here, someone is going to call me out.”
Imposter syndrome plagues even the most accomplished, successful people because it has nothing to do with our qualifications or experience. Imposter syndrome attacks your confidence and changes your inner dialog, and it can impact your productivity, big time.
Imposter Syndrome is psychological, and I’m not a psychologist… However, I muscled through the feelings of “not good enough” and “who do I think I am?” so I want to share with you my own personal experiences, how I tackled my own imposter syndrome, and mix that with some careful research from some trusted sources. I want you to have the tools you need to push away that nagging self-doubt and do the big things you were born to do. At the very least, this will be a jumping off point for you to recognize your Imposter Syndrome and begin working through it to claim your title and place in the world with pride.
What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like
Imposter Syndrome can manifest itself in so many different ways. For me, I couldn’t even say the words: I am a photographer. When people asked me what I did, I’d always hide behind the corporate job that made me feel powerful, worthy, and impressive. Saying that I was trying to be a photographer meant that people could ask me questions I might not have answers to, it left me feeling vulnerable, cautious, and after coming across a few nasty feeds in Facebook groups about faux-tographers, it made me want to hide.
It’s wild to think about how uncertain I was in that season because I knew exactly what I wanted but I was so worried about what people would think about that dream that I hid behind titles that the world knew, ones that didn’t invite more conversation or questioned my path. I mean, what would my friends think? My family? Didn’t I just graduate with a degree and land my “dream job” and now I think I am a photographer? I spent a LOT of time worrying about what others would think about me.
The world is comfortable with corporate things, executive terms… but I felt like the world was against the dreamers, the doers, the people who were pursuing something more. I knew I was fragile enough to believe others opinions if I welcomed them into my life, so I often just left out that little detail that I was attempting to escape my “impressive” corporate job that I hated in order to do something different.
The American Psychological Association says that Imposter Syndrome “isn’t an official diagnosis listed, but it is a very specific form of intellectual self-doubt.” If you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome you might also be feeling anxious or depressed, you might think you’re a fraud, that you don’t belong in the role you’ve truly earned, that at any moment, someone will ask you a pointed question about your field and BAM, you’re discovered as a fraud.
Or maybe — your Imposter Syndrome has actually stopped you before you’ve even started. Maybe the story you’re telling yourself is that “I’m not good enough to do the things I’ve dreamed about or someone else is already doing it and they are way better than I’ll ever be,” and it creeps into your brainspace and before you even TRY, you stop. But your story doesn’t have to end there.
Why Women Feel It Most
When the Imposter phenomenon was first discovered, psychologists thought it was only present in women. I’m not even a little surprised by this — Women face a unique degree of pressure to do all the things, to be everything, a career-woman, the perfect mom, a homemaker, a supportive friend, a loving partner… Our self-worth can easily get all wrapped up in what we’ve achieved, or what we claim as our titles.
And then we get to play the comparison game. We compare our titles with those around us. We see our peers and competitors proudly posting their titles or accolades in their Instagram bios. I did a quick scroll of my feed, titles like: 7 Figure Mom, Stay At Home CEO, Award-Winning Photographer, Online Marketing Expert… it’s easy to feel like we’re not worthy of anything beyond what’s in front of this.
Now earlier versions of Jenna would’ve felt discouraged seeing these big, impressive titles as I was forging my own path to claim my simple little “photographer” title. Because who was I to put that label in my own Instagram profile when I was still figuring out what all the little numbers on my camera lenses meant?
Imagine if I had stopped there, if I let the pressure of an impressive title and the comparison game stop me in my tracks before I even started? I don’t want to even think about what my world would look like right now if my Imposter Syndrome had taken hold of everything the future held for me.
So the first step to combating Imposter Syndrome is recognizing why it exists — You’re achievement-driven, you feel that pressure to do big things, whether it’s internal or external pressure, and you’re measuring your ability to achieve against the achievements of others. You recognize why you’re feeling this way, so here’s what you can do to overcome it.
Claim Your Title
You need to CLAIM your title. Like, riiiiight now. Take out a piece of paper and a pen, or open the Notes app on your phone, and start a list. Write down your title. Like if someone asked you the question, “What do you do?” and you answered without fear, what would that title be? CLAIM IT. Are you a photographer, an educator, a hair stylist, an ebook author, a podcaster, a speaker? Claim that title in big bold letters.
Then, make three bullet points and answer these questions: Who do you serve? How do you serve them? What is their end result? One of the best ways to combat Imposter Syndrome is getting confident talking about what you do. If the next time someone asked you that question you could respond with your title and a summary of the answers to these questions, you’re claiming the title that used to make you feel like a fraud. Don’t add any caveats or verbal disclaimers, just a prompt and clear response and leave it at that.
For me, I can say I’m the CEO of a multimillion dollar online company. I’m an online educator that serves female entrepreneurs through my podcast and online courses and I empower them to pursue their passions and profits so they can do what they love and get paid to do it.
Stop Making If/Then Statements
You know the kind of things I’m talking about, those little gambles you make yourself. Like, “If I win this award, THEN I’ll officially be a photographer,” or, “If I make $10,000 this month, THEN I’m really an entrepreneur.”
Does this sound like a conversation you’ve had with yourself? Have you made these if/then statements in your head? When we’re building the life of an entrepreneur, especially in the creative realm, it’s natural to grasp at benchmarks and more traditional metrics for qualifying our success. In the corporate world, a title, promotion, raise, or award is seen as a very clear recognition of success and legitimacy.
But something tells me we busted out of the corporate world for a reason… So why are we trying to measure our entrepreneurial success in the same terms? You don’t get an annual review or feedback the same way when you are your own boss, it sucks, but creating rules for your success isn’t the cure.
You’ve heard me say this before: If you have ONE follower, you are an influencer. Let’s master that same mindset for any title. If you shoot ONE photo, you are a photographer. If you make ONE dollar selling your products or services, you are an entrepreneur. And yeah, if you speak at ONE event (I don’t care how many butts are in those seats) you are a speaker.
I want to point out, too, that if we’re measuring our success with these benchmarks and finding that we can’t claim our titles with achieving whatever arbitrary level we set for ourselves, we’ll keep raising the bar. We’ll continue to downplay all that we have done because we’ll be chasing the next measure of success. It might even shut us down in our tracks, stalling our progress and restarting the Imposter Syndrome cycle all over again.
Reframe Your Mindset
I challenge you to reframe your thoughts surrounding achievements starting with two methods.
First, I want you to reach out to your mentors, teachers, or whatever support group you have around you. Maybe it’s a friend who’s watched you grow or maybe it’s a coach who’s helped you build your business. Tell them you’re feeling like a fraud. Tell them you’re not even sure if you’re a REAL photographer or fill in the blank… And sub in whatever title you previously claimed that made you feel important or worthy.
Now, let them butter you up a bit. Okay, okay, I know this might seem like this is fishing for compliments and it feels a little odd, but sometimes we just need to see ourselves through the eyes of someone who loves us.
Second, write a new internal dialog for yourself. Feel free to add it to that note you started before. If your internal dialog is all if/then statements, take the first one that comes to mind and rewrite it in a way that does not trigger those “I’m a fraud” feelings. It might sound like this:
If your statement is: “If I book 10 weddings my first season, THEN I’m a photographer.” You could rewrite it like this: “I am a photographer BECAUSE I booked my first wedding today AND I will serve the bride and groom with special memories of their big day.” There is no benchmark here, no challenge to our confidence. The second statement shifts our mindset. It starts with unafraid statement: I am a photographer. It backs up that statement with one piece of evidence: Because I booked my first wedding today. And it brings in our WHY: I will serve the bride and groom with special memories of their big day.
If we measure our success through how we’re showing up and serving others, we will always feel accomplished. Bring in those arbitrary metrics, those IF/THEN statements and corporate terms of achievement, we’ll keep raising that bar and chasing our tails, caught in a dizzying spiral of Imposter Syndrome.
Admit You Don’t Have All the Answers
I want to make one thing crystal clear: Just because you own your title does not mean you need to have all the answers. In fact, I want you to admit that you don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay.
If you’re faced with a question about your line of work, THAT’S OKAY. You have permission to always be learning, to start with imperfect action and keep getting better over time. I’d hate for you to hide your magic from the world because you’re afraid of getting stumped by a little question from someone who doesn’t have a single clue about all the big things you’re destined to do.
I challenge you to take imperfect action, and to continue to grow. Imperfect action makes things happen. Take big, bold, imperfect steps forward. If you get a question that you can’t answer. Say it: I don’t know… And then ask for help along the way. And with every imperfect step forward, you’ll start to learn the answers to those questions that once stumped you. You’ll start moving in the right direction. New questions will arise… Trust me, they never stop popping up, but just because you don’t have the answer right now doesn’t make you an imposter.
The Big Picture
It’s not your job to convince other people your business is worthy or important or successful. A lot of times people treat me like my job is a hobby or ask me “Well, what does your husband do?” and it used to drive me crazy because they belittled what I had built but at the same time, I know what I’ve created and if they don’t find worth in it or don’t understand it, it’s totally on them and not a reflection of what you’ve created.
Everyone feels like a fraud. Like an imposter in their own world. It shows up in different ways and at different times, but it’s deeply rooted in the fact that we’re achievement oriented, and we’re out here chasing our biggest dreams. With that comes fear and uncertainty. Don’t let it stop you before you even begin.