I’m often the youngest and least experienced person in a lot of work situations. I’m a startup founder, so my job usually means selling to new customers, meeting potential investors, or speaking at events. All the while, I’m constantly fighting for credibility while worrying I don’t belong.
Imposter syndrome is really common and doesn’t just affect young people. You can wind up feeling like a fraud for countless reasons throughout your career. But I find there’s a special kind of anxiety when you’re trying to run a company and convince people to take you seriously. Still, there are two things I keep going back to in order to keep my imposter syndrome in check. Neither of them are exactly rocket science, but in my experience, they work.
Reframe “Inexperience” As “Gaining Experience”
When you feel like you lack something–experience in particular–it’s easy to let your imagination run wild about how others may perceive you. That, of course, can quickly start to influence how you perceive yourself. To counteract this, I’ve found it helpful to spin that narrative from “lacking experience” into one of “gaining experience.”
It’s as simple as it sounds, but sometimes it’s enough to remind me that I need to look inward to adopt a better mind-set. It helps me focus less on what I don’t have and more on what I’m working on acquiring. Instead of fixating on whatever I feel unqualified to do right here and now, I can start focusing on what I’m still planning to do in the future.
I was a junior in college when I cofounded Givebutter, a fundraising platform that helps student organizations and nonprofits raise money online. As self-taught developers, building the website wasn’t the hardest part. It was the self-doubt and anxiety that came from what we believed might be hazardous inexperience. But rather than fight that feeling, my cofounders and I embraced it. We compiled a list of executives at the top 100 nonprofits and fired off an email campaign that introduced ourselves as students working on a project who were seeking advice.
Instead of pretending that Givebutter was more than just an idea on paper (at the time), we spun our inexperience into something forward-looking and true to ourselves. And it worked. The response was overwhelmingly positive, leading to friendships, mentors, and future customers that have all helped the company grow.
Use Friendships As Your Foundation
Mentors are great, but they can be hard to come by and sometimes aren’t enough. I’ve found my inner circle to be a surprisingly powerful alternative. Whether that’s your best friend, significant other, mom, dad, or all of the above, the people you go home to and spend time with are the ones who’ll keep you grounded when you need it most.
They also jump-start my self-confidence when it starts to wane. For me, imposter syndrome is most potent whenever I’m featured in a public setting–in the press, on a podcast, at an event, etc. I’ll often feel irrationally insecure and struggle with fits of self-doubt. In these moments, I always turn to my closest friends.
Not only does this bring me closer to the people who matter to me the most, it also gives me an emotional boost I’m sometimes unable to find on my own. After all, hanging out with negative people can be a drain on your productivity as well as your confidence, so being more selective about the people you hang out with can help curb those negative feelings whenever you’re feeling most vulnerable.”
If you feel like an imposter, that’s probably because you’re pushing the boundaries of what you’re capable of and putting yourself in a position for growth. That’s why I believe that with the right mind-set and support system in place, being an imposter is actually sometimes the best thing you can be.