Let me paint you a picture: I had just reached a significant milestone in my freelance writing career, and I was feeling on top of the world. I shared my accomplishment on social media, and I received heartfelt responses and congratulations, which made me feel even better.
Seemingly out of nowhere, negative thoughts and voices popped up. You don’t deserve this. You had someone help you. This doesn’t count. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not a writer.
I had gone from feeling so proud of myself to feeling like a complete failure in a matter of minutes. I even went as far as deleting what I wrote on social media for fear that anyone who read my posts would roll their eyes and think, “You didn’t work for this.”
Women and impostor syndrome
I was experiencing impostor syndrome, the belief that one is inadequate, a failure, or a fraud despite proof of success. Although an overwhelming amount of research suggests that impostor syndrome isn’t a gender-specific issue, it tends to be especially prevalent among women and minority groups
Because of my experience, I wanted to understand better what this looks like for fellow female entrepreneurs. Based on the responses I received, impostor syndrome shows its ugly head in three different facets of entrepreneurship—in client work, when growing business, and in professional development. Here’s what I found.
When doing work for clients
The responses I received were not so different from that of my own experience. Brittany Berger, the founder of digital media company WorkBrighter.co, told me, “For me, impostor syndrome looks like not going for opportunities because I feel like I’m not experienced enough, keeping my prices low for products and services and going too long without increasing them, and setting ridiculously high expectations for myself, so that, of course, I’ll fall short.”
Freelance content writer and B2B SaaS strategist Zara Burke echoes that sentiment: “I overcompensate by trying to be perfect, which of course, isn’t possible. So, this results in me beating myself up and feeling less confident and [more] anxious.”
When growing a business
The buck doesn’t stop at client work. Impostor syndrome likes to pop up in other areas of business, too, like when you’re trying to grow. “[Impostor syndrome occurs when I’m] doing something for the first time. Or during a high-stakes situation, like a big client meeting or an important presentation I have to give,” said speaker, career coach, and Founder of AG Voiced Audrey Galo. Graphic and web designer Sydney Smith said impostor syndrome occurs when she’s thinking about the future of her business and how she presents it to others.
Impostor syndrome can be one of the reasons why female entrepreneurs don’t pursue specific endeavors when trying to build their businesses. It can also influence how they carry themselves in certain situations, and this can result in missed opportunities and hindered business growth.
When trying to grow professionally
This crippling psychological experience interferes with how female entrepreneurs grow professionally and whether or not they seek specific opportunities. “For me, impostor syndrome manifests in many different ways,” said Taru Bhargava, a content marketing and SEO strategist. “But the three things that have remained constant are internalized fear, self-doubt, and playing down my accomplishments.”
Impostor syndrome has a way of limiting someone from achieving new heights, and it can skew how they view past accomplishments. One respondent, who chose to remain anonymous, told me that she chooses to avoid talking about her success—like bootstrapping a million-dollar company with her husband. “I always avoid talking about it as if I didn’t deserve recognition for the achievement,” she said.
So how can one go about combatting impostor syndrome? Like anything, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. According to the women entrepreneurs I spoke to, the following methods have been the most helpful.
1. Speak up about your feelings
“I talk to other smart women who have things more figured out than I do and learn from them and implement the advice they give,” said Kaleigh Moore, a freelance writer for e-commerce and SaaS companies and a Fast Company contributor (Disclosure: Moore and I have collaborated on projects in the past). Impostor syndrome can feel incredibly isolating, but by voicing your feelings, you may find that others feel the same way and can help you work through those emotions. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity to help fellow female entrepreneurs who are in a similar position.
2. Adjust your mindset
Instead of letting impostor syndrome thoughts run rampant, shift how you process those thoughts. “Another thing I’ve found really helpful is taking things my impostor syndrome tells me and adding the word ‘yet’ to turn it into a goal-setting prompt,” said Berger. “So ‘I haven’t written for [dream publication]’ turns into ‘I haven’t written for this publication yet. What can I do to change that?’ ”
A simple mindset shift can stop discouraging thoughts in their tracks and help you develop an actionable goal that leads to other accomplishments. Instead of letting fear fester, turn it into something productive.
3. Make a list of your accomplishments
Nothing debunks impostor thoughts like a running list of what you’ve achieved. Make a list of these wins—both big and small—and keep it on your desk or somewhere you can see it. Or start a journal and detail each accomplishment, so you can refer back the next time thoughts of self-doubt and fraud creep up. “Many years ago, I started keeping an accomplishments journal that reminds me of how far I’ve come,” said Galo. “I tell myself that if I’ve experienced something firsthand, that makes me an expert on my experience that I can share with others.”
Even though one of the cornerstone facts of impostor syndrome is detracting from past accomplishments, seeing a physical list of all you’ve done may help you refocus your attention. You are capable, and you do deserve success.
Kat Ambrose is a writer for e-commerce and SAAS companies.