I want to talk a bit about imposter syndrome. It’s a bit of a buzz phrase – with good reason.
It is arguably the hardest hurdle for creative small business owners to overcome.
As you might be aware I work with new small businesses who are looking to sell their upcycled products.
So I see a lot of imposter syndrome creeping up in the business owners I work with and also from blog readers who email me.
It’s something I’ve suffered from myself when starting my own small businesses. But I found ways to move past it and so can you!
What is Imposter Syndrome
So what is imposter syndrome?
Well, if you haven’t heard about it before, it’s basically that thought in your head asking yourself:
‘am I good enough?’
Or more typically it’s not even a question it’s more like:
‘I am not good enough’.
It’s this feeling that if people only saw inside your head, they would know you’re a bit of a fraud and you really shouldn’t be here.
‘Here’ in this case being running your own business selling products that you make yourself.
If you are suffering from imposter syndrome you might be thinking thoughts like:
‘who am I to be thinking I can escape the nine to five in the day job and actually build a business, doing something I love?’
‘who am I to think that the things I make somebody would want to buy and I could actually make my living that way’.
Or the most common:
‘that’s not for me, that’s for other people. I’m not good enough to do that.”
It’s those kinds of thoughts that charactarize imposter syndrome for most people.
And most of us will have some of these types of thoughts from time to time.
Thinking things like this from every once in a while isn’t the big problem through.
The real issue with imposter syndrome – when it actually becomes something that feels like a ‘syndrome’ – is when these thoughts sit with you for too long.
The awful consequence often is that they stop you moving forward and actually doing things – that is the real issue.
Why you shouldn’t ignore imposter syndrome?
Here is the difficulty.
If you are deep in the throws of imposter syndrome you might not know that is what is going on.
You might just think that when you engage in this kind of negative self talk that you are just speaking truth to yourself.
Don’t get me wrong humility is all well and good in some situations but telling yourself you aren’t good enough or you can’t do what other people can isn’t humility it’s hurtful and it’s untrue.
If you are routinely saying things to yourself that are so mean that you wouldn’t ever think of saying them to a friend then why are you saying them to yourself?
Without even knowing you personally, I can tell you that you that the only real barrier between you and starting a successful creative handmade business is not your skills, your worth, your intelligence or even your resources – it’s most likely your negative self talk.
If you let these thoughts snowball and take hold they will stop you moving forward and taking action towards making your business dreams happen.
Running a small business is hard! You need every ounce of motivation, self-belief and good vibes you can get to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Telling yourself on a regular basis that you aren’t good enough is a sure way to sap all that entrepreneurial energy right out of you!
What can you do about these negative thoughts & feelings?
First of all – don’t ignore them.
Sit with them.
Don’t wallow, but take the time to sit with them and take notice.
Acknowledge the feelings that you’re feeling, recognize them and name them.
It doesn’t help with any feelings, these or any others, to just bottle them up and pretend they’re not happening.
The point of this as far as imposter syndrome for small business owners is that you need to acknowledge that what you’re feeling is about fear.
Once you can label those feelings as fearful thoughts rather than universal truths you are on the way to moving past them.
Can imposter syndrome be helpful?
Obviously feeling fearful and like you are not going to be successful isn’t pleasant.
But I would argue that sometimes fear can emerge to teach you a lesson – which is why it can be useful to look it head on instead of ignoring it.
If you really look at what you are scared of in terms of starting your own business you might find the ‘theme’ of that fear changes over time – and understanding where your specific fear in this moment is coming from can actually be helpful going forward.
So your fear could be this global ‘I’m just not good enough’ thought or it could be focused on something very specific like:
‘I’ll never be able to learn this piece of technology that I need to do X, Y, Z in my business’
‘I just can’t get the finish right on this thing I’m making or painting or whatever and therefore I’ll never be a success’.
Try sifting through your fear and negative thoughts to see if there are any small truths in the feelings that you’re feeling and the thoughts that you’re thinking.
Is it all just untrue nasty thoughts or is there anything in your control that you actually could change?
What I am saying is that it can be useful to recognize if you’ve somehow triggered these feeling these feelings of unworth, because you feel you have actually let yourself down in some way.
If in your heart of hearts you really think there is something that you’ve not done that you ‘should’ have that can often lead someone with a touch of imposter syndrome to spiral out into all kinds of untrue and far reaching negative thoughts that have nothing to do with the thing that you let slip or you need to work on.
Very often with imposter syndrome there is no basis in reality. It is more of a mindset thing. You are just being ‘hard on yourself’ or ‘having a moment’.
I most definitely am one of those people who has those ‘moments’.
BUT, I also get into these trains of negative thought when I actually could do something to practically address the subject of my negative thoughts.
And those instances are the easiest ones to stop!
If the route of your negative thoughts is something that you haven’t done or something you worry you aren’t good at – guess what? – you are in luck!
Because in these situations you actually have a pretty clear route out of your imposter syndrome.
You can take action on the thing that started those spiralling thoughts and try to divorce the specific incident from those huge uncontrollable thoughts of failure.
So for example:
‘I’ll never succeed because I can’t seem to paint a dresser without seeing brush strokes’
Answer: Go scour the internet, take an online course or watch all the youtube videos you can find on the topic until you feel more confident about your technique.
Then you can say to yourself:
‘I will succeed because when I hit a roadblock I get busy learning and I improve.’
The rub with this way out of imposter syndrome is that it requires you to muster up enough positivity to believe that you actually DO have control and you actually can learn, grow and move forward.
If you are struggling to make that leap then the techniques below might be worth trying first before you look to action taking.
Stepping Out of Negative Thoughts
You may not always be able to pin point that specific positive action you can take of course – sometimes we just feel generally unworthy and it colours everything we think about whether we will ever achieve our dreams.
If that is the case then another tactic to overcome your imposter syndrome is to try to step out of it however briefly.
Thankfully there are lots of techniques you can try to achieve this – it’s just a case of finding what works for you.
Your Imposter Syndrome Toolkit
Everyone will have a slightly different way of accomplishing this so what you want to do is sort of build your own ‘toolkit’ to get you out of your ‘funks’ when they come.
Here are some practical things to try:
Set a Timer
Here is what I mean by this.
You are going to let yourself feel absolutely crap – like you are a total failure – but you are only going to do it for 15 minutes and then you are going to make a decision to shake it off, park it or put it in a secret vault in your brain that you don’t access.
Full disclosure – I can’t do this one. My husband could probably do this one.
Men are often (not always!) more able to set these kind of limits where they just put it away in a box when they’re done.
If you have that ability – more power to you – just be sure you are taking the time to really feel the feelings and acknowledge them before you put them away.
Make Something out of Nothing
This is one that usually works for me.
Just take some to turn nothing into something.
A huge part of the reason why I’m so attracted to upcycling and why I started the blog is because I really believe that there’s this mental benefit when you transform something that otherwise would have been thrown away into something that has value.
Even if it’s not upcycing – take baking for example. Baking is just a collection of eggs and flour when you start – there is nothing there yet until you transform it into a cake.
When you make something out of nothing – whether it’s baking ingredients or junk you’ve rescued from the skip – that transformation that you’ve made happen in those objects that you started with is also manifested within yourself.
I’m going to call that feeling empowerment. The empowerment of knowing that you’ve been able to create something that didn’t exist before.
I’m sure I don’t need to spell out how that kind of feeling can’t help but spill over into your wider fears about not being able to make something of your business.
Another method that works for some people is to make a list of the successes they have already had in their life. Big or small.
These can be things in your work or family life.
- List things that you’ve done for friends that they’ve really appreciated
- List positive reviews you’ve had from customers
- List the skills you’ve learned over the last year, or 5 years.
- List the fears (big or small) that you have already been able to overcome.
Choose a notebook or piece of stationary that makes you happy and make sure to keep your list somewhere in plain sight to encourage you to look at it every day.
Lots of people might phone up a friend or a sister in the hopes that they will remind you of these kinds of successes.
But if you don’t have that available, that’s when having a list like this can help to remind you of all the great things that you’ve already done and give you tangible evidence that you have what it takes to do more great things.
Beyond a list some people really respond to motivational quotes.
I know! I know! This is the one that everyone knows is true but not everybody does.
Exercise results in endorphin.
Endorphins = happy.
When you are feeling down of course it can feel like the last thing you want to do, but it really can help if you can make yourself go out and break a sweat.
Whatever kind of moving you can muster will help, whether it’s taking a walk down the street or dancing around in your kitchen!
Have a Chat with Yourself
This is similar to writing your success list or leaving yourself motivational notes but its less of a one off event and more of a practice.
If you think about it those negative thoughts are basically you talking to yourself over and over repeating phrases and ideas that get you down.
So turn it around and start chatting to yourself the way you would to a good friend.
If a friend was telling you that they felt like a fraud who would never succeed you would probably just turn the things they said on their head and say, ‘that’s not true’. ‘It’s actually the opposite’.
So try and be that devil’s advocate for yourself.
I prefer to do this inside my head but if you are alone and it helps feel free to try it out loud!
You are the Real Deal
You are not an imposter – you are the real deal
If you have read this far then I think that demonstrates that you have a level of commitment to your business that many people do not.
So if you have no one else to say it to you please hear me tell you that you are not an imposter or a fraud or a failure.
As long as you keep picking yourself up and taking one step forward you will eventually get where you want to go. I really believe that.
Whatever tactics you need to use to move forward – use them – the real shame would be if you let these false thoughts stand in the way of doing what I know you are capable of.
What if you can’t shake it off?
If these thoughts take hold to an extent that you can’t imagine moving forward at all, if it gets so bad that you feel utterly stuck then you might want to consider talking to a mental health professional.
There is absolutely no shame in that at all.
You call in professionals for all sorts of other jobs like servicing your car or fixing your roof so why not this?
Finding the right help to move you past these debilitating thoughts is part of a proactive plan to realize your goals – so use whatever tools are necessary!
The real difference between those who succeed and those who don’t
Here is the thing.
Statistics show that of the percentage of people who say they want to start a business, the amount of people who actually move forward and do it is miniscule.
So if you are reading this article having already started your business you are already way ahead of the pack.
And if you are reading this as one of your first steps towards starting a business you are already taking action to move from dream to practicalities – which is more than so many people ever do!
So by my definition, that means you’re not an imposter.
You’re not the people who are sitting there dreaming and talking about and pretending that they’re going to do something and they don’t actually ever do it.
Successful People Do
You’ve got to give yourself credit for where you’ve got yourself on your own, and you need to realize that, the steps that you’ve taken, little though they may seem to you, is further than a lot of people ever get.
“The difference between successful people and all the rest is that successful people take action.”Bob Procter, Procter & Gamble
I believe that success – even in the creative handmade space – isn’t about the talent or skill that someone has and it isn’t about their artistry.
And it most certainly isn’t about, where they came from their family or their background.
What makes someone successful is that they’re willing to put one foot in front of the other and actually do the work. Day in day out.
So many people do nothing but blow hot hair and talk and dream and think, and they never actually take any steps.
So the next time you see somebody who’s achieved something that you want to achieve, just remember that the only thing that they’ve done that you haven’t yet is they’ve taken the steps to get there.
If you are willing to take those steps, you can be where they are. And I fully believe that.
“ The only difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is extraordinary determination.”Mary Kay Ash
It’s not anything inherent about you or your talents or who you are as a person. that are going to mean the difference between you getting where you want to go.
It is going to be whether or not you put the work in and whether or not you’re determined to do it.
So use whatever tools you have in your toolbox to find that determination and overcome those negative thoughts because they are just one stumbling block on the way to getting what you really want in life:
The freedom to make your living expressing your creativity and your skills.
I know you can do it!
If you need a reminder of the techniques there is a printable list below.
If you need a pep talk feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
- Sit with your feelings & try to recognize where they are coming from.
- Set a Timer to put an 'end' to the negative self talk.
- Make something - upcycle, paint, bake - just get those creative juices flowing.
- List your successes - big & small.
- Leave yourself uplifting notes
- Exercise for those mood boosting endorphins!
- Have a chat with yourself & be your own Devil's Advocate
- If you can't shake it off speak to a mental health professional
- Above all else - Take Action! Just one step forward is a step closer to your dreams!
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