In 2009, the company I founded was named 241st on the Inc. 5000. When I started it, we were two guys in a borrowed office trying to crank out code for our first client. Five years later we were a team of two dozen with a long client roster, making some serious money.
You would think, as I walked from my table at the awards dinner to the stage--to accept our plaque from Norm Brodsky--that I would be beaming with pride and feeling on top of the world.
Surrounded by hundreds of other award winners of amazing companies I felt completely out of place. Everyone there seemed confident and sure of themselves.
I, on the other hand, was thinking about all of the problems and struggles our growing company was having, despite its financial success. From my perspective, it was obvious that nobody was having these same challenges. After all, they had won an award to prove it
Then, after the awards ceremonies, I had the chance to enjoy a few drinks and talk with some of the other award winners. With our bow ties undone, sitting on the veranda of conference center, I mentioned my thoughts from the ceremony.
One by one, they all admitted that they, too, felt uneasy about the accolades. In fact, they commented that I seemed the most poised and successful of the group.
As we spoke, I realized that my own feelings of self-doubt were minor compared to some of the others' at the table. When we shared some of our war stories, I realized that my company was actually doing fairly well, relative to some of the nightmares I heard that night.
By the end of the night, I was able to remind myself and come to terms with the fact that I am my own worst critic. And taking that sentiment further, comparing my internal assessment of my success to how I see other people's success is a losing proposition.
How to overcome imposter syndrome
Years later, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review by Gill Corkindale titled Overcoming Imposter Syndrome. I realized what I had experienced was something psychologist have known about for years, it had a title so it must have been more common than I thought.
It set in motion a great transformation in me.
As an entrepreneur, I became much more comfortable pushing new ideas and exploring new territory. I became less worried about how I compared to other people and became more open to sharing my concerns and doubts with others to get help and insight.
As a coach, I learned that one of the best things I can do is to share my own challenges, failures, and uncertainty with my clients. Sharing this vital information breaks down the barriers to deeper sharing and insight. It allows me be to be a true partner in the process and success.
Over time, I've found three easy and effective strategies for overcoming the impostor syndrome trap. These have worked well for both for me and for my coaching clients:
1. Call it out for what it is: bad thinking
The trickiest part of self-doubt is that it can be hard to realize it's happening. Your mind is an expert in convincing you.
The sooner you can catch that you're doubting yourself, the sooner you can start addressing it.
Get good at telling the difference between doubt based on external, objective concerns and those which come from your own inner critic.
2. Remember that even the most successful people have self doubt
Once you're aware of your own self doubt, remember that this happens to everyone. In fact, you can make it a badge of courage.
Knowing that even the greatest minds and most fearless leaders have self-doubt can validate that you're in good company. Try using self-doubt as a sign that you're on to something big and important.
3. Don't strive for perfection and make it okay to fail
Self-doubt is very hard to overcome if your internal expectation is perfection. A zero-tolerance for mistakes and errors will make it impossible to take action.
The solution here is to change your expectations; frame the situation to make failure an acceptable outcome.
One of the best ways to do this it to set up your actions as "experiments". That way, any outcome is a learning opportunity.
Great leaders and successful entrepreneurs need to be critical and careful to exam all options, in every situation, in order to make good decisions.
While you may never completely get rid of your self-doubt, spotting it--and acting despite it--will lead to more success.