There’s a lot of narrative in the world about small business owners. They’re courageous! They’re go-getters! They’re risk-takers! But sometimes the story we hear about our profession doesn’t always line up with the way we see ourselves. 

Do you ever feel like you’re only doing well because you’ve had some good luck? Do you agonise over the smallest mistakes in your work, or feel like they’re glaringly obvious? Do you ever downplay your own expertise, even if you feel like you know the answer? 

You might be experiencing Imposter Syndrome. This phrase has become something of a buzzword online in recent years, but we’re going to explore what it actually means, how it can affect your business, and what you can do to get past it! 

What is Imposter Syndrome? 

The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was first coined by two researchers back in 1978. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes studied the phenomenon and published their findings, noting that it was very common among younger professionals. Another aspect the researchers noticed was that many people felt exactly the same way about their careers, had the same doubts and anxieties, yet they all felt they had to keep their concerns to themselves. 

So why is that? Why do so many of us who work so hard still feel like we haven’t actually earned our success? Why can’t we internalise our expertise? Psychologists are researching that question to this day, but they have a few theories. 

First of all, we all carry some anxiety around with us every day. Small business owners are likely to carry more than the average person- when you have people relying on you for paychecks, your own money invested, financial backers to answer to, and you’ve poured your heart and soul into your business, it’s no wonder you might be feeling anxious. 

People also have a tendency to compare themselves to others. This is hard not to do! How did that person scale so fast? Didn’t they open 8 months after you? They had such a great promotional event, why didn’t you think of that? It’s easy to get sucked into this spiral of comparison, which sometimes leads to the thought, “maybe they’re just better than me.” 

Another cause of Imposter Syndrome is also an effect of it. When we feel like we’re falling behind, we tend to try and set bigger goals to overcompensate. However, that can backfire quickly. If your big goals aren’t actually realistic, it can become overwhelming very quickly. We often end up creating more stress and anxiety, and this usually means you don’t even reach that big lofty goal. This can cause even more feelings of inadequacy. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you set yourself an impossible task. 

What can you do to stop feeling like an Imposter? 

So now we know some of what can cause Imposter Syndrome, we still have to live with it. So what can you do to alleviate some of these feelings? 

One solution is just to share your feelings out loud with someone you trust. As a small business owner you know it takes a village to make a dream come true- turn to your people and don’t be afraid to open up. Sometimes even just saying things aloud can make you realise it’s not accurate. The irrational dies in daylight! You are a smart, hardworking, accomplished business owner, no matter what your brain is trying to tell you otherwise. 

You can also reach out to someone else in your situation- if you’re reaching out to other small businesses in your area to collaborate and share ideas, you might realise just how many great ideas you really have! Teaching someone else new skills is the best way to hone your expertise. 

If you need something really tangible, try writing down some of the things you’ve accomplished. Think about the milestones you passed, the adversities you’ve overcome, and the successes you’ve earned. Remember that it hasn’t always been easy, but you pushed through and you’ve grown so much. Even if you don’t do something perfectly, do it anyway! You always feel better when you can cross another task off your list. 

Finally, stop playing the comparison game. This is easier said than done, but comparison is the thief of joy. You never know what someone else is going through- just because they seem like they have it all together doesn’t mean it’s true! When you feel like you don’t belong in the circles you’re in, or you feel like there’s something about you that isn’t like everyone else in the room, don’t ignore that feeling. Lean into it, and explore what it is that makes you different from the crowd! You have a unique perspective, and you may find that what sets you apart is actually a strength, not a weakness. 

Imposter Syndrome can make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing or that you don’t deserve your success. But if this is so common that millions of other people feel the same way, ask yourself if that’s really true. Small business owners ARE courageous, go-getters, and risk-takers, and guess what? That applies to you!