Impostor Syndrome and Small Business Owners

Running a small business takes hard work and commitment so it’s not surprising that entrepreneurs suffer a crisis of confidence now and again when things get tough.

Impostor syndrome is a much deeper mental health issue, however, one that can prevent small business owners from achieving their dreams. Here we look at what it is and how entrepreneurs can fight back and restore their confidence.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor or fraud syndrome is a psychological state where the individual believes they are not good enough or do not deserve the success they have achieved.


For an entrepreneur, it could mean thinking that you have a successful business by pure chance. You might feel inferior when you network with other entrepreneurs and believe you don’t belong in their company.

Impostor syndrome occurs in all walks of life and is defined by a belief that everything you succeed in doing is down to luck rather than any skill or talent. The phrase was first coined back in 1978 by  Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, psychologists who believed that women, in particular, were prone to the condition.

In truth, impostor syndrome affects both men and women and is linked to lack of self-confidence, something you wouldn’t normally expect in successful small business owners.

Symptoms of Impostor Syndrome

The most common symptom of impostor syndrome is feeling like a fraud and a real fear of being discovered as such by peers. Individuals have difficulty accepting their success, often putting it down to chance.

This can create anxiety and doubt in the individual. In severe cases, it may even lead to mental health problems such as depression. It can certainly impact the running of the business. Entrepreneurs may avoid, for example, taking their business to the next level because they believe everything will suddenly come crashing down.

Self-doubt isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can help temper activities that might otherwise be harmful to the business. In impostor syndrome, however, that self-doubt can quickly become debilitating and damage not only the person but the business itself.


Famous People Who Admit to Impostor Syndrome

You may be surprised at how many people who enjoy the limelight have confessed to suffering from impostor syndrome.

Maya Angelou was a Nobel Laureate, poet and civil rights activist once famously admitted: "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

Tom Hanks who has starred in many movies over the years admits to self-doubt being a high wire act. In an interview, he said: "No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, 'How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?”

Entrepreneurs over the years haven’t escaped either. Impostor syndrome often affects higher achievers and rather than easing off as someone becomes more successful it tends to worsen. Arianna Huffington suffered a long time with the syndrome before she managed to finally overcome it.

How to Tackle Impostor Syndrome

So, how do you stop yourself feeling like a fraud and move forward? As a small business owner, there are several things that you can do to begin to get control of your impostor syndrome.

The problem with this condition is that it’s ingrained in our belief system which means it can be difficult to shake. Finding out more about impostor syndrome and how it applies to you, however, does make a difference.

It’s important to look more deeply into how you feel and why that impostor syndrome is affecting you. For some, it may be a childhood event that lies at the root cause. Others, especially minorities, may feel like outsiders simply because of institutionalised discrimination in the area they work.

Put Things into Perspective and Talk

The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you have this problem. Admitting that you have impostor syndrome means that you can start doing something about it.

Reframing is a way of changing how you think about the world around you, particularly aspects such as your business. It helps to talk things through with someone you trust, either a close family member or friend. You could also seek out a mentor who may have suffered from the same syndrome and work through things with them.

Collect Positive Feedback

Whether it's from people in your business network, satisfied customers or anyone else, writing down positive feedback can help you silence the noise of impostor syndrome. Writing in a positivity book gives you a tool to hand that you can use to keep yourself on an even keel when you most need it.

You’re Not Alone

The trouble with psychological conditions such as impostor syndrome is that people feel they are alone. Search online and you’ll find a large number of people and some famous faces in the same boat as you. You can learn from their experiences and their wise words.

Guided Meditation

Impostor syndrome often gives rise to feelings of anxiety and huge self-doubt. Guided meditation allows you to identify negative thoughts and examine them dispassionately from a mental distance. Feelings come and go and we can change them over time if we focus.

While it takes work and regular practice, meditation has been proven to help quieten those voices of doubt and alleviate anxiety. The good news is that it’s something you do anywhere and at almost any time.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

CBT is a therapy that works on changing your core belief system and putting something more positive in its place.

It’s an effective approach and, if your impostor syndrome is getting out of control, well recommended. It focuses on adapting that critical voice in your head and making it a more positive one that reduces anxiety and helps you cope with difficult feelings.

Last Thoughts

For some business owners, impostor syndrome can be a minor irritation. For others, it has debilitating effects and stops them from achieving their goals or performing to their full potential. It’s critical to have a strategy for coping with your feelings and give yourself a fighting chance.

Take some advice from CEO Kim Perell:

“Sometimes, we act as though fear and self-doubt are real and true facts. Really, they’re just emotions that are only as powerful as we make them. I stopped allowing those feelings to overwhelm me or distort my reality.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.