Ever heard of impostor syndrome? I hadn’t until I read an article about it recently. It sounded like another politically correct term that some intellectual came up with that had no meaning in the real world. Those types of things are everywhere, and I tend to ignore them.
But after reading a bit, I realized despite the fancy word – there’s something to the idea. Impostor syndrome describes a feeling most of us get when despite our talent, hard work, and deep knowledge – we have moments where we just can't shake the feeling of being an impostor in our field. In other words, we experience moments where others in our industry seem far more competent and impressive than we are. It's a debilitating feeling that can hold people back from reaching their full potential, and it's something that we need to address head-on.
As a high-achieving and competitive person, I'm no stranger to these feelings. Even though our company has been around for over 31 years in a field where over 75% of our competitors have gone out of business in just the last 15 years, and we’ve recently received several awards – including making the list of the Inc5000 fastest-growing companies – I still have doubts. This often happens when I see competitors advertising on social media with impressive ads, even though I know those companies are often not what they advertise.
Over the years, I’ve developed a few self-control strategies to overcome these doubts, which I thought I would share.
#1 - Stop Comparing Yourself to Others:
In the age of social media, it's easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. But everyone's journey is unique, and we all have unique strengths and weaknesses.
As an independent thinker, I've always been willing to do my own thing, even when others do something different. For example, in business, I believe in the power of human connection and providing exceptional customer service.
We all have moments of insecurity and disappointment.
While other big companies have opted for automated systems, I vowed never to replace our receptionist with a computer. Instead, we prioritize answering the phone and helping our clients directly. No matter how slick some of the systems appear, I believe that people still value human relationships, and those relationships will win in the end. Our results have certainly been good, so we must be doing something right.
Remember that success is not a one-size-fits-all concept; comparing yourself to others only breeds self-doubt. Focus on your journey and the value you bring to the table.
#2 - Separate Your Self-Worth From Your Achievements:
We all have moments of insecurity and disappointment. But no matter how you feel in those moments, your self-worth is not dependent on your achievements.
As an entrepreneur, I've experienced both successes and failures. However, I’ve grown to understand that neither defines me as a person. In business, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. That’s just part of the process. I used to take some failures as a sign of my inadequacy, but I've since learned that failure is part of the learning process. I joke that I just earned another expensive college degree when something doesn't go as planned. I could plaster my wall with all the degrees I earned this way in the last 35 years. And I’m a better person having had those experiences.
The key to overcoming self-doubt is recognizing your self-worth. Celebrate your successes, learn from your failures, and remember you are valuable regardless of the outcome.
#3 - Embrace Uncertainty:
In our society, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that you need to have all the answers and a perfect plan. But life is full of surprises, and no matter how much you prepare, there will always be moments of uncertainty.
Instead of viewing uncertainty as something to fear or avoid, you must learn to embrace it. Embracing uncertainty doesn't mean blindly charging forward without a plan – it's about having the courage to explore new paths and take risks when necessary.
For example, I've learned to embrace uncertainty when growing my company – Graphic Connections Group (GCG). When I acquired new businesses over the years and launched multiple subsidiaries, there was no guarantee they would succeed. But by taking calculated risks and exploring new paths, I’ve acquired 22 small businesses, built a team of 65 employees, and have grown our annual revenue to over $16 million, despite market challenges. They didn’t all work out well, but overall, it was a winning strategy.
Uncertainty can be an opportunity for growth and development. I encourage you to shift your mindset from fear of the unknown to excitement for what's to come. Some of the most outstanding achievements in life have come from taking risks and embracing the unknown.
#4 - Seek Out Mentors, Coaches, and Supporters:
This is something that I learned later in my career, and I wish I had figured it out sooner. I used to be a do-it-yourselfer in everything and rarely went to others for help. But I joined a mastermind group about ten years ago full of guys who were far more successful and experienced than me. Since then, I’ve participated in several different masterminds and hired coaches. As a result, my personal knowledge and growth have accelerated dramatically, as has my business success.
I can’t stress highly enough how finding good mentors and coaches helps. A solid support system is essential no matter how successful you become. You should continually seek mentors and coaches who can guide and advise you when facing challenges and take you to the next level and then the next. These are the people who can help you find clarity during difficult moments and provide honest critiques of your ideas.
Additionally, surround yourself with people who believe in you and cheer you on. Having supportive friends, family members, and colleagues can help to boost your confidence and remind you of your strengths when self-doubt creeps in. Stay away from naysayers. They will bring you down. Unfortunately, there are a lot more naysayers than positive influences.
From the start, I've surrounded myself with people who understand me and my goals, and I'm constantly looking for new people to add to my support system.
#5 - Celebrate Your Achievements:
This one is hard for me. I’m so focused on constantly pushing forward that I forget to celebrate. But I force myself to do it at least once a month. And when I see someone in my organization or family going above and beyond, I go out of my way to praise them privately and publicly if I can.
I recently threw myself a 60th birthday party at a hotel. We hired a band and caterers. It was almost like a wedding. It seemed very narcissistic, but I figured, what’s the point of making a lot of money if you can’t step back and use it to celebrate occasionally? We also buy regular lunches for the whole company every month when we have a good month and host an annual party to celebrate the previous year’s success. Pausing and recognizing your achievements is essential to staying motivated and moving forward.
Even though you’ll never hear me utter the words “impostor syndrome,” the issues I mentioned above are genuine, and you’ll find yourself a much happier person if you follow this advice.