“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."
You might be surprised to learn, like I was, that Maya Angelou - a woman who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, won five Grammys, and received a ton of other awards during her lifetime - struggled with “imposter syndrome.”
Her fear of not being good enough caused her to question her abilities and fear that others would learn that she wasn’t as great or as capable as they originally thought.
I wonder if you feel the same way with your business.
You feel the pressure to keep up appearances. You doubt your abilities. You compare yourself to others who seem to do things better.
And you fear that even though things seem to be going well at the moment, people will eventually find out that you aren’t quite so great as you appear to be on Instagram.
The struggle with imposter syndrome can be crippling. I know from personal experience.
But over the past few years, I’ve discovered 6 truths that have helped me gain more confidence in my work. I hope you find them helpful, too.
1 | Stop looking to others or trends for inspiration
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I’ve heard that quoted on numerous occasions, but it continues to ring true. The more you measure yourself up to others, the more you’ll doubt your own God-given abilities.
Early on in my entrepreneurial journey, I would stumble across other successful designers and marvel at their talent. Their portfolios were gorgeous, their followings were huge, and they received a lot of praise for their work.
Without even realizing it, admiration quickly turned into emulation. What started out as an appreciation for their talent led to me trying to implement their style in my own designs.
Not only did I fail miserably, but I robbed myself of my own creativity. I was settling for something that had already been done before.
The moral of the story: You’ll continue to feel like an imposter if you’re constantly trying to mimic other people.
Your work won’t be your own. And you won’t be able to fully enjoy the accolades and kind feedback from others when your work is a second-rate version of someone else’s.
While it requires a lot more work and originality and forces you to step outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be able to take more pride in your work if it’s uniquely yours.
Who are you currently looking to for inspiration?
What trends are you mimicking?
Whose work are you trying to emulate?
You have gifts and talents that are unique to you. A lack of confidence in those gifts will lead you to look to others.
I encourage you to have more faith in yourself and your abilities.
Take a break from following along with those people. Find other sources of inspiration that don’t tempt you to copy. Dig deeper and challenge yourself.
2 | Give yourself room to experiment
A large reason for a lack of confidence in our work comes from the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to get things right.
When I first started Elle & Company, I longed for the day when I would finally have creative entrepreneurship all figured out. A day when everything didn’t feel so new and I wasn’t constantly pushed out of my comfort zone.
Three and a half years later, I’m still waiting on that day.
The truth is that you’ll never get things just right, because change is the nature of running a business.
The world of entrepreneurship is always evolving. Just when you start to feel comfortable, things inevitably take a turn and go in a different direction.
And while that can be a little discouraging at first, it’s actually great news! It means that we’re learning and growing our capacity. Refining yourself and your work is always uncomfortable. But that discomfort leads to growth.
(Granted, there’s always some strategy involved - you don’t want to blindly make business decisions.)
But the people who are memorable and successful are those who continue to push the limits and test the waters.
So instead of trying to fight change the imperfection, learn to embrace it!
Give yourself room to experiment and mess up. Try out new things that haven’t been done before. And don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get things right.
3 | Highlight your strengths
Many of us are under the impression that we have to do everything in order to be successful.
We have to be on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn and gain a huge following on each. We have to have a blog, a podcast, and a YouTube channel and crank out exciting content week after week. We have to launch a 6-figure e-course. We have to work with a ton of new clients. We have to network with all of our peers. We have to continue to offer new products and services that are bigger and better than our past offerings. We have to have a top-notch brand and website. We have to have beautiful photos.
Or do we?
While a lot of the items in that list are helpful, they aren’t all necessary. And the overwhelm of trying to keep up with all of them can make us feel ineffective and incapable.
So instead of trying to do everything and stretch yourself thin, focus on being effective by highlighting your strengths.
Take a second to humble brag. What do you do really well?
- Are you a great writer? Put a greater emphasis on your blog.
- Do you love being in front of a camera? Put a greater emphasis on video content through webinars, Facebook live, and YouTube.
- Do you have a unique process? Share more behind-the-scenes looks at your process through your Instagram stories.
- Are you witty? Play up your humor on social media and the copy on your website.
- Are you a great teacher? Put your time and energy into tutorials, e-courses, and in-person classes.
If you’re having a hard time objectively looking at your best qualities, ask friends, family, and peers. Consider compliments you receive from others. Think about awards and feats you’ve accomplished in the past.
By putting an emphasis on your strengths and focusing on the things you do well, you’ll become more effective in your work.
You’ll also become more memorable, because your strengths often differentiate you from other people.
Some of you may currently be burying your strengths in an effort to keep up with trends.
I was guilty of this.
Years ago I tried to bury my colorful, feminine design aesthetic in an effort to emulate the minimal, neutral, and modern style that seemed to be the trend.
I got so frustrated because it didn’t come naturally to me, and I didn’t receive very much positive feedback on my work.
Finally, I threw in the towel on those efforts and embraced the style that was instinctive and exciting to me. And guess what? It stuck! I enjoyed my work, others enjoyed my work, and I received a lot of positive feedback.
And when you start to gain traction and receive positive feedback, you’ll also gain motivation and confidence in your work.
4 | Continue to learn
A lack of confidence also comes from feeling like a novice or having no clue what you’re doing.
But you don’t have to be ill-equipped for your work. Instead, make learning and education a top priority.
Set aside time each week to read up on new articles and updates in your field. Devote time and resources to take classes and attend conferences each year. Invest in a coach. Take advantage of free resources like webinars and podcasts.
It’s easy to let this task slip, especially when you’re bogged down with projects, emails, and other business tasks.
But if you put continuing your education on the backburner, you’ll not only lack confidence; you’ll burn out.
I recently started making more time for continued education in my daily work schedule. Each weekday after lunch, I designate 30 minutes to learning something new, whether it’s by reading a business-related book or taking part in an online class.
Not only has this practice helped me address many areas of my business that need improvement, but it’s caused me to make a habit out of pouring into my business (when so often I feel like I’m pouring out).
If you’re feeling incapable or unprepared for your work, make time to learn and consider how you can make your education a part of your normal routine.
5 | Share your work
As creatives, we’re often our own toughest critic. We have high expectations for ourselves, seeking perfection and fearing criticism.
And because of that, it’s tempting to keep our “less-than-perfect” work to ourselves.
Don’t buy into that temptation - share your work!
There will always be room for improvement and you’ll continue to hone your skills over time.
But by keeping your work to yourself, you’re missing out on an opportunity to display your talent and receive positive feedback.
And positive feedback often leads to more confidence in your work.
6 | Fake it ‘til you make it
While all 5 tips above are helpful for beating imposter syndrome, confidence is something that happens over time.
The more and more you do something, the more confident you’ll become.
So you might have to fake your confidence for a little while, and guess what? That’s okay. That’s normal. And sometimes, that’s necessary.
It’s important to appear confident when you’re working with clients because you want them to trust you. It’s important to appear confident when you’re networking so that others take you seriously.
That’s not to say that you can’t be genuine; you can be sincere and still exude confidence. But sometimes you have to put on your game face and act like you know what you’re doing.
That’s what most of us are doing already ;)
Have you struggled with imposter syndrome? How have you gained more confidence in your work?