In my past life, I was an academic, toiling away in a laboratory studying tornadoes.
As an undergraduate, I had been working with a Ph.D. student on research that was well over my head. I was just getting introduced to the world of meteorology, and I was amazed at my good fortune to get a research assistant position on this project as a lowly senior environmental science major. I wasn’t yet 21, and I was tasked with doing work that I felt was well beyond me.
One day, while clicking around on the lab computer, a piece of paper next to me caught my attention. Impostor Syndrome. I was intrigued—what was this, and why did this super smart Ph.D. student have it printed out?
Not wanting to intrude, I turned to Google rather than leafing through her materials. Impostor Syndrome, it turned out, is the belief that any good fortune that comes to you is pure luck rather than skill, and it is only a matter of time until everyone around you finds out you’ve been fooling them all this time.
Over the next couple of years, I evolved into the “super smart Ph.D. student,” mirroring my mentor from years prior, and I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just winging it. I continued reading about Impostor Syndrome, and I discovered that it is a common affliction for academics and other high achievers; it was likely, in fact, that my own tenured advisors experienced the feeling from time to time.
As I transitioned into the world of online business, I found a lot of common themes between academia and entrepreneurship:
- Intelligent, ambitious overachievers vying for the top spot in their niche.
- The compulsion to work 24/7 until a problem is solved, and then immediately moving onto the next one.
- Relying on experimentation and data to find out what is working and what is not.
And, of course, Impostor Syndrome pervaded the community.
I see the same concerns in business groups and forums all the time:
- “Why should anyone hire me when there are plenty of others who are better than I am?”
- “What if my clients realize I’m not as good as they think I am?”
- “What do my investors see in me? I have no idea what I’m doing!”
It’s so common that, to an outsider, I’m sure these emotional outcries seem ridiculous. After all, are we not helping our clients? Are we not producing income? And, perhaps most importantly, are we not all just doing our best?
We’re all just winging it. In life, business, relationships, parenting… in anything that matters. Does that make our intentions any less pure? Does that make our efforts any less valuable?
The next time you experience the tug of Impostor Syndrome, that feeling that you’re about to be found out, remember that someone you look up to most likely feels the exact same way.
It’s an affliction of the ambitious, but, never forget you’re smart enough to work your way out of it.