Imposter Syndrome

and how to get over it

I don’t belong here. I’ll get found out. I’m a fraud.

Classic Imposter Syndrome.

I work with a number of people on building their personal brands. Over the years and in almost every case, the first thing they say to me is, ‘people won’t be interested in what I have to say’

Let’s look at a definition:

Havard Business Review: Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.

So now we know and recognise this paralysing symptom, what can we do about it?

The first thing to say is that there are levels when it comes to this plight. For example, I don’t suffer imposter syndrome in front of large audiences, even speaking at international conferences or writing here but when I recently found myself in a room in clubhouse with a load of self-made millionaires talking about how to run a business successfully, those darker thoughts did begin to creep in. There were idols of mine from all over the world, with huge social media followings, giving away their best secrets. In these times I remind myself that in some way, unless you’re Buffet, Bezos, Musk or perhaps Gates, everyone gets a bit of this feeling now and again, even if they don’t admit it.

So there lies the first lesson - be ok with it.

If we accept its going to happen now and again, how does one combat it? Honestly? I only know one answer to this and it’s to put yourself in those positions and begin to get comfortable with it.

Back in that room in Clubhouse, with those slightly intimidating individuals, I reminded myself of what I’ve achieved and although I may not have as much money as them I’ve prioritised other things in my life and I’m happy. When they asked people to raise their hands if they wanted to be bought up on stage I could have frozen, kept quiet and sat and listened but instead I hovered over the ✋ button and clicked it before I’d even thought of anything to ask. I call this setting myself a trap, something that’s quite hard to back out of. They say that you only really develop if you stretch out of your comfort zone so I fairly regularly look for opportunities to do so. When I got to ask my question, I found that I didn’t just have a useful question to ask the panel, but I was also able to add some value to a previous point one of the moderators had made. I was instantly followed by a number of people.

Back when I started Optix I attended a weekly networking group called BNI. It was a weekly event, where business owners of small companies got together and looked for leads for one another. As a 19 year old, who looked like he hadn't taken his GCSEs yet I was full of imposter syndrome. Every week, I had to stand up and deliver a minute on a different service or part of our business in a room full of people 20 years my elder. I was a member of that group for 7 years and I put a huge amount of the reason I’ve taken to public speaking now, down to the practice it gave me, week in week out. There is no better way of getting over this, than to put yourself in these positions, however uncomfortable they feel.

When it comes to creating content (videos, articles, graphics etc) one of the biggest issues I see is that of perfctionism (see what I did there). If you strive for perfection, you’ll never launch anything and that (for me) is worse than shipping something just short of it. When I started my YouTube channel, one of my first business videos was terrible. It was filmed on a GoPro with a fish eye lens, it was propped up on some books and was taken in my spare bedroom, come study, come store room. There was crap everywhere! I made all the classic mistakes, but I got it done and it lead onto a number of years of success building a small following on that channel. Fast forward 2 years from that video and I was using slick SLRs, gimbals, green screens and all sorts. If I hadn’t have posted that very imperfect video, I’d never have learnt and bettered myself, I’m convinced of that. To get over imposter syndrome you need to ok with imperfections otherwise it will paralyse you into never doing anything.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to find a champion, a mentor, someone positive who will push you and not criticise. I coach a few people individually and they all use me for this. They know they can run ideas by me, I won’t judge, and I’ll give honest feedback. I’ll also jump in and like/comment/share where I can, to improve their reach. Finding someone to share this journey with, paid or non-paid, will improve your chances of success and getting through those first few times until you realise its not actually that bad out there.

Due to the media and the celebrity stories we hear, we tend to think the internet is plagued with trolls and that we’ll get called out the minute we post something. Being honest, that’s what happens to people with huge followings, not when we’re just starting out. Over the years, I’ve had very few negative comments to things I’ve posted. When it has happened, I’ve let it wash over me.

When people send me nice comments or messages, I save them. I have a WhatsApp group which I setup (just my wife and I) which is called ‘clippings’ - I use it in the same way someone twenty years ago might have cut out newspaper articles where they feature. If I get nervous before a big talk or pitch, I look back over this group and it brings an instant smile to my face.

The thing to remember more than anything, is that people aren’t generally out to get you. You may not get huge amount of engagement in those first few months but slowly and surely, you’ll build confidence in yourself and find what works for your audience and then, you’ll begin to fly.