Imposter Syndrome is generally accepted to be the feeling that you either don’t deserve the accolades you have received, or you doubt your skills and abilities. It’s something I’ve dealt with for years, to varying degrees. And the reality is, social media makes this problem a LOT worse.
I fell into consulting and speaking by accident in 2006. In 2005, I was in between jobs, and I began blogging on one of my passions, marketing. This was in the days before YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. So it was much easier to make a name for yourself.
In early 2006, I began to get writing requests, and started making a decent side income via content creation. Soon, I started getting speaking requests, and decided to go into consulting full time.
From the jump, I worried that I wasn’t as ‘qualified’ as my peers. Many of who had extensive corporate experience before going into consulting, or maybe they had their own agency. I was just some guy from Alabama with a marketing blog.
Over time, I got a bit more business, but it was a struggle. Living in rural Alabama, my pool of potential clients was pretty much limited to online only. Which meant I needed to really promote myself and what I could offer clients.
Most people hate self-promotion, and I am definitely in this camp. Plus, being an introvert, it was even worse. For the first couple of years, business went in spurts. I would have a great 6 months then almost nothing for 3 months, then it would start up again. The inconsistent work only made it easier to doubt myself.
And social media was no help, every time I would check Facebook, peers were sharing photos of how they were speaking at this event, or doing work with this brand. Additionally, I hated the idea of asking for help. And I wasn’t even talking about help in the form of work, I didn’t even want to ask friends for advice. I felt like that would be burdening them and completely unfair.
I was frustrated beyond belief. I had an upcoming trip to Texas for some client work. and two of my best friends in consulting lived in the area. I trusted them, so I decided while I was on the trip, I would talk to both of them and ask for their advice on why I was struggling.
What they told me took me by complete surprise. The first friend told me that if it wasn’t for their spouse having a full-time income, that they wouldn’t have made it. They told me the first few years they got almost no business from their consulting, and the spouse had to provide almost all of the income. I had no idea!
When I talked to the second friend, I specifically asked about the ups and downs in workflow. They told me that was pretty normal for consulting. “You learn to manage the cycles’, they told me. My friend said they knew from experience that they would be very busy about 6 months out of the year, and the other 6 months would be slower. During the slower times, they had learned to work on their own business.
It was so eye-opening to hear from peers I trusted that they too had to deal with many of the same issues I was facing. And it was a huge help in dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
If you are struggling and dealing with self-confidence issues or Imposter Syndrome, here’s what I’ve learned that’s helped me:
- Stop comparing yourself to others, learn to benchmark against yourself. It’s completely unfair to compare yourself against others, because you have an incomplete picture of what they are doing, the resources they have, and their actual accomplishments. Social media is designed to show the highlights, not the lowlights. You know your ups and downs, but for most everyone else, you only see the ‘ups’. As long as you are doing your best to improve, that’s all that counts.
- Accept that some promotion is necessary. People can’t hire you if they don’t know that you are available. Years ago I spoke at an event that a dear friend ran. A week after the event, I got a call from her, she said an attendee had approached her and said he needed to hire a consultant to design a digital strategy for his company. My dear friend, who I had known for years asked me ‘Is that the type of work you do?’ I was floored! If even my close friends weren’t sure what type of work I did, then I definitely had a self-promotion problem. I still do to this day, but I’m learning to accept that some self-promotion is necessary.
- BTW, about self-promotion; I know self-promotion can be especially hard for introverts, and women. If self-promotion truly makes you uncomfortable, focus on promoting the work you do and how it benefits clients, rather than yourself and your accomplishments. This approach will at least make it easier for potential clients to understand what you do and how you can help them. You can make this easier by promoting how you help clients succeed, rather than ‘tooting your own horn’.
- Find a core group of trusted peers/friends, and lean on them for advice and support. Having friends I can bounce ideas off of is invaluable. Treasure those professional friends who will help and support you, and make sure you return the favor tenfold. It’s one of the best personal and professional investments you can make.
But perhaps the greatest business and really life lesson I have learned is to keep going. Many religions around the world have a similar parable involving followers asking for strength to deal with life’s problems. Instead of receiving strength, we often receive more obstacles. But as we overcome these obstacles, we become stronger.
Keep going, keep getting stronger.