How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome In Startup: 3 Strategies

Imposter syndrome in startup

We’ve all had the insistent feeling that “we’re not actually doing it.”

No matter the amount of hard work and sweat equity we’ve put into the company, we tell ourselves that any success we have is just luck. “No one is actually going to take me (us) seriously,” the thought goes.

Have you had these kinds of thoughts before? Maybe you woke up with them this very morning? Most refer to these sorts of thoughts as markers of imposter syndrome.

To some extent, imposter syndrome is just another way of talking about the fragility of one’s sense of self.

If someone is struggling with imposter syndrome, then presumably they’re struggling to believe the reality of the situation. They’re struggling to hold on to what’s actually true about themselves.

Low Self-Esteem vs. Humility

This struggle is often the product of low self-esteem. However, low self-esteem doesn’t always undergird imposter syndrome.

Sometimes it’s genuine humility that lay underneath it. Under these conditions, humility is an honest and legitimate awareness of your limitations.

Where genuine humility is involved, we can be sure that what’s going on is not really imposter syndrome.

This is because imposter syndrome is most commonly experience as feeling like an imposter when you have good reason to feel legitimate.

As it turns out, then, to overcome your imposter syndrome, you need to overcome your low self-esteem. Overcoming low self-esteem is a huge undertaking, however, so here are three strategies for improving your self-esteem.

1. Identify The Origins Of Your Low Self-Esteem In Your Startup

This will be the most challenging part of dealing with your imposter syndrome.

Any strategy for dealing with your imposter syndrome that leaves this out is vastly incomplete. Indeed, without identifying the origins of it all, you’ll never actually overcome it.

But why is identifying the origins so important? Why does it matter to learn the origin of our experience of not feeling confident about the reality of who we are? Recall this experience is the heart of imposter syndrome: our sense of self doesn’t match reality.

In startups, this can take many different applications. For example, let’s say you’ve developed a legitimately useful product. It solves a real problem. Mostly everyone you’ve pitched it to has given you glorifying feedback.

Yet, you struggle to believe it all. Your mind is filled with how everything you’ve heard is probably a lie.

Chances are that if you’re experiencing this in your startup, it’s not the first time you’ve ever experienced. So, when was the first time? When did you notice your trouble in holding on to the true and good things about yourself?

Figure out where it all started. Get clear about the details of the origin. Doing this helps you clarify the differences between your experience then and your experience now.

Our experience with imposter syndrome is often a product of our older, younger experiences.

Once you’ve gone down therapy row, now you can get a little more practical. Just remember that no amount of the “practical” advice will help unless you address the underlying goings-on.

2. Have Reality Checks About Your Imposter Syndrome With Your Startup Team

How often are you meeting with your team? Most teams in the startup phase are meeting at least weekly, often times multiple times a week.

Most of these meetings are characterized largely by talk of how we can improve. What new features does our product need developed? How’s customer success going? What will it take to onboard five new partners by the end of next quarter?

These are good and necessary conversations. However, if your conversations don’t include reality checks for your team, imposter syndrome (i.e. low self-esteem) will dominate.

While it’s important for each team member to understand their opportunities for growth, it’s equally, arguably even more important for each team member to understand where they’re truly excelling.

Regular discussion in startup environments balances the critical conversation, while embedding in the team the sense that they’re legitimately “doing it.”

Know that we’re actually doing the thing we’ve set out to do is crucial adopting a realistic view of ourselves. Those who you’re shoulder to shoulder with are in the best position to offer that.

So, if you’re in a startup and are dealing with a sense of imposter syndrome in your startup, ask your team for a reality check. Don’t be shy about it, either. What we’ve come to learn is that this is a widespread experience.

3. Fill Your Network With Startup Founders Who Can Relate With Imposter Syndrome

This last point shouldn’t be very difficult. If you’ve got a friend who’s active in a startup, chances are incredibly high that they’ve dealt with imposter syndrome.

Find these people and keep them near and dear in your network. You’ve heard the saying, “misery loves company”? Well, in this context it couldn’t more true.

Because of the nature of the startup world, you’ll likely suffer from incredible loneliness, depleted motivation, and overwhelming moments of discouragement. So much of it will inevitably take a hit on your sense of self.

Not many, by the way, possess the resources within themselves to withstand these demands. So please don’t think yourself weak by any means for experiencing these things. Welcome to the process.

One way to survive these challenges is putting yourself in the company of others dealing with the challenge as well. But merely being in their company won’t be quite sufficient. You need to talk about your struggles.

Yes, in this point lies the real difficulty. Talking about one’s struggles demands vulnerability. And vulnerability demands strength and courage.

So, do you struggle with imposter syndrome in your startup? Put differently, do you struggle to accept the reality of who you are, and what’s true of yourself? Perhaps your self-esteem may be a little low?

Start the journey of discovering the origin, discovering the why. Next, allow your team to offer you reality checks. Finally, find yourself into a community of others struggling in the same way.

Are you dealing with imposter syndrome? Does your self-esteem feel lower than you’d like? Do you have people next to you who can share in the struggle alongside you?

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