The Qualities of an Entrepreneur: The Impostor Syndrome

Setting out on an entrepreneurial adventure, yet the pestering from your inner saboteur is more insistent than ever? It’s a sign that you’re capable of challenging yourself, a quality that is both valuable and highly valued, especially for an entrepreneur.

“You’re not competent enough… Are you sure you belong here? There must have been some kind of mistake. Surely there are others who are more qualified than you. They’re going to find out!” If you’ve already heard a little voice like that one whispering its limiting beliefs in your ear, know that you are not alone! According to a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Science (1), nearly 70% of us have similar thoughts…

So, why is that? What exactly is this “imposter syndrome”? What is at its root? And most of all, what can be done to deal with it?

Saboteur, what are your telltale signs?

It’s a psychological state (and not an illness or disease) that translates into a feeling of illegitimacy, constantly casting doubt on one’s own skills. It tends to push us toward two types of behaviors when working toward a goal:

  • Perfectionism: overinvesting in a task and exhausting yourself doing it
  • Procrastination: getting discouraged and underinvesting. You run away from situations where you are in the spotlight and self-sabotage by slip-ups.

Neither situation is sustainable, which ends up generating doubt, anxiety and even shame. This leads to ruminations, and ultimately feeds that inner saboteur.

Next, we hold ourselves responsible for the failure, and we have limiting thoughts like “I’m stupid”. Yet when we succeed, we attribute it to outside factors thinking “I got lucky”.

“The imposter syndrome is founded on a set of inaccurate beliefs that must be called into question for (…) a thought system that is fairer, and above all, more favorable to our well-being.” (2) If you’re interested, a test known as the “Clance IP scale” (3) can help you find out to what extent this affects you.

Saboteur, where do you come from?

The answer lies in a battered ego. As people develop, they can feel as though those around them do not believe in them enough. The feeling of needing to compensate doesn’t take long to set in. Being from a minority group can play a role in it too. Conversely, seeing that other expect big things from you can feed a feeling of never being – or doing – good enough…

Though the syndrome was long considered to affect mostly women, a 50/50 ratio (4) is now recognized. A person’s professional standing is in fact a stronger self-sabotage factor than their gender. The more responsibility one has, the more likely they are not to feel worthy.

There can be many causes, but all are rooted in a lack of self-confidence, which is actually good news in disguise – beliefs can be worked on and better self-esteem is something we can develop. Do take note of an essential distinction: the imposter syndrome is an inability to interiorize success, and not an inability to achieve it!

5 anti-saboteur tips & tricks

  1. Understand its utility. Limiting thoughts and the imposter syndrome exist to stop us from taking ill-considered risks. They are not enemies we need to get rid of; they’re signs that should be heard, components of our personality we can learn to tap into.
  2. Accept imperfections. Only someone who does nothing isn’t at risk of making mistakes!
  3. Accept compliments and positive feedback. You can write them down to be able to read back through them when you feel the need.
  4. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Instead, focus on what it is that makes you unique.
  5. Meditate. They are – just – thoughts! Anchoring yourself in the here-and-now through breathing reinforces your ability to take action “in the moment” and react to what’s really there. Not rebuilding something stuck in your head from the past, or in the too-near future…

3 practical “anti-sabotage” exercises

Dissociation

Our inner saboteur does not define our entire personality. It’s just one part of us. To visualize that dissociation, find a name for yours. Picture him standing beside you and talk to him: “I acknowledge that you exist and your utility, but right now isn’t the time. I have things to get done and you’re not helping. The two of us will talk when I decide it’s time.”

This exercise can seem a bit nutty, but it works well for putting things back into perspective and reclaiming a position of power.

The pact

On a blank sheet, spontaneously write down the answers to the questions below, by hand (it should come as no surprise to any neuroscience enthusiasts that writing by hand is a better stimulus for memory and creativity).

  1. What goal do I want to achieve?
  2. Knowing myself, how might I sabotage it?
  3. Self-sabotage #1
  4. Defense response #1 (repeat 3 and 4 three times)
  5. I hereby undertake to spot the above behaviors from the first signs and immediately take the necessary defensive actions to put myself back on the path to success.
  6. Date and sign. (5)

You make a commitment to yourself as seriously as you would with someone else, and starting… right now!

The flaws in my qualities and the qualities in my flaws

  1. Draw up a list of your flaws
  2. Draw up a list of your qualities
  3. For each of your flaws, write down the good that comes of it (for example, for the flaw “I’m not confident” -> “I’m able to question myself in order to improve”)
  4. For each of your qualities, write down the bad that comes of it (for example, for the quality “empathetic” -> I exhaust myself dealing with issues that aren’t mine and play ostrich when it comes to what I should be taking care of for myself).

How we view ourselves can be rather subjective… our true allies aren’t always the most apparent of our qualities. Getting better acquainted with ourselves always pays off. It helps us accept ourselves as we are, with kindness… and confidence.

What did you think of this article? If you’d like to share it, be our guest. We would love to know if you found it useful and if we should look more deeply into the subject in a dedicated workshop or other.

To take things a step further:

(1) Study published in 2011 in the Journal of Behavioral Science, co-authored by Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander / (2) Johanna Rozenblum, psychologist (article in French) / (3) Test: Clance IP scale / (4) Gender ratio (article in French) / (5) Pact exercise (website in French)

 

Bibliography:

  • The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. Why capable people suffer from the impostor syndrome and how to thrive in spite of it, Valerie Young, Crown Publishing, 2011.
  • Why Do I Feel Like an Imposter? How to Understand and Cope with Imposter Syndrome, Sandi Mann, Watkins Publishing, 2020.

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