Get Confident, Stupid: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

As a freelancer, one of my biggest challenges is self-promotion and networking. Like many designers and developers, I’m something of an introvert. I’m not painfully shy or socially awkward, but I’m certainly more comfortable in intimate settings than in large groups. Compounding that is my biggest challenge: getting over the idea that I’m a poser.

Now, the rational person in me knows that this fear is completely groundless. I built my first website in 1999, and have been building my skills ever since. While I’m certainly not the best designer or front-end developer in the world, I know I’m no slouch either.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

So what’s my problem?

Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists call this feeling “Imposter Syndrome”, and link it to people’s inability to accept their own accomplishments. It’s not that they don’t recognize what they’ve done, it’s that they downplay their accomplishments and ascribe them to dumb luck, good timing, getting more credit than they actually deserve, or whatever other excuse they can find to rob themselves of that feeling of accomplishment.

This can be crippling to a person’s career. It could hold them back from taking necessary risks, engaging in self-promotion and networking, and keep them from achieving long-term success. It’s hard to be successful when you consider yourself a fraud.

The crazy thing about Imposter Syndrome is that it can affect anyone. I’ve heard a number of interviews and podcasts with people I really admire who talk about having to overcome this fear on a daily basis. These people aren’t part timers; they’re the giants of the industry.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Now that we understand what Imposter Syndrome is, what can we do about it? Luckily, one of the first things you need to do is be aware of it. This alone will help you separate your feelings from the actual reality of the situation. If you already know that you have a problem in underestimating your talent, then you can bear that in mind and try to compensate for it.

Just like anything else, admitting that you’ve got a problem is usually the first step toward overcoming it.

I also asked a couple really smart people about this, and got some pretty great techniques.

Use Imposter Syndrome as a Motivational Tool

The first technique is courtesy of my friend Evan, who is currently working on his Master’s in Psychology:

“The important thing to remember is how our brain is wired. We’re supposed to have petty thoughts and feelings of inadequacy. If people were completely satisfied with their current state they wouldn’t do anything with their lives.”

I really like this piece of advice because it forces you to turn a negative into a positive. Take those feelings of inadequacy and use them to fuel your self-improvement.

Let’s say that I’m an aspiring nature photographer, but I’m extremely intimidated by the amount of talent that’s already on the scene, and simply cannot imagine how I’ll ever measure up. What I need to do is that that feeling of fear and use that to drive me to do better. I need to take more photographs, learn more techniques, do more workshops, and get more constructive feedback from my peers. Because eventually I’ll realize that all the other talent out there started pretty much where I am, and it was only through hard work and dedication that they became the masters they are now.

Don’t Focus on Yourself; Focus on Your Client

I also talked to Brent Weaver, who runs uGurus.com and put together the fantastic Web Design Sales Kit:

“Stop thinking about yourself. Start focusing on your customer. Try to figure out what’s wrong in their business and how you can help. When you focus on them and their inadequacies, you will start to think a lot less about your own shortcomings.”

This is a wonder piece of advice for introverts like myself. Yes, we feel inadequate sometimes, but instead of dwelling on that we should be more productive and channel that energy into focusing on what our client wants.

Let’s use another example. This time, we bake wedding cakes, because I like cake. We watch all the cake reality shows, have our Pintrest account chock full of incredible cake creations, and have built up a crippling case of “I’m not good enough.” But we’re not going to let that bother us, at least not right now, because we’ve got clients who need a cake for their wedding day, and we’re going to put all our effort into making that the most beautiful cake we can.

There will be time for self-pity later; right now it’s time to focus.

Confidence: Fake it Until You Don’t Have To

I wish I know who said it first, but I absolutely love this sentiment. You need confidence to do your job and grow your business, but it can be hard to come by. You know you’ll get there eventually, but in the meantime you’re just going to have to bootstrap up and fake it.

So there you have it, my little recipe to cope with misplaced feelings of not being good enough. From the other people in my industry I talk to, this isn’t an uncommon fear, and I’d love to hear from others about how they cope with it.

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