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Fighting Imposter Syndrome
Ashley Hoffman is a freelance digital marketer, writer, cat mom, and Seattle-based coffee snob. She recently started her business helping women-owned businesses in the creative and tech industries find their voice, tell their story, and connect with their customers. When she’s not helping fellow lady bosses tell their stories, she’s listening to podcasts, reading, working on her novel, playing the Sims, and co-leading a meetup group in Seattle. You can follow Ashley on Twitter and Instagram at @ashhmarketing.
Striding through the open doors, I hear the sound of my heels clicking against the hardwood floor. I hold my head up high, thinking to myself, “You’re in networking mode now. You’ve got this.”
I greet the hosts, tell them my name, and they smile and welcome me inside. I smile back, take a deep breath, and head into the large room. Scanning the room, I take note of the people I see.
It’s a mix of young entrepreneurs, desperate to get the attention of the big dogs who could provide them the check that would make their dreams come true, and those with the power and money to change the fate of the modern world if only they had just the right idea in hand.
This is the stage for a local startup pitching and networking event. The basic concept is startups pitch their ideas, the audience provides feedback and asks questions, and at the end, everyone has a drink and asks each other, “So what do you do?”
During the networking portion, I find myself standing in the back of the room, trying to convince myself I belong here. But where do I fit in?
I’m a newly self-employed solopreneur who’s low-key freaking out about the fact that, for the first time since quitting, I don’t have any new clients lined up. I’m there to get inspired and meet new people, not pitch my latest and greatest idea or use my limited funds to help another entrepreneur with theirs.
In other words, I feel like a total fraud.
Whether I’m invited to a podcast, guest-posting for a blog, or even talking to potential clients, there’s always that voice in the back of my head that asks, “Am I good enough?”
Let me introduce you to imposter syndrome: the feeling that no matter how experienced, confident, and successful you are, one day you’re going to totally blow it and everyone’s going to find out you’re a fake.
Doesn’t that sound like fun? The bad news is that it never goes away. This feeling happens to almost everyone, no matter how successful they become. In fact, even people like Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, said she often feels this way.
This really sucks while you’re in the middle of crafting your personal brand. At this point, imposter syndrome may cause you to feel like a fraud. You’ll devalue your worth by accepting less money for a job, underestimating your experience, and more. That’s no way to create a name for yourself!
While imposter syndrome never truly goes away, there are ways to combat it so you can focus on doing the work and building your personal brand.
1. Find a support system
Get yourself a “business bestie” or a group of women who are on a similar path to you and lean on each other for support. Schedule a time to meet — either in-person or over the phone — on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis to chat about all things business. Don’t be afraid to start networking!
Make sure this support system isn’t afraid to show you tough love. There may be times you need to call them up for advice (more on this below), and they need to be honest and upfront with you. This is key to building a great personal brand while getting real feedback from your girls.
Note: A mentor who’s been in your shoes and has a well-established brand already is a great addition to this. I would still recommend finding someone who’s on a similar path to you so you can exchange field notes while on the front lines together.
2. Let negative thoughts pass
I don’t know about you, but I personally hate the advice, “just ignore the negative thoughts!” It simply doesn’t work for me. Instead, I get mad at myself whenever I let a negative thought wander aimlessly through my brain.
Instead, I started letting these negative thoughts pass right on by. As they occur, I ask myself a simple question: “Is this true?” If so, I know I need to make a change. If not, I let them go on by and focus on replacing them with positive thoughts.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know the answer to this on your own. That’s where your support system comes in – simply shoot them a text or give them a call and talk to them about it. As long as you’ve chosen the right support system, they’ll give you an honest opinion (even if it hurts!).
3. Find inspiration without comparison
As you’re building your brand, Pinterest and Instagram are two fantastic resources of inspiration for logos, websites, mood boards, strategies, and many of the other aspects that go into branding. The key here is to use those resources for inspiration only – the second you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else’s personal brand, shut it down.
Those negative thoughts can spiral quickly. It starts with one and escalates from there. Here are some trigger thoughts to look for:
“Wow, I wish I was more like…”
“I could never do that…”
“She has it all together, and I’m a total mess…”
4. Focus on what YOU have to offer
Do you want to know something awesome? You’re not like anyone else.
Every one of us has our own story, our own journey, and our own unique set of experiences that makes us who we are. This shapes how we use our skills to help others who resonate with us.
As you’re building your brand, don’t focus so much on what your competitors are offering. Instead, be confident in how what you have to offer will benefit your ideal audience (i.e. clients, customers, employers, etc.).
5. Stay true in your story
No matter how much experience you have, how many articles you’ve published, or how many interviews you’ve killed, you are who you are – and nothing can change that.
As long as you stay true to your story – your values, your vision, your ‘why’ – then your personal brand will reflect that. This will, in turn, make you stand out from the crowd and shine in your best light.
It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing – all that matters is that you improve upon yourself every day, tell the truth, and stay authentic to who you are and why you do what you do.
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