I’ve been thinking a lot about impostor syndrome. It comes up frequently as I coach startups as well as leaders at larger companies. And when I recently brought it up in my Facebook group, it turns out a wide variety of people suffer from it as well.
My last company was acquired for over $1.5Bn, and I still struggle with it. You know how the internal monologue goes: “But you don’t have nearly the number of followers as [so-and-so],” or “But you’re not featured in the latest issue of [magazine],” or “[insert comparison here]”.
That’s what it’s about at its core, right? Comparison. Comparison rears it’s very nasty head in many ways. It appears in the form of over-monitoring competitors. It creeps up in the late night hours when we wonder if we’ve worked enough today, if we’re really even the right person for the job. We self-compare against our favorite heroes; forgetting to compare against their early days, not their current status.
Comparison, the rich fuel for impostor syndrome feelings, is that secret little pet we love to hold close and nurture. But why?
Failure against even an untenable comparison offers us an out. It gives us a warped safety net of sorts where we can point to something and say “see, that’s why this didn’t work out.” If we can pick an outlandish enough comparison, then it becomes even easier to justify why it’s ok to just give up. At it’s worst, it turns into a foregone conclusion.
Shining a light on comparison is the first step in shutting it down. Talk about it. Talk openly with your co-founders, your team, a trusted community, or on your blog. The longer it stays secret, the more it festers and eats away at confidence.
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Exposing your previously hidden comparisons, weakens them for sure. And we have to start there. It’s an ongoing battle for each of us. But the next step is absolutely critical. You have to act!
No lights, no cameras, no fan-fare, and no publicity. Just get to work.
When we focus on the doing, it occupies at least some of that time that was spent comparing. Also, comparison is a purely theoretical and mental sport. Getting out of our heads and moving our feet or hands shifts our focus, energy, and attention to the task. And away from the twisted, mental jumble.
Don’t worry about who sees or doesn’t see. Get to it.
Ship the thing you’ve been afraid to put out into the world. Cobble together something and go show it to some potential customers. Ask for that favor you’ve been needing. Offer something valuable to someone with no return expectation. Join a peer group. Launch. Pitch. Meet. Sell.
Whatever it is you’re afraid of, do it. Then figure out what went well, and what flubbed, tweak it and try it again right away. Stop comparing against an unreal idea, and start micro-comparing against your last action. Did it work? Do it again more. If not, tweak.
These are the unglamorous baby steps to building your confidence, and finding success. Nobody ever won through comparison. We win through action.
What are you afraid of? I challenge you to go try it today.
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//Previously published on Medium for Startups.co, and on Startups.co