The Journey of Overcoming the Imposter in Me
“Why are you not even considering starting this company? If funding is the only reason, there are people we can introduce you to, and anything outside of that is fear. You can do this.” Two weeks before graduating from Austin Center for Design, a series of cherished mentors turned my world upside down with these words.
“Me?! Start a tech company by myself, around relationships?! No. No way, they’ve got the wrong person. They have lost their dang minds. I’m 23, a minority, and a woman… Statistically, the odds are against me. I haven’t even been an interaction designer for a full year. I’m not even in a relationship. I’m way under qualified; they have the wrong girl. They’re going to find out all my success to this point was luck. Surely, my mentors have lost their dang mind.”
These are the exact lies that almost stopped me from starting Love Intently. An inner demon many of us dreamers and creative suffer from, also known as Imposter Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome – a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”
Long before I knew this inner demon had a name, imposter syndrome has robbed me the joy of celebrating my wins and prevented me from pursuing the things dearest to my heart. Imposter syndrome left to its own devices can cripple us and become self-detrimental. It stops us from continuing the very things we were created for… Or worse, imposter syndrome stops us from ever beginning the next.
By no means have I conquered imposter syndrome but I have built up a few practical tactics I have learned on the journey of overcoming the imposter in me.
Call Imposter Syndrome for What It Is
First things first, recognition is always the leading step before any breakthrough. Something is calming about identifying imposter syndrome that makes it less scary and easier to overcome. In my life, imposter syndrome has always been rooted in a lie I believed about myself or my success. Being able to call out imposter syndrome for what it is, a lie is a milestone of being able to remember the truths of who we are.
Focus on Providing Value
The imposter in me screams loudest when I’ve lost sight on why I began in the first place. When my outward focused vision (the impact I set out to make) has suddenly become inward focused (my capabilities or inabilities), is when imposter syndrome is at its absolute worst. However, when I shift my focus on providing value to others, what I can do rather matters a lot more than what I can’t. The greatest leaders of the world give exceptionally more than they could ever receive. Some are hesitant to become givers out of a fear of not having enough for themselves, but the truth is all boats rise with high tide. I’ve never met anyone who made a positive impact in the world without giving something or providing value to others.
The profit a business generates is directly correlated with the value they provide to their customers. So if finances are a concern, remember if you can figure out a way to provide adequate value, there is a high chance people will pay for it. If you ask Zach (the founder of Live a Great Story) how he started, he won’t say that it’s always been his dream and he planned for it his whole life. In fact, he simply focused on providing value and sharing a message he fully believed.
Find a Vision Beyond You
“If all of your dreams came true and your prayers were answered, how many people’s lives would change? If your answer is only you, you’re not dreaming big enough.” Whatever it is you’re seeking to start, create, or leap into, find a purpose greater than yourself. When your eyes are set on something greater, you’ll find an incredible community starts to form around you. This community is the very thing that will carry you forward. In my experience, there are times when people in my life believe my company more than I can. They remind me of why I started and the wins I’ve had thus far. The world doesn’t revolve around you meaning; the world will not end if you’re not perfect. Speed is only effective if you’re going in the right direction. Without a clear vision of where you are headed or why you are headed there, passions will fade and the rough times will become unmanageable.
Once you find your vision, start small. With great vision comes great responsibility which can quickly get overwhelming. However, if you can simply focus on creating small wins, you’ll look back someday and see a big win come from a string of small ones.
Focus on Learning Rather than Knowing
Regardless of my track record of good grades and success, I find myself questioning my intellect. “Am I smart enough?” is something I’ve tried to measure up to more times than I can count. However, learners get way further in life than knowers. Nobody expects you to have all the answers; they expect you to be willing to do whatever it takes to find them. Focus on being a listener and a learner rather than a knower. It takes the pressure off, and when people ask you a question you can’t answer, you can explore with them as you converse. Not only does this make you more likable but you’re likely to get far more value out of conversations in which you’re learning. The key to learning? I believe it’s asking the right questions. So the more important question to ask is, are you asking the right questions?
Don’t Do It Alone
The majority of nonprofits and startups don’t fail because people weren’t smart enough, or they didn’t have the funds but because the teams fell apart. Great companies and incredible movements are built on the people behind them. If your vision impacts more people than yourself, chances are you will need others to join you in its creation. Inviting others into your process can be terrifying because it opens up the vulnerability for them to criticize or speak into all of your fears. However, this is how decent ideas become great. This is how movements and tribes start. When you invite others in along the journey with you, you create advocates. These invaluable supporters will be the very people who share, fight, and promote your work. Personally, communities like Live a Great Story are the very reasons I’ve been able to keep my sanity as a first-time founder.
Speaking of not being alone, recognize imposter syndrome is a typical thing people experience, even among the most successful individuals out there. In fact, if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome it should be a sign you’re probably doing a lot better than you think.
‘When I was younger, I just did it. I just acted. It was just there. So now when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an impostor. It was just something I did.’
‘There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.’
‘I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Is this what I’m meant to be doing?”‘
Trade Fear for Faith
Every significant social change, revolution or movement occurred because a community believed for more. They had faith that someday the world they knew could be different.
Instead of running from the dark, unhappy, brokenness within and around us I’ve learned to turn around and face it. At the other side of fear, lies the remarkable insight the world needs for change. It’s not that I’ll ever stop being afraid of doing the things that terrify me, but learning how to do it anyway.
What if we traded every moment of fear for faith? How different would our lives look? People always start with but what if I fail, but I always say what if you don’t?
Founder of Love Intently
Sophie Kwok is the founder of Love Intently, a movement and app that empowers couples to build stronger and deeper relationships. She graduated from Arizona State University and is currently living in Austin working on her startup full time.
Sophie was also a featured speaker at the LIVE A GREAT STORY_ATX Mini Conference
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