imposter syndrome image 1
imposter syndrome image 1
Leadership Lifestyle

Conquer Self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome: 9 Actionable Strategies

So many female entrepreneurs struggle with overwhelming doubt. Here's what these female founders do to overcome it.

I’m sure you know that little voice in the back of your head: the one that says you’re a fraud, that you’re tricking the world into thinking you’re competent. Despite how isolating it feels, it’s not uncommon. A 2020 study found that 84 percent of entrepreneurs experience moderate to intense levels of imposter syndrome. You’re not alone.

So what can we do? There’s no fool-proof solution, but there are options. I surveyed female entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences with imposter syndrome and how they break the cycle of doubt and anxiety. Collecting failures, celebrating wins, expanding your comfort zone or using cold, hard data – there’s sure to be a strategy that gets you back on track.

Lean on your family, peers and mentors

Laura Elliott, Co-Founder, Kula Inc.

Be a part of a female entrepreneur group. If you haven’t joined one, do it now! Sometimes imposter syndrome is deeply rooted in societal stigmas, and female entrepreneur groups help break that stigma. You not only have women who are genuinely supportive but you’re constantly reminded how successful, powerful and inspirational women just like you can be.

Lindsey Hyland, Founder, Urban Organic Yield

Talking to someone can be really helpful. Whether you confide in a friend, family member or therapist, getting another perspective and some outside support can make all the difference. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re not alone in your struggles.

Suzanne Brown, CEO, Mompowerment and OKsuzi Strategy

It’s important to have a few mentors who act as your personal board of directors. Essentially, these are my go-to people in the moments when I’m not sure if I’m taking the right step or even if I’m ready. They can point to my successes in similar situations and help give me the courage to take action.

Turn to literature

Arielle Phoenix, Author, Blogger, Entrepreneur

I speak about imposter syndrome a lot and this is something I have only recently begun to overcome. It has everything to do with self-confidence and that is something that requires a lot of reprogramming to rectify. To put it simply, I read and listen to a LOT of books. One book I read in particular that challenged me to get out of my own way and own my accomplishments was Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

Sharing your journey with others forces you to reiterate who you are, what you have achieved and where you are going like nothing else can. This is something you need to do for yourself, but as you attract like-minded people and people become inspired by your journey and willingness to be open and honest, you begin to feed off of this and push yourself even further. People tend to resonate more with the real and the raw, once you start owning your truth you will stop feeling like an imposter.

Break out of your comfort zone

Laura Elliott, Co-Founder, Kula Inc.

Do something you typically never would do at least once a month. When you step outside of your comfort zone, you become aware of your unexpected strengths. Never thought you would record yourself for an Instagram reel, start a podcast or apply for that PR opportunity? You will surprise yourself.

Celebrate your victories

Diamond Starkey, Founder, Starbound Social

I have a simple strategy for managing imposter syndrome. Every month, I keep track of all my accomplishments related to the skills I need for my business, and I write them on my whiteboard. So whenever I’m struggling with imposter syndrome because I’ve been offered a new opportunity that seems like it’s “not meant for just little ol’ me”, I look at my board. Physically seeing all the things I’ve been able to accomplish helps to validate my expertise and shut down the irrational doubt. I’m able to tell myself (out loud), “I deserve this opportunity because last month I was able to [fill in the blank]. I’ve already proven that I can do it, and that is why this opportunity is for me.”

For example, I work a lot on the brand side of influencer marketing, so whenever I successfully negotiate a partnership or complete a campaign, I write those specific moments down on a whiteboard in my office.

Lara Meyer, Women’s Leadership Coach, Lara Meyer Insights Ltd.

Celebrate your progress. Research shows those who have imposter syndrome tend to think their success is down to luck and their failures are down to their incompetence. Learning to recognize your own progress is a big deal. I start my day with a quick 3-2-1 (three things I am grateful for, two things I have achieved and one thing I want to improve). Over time, you can also use it as a resource to reflect on your achievements to bust imposter syndrome feelings!

Laura Elliott, Co-Founder, Kula Inc.

Small victories are big victories. Track your accomplishments, no matter how small. Keep a quarterly goal list. Every quarter, go in and spend some time checking off the things you completed and think about adding things that you didn’t originally have. Sometimes we have lofty goals, and as entrepreneurs, we do a lot of work on so many different things. It’s OK to miss some goals, but don’t ignore the other things you got done. Applied for a grant, joined an entrepreneurship group, launched your social media platform, did your first go-live video – recognizing these accomplishments instills your confidence and reminds you that you are making progress.

Jessi Beyer, CEO, Founder, Author, How To Heal Co.

I generally don’t like to rely too much on external validation, but I keep a folder of screenshots on my phone and computer of nice things people have said about me and my work. For example, this folder includes screenshots of book endorsements from experts in my field, DMs from clients and presentation attendees saying how much my work impacted them or emails from readers saying how my book changed their life.

When I’m feeling self-doubt or imposter syndrome or when I get a nasty email, message or comment from someone who’s questioning my expertise, I pop open that folder of screenshots and remind myself how impactful my work really is. That practice reminds me that what I do makes a difference and that I’m good at what I do, despite what some random person on the internet might think.

Or… collect and embrace failure

Jessica McKinley, Life Coach, What’s Happyning

The “failure collection” is a monthly worksheet and practice I assign to my clients. I also fill it out myself. The goal is to collect four failures a month. It’s a way to get cozy with doubt and measurably associate the feeling of doubt with result creation.

Examine your thoughts and utilize journaling

Lindsey Hyland, Founder, Urban Organic Yield

Journaling can be a powerful way to process feelings if you’re in a funk. Just writing down what’s going on can help put things in perspective. You’ll find that once the thoughts are black and white, they can make more sense. The emotions subside, and you can start developing a plan.

Lucy Squire, Mindful Living Coach/CEO, The Mindful Living Academy
imposter syndrome
Vector by storyset on Freepik

When I’m in a mental funk and feeling moments of self-doubt, I turn inwards. I know the only way out of these feelings is straight through them, so I lean in and journal on what’s coming up: 

  • What exactly do I feel?
  • Why am I feeling this way?
  • What has triggered it?
  • And importantly – what is true here?

I don’t worry about my handwriting, or spelling, or even keeping within the lines. I let myself write whatever comes to mind in a conscious stream of words. In doing so, I’m able to understand myself and my feelings more. I’m able to identify what’s caused the imposter syndrome to rear its ugly head. Sometimes this is enough. This process shines a light on my insecurities, but also the lies I tell myself (because that’s all imposter syndrome is). Sometimes seeing these lies written down, is enough for me to pick myself up and see them for what they are.

But sometimes they still feel too raw, in which case I walk myself through an emotional clearing meditation, often in the style of EFT (emotional freedom technique, aka ‘tapping’). The Tapping Solution App does a brilliant one on “I am enough”, which is free and always makes me feel better. While it’s hard, and it’s frustrating, and time-consuming when I’d often rather be doing something else, diving head-on into the imposter syndrome always teaches me something about myself and my business, and I always come out of it stronger. Remembering that helps me to work through the process, every time, even when I don’t want to.

Take care of your health

Olivia Parks, Owner, Professional Organizer New Orleans

Running a business can be stressful. No one ever tells you about the emotional swings of running a business, from feeling like you can do anything to worrying if you’re open next month. It’s essential you have a routine to fall back on to help maintain your sanity and peace of mind.

I manage feelings of doubt by moving my body and getting outdoors. From frequent pilates workouts to long walks outside, I’m always looking for ways to reset myself. I find that so much of our insecurities and self-doubt come from overanalyzing in our heads all day. What’s worked best for me is getting the body moving and breaking a sweat. I visit the hot sauna a few times a week, giving me an intense body-high feeling like I can accomplish anything.

I’ve always thought exercise was a great catalyst to reset the mind and help us get out of our heads for a while.

Read Fitness: The Entrepreneur’s Secret Strategy for Success.

Shift and reframe your mindset

Lara Meyer, Women’s Leadership Coach, Lara Meyer Insights Ltd.

Bring a beginner’s mind. When your goal is to learn through experiences and experimentation then there is a lesson in everything you try and it really takes the pressure off being perfect! That way, even if something important doesn’t work out rather than saying its because you are an imposter, you can reflect on it and see what you learned – and that insight is a great gift!

Kirsten McKinney, CEO, Digital Growth Mastery

I work in marketing, a high-stakes, very competitive, high-pressure environment. Every effort is tracked, judged, scaled and evaluated constantly, often by many people. The pressure to perform is extremely high, and so I have found ways to reframe my thoughts about stress and self-doubt. When I feel like I’m being stretched, I take a pause and tell myself, “Because of what you’re doing right now, tomorrow you’ll be a stronger individual. This feeling is actually you growing!”

It’s weird, but it works. When I tell myself those feelings are normal, healthy and even positive, suddenly they evaporate. Those feelings in and of themselves don’t mean I’m failing; they mean I’m growing. I think the greatest source of self-doubt and imposter syndrome is the underlying need to always have things figured out. When we give ourselves permission to be human – to grow and figure things out along the journey – we’re free from that pressure that only holds us back.

Examine the facts and challenge your fears

Marina Vaamonde, Owner/Founder, HouseCashin

Whenever I feel imposter syndrome creeping up on me, I immediately look at the data. For example, if I’m feeling doubtful about my competence as a real estate investor, I simply look at the data of how many houses I’ve bought and sold, the profits I made on each one, testimonials from our clients and other such data.

You see, the key to defeating imposter syndrome is to look at cold, hard facts. You can argue with your emotions and feelings, but there’s simply no disputing the reality of facts. It works like a charm because I know that it’s impossible to achieve these numbers while being an imposter.

About the author

Laura Grant

As Managing Editor of Lioness, Laura Grant works with the editorial team and a slew of freelancers and regular contributors to produce a publication that offers equal parts inspiration and information. Laura is a graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master's degree in Communications. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day. Before joining Lioness full-time, Laura was a freelancer herself and wrote many stories for the magazine.

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