Dealing with Imposter Syndrome as a Design Firm Owner
Running a design firm can be incredibly challenging—and equally rewarding. However, those who embark on this journey must have the courage and confidence to lead their team through successes and failures. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is often described as an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt despite evidence of success. This mindset can prevent entrepreneurs from taking calculated risks or pursuing opportunities that could lead to growth and innovation. In this post, we’ll delve into the root causes of Imposter Syndrome and identify a few ways to cope. Read on to deal with Imposter Syndrome so you can grow your interior design business!
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome, or Phenomenon, is a series of thought patterns that affect many people, especially high achievers. It’s commonly described as feeling “a fraud” or not being “good enough” despite having achieved significant success.
People with Imposter Syndrome often doubt their abilities and feel they don’t deserve their accomplishments. This negative cycle of self-doubt, anxiety, and fear can hold you back from achieving your goals and progressing in your interior design business.
Who Suffers from Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone regardless of their skill level or experience. Even natural leaders, recognized experts and professional mentors struggle with it. The pressure to meet high personal standards and the fear of failure can create an irrational sense of guilt and incompetence.
Imposter Syndrome is internal, but it is often made worse by external factors like a person’s upbringing. In an article for the American Psychological Association, Kirsten Weir writes that many people who feel like imposters “grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement.” Children who grew up confused by “alternating over-praise and criticism” are especially likely to feel like frauds later in life.
Experiences with racism, bias, and trauma can also contribute to thought patterns associated with Imposter Syndrome. Studies have shown that women and minorities are more likely to suffer from Imposter Syndrome because of society’s unfair and often cruel assumptions about them.
Sheryl Nance-Nash explains in an article for BBC Equality Matters . In conversation with psychotherapist Bryan Daniel Norton and clinical psychologist Emily Hu, Nance-Nash explores how society feeds Imposter Syndrome in women and minorities. Quoting Norton, Nance-Nash writes that” ‘when you experience systemic oppression…[and] you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur.” Similarly, you might feel like a fraud if the representation of your demographic in your industry is relatively new or uncommon.
Anyone With High Personal Standards Can Suffer from IS
It’s important to note that anyone who puts a lot of pressure on themselves could suffer from IS. In fact, other studies have found that male entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer from debilitating Imposter syndrome.
In a 2020 study, Kajabi researchers found that “both male and female entrepreneurs experience IP at similar frequencies.” However, the same study found that “a greater percentage of male entrepreneurs experience intense feelings of IP.” 11% of male respondents said they “intensely” feel like an imposter, while 8% of female respondents reported the same.
Of course, perfectionism and negative self-talk also feed Imposter Syndrome. People who suffer from this disorder tend to focus on their mistakes and shortcomings instead of recognizing their achievements. They worry about being discovered as a “phony” or a “faker” and feel unworthy of success.
The Dangers of Dismissing Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome makes us feel we do not deserve our own successes. In most cases, this is entirely untrue. We are not frauds, and such feelings of inadequacy do not reflect the true extent of our talent, effectiveness, and personal strengths. While the emotions associated with Imposter Syndrome rarely reflect reality, the root causes of Imposter Syndrome are indeed very real.
How Societal Issues Feed Imposter Syndrome
Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey underscore this in their 2021 article ” Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome” for Harvard Business Review . In a similar vein to what Hu and Norton describe in Nance-Nash’s article for BBC, Burey and Tulshyan point to inequality as an originator of Imposter Syndrome.
They note that “feeling like an outsider isn’t an illusion — it’s the result of systemic bias and exclusion.” Imposter Syndrome is an internal struggle but isn’t entirely ours to solve. It’s also a societal issue rooted in sexism, classicism, racism, and homophobia.
As Burey and Tulshyan write in their HBR article, “the intersection of our race and gender often places us in a precarious position at work.” Even as a successful firm owner, you might feel as though you are teetering on the dividing line between success and failure simply because acceptance as a leader in this space is nascent.
For some of us, belonging to a position of power and influence feels tenuous and temporary. While we can “cope” with Imposter Syndrome and combat those feelings of inadequacy, the phenomenon might never wholly abandon us.
According to Burey and Tulshyan, “the answer is…to create an environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as just as professional as the current model.” Whether you struggle with Imposter Syndrome or not, we can affect change as firm owners by supporting and celebrating others in our community who might have been locked out of opportunities in the past.
How Does Imposter Syndrome Manifest?
Quoting Audrey Ervin in an article for Time, Abigail Abrams notes that Imposter Syndrome might apply if you are unable “‘to internalize and own [your] successes.’” Imposter Syndrome often manifests as a nagging voice in the back of one’s mind. These thoughts and feelings can cause business owners to downplay their achievements, underestimate their abilities, and shy away from the leadership roles they must fill.
In some cases, Imposter Syndrome can even drive business owners to sabotage their success by avoiding challenges or procrastinating on essential tasks. Negative thought patterns associated with Imposter Syndrome can quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies. Firm owners who doubt themselves may miss valuable networking opportunities, fail to delegate responsibilities effectively, or make decisions based on fear rather than logic.
Imposter Syndrome Archetypes
In most cases, Imposter Syndrome manifests itself in one of five ways. Author Dr. Valerie Young, Ed.D. defines these archetypes in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. According to Dr. Young, most IS sufferers are Perfectionists, Experts, Soloists, Natural Geniuses, or Supers.
In this Asana resource, Julia Martins elaborates on these archetypes. If you suffer from IS, you might “have anxiety over how things are done,” “fear having a lack of knowledge,” or “feel pressure to handle everything alone.” Those feelings reflect the “Perfectionists,” “Experts,” and “Soloists.” Natural Geniuses and Supers “stress over not succeeding on the first try” and “feel guilty if they don’t please everyone.”
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome as a Firm Owner
Thankfully, there are many ways to confront and deal with Imposter Syndrome. By seeking support from your community, reflecting on past mistakes, and maintaining an objective list of your skills or achievements, you can celebrate your success instead of feeling like a fraud. Let’s get into it.
Educating yourself is first on our list of ways to deal with Imposter Syndrome. This means taking the time to research and learn about the problem, its causes, and how it manifests in individuals. Reading this post might serve as an initial step, but it’s essential to seek out expert sources like psychologists and researchers too.
Researching IS should help you contextualize your own experiences and recognize how Imposter Syndrome manifests in your professional life. Dr. Young’s book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It might help you determine which archetype(s) best describes you. By understanding how IS manifests for you personally, you can combat its impact on your thought patterns and behavior.
Keep a List of Your Successes and External Feedback
Next, we recommend keeping a list of your successes, client feedback, and other career records. According to this Cleveland Clinic resource, anyone who suffers from IS should “be ready for those feelings…and be ready with a response.” A list of your accomplishments serves as that response.
It might feel cheesy or arrogant, but doing so allows you to arm yourself with evidence of your accomplishments. One of the best ways to deal with Imposter Syndrome is to present proof. When feeling like a fraud, evidence dispels that doubt.
Reflect on Your Mistakes and Remember the Bad Times
Another way to deal with Imposter Syndrome is to reflect on your mistakes or recall tough times in your career. Looking back on mistakes or challenges and remembering how you responded reminds you that you have the tools to succeed. How did you pivot during an economic downturn? What did you do when a team member suddenly quit? Did you give up, or did you figure it out?
It’s not just luck, and you’re not faking it. You pushed past problems and solved issues as they arose because you belong in this space. Your response to challenges demonstrates resilience and flexibility, which show that you have the talent, creativity, and gumption to succeed.
Don’t Dismiss It
As noted above, feelings of inadequacy are often rooted in reality. This does not mean that you are indeed inadequate, but that there are reasons why you feel this way. Society may have placed expectations on you and others like you. Perhaps your upbringing has something to do with it. Or maybe you have always held yourself to a sky-high standard.
Instead of dismissing your feelings, delve into them. While it certainly doesn’t excuse you from dealing with IS, identifying the root causes of Imposter Syndrome provides much-needed context. Once you recognize where these feelings come from, you can address them. In the article ” Entrepreneurs: Make Imposter Syndrome Your Friend” for Forbes, Tomer Hen explains how she examines and leverages her feelings of inadequacy.
Hen writes that “whenever [she] starts to feel doubt in a challenging project, task or meeting, [she] thanks this doubt and takes it as an invitation to grow and improve.” If she really isn’t good enough, where and to whom can she turn for help? Hen uses her IS feelings as a learning opportunity.
Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good, and Accept that Minor Mistakes Will Happen
As noted above, two archetypes of Imposter Syndrome are the “Perfectionist” and the “Soloist.” If you fall into either of these archetypes, you may always feel pressure to get everything exactly right the first time.
However, this mindset can lead to guilt and shame when mistakes inevitably happen. Instead of focusing on each error, try to accept that failure is a natural part of the learning process. Focus on progress rather than perfection.
Seek Support from Your Community
Belonging to a community of firm owners can also provide the context you need to understand and deal with your own Imposter Syndrome. Chances are, many of your peers also struggle with feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt. After all, the aforementioned Kajabi survey found that 84% of “entrepreneurs and small business owners…feel like an imposter at moderate, frequent, or intense levels.” Seek support from others who have experienced Imposter Syndrome. Your peers might share their ongoing struggles or offer positive feedback, encouragement, and tips for dealing with IS.
Acknowledge Your Expertise and Achievements in Others
It can also be helpful to acknowledge your expertise and achievements in others. Identify firm owners in your community who have achieved similar successes in the interior design industry. Consider how you think and feel when learning about their achievements.
Will you dismiss those achievements and assume your peers don’t deserve to be where they are, or will you celebrate their success? Do you ascribe their success to “luck,” or are you impressed by their talent and expertise?
After considering your peers’ success, shine a light on your own. Why would you celebrate their success and assume they deserve it but doubt and criticize your achievements?
Celebrate Your Successes
Now, celebrate your success! Become comfortable with public acknowledgment of your achievements. In an article for The New York Times , Jessica Bennett notes that “owning your accomplishments” is key to beating IS. Instead of pointing to sheer luck as the cause of your success, “try to own the role you played…by forbidding yourself from falling back on excuses.” Celebrating your team’s success can help with this. Tying pride in your team’s success to pride in your own success can help you beat Imposter Syndrome.
Identify Your Own Shortcomings
This might seem counterintuitive, but identifying your actual shortcomings can help you deal with Imposter Syndrome. The key is, to be honest with yourself. Of course , you struggle with specific tasks. No one is perfect, and no one is skilled in every area of running a business.
By defining areas where you struggle, you create a funnel for those feelings of inadequacy. You can either improve in these areas or learn to delegate. Once you identify your shortcomings, you might feel more comfortable acknowledging your strengths. After all, they are two sides of the same coin.
Delegate and Ask for Help When Needed
This brings us to our next tip: delegating and asking for help when needed. As Kirsten Weir writes in an aforementioned article for the American Psychological Association, “so-called impostors think every task they tackle has to be done perfectly, and they rarely ask for help.”
As a firm owner, you might spend too much time on a given task or procrastinate because you feel unskilled in that area. Even though you are not the best person to handle each and every task, your need for perfection and control might prevent you from delegating. It’s important to recognize that another team member could be more skilled, more educated, and more experienced in the areas you either dislike or struggle with.
When you delegate, acknowledge the contributions others make, but remember that you established the framework in which your team thrives. You still deserve credit for your firm’s successes.
It’s important to celebrate your successes, acknowledge your achievements, and take pride in your talents. But do your best to be objective and try not to overcorrect when dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
As Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey note in their HBR article, “we often falsely equate confidence…with competence and leadership.” However, “arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to leadership talent.”
Balance humility with objective acknowledgment of the part you play in your own success. Continue to share the credit when celebrating your firm’s accomplishments.
Try Not to Spiral
Last but not least, try not to spiral when feelings of inadequacy emerge in the future. Remember that doubt is normal. It’s healthy to be a bit skeptical or to worry about outcomes, but it’s not productive to feed irrational or extreme feelings of self-doubt.
Final Thoughts About Dealing with Imposter Syndrome as a Designer
These feelings won’t disappear overnight. But by implementing a few of the tips outlined above, you can push past IS. As you might already know, we focus on Community, Coaching, and Confidence here at Design Dash. Of all the ways to deal with Imposter Syndrome, we believe that participating in a community of your peers is one of the most effective.
Joining a community of other firm owners can help you pull yourself out of the Imposter Syndrome echo chamber. You’ll celebrate everyone’s successes, discuss your struggles, and fill gaps in your own knowledge or skillsets.
Let’s chat about our experiences with Imposter Syndrome in the Design Dash Private Facebook Group. Join here to start connecting.