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Impostor Syndrome Never Goes Away

September 21, 2021
5 min read

Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote an article on impostor syndrome (it was initially published on our Medium page, back in the days when we didn’t know anything about SEO). The idea for the article came to me following an incident with one of my managers for my job in consulting. I wrote that article to share my experiences with impostor syndrome and research strategies for dealing with it.

Admittedly, I thought that since I’d done some research on impostor syndrome, I would be able to leave it in the past.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

It turns out, impostor syndrome never really goes away. Anytime you try something new, that feeling of self-doubt or unworthiness will creep its way back into your psyche. So, now I’m sharing my more recent experiences with impostor syndrome and new strategies I’ve found helpful.

What is impostor syndrome and what does it look like?

Just to recap, impostor syndrome is the feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are despite evidence showing that you are worthy. PsychologyToday defines impostor syndrome as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.”

Impostor syndrome can manifest itself many ways. Perhaps you recently got a job offer and, in the back of your head, you think you got the offer because the company needed more diversity, and not because you were the most qualified candidate. Or maybe you just got promoted and you’re looking around at the other people on your same level and, because you don’t see a lot of people that look like you, you’re thinking that you don’t belong in this position.

For me, impostor syndrome has reared its ugly head in in various ways. After we launched Chezie, there was a period of time where Dumebi and I referred to ourselves as Head of Marking and Head of Product, respectively. Even though Dumebi runs every piece of our marketing and I am responsible for identifying our vision and executing on the plan, we didn’t want to don the titles of CMO and CEO because we didn’t feel like we had the resumes to back it up.

In September, 2020, we got our first customer. The wonderful team at commercetools took a bet on us and paid us to recruit on our platform. When I got the email from their recruiting team saying that they wanted to sign up for one of our plans, I took a screenshot and sent it to Dumebi, who immediately facetimed me to express her disbelief. I, also in disbelief, said something along the lines of “they must think that we’re a real company.” We couldn’t comprehend that an actual business would give us money for our services. We didn’t feel like we deserved that.

In April, I was announced as a 2021 How I Built This Fellow. As part of the fellowship, we had a chance to pitch Chezie in front of six famous entrepreneurs, and two weeks later, it was announced that we’d won the pitch competition, and we were awarded a $50,000 grant.

Here’s how the pitch worked: we had six minutes to present our business, and then afterwards, the judges had 12 minutes to ask us questions. I was the sixth person to present, and to be honest, I thought I bombed it. I literally texted Dumebi to let her know that I didn’t do well and we shouldn’t expect to win it (receipts in the screenshot below).

A screenshot of an iPhone text conversation
A screenshot of an iPhone text conversation

Impostor syndrome was busy from the moment I found out that got into the fellowship program. I wasn’t sure that I deserved to be part of a program led by founders like Tristan Walker and Payal Kadakia. I felt so out of place that I counted myself out of winning the pitch competition before the winner was even announced. I didn’t even tell Dumebi that they were announcing the winner that night until 20 mins before it was released…

A screenshot of an iPhone text conversation
A screenshot of an iPhone text conversation

Even now, two weeks after it was announced, I still have trouble internalizing that we won.

Updated strategies for combating impostor syndrome

The first time that I wrote about impostor syndrome, I included some suggestions on how to combat it:

  1. Find a friend or colleague that can gas you up when you need it.
  2. Reward yourself whenever you accomplish something noteworthy.
  3. Add artificial pressure to force yourself to be more intentional with your time.

Obviously, since I’m writing this now, these didn’t completely eliminate my impostor syndrome, so I’ve researched some additional strategies:

  1. Visualize success – if everything went perfectly (lol) over the next five years, what would Chezie look like? Where would we be? How many people would we have helped find careers they love? What kind of legacy would we building? Asking myself these questions reminds me what I’m working for, and helps get me past feelings of doubt.
  2. Teach others – Over the past 2-3 months especially, I’ve had a few people ask for feedback on business ideas or for advice on how to get started. If people see you doing something they want to do, you are, by comparison, the expert. Obviously, I won’t have all the answers on how to launch a company or develop your career, but I have enough experience in these subjects to share my experiences with anyone looking to follow a similar path. People looking to me as someone to get advice from helps tame my impostor syndrome.
  3. Fake it ‘til you make it – to an extent, my impostor syndrome is warranted. I’m not a super accomplished Founder. I’m not an experienced product manager. I’m not a complete expert in all things DEI. That’s all fine. I have to put myself out there and focus on getting better every day, and eventually those things will be true.

It was naïve of me to believe that impostor syndrome was something I’d eventually leave behind. I think that impostor syndrome shows up any time we try something new. We’re naturally scared about how we will perform and how others will perceive us, which leads to that feeling that we don’t belong.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe impostor syndrome just means that we’re challenging ourselves. Maybe if you’re not feeling some sort of impostor syndrome, you’re thinking or dreaming too small.

Well, I can promise you that dreaming too small isn’t a problem for me, so bring on the impostor syndrome. Let’s do this.

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