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Let’s be honest: Changing the world is hard. No one told me that when I started out. I was simply following my curiosity and ideas where they led me, turning them into business venture after business venture.
As a kid, I’d been fascinated with disassembling devices, sometimes making improvements as I reassembled them to watch things either work or break again. Coupled with my curiosity was a bit of defiance. Why should something be set up that way and not this other way?
I’ve discovered something over the years: If you’re truly disrupting, your ideas won’t work, at least not right away. Instead of refining a proven process or product, you’re starting from scratch. As a result, your efforts are fraught with failure. No matter who you are, that starts to weigh on you — particularly if you believe the ultimate resource in life is time.
Understanding the Impact of Imposter Syndrome
You entered your creative endeavor inspired and self-confident. Yet time (or the perceived lack of it) turns that into self-doubt, raising questions with the potential to derail you. Do I have the discipline to develop my thoughts into a plan others can understand? Do I have the tenacity to endure the ups and downs? Can I support and inspire others — in short, be a good leader — through this entire effort?
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers identified an “imposter phenomenon” that was originally attributed primarily to professional women. Subsequent research added a focus on minority groups. Today’s research suggests around 70 percent of adults may experience what is now known as “imposter syndrome” or “impostorism” at least once in their lifetime. Merriam-Webster provides a “commonly understood” definition of imposter syndrome as “a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.”
At its heart, impostorism is a struggle to internalize your accomplishments. As a disruptor you’re already vulnerable, sitting outside the norm, seeing, thinking about and expressing things differently. The lack of commonality may make you question whether you’re on the right path or if recognition of your efforts is genuine or sustainable. It also forces you to consider whether you take the hard and lonely road to be “above it all” or take the equally hard road of remaining concerned about what people think and trying to bridge that gap while staying true to yourself.
Tapping into Your EQ to Address Crises of Confidence
People often cite the first half of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “With age comes wisdom.” The second half of that quote is equally important, however: “but sometimes age comes alone.” In short, an accumulation of experiences and knowledge doesn’t automatically make you a self-actualized individual. You have to sift through to find those things you’ve learned that can help move you forward.
As a creative person, I naturally have moments where I retreat into my own world. Usually, it’s to puzzle out my next project or sort through input from the different personalities and voices that I value as part of my process. Sometimes, it’s solely for the sake of retreat. So over the years, I’ve honed my emotional intelligence skills to learn how to stop the downward spiral:
• Prioritize your wellness. My recovery from bouts of impostorism has been quicker as I’ve gotten older because I recognize that wellness includes body, mind (cognition) and emotion. In my 30s, if I encountered an obstacle I would put my head down and persist harder and faster on less sleep. Now I’m more in tune with not only my sleep but also my hydration, nutrition and exercise. Sometimes, those moments I retreat into my office are to recover from the intensity of incoming impulses. I’ve learned that downtime is not just OK, it’s critical for any leader, coach, mentor, entrepreneur, disruptor and/or creative genius to continue to function and flourish.
• Nurture your support network. My father has been a big influence on me and serves as a keel in my career journey. My spouse helps restore my confidence when I enter an emotional trough. My CFO serves as my no-holds-barred sounding board. Support doesn’t always equate to automatic agreement. You need people to provide unconditional love and buoyancy, as well as people to respect you enough to point out the flaws and potential pitfalls in your ideas to help you make them stronger.
• Embrace your entrepreneurial spirit. Knowing how to adopt and adapt to feedback is important to regain your footing in a difficult time. Start by focusing on your purpose, remembering your excitement or considering the potential impact of your idea. It’s good to acknowledge the risk you undertake as an entrepreneur, but don’t let the voices (internal or external) mire you in guilt. It’s natural in times of self-doubt to think you’re being “selfish” or “indulgent” because you’ve convinced teammates, stakeholders, etc., to invest time and/or money in your scheme. They chose to partner with you because they believe in your vision. Remember to do the same for yourself.
The world has undergone a significant shift in the past 18 months. Some of the millions of people who left their jobs in this year’s “Great Resignation” have indicated they’re focusing on self-fulfillment, creativity and nascent entrepreneurial dreams. I’ll tell them what no one told me: It will be hard.
For me, it wasn’t a conscious choice, just the right formula of inherent curiosity, upbringing and education. Still, for those who have experienced something else and are making the choice, I offer a bit of advice. Recognize that the things we came to value most in the pandemic — connections, support, personal well-being — are the same that will serve you through the peaks and valleys of going your own way.
If this first idea or endeavor doesn’t take off, try again. And if it turns out you’re not the disruptor or entrepreneurial type, you’re now the kind of modern leader who’s better equipped to collaborate with and support everyone in your orbit.