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Imposter Syndrome and the self-employed

A feeling of self-doubt of your skills regardless of evidence to the contrary, affects 70% of people, including the many of the self-employed. What is it and what can you do about it?

At the heart of our project is our active community of people sharing experiences and supporting each other. We look to capture and curate the most valuable conversations into articles, guides and tools - so that as many people as possible can benefit from the wisdom within Leapers, whether you're a registered member or not. 

One of the common threads which crops up is Imposter Syndrome - the feeling of self-doubt of your skills, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

It can manifest in any number of ways - thinking that your successes are just down to luck, feeling like you're out of your depth or you've managed to get a project under false pretence, or that people have a higher perception of your skills than in reality.

Over 70% of people struggle with this feeling at some time, and even though in most cases it is an unfair criticism of yourself, the feeling no matter can hold you back, and whilst it isn’t just a self-employed issue, as we are are often working on our own, the feelings, thoughts and behaviours attached to it can become a bigger problem.

There might not be someone sitting next to you, who can help you challenge the thoughts, you might be missing a cheerleader who reminds you of the great things you're capable of, or even just someone pragmatic who can help point to examples of where you have already done something similar - so in many instances, it can lead to people turning down work, not applying for roles, and downplaying their own commercial value.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to share my personal experiences of Imposter Syndrome, for an excellent series of articles, which you can read here - and coincided wonderfully with being right in the middle of writing our latest Leapers Little Guide on Imposter Syndrome, and I thought I'd post my responses to Elizabeth's questions.

How does Imposter Syndrome manifest for you?

Personally - it mostly makes me feel like I’m not capable of the things someone is asking me to do, or assumes I can do. This translates to me often turning things down because I don’t feel like I could do it (when I could), or me not jumping at an opportunity which I’m more than capable of. It also means I don’t / can’t take compliments very easily - I will readily accept negative criticism, but not positive praise. It also means I’ll seek out the advice of others far earlier, rather than having a go myself, and perhaps compromise too often on something I think is right, but will take the advice of others to be better informed than my own thinking. It also means I don’t very easily remember things that I should be proud of - so if someone asks me “what have you done that shows that?”, I’ll go blank, or won’t list things which were absolutely brilliant, but I think it was second rate.

What advice would you give someone struggling with imposter syndrome while freelancing?

Whilst it is important to recognise that this is not an uncommon feeling, saying “everyone feels like that at times” is rarely helpful. Just because a large number of people feel the stress of not feeling like they are able to do something, or they have landed a project which is beyond their abilities, it doesn’t mean the feeling doesn’t cause genuine anxiety.

Indeed 76% of our community say that not feeling talented enough caused additional anxiety for them.

So I try and respond to anyone who says they are struggling with imposter syndrome with a mix of empathy (I understand how horrible it can feel) and practicality (what can you do to reduce the impact of the feeling?).

What techniques do you use to tackle Imposter Syndrome?

1. Journal - keep track of the things you do, so you have a list of your achievements. Even if you don't give yourself credit for them, at least you have a list.

2. Feedback - get objective external feedback from others. Again, even if you can't accept the praise, you'll have it ready to give to your clients, so they can see it first hand.

3. Be Gentle - try and give yourself a break. no, you're not perfect, no-one is, and that's okay, we're all just trying to do the best we can.

4. Don't do it alone - join a community like Leapers, share your feelings, discuss them objectively with others, don't suffer in silence.

We've published our first Leapers Little Guide on Imposter Syndrome, which you can download for free. We update these guides when we discover new techniques, find new evidence based research, and hear stories from our members of their experiences - and each guide is made up from those three things.

Have a read, and let us know in the comments below what you do to tackle Imposter Syndrome.

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