Imposter Syndrome at Work: A Common Struggle For Founders?

Imposter Syndrome is common. Founders often doubt themselves, but patience and courage pave the way to confidence and success.


Chris Kernaghan

A woman on the phone, with a worried expression on her face

Everyone has probably felt like an imposter at some point in their life. From the seasoned entrepreneur to the aspiring startup founder, the spectre of Imposter Syndrome looms over even the most accomplished individuals.

Founders though in particular, are more prone to feelings of being "found out". That they're not cut out to found their own company, to run it successfully on a day to day basis.

However, as wonderful as the human brain is, it does a hell of a job of conjuring up feelings that don't reflect reality. And that's what Imposter Syndrome is - your brain trying to convince you that you're not good enough, even though there's plenty of hard evidence in your life to suggest otherwise.

Yet this feeling persists. We know this because many founders have suggested as much when sharing their stories with We Are Founders.

Founder Specific Impostor Syndrome is the sensation that creeps in when we doubt our own qualifications and capabilities as successful startup founders. It leads us to question every decision and outcome, fuelled by a relentless comparison with the achievements of more accomplished founders in the field.

Is this school all over again?

Everyone remembers their first day at school, for better or worse. An entirely new experience, full of smaller new experiences. New friends, new teachers, new things to learn. It's not unusual to feel out of your depth given that everything is just so... well, new!

Embarking on the journey of launching a startup feels akin to stepping into the school corridors on the first day as a junior, complete with all the awkwardness. We find ourselves in the process of crafting a product that has never seen the light of day, in a market that's potentially yet to take shape, and with a team that seems to have just convened moments ago.

Times of uncertainty typically don't foster a strong sense of confidence. Yet, this is exactly what you need to be in order to ensure your product succeeds. It's no wonder folks feel like an imposter.

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” - Maya Angelou

Learning the Ropes

The glimmer of hope lies in the fact that, over time, we transition from being the tiny people trundling into the school class room, to self-assured veterans navigating the world of entrepreneurship, reaping the rewards of our hard work and the promise of success.

Admittedly, some aspects may appear confusing at first. In fact, a lot of terminology might just baffle you. It's a lot to take on board, while you're trying to run a business!

Much like my experience wrestling with certain constraints within a startup environment, over my ten-year career as a designer, the journey has had its own unique challenges and learning curves.

It's worth noting that this learning curve is entirely normal. The founders I speak to on a regular basis encounter numerous challenges, but gradually, their confidence grows.

"Imposter syndrome kicked in - who was going to listen to anything I posted? So what if I wrote a blog, who was going to read it, etc. It took time but I made myself post, write, comment regularly with a pinch of 'care less' so that I didn't become obsessed by likes, etc." - Read more about Gemma's journey

With time, they come to realise that many of the once-perceived complexities are, in fact, more straightforward than initially thought. So many founders lay their heads on the pillow each night with eventual reduced stress around fundraising or customer acquisition, not because these tasks become inherently easier, but because they've gained the wisdom of knowing what to anticipate – a comforting reassurance in itself.

Imposter Syndrome, over time, becomes more manageable as individuals gain experience and self-awareness. However, it seldom completely dissipates. This persistent companion often transforms from a crippling force into a subtle whisper in the background.

And that's perfectly fine. It's a reminder of our desire to continually improve, learn, and grow.

Embracing the fact that Imposter Syndrome may never entirely vanish is a step toward self-acceptance. It's a testament to the ongoing journey of self-discovery and self-improvement, which is an integral part of personal and professional development.

So, while it may not completely disappear, it can be harnessed as a motivating force on the path to success. This does take patience, however.

Patience Is the Key to Achievement

In the context of Imposter Syndrome, patience emerges as a fundamental virtue on the path to success. This internal struggle, where individuals often doubt their abilities and qualifications, is a challenge that doesn't disappear overnight. Like any deeply ingrained belief or mindset, overcoming Imposter Syndrome demands a patient and persistent approach.

It's essential to recognise that these feelings of inadequacy, though unsettling, are common and a natural part of your journey. Instead of rushing to find immediate solutions or instant validation, individuals grappling with Imposter Syndrome must allow themselves the space and time to grow.

Imposter Syndrome is not a sign of inadequacy, but rather an indication of your aspirations to grow and succeed.

Patience here becomes the cornerstone of transformation, as it enables individuals to gradually dismantle the self-doubt that has taken root, paving the way for increased self-confidence.

It's an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and that doesn't happen overnight. This is not a quick fix but a journey towards understanding your true potential and worth.

It entails learning from setbacks, building resilience, and acknowledging that the path to success is often marked by setbacks and self-reflection. As individuals navigate this intricate journey, they must remember that patience is not a sign of weakness but a testament to their commitment to growth and self-improvement.

Fighting through Imposter Syndrome indeed requires great courage, but it's important to recognise that this struggle is a universal part of the learning experience. Just as every entrepreneur, founder, and professional has walked a similar path, you too can overcome the shadow of self-doubt and thrive.

Imposter Syndrome is not a sign of inadequacy, but rather an indication of your aspirations to grow and succeed. It's the chisel that shapes your resilience and the compass that guides you toward self-discovery.

So, embrace the journey, and remember that the courage to confront Imposter Syndrome will not only lead to your own growth but also inspire those around you who are navigating the same path. In acknowledging this shared experience, you stand poised to emerge not as an imposter, but as a confident, capable, and authentic contributor to your field.

About The Author

A woman on the phone, with a worried expression on her face
Chris Kernaghan

By day, Chris works as a UX Designer, crafting easy-to-use interfaces and ensuring companies focus on what users need. At night, he runs We Are Founders, a platform where founders share inspirational journeys.


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