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I did a lightning talk at a Women in Tech Breakfast a few years ago. There were five speakers, and each received a question to guide their discussion. Mine was:
You work with many female founders and are an incredibly successful entrepreneur. What is the most common challenge, and what solutions do you recommend to combat those?
It took me a few days to think this through as several things came to mind:
- not having access to resources
- finding investors
- choosing technology platforms
- building relationships with mentors
- and the list could go on
But I couldn’t pick one, and I kept feeling that none of those was quite the answer that I wanted to tackle. So I went to one of my good friends for help, and she asked, “Well, what do you think the biggest challenge is?”
I told her, “I think a lot of it is mindset.” ← It’s easier sometimes to answer a direct question on Facebook messenger. ?
I also told her that by mindset, I meant the negative parts of it like thinking challenges are too big, feeling a lack of confidence, and the negative chatter that keeps us stuck, or as I call it sometimes, “mind gunk.”
The biggest challenge is between your ears…
This feeling that you don’t belong. That you’re not good enough. That you’re a fraud, and you’ll eventually be discovered.
Women are confronted often with scenarios that cause these types of feelings, like:
- Being the only woman or minority in the room
- Looking at job requirements and feeling that you don’t meet all the criteria
- Feeling like we need to become more “male” to get ahead or succeed
- Walking the line between being perceived as assertive or aggressive.
- Trying to explain your business idea to male investors or mentors who don’t quite get it.
In my talk, I wanted to highlight that self-doubt happens to all of us. Myself included.
I shared a story about how for my day job, I felt so unqualified for the role when it was pitched to me that I almost didn't send my resume in. Because I didn’t have this one piece of experience, sound familiar?
Many of us want to feel like we can check all the boxes for job requirements, roles, or even business ideas before we start. But, conversely, men are fine checking one box or none, relying on their ability to figure it out.
And we can too. My negative self-talk was telling me I couldn’t do the job, and knowing that, I had to start thinking through the worst that could happen. I realized that putting my “name in the hat” for this role wasn’t a huge risk since I had a job. The worst that could happen was that they said no.
It all worked out, and I got the job, but if I hadn’t tried, I would have missed out on a fantastic opportunity. I tell that story as a cautionary tale because if this had happened a couple of years ago when I was less aware of that negative self-talk, I could have opted out and not taken that tiny risk. How many of us miss out on opportunities because of self-doubt?
But how do you deal with it?
“Sometimes you have to get out of the way of yourself so you can be yourself.” ~Amy Cuddy
I’m still learning this, as it’s not just a one-time thing. I deal with impostor syndrome almost every day. My friends can tell you! It’s important to talk about it so we can begin conversations about how to handle it. Here are some things that help me:
1. Be aware
See if you can identify those instances where you may be saying to yourself, “All those women are awesome; why am I even being considered for this opportunity.”, “I don’t have enough experience for that job.”, or “This is not going to go well.” By being mindful of these instances, you can start talking yourself through these situations.
2. Take baby steps.
By putting my name in the hat, even though I had no idea it would work, I saw that as a tiny step, a small risk. Other things like putting myself out there to do speaking engagements, even though speaking gives me anxiety, are another baby step. The key here is that every time you put yourself out there and stretch, you’ll get a little bit better and a little more confident.
3. Look at your track record.
I am sure there have been difficulties and challenging situations in your past that you probably didn’t think you could get through. But you did. Think back on those and remember how you could figure it out, most likely through hard work and persistence. You’ve already proven yourself. You figured it out before. You can do it again. You got this.
4. Build your community.
Surround yourself with other women or people going through similar challenges. Sharing and knowing that you are not alone is one of the most powerful things you can have. It’s validation that it’s not just you. And it’s also an outlet for you to get support and resources (and hugs if need be).
5. Remain true to yourself.
Women are natural leaders and relationship builders. Lean into that. Use the things that come to you naturally to succeed, like female intuition. Use your strengths; if you don’t know what they are, take Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment. It’s been game-changing for me, so I can now operate from a place of strength, not weakness. For example, I know I am good at building relationships, so I create opportunities for more one-on-one conversations. Just because you might be different or handle things differently than everyone else doesn’t mean your way is wrong.
6. Channel your inner Superwoman.
Amy Cuddy, who wrote Presence spends a lot of time talking about this. Before going into any challenging situation, go to a room or a bathroom stall and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart with your hands on your hips (superhero pose) and take a few deep breaths. This activity helps you relax and feel more confident. Try it. It works.
Those are some things that have worked for me and my go-to strategies when dealing with impostor syndrome. My talk resonated with many women, and I genuinely believe that the more we share these experiences and ways to conquer negative mindsets, the more successful we can all be.