Last week, I was invited to do a lightning talk at the Women in Tech Breakfast held by General Assembly. There were 5 speakers and each speaker received a question to guide their talk. Mine was:
You work with a lot of female founders and are yourself an incredibly successful entrepreneur, what is the most common challenge faced and what solutions do you recommend to combat those?
It took me a few days to really 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 really pick one and I kept feeling that none of those were 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 in 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, 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 found out.
These thoughts go through a lot of minds, especially women because we are confronted almost every day with scenarios that cause these types of feelings to come up, like:
- Being the only woman and/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” order 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.
And I’m sure I could go on…
In my talk, I wanted to highlight that self-doubt happens to all of us. Myself included.
I told a story about how even in my current day job, I felt so unqualified for the role when it was pitched to me that I almost opted out of being considered because I didn’t have this one piece of experience. Sound familiar? I think a lot of us want to feel like we can check all the boxes for job requirements or roles or even business ideas before we get started. Men, on the other hand, are fine checking one box or none, knowing that they can figure it out.
And we can too. What I realized after I went home was that my negative self-talk was telling me I couldn’t do it and knowing that, I had to start thinking through the worst that could happen. I realized that by putting my “name in the hat” for this role, it wasn’t a huge risk since I had a job at the time. The worst that could happen was that they said no.
And as we know, it worked out, but if I wouldn’t have even tried, I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity. I tell that story as a cautionary tale because if this would have 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 are missing out on opportunities because we choose to opt out 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 myself 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 that we can begin to have conversations around how to conquer it. Here are some things that help me:
It takes being more mindful but it is VERY important to be aware of the times when the negative self-talk is present. 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 aware of these instances, you can start talking back and talking yourself through these situations.
Take baby steps.
I am a big fan of tiny actions because sometimes big actions are too big especially for those of us who are not used to it. In my story, by putting my name in the hat, even though I had no idea it would work, I saw that as a tiny step, a tiny risk. Other things like putting myself out there to do speaking engagements even though speaking scares the bejesus out of me, is another baby step. The key here is that every little time you put yourself out there and you stretch, you’ll get a little bit better, and a little bit more confident.
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 were able to figure it out, most likely through hard work and persistence. You’ve already proven yourself. You figured it out before. You can absolutely do it again. You got this.
Build your community.
Surround yourself with other women or other people who are going through similar challenges. Being able to share and know 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).
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 and if you don’t know what they are, take the StrengthsFinder assessment. It’s been game-changing for me so that now I can operate from a place of strength and not weakness. For example, I know that I am really good at building relationships so I create opportunities to do more one on one conversations. Just because it might be different from everyone else, doesn’t mean its wrong.
Channel your inner Superwoman.
Amy Cuddy, who wrote Presence, that spends a lot of time talking about this. Before you go 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 helps relax you and helps you feel more confident. Try it. It really works.
Those are some of the things that have worked for me and my go-to strategies when dealing with impostor syndrome and a negative mindset in general. My talk really resonated with a lot of women and I truly believe that the more we share these experiences and ways to conquer negative mindsets, the more successful we can all be.