Impostor Syndrome: How I finally learned I was smart

impostor syndrome

By Betsy Kent, {grow} Community Member

For nine years, the competition on the Internet kept me from knowing that I was smart.

Have you experienced this? It’s an actual psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments despite external evidence of their intelligence and competence.

Having to live with a nagging fear of being  “found out” as not being as smart or talented or experienced as people think is called Impostor Syndrome. And I had it. BAD.

Impostor Syndrome ruled my life

I’m the founder of an Internet marketing company. For eight years I consistently delivered insanely good results for my clients. I’m completely self-taught and I loved my job.

But Impostor Syndrome was with me almost every day … a relentless voice in my head reminding me that my success wasn’t because I was smart. It’s because I was lucky.

Over the years I attended a zillion Internet marketing and Social Media conferences, where I watched and listened to the “gurus” in the field. I was often inspired, but rarely learned anything I hadn’t already figured out on my own. Yet, I was too insecure to get on the stage myself. That voice kept whispering in my ear, “They are so much smarter than you are.”

And then, in one month — October 2012 — my business fell apart. My three largest clients suddenly evaporated. One company’s marketing director took a new job. Another one hired an in-house team. The third client merged with a rival firm.

I felt paralyzed. I knew I had get out there and hustle. But the competition was a lot fiercer than when I started my company. I knew I needed to get moving and develop new business, expand my services, and open an office in the city in order to survive. But my Imposter Syndrome convinced me that I wasn’t smart enough to do it.

Paralyzed, insecure and exhausted

And there was something else: I was exhausted from eight years of non-stop long hours, intense focus on the needs of my clients, and a relentless need to stay on top of never-ending changes in the industry.

So there I was. Scared. Insecure. Burned out. And hanging out with a voice in my head that was telling me to quit. A pretty sad scenario.

I knew that to survive I needed to find a way to move forward. If I was going to live through this I needed to deconstruct my business and my life and reconsider everything I did piece by piece. I was determined to uncover something that was fun, exciting and stimulating to make me feel great about myself, and my business. Basically, I had to kill that voice in my head or quit.

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

I spent time analyzing the parts of my life that gave me energy and confidence. I discovered that what I really loved was the magic that happened when I explained new ideas to a client. I loved seeing the light bulb go off.

What an epiphany! What I loved was teaching. When I was teaching, I felt completely confident. There was no voice telling me I wasn’t smart.

I re-built my life and my business around this core idea and now I’m a full-time marketing teacher and a coach. My students and clients are entrepreneurs who want to change their mindset about Internet marketing.

My students tell me that my courses are more inspiring than any Internet marketing program, webinar or class they’ve ever attended. They send me emails with their Google Analytics metrics to show me how their influence has grown. One student reported that the very first blog she published after taking my course did more for her business than anything she had done before.

It took me nine years but Impostor Syndrome has finally left me alone.

I am smart.

I am competent.

And I’m finally happy.

How about you?

betsy kentBetsy Kent is the President of Be Visible Associates, focusing on content marketing, blogging & social media marketing instruction and coaching.

All posts

  • Thanks for sharing your story. I often feel like i sort of fell into my current position and I’m “faking” my way through. I know I’ve dedicated a ton of time and effort to what I’m doing but putting a name on that feeling i think is going to help me overcome those feelings.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Betsy, thanks for sharing. Many of us have a long acquaintance with Impostor Syndrome. It’s not easy to talk about publicly, because then we feel like we might lose face – until we realize that we’re all pretty much making it up as we go along!

  • It’s not easy at all. Took me a few months to work up the courage to submit this. Thanks for reading. Yep we are making it up as we go!

  • I have another name for Imposter Syndrome but it would not be appropriate to say it publicly!

  • Charles

    Thanks Betsy. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. I’ve overcome IS (don’t acronyms make it sound worse?) in my teaching career, but it sure does get me down in my solopreneurship these days.

  • What happens when smart people fail? They usually find the path they were aiming for, but the compass was missing to get to it. Most things are always the opposite of what they appear, and as you can read, you are not alone. I would say that there a lot more who have been syndromed by the guru’s and the put on’s. Thanks.

  • Thank you, Billy. As scary as it was to put this on “paper” the comments and comiserations make me feel so good!

  • Gordon Diver

    Thanks for sharing Betsy. As with the folks below, I can relate and appreciate knowing that others have overcome and thrived.

  • Thanks for your note, Gordon. Wow! It’s more pervasive than I thought. Maybe we all have it!

  • Patricia Haag

    Betsy – Thanks for your story of dealing with and overcoming Impostor Syndrome. I didn’t know until recently that this persistent feeling had an actual name. From reading the other comments, I see a lot of people have dealt with this issue. Very glad you were able to find your real role in life.

  • Thanks for your bravery, @BetsyKent:disqus. There are so many of us that struggle with Imposter Syndrome (It is literally my every day. I wrote a post recently about this myself at http://robzie.com/), but we each always feel like we’re the only one who feels that way. Especially when you’re surrounded with people you admire for their intelligence and business acumen. That feeling of “I’ll never be as smart as so-and-so.” The idea that because they’re smart, surely they don’t have any of the internal struggle that you deal with. It can be crippling. Thank you for sharing your story of overcoming the struggle, and thanks to Mark for sharing it on this blog. I hope it helps spread the word far and wide that this is something people can and will overcome, if they can just take the time to deconstruct what it is that’s causing that voice. Kudos to you for finding your spark!

  • Thanks @patriciahaag:disqus. I didn’t realize how pervasive it is, either! Thanks for your comment.

  • @Robzie81:disqus thanks so much for your warm and heartfelt comment. Yep, this was a tough one. I’m astounded by how many people say they also have Imposter Syndrome. I’m going to read your blog. B

  • @Robzie81:disqus the link is broken 🙁

  • Agh. It was apparently connecting the closing parentheses to the link. Here’s a direct link to the post: http://robzie.com/2014/10/30/the-imposter-is-the-man-behind-the-man-in-the-mirror/
    Thanks again for sharing your story. It was a really delightful and inspiring read.

  • That is awesome of you to offer that BK.

  • It’s funny that years of Impostor Syndroom might eventually lead you out of it. As a young man I was fortunate to work for a company that was always pushing me to the edge of my capabilities. I was always the youngest, least-experienced person in the room. Not a day went by that I didn’t wonder “what am I doing here?”

    Funny thing is, I always got through it. I began to realize that no matter how intimidating a situation seemed, it worked out — what the heck was I nervous about? So I even when I thought I was over my head, eventually I started to learn that I would find a way to handle it.

    I recently did a workshop before senior brand managers for a Fortune 500 consumer product company — some of the best marketers in the world. Yes, that voice was still there “what am I doing here!!!” But I but now I KNOW that I do belong there and that it will be fine because I have been through that feeling so often.

  • BrentCarnduff

    Great article Betsy – thanks for sharing your story. Truly something that many of us deal with – always nice to know you’re not alone 🙂

  • @BrentCarnduff:disqus thaks for the comment, Brent. I’m overwhelmed by how many people feel this way. Yep, we’re not alone!

  • Gordon Diver

    Believe you’ve hit it on the head 🙂

  • Yup, as has been said throughout this comment section, many people deal with this (in all industry segments). Great post and so glad you found your way out.

  • Going over to your site for a shuftie ( a look )

  • Thanks Steve! I feel so free! (most of the time, lol)

  • AlisaMeredith

    Fabulous article! It’s so very relatable, but the best part is where you shared how you figured out what you really, really love about your work. When something makes you feel so passionately, it’s easier to quiet those insecure voices in your head.

  • If I could, I’d like to help everyone!

  • rhonda hurwitz

    Loved this, Betsy! I’ve noticed that many marketers proclaim to be an expert, whether they are or not. There was definitely a time when I was one step ahead of the people who hired me and it was terrifying. But “Imposter syndrome” was also the source of the fire to learn more, do more and actually acquire the expertise I needed. One day I realized that people put their faith in my ability to figure it out, whether I had the specific experience in their business or not. That gave me confidence.

  • Thanks Rhonda. Yep, there’s nothing more motivating then knowing that you need to be smarter than your clients!

  • Thanks, Alisa, It’s so true. I just finished teaching a module of my content marketing course about 1/2 hour ago. When I’m teaching is when I’m happy. When my students see results, I’m ecstatic. It works.

  • Betsy, thank you for your post! I just heard the term “imposter syndrome” a couple of weeks ago. Now I can put a name to those sudden anxious moments that have me thinking, “Who the heck do I think I am anyway?” Sometimes, as I speak to individuals, I hear that little voice in the background saying, “Look, they don’t believe you!” It’s a matter of moving forward, recognizing that there will be brief moments in which I flounder. Remembering the reasons I embraced my line of work also spurs me on. I do what I do because it’s natural to me, and there’s nothing fake about that. Reading this post reinforces the fact that almost every successful person had to get around his or her imposter syndrome and just get on with getting the job done.
    Coincidentally I am attending a presentation in January on this very topic. I am really looking forward to it!

  • Kate Sorensen

    Now that you’ve had your breakthrough, you can give a hand to the rest of us! I suffer from Imposter Syndrome even though I’ve been at the pinnacle of a couple of unrelated fields. Interesting how being engaged in helping other people gets us out of our insecurities.

  • Kate,
    Knowing you as I do, It’s hard for me to fathom that you, too experience IS. Yes, serving others is the antedote!

  • HI Merideth,
    Thanks so much for your comment. I am interested in knowing about that presentation…is it something local?

  • Hi Betsy,

    The presentation will be held by the Oceanside Women’s Business Network here on Central Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The speaker will be Nafissa Shireen, http://nafissashireen.com/, who hails from Vancouver. It will be a short presentation, but I think it will be very inspiring.

    Another point with regards to Imposter Syndrome that came to me over the weekend was the idea of the responsibility that comes with being hailed an “expert,” or at least wise, in one’s field. I think my real fear comes from letting people down. I’ve got some good tricks up my sleeve when these sneaky little doubts make themselves known.

  • Hi Betsy,
    Sorry, I thought I replied earlier but I’m thinking I didn’t hit the Enter button properly.
    The speaker is Nafissa Shireen, based out of Vancouver. She will presenting at my local Women’s Business Network meeting in January. The main topic will be around “Charging What You’re Worth.”
    I was thinking about the responsibility that comes with the idea of being an expert in a field, or at least a go-to person on a specific subject. That absolutely plays into my occasional imposter syndrome. What if I let my clients or audience down? I’m working through that right now and I think that I’m meeting with success.

  • I completely understand. Perhaps Imposter Syndrome affects those of us who are driven to really make a difference for our clients. That’s me,too! Enjoy the presentation. B

  • Michelle Kane

    This post is everything. I can have a terrific day and the next, the voice is asking me “what makes you think you have a clue?” Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Pingback: Struggling with Content Creation. - Diverse Achievements()

  • I love this Betsy! I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who has felt like this!

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Close