A friend of mine is starting a business, and asked me for some help. We got together and had a couple of planning sessions, putting ideas on paper and working out some framework. While we were talking about the pain points her potential clients face, I realized that imposter syndrome was near the top of the list. And then my friend showed her own imposter syndrome by setting her sights really low. And then I worried that I might be giving her bad advice, because what do I know?
For the first thirty-eight years of my life, I didn’t know squat about running a business. I didn’t have any exposure to it at all, because I had always been a non-managerial employee. When I met my wife, that all changed. I had a lot of useful skills, and she saw enough potential in me to trust me with her veterinary business. She also gave me a lot of resources to help me learn what I needed to know, which is a process that’s still going seven years later.
So, I don’t have a business degree. As a matter of fact, I never even went to college. Everything I know about running a business has been learned from books, videos, workshops, podcasts, coaches, and experience. I’ve learned an enormous amount about teams and staffing, and how important it is to have really amazing people in every position. I know how to do the bookkeeping and determine if our cost of goods sold is where it should be. I know how to decide if it’s financially smart to buy an additional ultrasound machine. I also have a side business building and maintaining websites, and I’ve learned a lot about marketing, graphic design, managing client relationships, and time management. But does all that qualify me to give someone else business advice?
The truth about imposter syndrome is that pretty much everyone has it to some degree. When you look at an expert, all you see is them being really good at something. You don’t see all the time it took them to learn it, all the failures, all the doubts about whether or not they’re good enough. So you compare your doubts and failures to their success, and you lose every time. I know. I’ve been doing it all my life.
For me to give good advice to my friend, all I need to do is share my experience. I don’t have to know everything. She doesn’t expect me to know everything, because that would be ridiculous and only I would hold myself to such an impossible standard. If I have five things that I can share with her that will make her business venture better, then that’s a really solid contribution.
That’s the thing about life. If you’re trying to put yourself out there and do something beyond just existing, you aren’t going to know everything, and that’s okay. You’ll collect tidbits from other people that will make you better at what you do, and your expertise will continue to evolve. And those people that you’re drawing tidbits from? They’re evolving too, drawing tidbits from others. That’s how it works. That’s how everyone does it. No one is perfect, and no one expects you to be perfect. Except for you, of course.
So get out there and do your thing. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you want to coach people, share what you know. Commit yourself to learning more and improving your craft. If you want to write a book, write a book. If you want to start a business, you can do it. You don’t have to know all the things before you start. You’ll learn along the way, just like everyone else.
While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about valuing your services, your time, your knowledge. If you have something that will improve someone else’s life, and they’re willing to pay you for that, charge appropriately. Don’t undervalue yourself just because you aren’t at the top tier of whatever it is that you do. If most people who do what you do charge $100, then you should charge $100. If you set your price at $50 because you’re new, you’ll still be charging $50 ten years from now because it’s really hard to double your price once you’re established, and you’ll be miserable and stuck.
Undervaluing yourself is probably the most destructive aspect of imposter syndrome. Lots of businesses fail from poor financial management, and it all starts with not charging enough. If you provide a service to the same clients over and over, it’s really hard to raise your prices significantly. And guess what? People go out of business rather than risking an upset client. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you can probably guess what I’m about to say: insecurities are unbelievably damaging to our lives. Imposter syndrome is an insecurity.
The good news is that you can get past this hurdle. You need confidence, self-awareness, and perspective. I had to spend some time talking with my therapist to develop these things, but it was time well spent. Just having a positive self-image and believing in myself has had a profound impact on my life and my success. And because I’ve found success in my ventures, other people ask me for advice. And because I understand that I don’t have to have ALL the answers in order to give them SOME of the answers, I can share my knowledge and experience with them. And so can you.
Justin B. Long is an author, blogger, website developer, and the CFO of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. In his spare time (ha!) he likes to paint, read, canoe, and hike in the wilderness. You can subscribe to this blog in the blue block, and future blogs will be delivered to your email. Warning: Subscribing may increase your awesomeness quotient. Please feel free to comment, and share this blog on your favorite social media page! To learn more, please visit JBoydLong.com.