Impostor Syndrome: A Marketer's Greatest Enemy
Storytelling Communications

Impostor Syndrome: A Marketer’s Greatest Enemy

You are your own worst critic. Whether you’re a best-selling author, renowned marketer, or any other kind of successful professional, no matter what you accomplish personally and professionally, you continue to entertain—and believe—the lie, “I’m not good enough.” You crumble under self-doubt, convinced you don’t deserve what you’ve earned. You credit your successes to luck, timing, assistance, charm, or other factors unrelated to your personal competence. You feel like an unqualified impostor whose flaws will be exposed sooner or later.

These thoughts are destructive, not only because they’re false, but because they limit your capacity for future success.

While it’s healthy to evaluate your weaknesses for self-improvement, an unrealistic self-image inhibits your potential. This tendency to feel unworthy and fraudulent despite evidence to the contrary is known as impostor syndrome. First identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, impostor syndrome is common among those who lack internal fulfillment. Clance shares, “Even though [those who experience impostor syndrome] are often very successful by external standards, they feel their success has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort.” To assess its influence, she developed the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale (CIPS), a test that scores the syndrome’s level of interference with your life. Impostor syndrome has since been validated by other researchers and proven to affect 70 percent of people.

I am a victim of impostor syndrome.

As a work-related example, I recently led a series of strategy sessions with my teammates for a new client. The client team shared in-depth information about their brand’s history, values, customers, competition, and content marketing objectives. We then held workshops about Skyword’s strategy approach covering persona development, topic generation, editorial alignment, success measurement, social distribution, workflow, and more. Afterwards, I kept thinking about my mistakes—all the times I should have said something differently or forgot to mention an important point. I attributed all the valuable insights gained to the skills of my coworkers rather than recognizing my own role in our collaborative success. Thankfully, I was able to reprimand myself and realize the value of my contributions. Maintaining an impostor’s mentality would have lowered my confidence, affecting my ability to lead subsequent strategy sessions.

Sylvia Plath Quote About Doubt

If you’ve had similar self-deprecating sentiments about a presentation, meeting, interview, date, performance, competition, speech, or other happening, then you also need to banish your internal impostor. Here’s how:

Align Your Self-Image with Reality

Examine the reality that is you: your knowledge, skills, characteristics, personality, and capabilities. Everyone experiences doubtful moments and judgment lapses, but avoid dwelling on your mistakes and shortcomings. Acknowledge your positive qualities and classify mishaps as isolated incidences, not character flaws. Don’t assume you’re doomed to repeat your blunders. Learn from them, but keep perspective and stay grounded in reality for an unperturbed outlook.

Know When Your Impostor Appears

Pinpoint the scenarios when your internal impostor shows his face. Does he instigate doubts during high-pressure meetings? Does he haunt you after job interviews? Does he shadow your brainstorming sessions? This awareness will help you build a strong psychological barrier to block him out. Career counselor Valerie Young suggests impostor syndrome is common during transitional events, such as a new career or promotion. Before entering the intruder’s territory, take a moment to affirm yourself. You are fully capable of succeeding and no internal doubts should hold you back.

Eliminate Self-Doubting Phrases from Your Vocabulary

When self-doubt dominates internally, it becomes visible externally, seeping into your vocabulary and body language. Your lack of assurance decreases others’ trust and confidence in you. Self-conscious phrases and closed-off postures affect your believability. Using qualifiers such as “I might be wrong” or “You might know better” immediately lowers the credibility of your forthcoming statement. A groundbreaking idea, when couched in hesitations and delivered without conviction, appears less brilliant. Your ideas need your own support to shine.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Someone is always going to be more intelligent, charismatic, attractive, and successful than you. It may seem depressing, but it’s reality. However, no one else has your unique combination of skills and qualities. Only you do. Focus on honing and leveraging them to your benefit. You’ll never be content if you constantly compare yourself to others. Concentrate on setting personal goals based on your own capabilities, not those of others. Foster a reasonable amount of competitiveness, but don’t let it cripple or consume you.

Mark Twain Quote About Comparison

Differentiate between Humble and Demeaning Thoughts

There’s a fine line between humility and belittlement. Keeping a humble spirit in light of your successes is respectable, but don’t take it to the extreme. You can be confident and self-assured without being egotistical. While a healthy dose of negativity helps you prepare for and cope with setbacks, don’t let realistic pessimism turn into demeaning notions to detract from your sense of worth.

Reflect on Your Role in Your Success

You might not be the sole reason for your success, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. You were promoted based on your performance, not just because the role had to be filled. Your teammate had the final conversation that signed the deal, but your previous conversations with the prospect-turned-client were critical to the new business win. Give tribute to the contributions of others, but don’t undermine your primary role in your achievements.

Gracefully Accept Praise and Compliments

There’s no harm in taking credit for what you’ve rightfully earned. If someone makes an effort to express their appreciation or admiration, politely accept his or her gifts of affirmation. Denying or dismissing praise will appear ungrateful and discourage future commendations. Record sincere compliments to review and remember them when your impostor threatens to return in moments of doubt.

Confide in a Supportive Mentor or Confidante

When your own attempts to banish your impostor fail, share your struggles with someone who can advise and support you. An objective opinion will shed light on your murky doubts. Whether it’s a manager, mentor, fellow marketer, parent, sibling, or friend, consult someone who can help you overcome your feelings of inadequacy. Even the act of verbalizing your doubts can expose their absurdity.

Impostor syndrome is a pervasive tendency, but is not a psychological disorder. It is a conditioned response and therefore can be counteracted. Practice these techniques to exclude your impostor from your internal dialogue and shed your self-critical habits. Be careful, because the more you succeed—be it as a marketer, a friend, an artist, or a musician—the harder your impostor will try to interrupt your inner calm and confidence. External influences can certainly shape your success, but rest assured that no one coasts through life on luck. Your success is just that: yours.

Want more stories like this one? Subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.

Recommended for you