August 21st, 2021 | Building Personal Development Skills In the Shadow of The Imposter Syndrome.
Building Personal Development Skills In the Shadow of The Impostor Syndrome.
For some reason, in the times when I was working in academia, the impostor syndrome never touched me – despite the fact that it is a common issue in the ivory tower and most people only heal from it after leaving their academic contracts.
For some reason, I was always able to find enough arguments to convince myself that I was smart and unique. Perhaps it was so because with a degree in Mathematics, I was able to always tell myself that I was objectively intelligent.
It is not difficult to develop personal development skills when you have certificates issued by the government to confirm your qualities. It worked even in the darkest times when I didn’t have any output for a long time and my mood was low.
However, the impostor syndrome finally caught me after I left academia (by the way, I also described my thought process while leaving academia in the blog post “Why Did I Really Leave Academia? Top 16 Reasons”) Namely, when I had to face building a company in the times of the pandemic and without any cash, and when I exposed myself to the hustle culture way more than necessary. Staying locked at home and watching all the movies from all the “successful entrepreneurs” who preach to you on YouTube telling you how to reach their status by copying their business development strategy was just not healthy.
To get that out of the way, I never aimed to be famous or ultra-rich (as I also mentioned in the blog post “Working On Myself: Why I Don’t Want To Be Famous“) Just financially safe, and connected to the right people with whom I think on similar frequencies. This is not as easy to get given that I use to lean towards people who are substantially better than me in at least one important area – and these high-flyers are usually busy and picky with people.
However, the content that you typically get from social media comes from individuals who are famous or ultra-rich. After a few years of feeding your brain with this content, you inevitably build the unrealistic picture that this is normal and that you are the one who is an outlier. And, that’s probably the primary reason why the imposter syndrome started looming on the horizon.
How Did The Impostor Syndrome All Start?
This summer, I finally realized that there is some issue I need to solve, or otherwise, I will soon be in trouble. Despite all the positivity and enthusiasm coming from clients and friends who tried my new aptitude test, and the great relations that I’ve built with the past participants at my courses, I was questioning my expertise more and more often. Perhaps, it is a result of the “knowledge circle” fallacy: the more you know, the dumber you feel as the horizon of your knowledge broadens together with your knowledge.
I also made a few mistakes in my business development strategy. I cannot really blame myself as it is formally my first company. And, quite like everybody else, I learn from my mistakes.
One mistake I made was not looking too much ahead, and not checking whether there is any other company in the same space that has a name similar to the name of my company. Well, there is no other company in the Netherlands, but I didn’t check for the rest of Europe and unfortunately, I got an objection from some corporation situated abroad (I will write more about it in the future when the situation is sorted out).
Now, after two years of working, I was pushed to come up with a new company name and a whole new brand. It is a lot of work, hustle, and confusion, especially when you are a solopreneur. Quite physically ad emotionally draining, I must say. And I made me feel like a small fish in a large pond who can be eaten by a shark at any moment.
And, I made yet another costly mistake in my business development strategy. Namely, in the past 1.5 years, I spent about 800-1,000 hours attending intensive Dutch courses and learning Dutch. One might think that it is great self-investment, especially given that I live in the Netherlands, that it is a high-quality course, and that it was offered to me for free.
However, the day only has 24 hours, and I could have spent this time in ways that make me progress in my life much more. After all, my business depends on my English not my Dutch.
I am not a native, and you cannot deny simple truths about human psychology: native speakers always get more attention and sound more professional than others. It would make perfect sense to spend the same time developing my spoken English so that it sounds more natural. Or, divide this time into active learning and passive learning and resting via, for instance, watching American movies.
So, in a way, I wasted a lot of time and opportunity by doing things that are not essential to the business. And, my Dutch is poor anyways.
Lastly, it was a by-side product of fatigue and isolation. And it is extremely hard to de-isolate yourself as a hard-working, single person, as such people are not to be found on social media or anywhere else in public space.
They just sit at home and work hard. And even if they go get some sunlight once in a while, they usually pretend to be different than they are while among people.
They are ashamed of their lifestyle and try to give an impression that they “have some life” – quite as if regular engagement in small talk in bars and at concerts was any cooler than working on interesting projects.
And if you work long hours and often in isolation, it can work for a year or two, but not much longer than that. Funny enough, successful entrepreneurs speaking on social media about their business development strategies are ALWAYS married. They sometimes casually mention their spouse in the conversation, just as if it was the most natural thing to have.
I sometimes wonder, “Is this because business developers are better decision-makers and investors, with a preference for building long-lasting relationships? Or perhaps, they know more people and are quicker at finding the right person? Or maybe, building a business as a single person is so extremely hard that no one yet succeeded?”
The question is not trivial to answer! You can find thousands of books, articles, and public statements dedicated to the subject, “How to develop a business without any money?” but you will not find anything dedicated to the subject, “How to develop a business without any partner?” And that’s, in my opinion, much harder.
I even asked a few married friends about it. The question as, “Given how much time NOT having a family would save you, do you think that developing a company would be easier in that case?” They all said, “Hell no! Quite the opposite.”
And, the truth is that the difference between building a business without money and developing a business as a single person is like a difference between losing weight and getting out of cancer. Unless you suffer from some metabolic disease, the way to lose weight is quite algorithmic. You first set the target weight that you aim to achieve.
You first define the methods and the agenda (namely, the diet and the exercise plan) Then, you define the rules (for example, what to do when you catch yourself with cheating) and you kick it off. The rest is discipline.
And it works the same with business: you define what your craft is, build the concept of the business model, list what needs to be done, and then consequently go forward every single day. It is all about discipline, increasing the territory, and finding new opportunities on the way.
Struggling with cancer is different though. You might be the best and disciplined person ever, yet the disease might kill you anyway. While another person, who happens to be a smoking and drinking psycho, walks away healthy. It is, to a high degree, a lottery. Similarly, with relationships, it is not something you can deserve.
Even the most intelligent, astonishing, warm, funny, successful people often suffer from loneliness – for a lifetime. There is no algorithm that you might use and there is no agenda that might help you. While solitude slowly eats you from the inside, degenerates your brain, and takes away your life energy.
It was not the only source of isolation though. Many people in my close family don’t speak to me for years now – including my sister – which doesn’t help either. Especially this summer when people are so tired of the lockdown that they no longer answer emails, it just all became hard. And, I live in a place where my relations with people around me are formal. Namely, I am a landlady, not a housemate.
So, if you work at home, are not allowed to show emotions to people around you, and none of the hundreds of emails that you shoot out is answered to, you simply start feeling more and more down. There is no way around it. So, after over eight years of this lonely ride, I started feeling like I was simply dying.
Facing the Impostor Syndrome.
So, despite the fact that the participants of my courses were making quick progress with their careers and usually finding great jobs within a few weeks, I developed a profound feeling that I didn’t know anything. And, that everything that I was doing, professionally, was just flat out pointless.
Furthermore, I recently met a few business developers who all shared the same opinion with me. They were of the opinion that today, businesses are built on personal brands. Namely, people want to connect with people not businesses. According to them, I should adjust my business development strategy, namely, expose my face more and be more outspoken as the owner of the company.
It also meant that I should speak to the camera more, make more materials for YouTube, and become more visible in general. Some of them even suggested that I should name my company after myself.
You can imagine that after hearing this, I got scared like hell. I didn’t feel comfortable doing any of that! For a long while, I was thinking to myself, “I can’t do it. I just can’t. Showing my face everywhere? Just impossible.”
It’s not that I’m not used to failure (as I also mentioned in the blog post “How I Fail“). I am. However, this time, I felt that it all has become too much for me.
Well, until yesterday.
How I Brought My Personal Development Skills To The Next Level and Overcame The Impostor Syndrome In One Day.
Yesterday, I made myself a cheat day. I went to the park to watch the sunset with a copy of the book, “Tax Free Wealth” in my backpack (very good book by the way!) I had a beer, and I came back home to spend Friday evening on self-care, namely on meditating and watching some stupidities online.
And then, all of a sudden, I noticed one little detail that changed the game for me. I watched a few episodes of a few podcasts and YouTube channels, and I came to the conclusion that I had a very wrong picture of the reality.
I just noticed that may of the skills I have are out of reach for many of these “successful people” of the new generation. For instance, highly successful YouTubers with multimillion following and talking about finances and productivity such as Graham Stephan or Ali Abdaal openly admit that they have hard time writing a book. In his podcast, Graham declared that he feels way too young and not experienced enough to take the challenge.
On multiple occasions, Ali mentioned on his YouTube channel that he struggles writing his book – which is, ironically, dedicated to productivity. It came to my mind, “Hey, this is all so simple! You just sit down, plan the chapters one by one. And then you simply write a book, one chapter per day. You place it on Amazon, tweet about it and that’s all. What’s your problem?”
I also noticed how another self-made millionaire, investor and YouTuber with a million+ following, Nate o’Brien, speaks about his attempts to buy a house. He recently trespassed the whole country in his truck and is deeply worried that he won’t be able to find the right property in the right neighborhood and at the right price.
It came to my mind, “What’s the problem with buying a house? Especially when you have cash? You define in which neighborhood you wish to live, and you find the most undervalued property with the best potential – preferably a property situated in a prime location that needs renovation.
And then you find the best crew and renovate it. Done.” I just couldn’t believe that my idols – people who started their businesses as teenagers, dodged the university and became multimillionaires in their twenties – were too fearful to do something I could do with my eyes closed.
And then I got enlightened. Most people are known for one or a few things that they learned to do well. They were consequent and milked this skill as much as they could. They are far from perfect in fact, and they miss many other basic skills. So, why would I feel intimidated?
If writing books is harder than making YouTube movies, then as a person who wrote 4 books in the past two years (and 5 books if you count my 280-page long PhD thesis in!) and without help from any professional editor, I already mastered the hard part, right?
And as a matter of fact, no one is strong in absolutely everything. We naturally tend to pay more attention toward aspects of our work that we feel weak at rather than giving ourselves credit for our strengths. I am sure that you, a person who is reading this, have at least a few good cards on your hand as well!
The question is: how to build a brand on what you already have, plus how to extend your hand by picking more cards that best complement your (already good) cards.
And, that’s all. Impostor syndrome all gone – and now it is all about polishing spoken English, developing my little YouTube channel (you are welcome to check it out ) and becoming more outspoken on the media. It will all be fine!
And as a matter of fact, impostor syndrome is prevalent everywhere where you don’t have a clear endpoint to your career path. Only in sports, the ultimate success is clearly defined. When you win the Olympic gold medal, you are the king and no one can deny it. In all the other areas, you can always do better and get further than you already did. So, you need to develop some healthy distance to stay sane.
Do you struggle with the impostor syndrome? Or perhaps, you got over it as well? Please let me know in the comments and let’s chat!
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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of Value where I write posts dedicated to these topics.
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