I’m a First Time Entrepreneur suffering from Imposter Syndrome

I am a first-time entrepreneur and I deal with imposter syndrome, like many first-time entrepreneurs out there.

Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”

I was in the midst of changing careers (during a pandemic too) when an opportunity presented itself to me. My dad had asked me if I wanted to create a cold brew maker with him. I’ve always loved cold brew and all things coffee but never thought about immersing myself in the industry. But eager to take this opportunity to develop my skills, I took on the daunting task of creating a branding + marketing plan for a fledgling cold brew coffee startup that is now our beloved company Shelbru.

Mind you, I have never done marketing on this scale before, let alone had a marketing-related job in the past. My only experiences were my attempts to grow my personal Instagram account, a few abandoned blogs, some college internships, and my fascination with marketing (Does that count?). So naturally, my imposter syndrome kicked in and started to wreak havoc on my mental health.

How does one go from being a coffee drinker to a coffee business owner? I knew my love for coffee wasn’t good enough to run a business. There’s a level of complex artistry and science behind specialty coffee that I have only seen on James Hoffmann’s Youtube channel and I felt incredibly under-qualified in comparison. I just couldn’t ignore the huge experience gap between me and the industry giants.

Imposter syndrome showed up in other fun ways too. My co-founders had much more to bring to the table than me. This isn’t my imposter syndrome speaking. My dad has always been a serial entrepreneur; our other co-founder, a true go-getter, was born with a natural biz sense and has been soaring in her career since graduating college. I was the more mild-mannered one who did just fine in a confined structural vacuum (read “good employee”). So you can see how the big jump to entrepreneurial free fall would scare the crap out of me.

Meetings were painful, as I felt like I had nothing to contribute. Not even an insightful remark. I felt immense pressure as I felt like I was the faulty pillar that was starting to crumble. For the first few months, I continuously doubted myself and my abilities. This was apparent outside of my team meetings as well. I was afraid to tell people what I was doing for fear of being judged and ridiculed.

Deep down inside, I knew that my imposter syndrome would do nothing but hinder me from my goals. I had ambitions and big ideas for our company. But I kept crushing them even before they could become anything. I knew I had lots of inner work to do in order to grow our business and for me to become a successful entrepreneur. So that’s exactly what I started doing.

Here’s what I learned so far:

Signs of imposter syndrome

First of all, here are some common symptoms of imposter syndrome according to Very Well Mind:

  • Self-doubt
  • An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Berating your performance
  • Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
  • Overachieving
  • Sabotaging your own success
  • Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short

If you experience most or all of the symptoms above, you may be dealing with imposter syndrome. Join the club.

Ways to overcome imposter syndrome

But don’t fret, there are ways to overcome your imposter syndrome. While I’m not perfect, I am making an effort to not succumb to imposter syndrome all the time. Here are some of the ways that have helped me greatly:

First of all, remember this:

There are people out there with half your skills doing the things you want to achieve. Repeat this in your head and let it completely sink in.

What do these people have that we don’t? Is it confidence? Capital? Could be either, both, or none. But that’s not important. Trying to figure this piece out did me more harm than good. I would end up comparing myself to them and would feel worse about myself. All you have to do is just remember that you are probably way more qualified than you think you are.

Remember this too:

Everybody starts from somewhere. When we think of entrepreneurs, we think of a confident, charismatic person. But get this. Many of those successful people most likely also had dealt with some form of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is more common than you think, and there’s no need to feel shame about it. Even those who seem completely confident on the outside may be battling imposter syndrome inside. It’s all about the will to face and overcome it.

Mindset is everything

So where do you gather the willpower to overcome imposter syndrome? Your mind, of course. Your brain is extremely powerful, and shifts in your mindset can manifest success. Vice versa, if you cloud your mind with negativity and doubt, you will feel forever trapped in that mindset. So start with surrounding yourself with some positive affirmations (hint: I already dropped two above) and self-kindness.

Validation comes from within

I’ve always been a firm believer in being my own cheerleader. I’ve always had natural people-pleasing tendencies, and have frequently sought external validation. It was devastating when I didn’t get any and that obviously did no good for my mental health. I now know relying on external validation is unhealthy and unsustainable. You need to build that mental core in order to cheer yourself on when you know you did well.

Let go of perfectionism using the 80% rule

Did I mention that I also have perfectionist tendencies? This made it incredibly hard for me to be satisfied with my work. I worked myself to the ground in order to conceal any potential flaws. Even worse, I never got things done because it was never good enough. This became a huge hindrance to my performance. I never thought my work was good enough, which kept on feeding my imposter syndrome. But this is what I eventually realized.

Sometimes, it’s better to aim for 80% than 100%. I know this sounds counterintuitive but keeping this in mind will help you let go of some imperfections.

Join a startup community or your industry community

They say there’s always strength in numbers. That’s absolutely true. One of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome is to join a community. I recommend finding a Facebook Group that specifically caters to new entrepreneurs or new (insert title here). You’ll find a group of like-minded people in all ranges of experience levels. This is a great place to seek advice, learn something new, and most importantly, felt understood.

To me, the scariest part about imposter syndrome was the feeling of isolation. But having a supportive community that understands and supports you can help you build confidence and overcome imposter syndrome.

Learn the skills

One of the common reasons why people face imposter syndrome is the feeling of not knowing or being skilled enough to do something. If you feel like you truly lack in certain areas, be proactive and learn the skills. We live in an era where resources are readily available at our fingertips, and we should make good use out of them. Some of my favorites are Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare. They offer courses on pretty much any topic you can think of. There are also a ton of free resources available online (just Google them!).

Commit to one “scary act” a day

Imposter syndrome does a great job of keeping you caged in your own fears. Our goal is to not succumb to that. One of the best ways to do that? By facing it head on. But not at once. Try to commit to doing one act that scares you each day. These are things that you’ve been putting off doing for a while because you’re scared of rejection or how it might appear to others (and some more). So today I encourage you to write that email, or reach out to that potential sponsor, or whatever scary act that’s been holding you back. By practicing little by little each day, you’ll become accustomed to it. You’ll also realize that it’s not all that scary as you thought. In return, you’ll build confidence and who knows — achieve whatever you need to advance your business forward!

Remember your ‘why’

At the end of the day, there’s a reason why you’re pitting yourself against imposter syndrome, no matter how terrible it is. That is your ‘why’. Why this is so important to you. Why it matters to you.

For me, my why is simply my love for coffee (regardless of my knowledge and experience), and the things it stands for me. I’ve always loved coffee because it reminded me of warmth. Warmth of family, friends, loved ones, first date, exciting new opportunities, and so on. I developed my love for cold brew thanks to my dad, who is also the brilliant mastermind behind Shelbru, as he introduced our family to the drink many years ago. I immediately fell in love with the drink and wanted more people to be able to brew and experiment with cold brew to their likings. My imposter syndrome is trying to hold me back and tell me that’s impossible, but I know why I keep pushing.

Conclusion

I wish I could tell you that I have magically conquered my imposter syndrome and I am now thriving in newly found confidence. Listen, I am still miles away from that. But I am determined to fight it because in the end I know that’s necessary for my business and personal growth.

And remember, many first-time or even seasoned entrepreneurs experience imposter syndrome. It’s more common than you think. The choice is ultimately yours. You can either let it control you or you take control back. I like to think that most of us would choose the latter.

With that said, I bid all you first-time entrepreneurs the best of luck! We have an amazing journey ahead of us.

Shelbru has designed the perfect cold brew system — a brewer and carafe set — to help you level up your cold brew game! We will be launching our Kickstarter campaign this Spring to fund manufacturing and distribution and need your support.

Submit your email for updates, early bird discounts, and a quick and easy cold brew guide!

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Shelbru - Cold Brew Set

Shelbru - Cold Brew Set

Follow our journey to building our Cold Brew Set! COMING SOON