I have found that the best way to fight impostor syndrome during the first stages of building your studio is with facts-based anchor thoughts, generated from a solid plan for success. This way you will have true criteria to understand that you didn’t get lucky, you deserve to be successful.
A couple of days ago I watched a YouTube video by one of my favorite content creators. The title suggested that he was going to advise on how to overcome imposter syndrome. However, his approach surprised me. He said that we should just learn how to accept it as part of life and embrace it. So, do nothing about it? I don’t think I can agree to that.
This reminded me of the early days when I was setting up my studio. And I realized that today I am no longer giving in to that feeling of being an imposter. That’s why I decided to reverse engineer what worked for me and hopefully that can also work for you.
Of course, I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic. I don’t say this is the best way or the only way to deal with it, what I say is this worked for me.
What is imposter syndrome?
According to Gill Corkindale from the Harvard Business Review, we can define it as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” You feel like you are not good enough to be successful, and when success happens you think it was just luck. Sometimes the more success you have the more you feel like you are a fraud, and that at some point people “will find out” that you really don’t deserve that win. Sounds familiar?
Does it ever go away?
I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean you have to “embrace it” or “befriend it”. I think the best expectation is to have it under control.
My experience with it
When I was starting my studio I had massive imposter syndrome. I was afraid that people would find out that I was a “fake studio”, I thought I was just a freelancer pretending to have something I don’t really have. But then I had a coaching session with the author of “Burn your Portfolio” Michael Janda. I wanted to know if I should use only my personal branding or if I should have a business type of brand (like a studio). His answer was “it depends on what your goals are. Do you want to be a freelancer or do you want to have a studio?”
That gave me so much clarity! My goal is to have a studio of 10 people, not to be a freelancer but also not to be a big agency. He said that it can be just you and call yourself a studio. If you are trying to define what type of brand you should use, then where you are today doesn’t matter as much as where you want to be in a certain amount of time.
I have not been prioritizing looking for new clients yet because I’m still setting up my business infrastructure. But one of these days I got a really good client. When I told that to one of my friends he said “wow! you are really lucky!” This time around I was able to detect the impostor syndrome trying to kick in. I started to notice myself feeling like I didn’t deserve this new client, and that since it was just luck I should not expect that to repeat itself. Instead of allowing those thoughts to take root in my mind, I decided to fight back with something I found that became my secret weapon: clarity.
What do you need to do to have a client? Make sure you have a portfolio with your work, start taking action to allow your prospects to find you. Did I do that? Yes! So it was not out of pure luck I got this new client. It is not like he put a lot of names on a box a randomly selected one that happened to be my name. He found me on one of the platforms where I have made myself visible (The Futur Pro Group) then went to my website and liked my work, and that’s why he contacted me.
When I rationalized the situation I conclude that I deserve this client. That allows me to celebrate and feel proud of myself. Granted, I don’t deserve all the credit, since I don’t control all the variables that allowed this to happen, but I did my part, so I should not feel like an impostor that just got lucky. When you have this level of clarity you can generate anchor thoughts to fight back against those of the impostor syndrome.
How to deal with impostor syndrome?
Let’s say you are a freelancer that has been successful in your career but now you want to take the first step and create your own studio.
Since you are entering into new territory there will be a lot of uncertainty, fear, and of course imposter syndrome.
Achieving great clarity has been the key for me to deal with impostor syndrome. This is how you can get the clarity you need:
- Have a clear goal: This doesn’t have to be crazy unreachable, but it should challenge you. Dare to dream, don’t settle for less. Make sure it is measurable so you can tell when you achieved it. In our example let’s say the goal is to have a studio with 10 designers working full time.
- Divide your goal into phases: This will be a long process, and each part of it will be different.
Here is an example:
Phase 1 – Defining the business model Phase 2 – Creating a brand strategy and brand identity Phase 3 – Designing a portfolio website Phase 4 – Creating a marketing strategy Phase 5 – Implementing the marketing strategy Phase 6 – Creating systems to run the business Phase 7 – Start hiring designers full-time Phase 8 – Get an office and hire local designers
3. Clarify your phases: For each one of them ask yourself:
- What needs to happen in this phase? E.g. (Phase 3) Having a website where I can show my work and the services that I can provide. Start promoting that website on different platforms.
- What is my plan to make this happen? E.g. (Phase 3) I will design the website myself using WordPress and Elementor Pro.
- How should success look like during this phase? I should have X amount of traffic over X amount of time. I should have X number of clients over X amount of time.
Use clarity as a weapon
Once you have a clear plan to achieve your goals then you have a big weapon to fight against imposter syndrome.
Let’s say you have completed the phase where you had to create your portfolio website, you started promoting your website in a couple of places. A couple of days after that you receive a really good client. You start to feel like you don’t deserve that client and that at some point that client is going to find out that you are a fraud. You need to fight back with an anchor thought like this one “this is not pure luck, I deserve this client because I did my part to make this happen. I created the projects, I created the website, I promoted the website, I deserve this success and I decide to celebrate it!”
Let’s say that you see other studios with a certain number of employees. Then you feel like a fraud because you haven’t hired anybody full-time yet. In this case, following our example, you could use an anchor thought like this “I know I don’t have full-time employees yet, but I’m excited because I know that it is a phase that is coming soon as part of my plan. I will focus on enjoying the phase where I am right now and prepare and much as possible for the phase where I will start hiring full-time.”
Comparison can be a trigger for self-doubt. Only you in this world are going through the exact same process that you are going through, so you can only compare yourself with your past, so you can see the progress.
You should not entertain thoughts of insecurity and self-doubt. Once you have a plan you can generate anchor thought to fight back. Those anchor thoughts become solid criteria that help you realize your fears are not real. You are not an impostor. You didn’t get lucky. You deserve the success that came and the one that is yet to come!
Alejandro Calderón D.
Systematic Brand Designer,
founder of CENTOR STUDIO