Imposter syndrome is such a common phenomenon that about 70% of people experience it in their lives. It typically refers to the feeling of being a “fraud” despite accolades and achievements proving one’s expertise.
This is my first blog post and I certainly feel like a fraud. Just like many first-time entrepreneurs, I don’t even have impressive accolades in my field. I’ve been an engineer at Amazon and the first employee at a (now) seed-stage company.
My fears are telling me that I’m no Jeff Bezos or Gary Vaynerchuk. I’m not even an entrepreneur. I should just close up shop and stick to my day job. Let me leave commentary to the people who know what the hell they’re doing.
I used to attend a boys camp in the summers where the social hierarchy was determined by how good you were at sports. The first couple of years I held my own but as middle-school granted me a few extra pounds I found I was no longer near the top of the pack. Instead of devoting myself to the ruthless competition of soccer and basketball, I started spending my free periods at the archery range. Nobody else really cared about archery and nobody was any good at it (this was before The Hunger Games).
With nobody to compare myself to, I practiced on my own terms and achieved personal goals I set for myself. After a few years I decided to try competing when I was home during the school year. I was nervous to be pitting myself against people who were serious enough to participate in an archery tournament, but when the scores came out my name was on top. I had placed first in NY State.
There are many conclusions you can draw from that story. One is that the NY State 14U indoor archery competition must not have attracted a very large field of competitors. But the point I want to make is that by improving myself by my own standards instead of worrying about anybody else, I was able to accomplish far more in my area than I did by skipping my soccer periods.
Google (via Oxford) defines an entrepreneur as “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” I think that’s a crappy definition because there is a far more useful classification of entrepreneurs that has little to do with business or financial risk.
“Entrepreneur” comes from the French “entreprendre” which means “to undertake.” When I think of the entrepreneurs I admire, it is the ones who were willing to undertake a difficult project even when it wasn’t safe or easy. Sometimes that comes with financial risk. Sometimes it means operating a business. But sometimes it means planting a tree every day for 40 years.
Am I an entrepreneur? Do I earn the label by working every day to build a company from the ground up? Do I get it from launching my own blog and personal brand? The not-so-stunning conclusion of this post is that it doesn’t really matter. Whether I’m called an entrepreneur, a self-important novice, or a beacon of truth, I am going to set my own goals and work to meet them.
At 11-years-old I was charting my own path. I was finding a niche. I was dodging social norms. At 11 I did so in response to my fear of inadequacy, but at 25 I find myself doing so despite it.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve ever felt inadequate and pushed through anyway. Do you ever wonder whether you’ve earned the label you aspire to?
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