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The Common Phrase That Causes Imposter Syndrome


by Curtis Morley, author of “The Entrepreneur’s Paradox: How to Overcome the 16 Pitfalls Along the Startup Journey

Are you an imposter?

I’ve been an entrepreneur for much of my life and a business coach for the past several years, and one of the things I’ve seen the most in business (both personally and with others) is what we call “imposter syndrome.” As we continue to move forward with our business, imposter syndrome often creeps in.

In fact, in my book “The Entrepreneur’s Paradox“, I reference a study done by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Gail Matthew that showed 70 percent of men and women to have experienced imposter syndrome. I would argue that number is even higher amongst entrepreneurs.

We’re all imposters.

As entrepreneurs, we often find ourselves in uncharted territory. The very idea of entrepreneurism is doing something that has never been done before. The path you are on is unique to you; no one is doing exactly what you are doing. In that way, I would argue that we are all imposters. We’re all figuring it out as we go.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Instead, learn to embrace the fact that you don’t have all the answers. Embrace the fact that not everything in your company will go perfectly. This is where growth comes. My concern with imposter syndrome is not that we feel inadequate at times, but it’s that it can cause us to be something we are not. This is often amplified by a familiar phrase you’ve surely heard before.

Fake it until you make it.

Imposter Syndrome is a crippling fear that can cause us to doubt our successes and feel like a fake.


That’s exactly how we feel when experiencing imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, there’s a common phrase we like to use that seems to justify this word, “fake it until you make it.” This expression suggests that one must spend a certain period of time being a phony until they can say they actually know what they’re doing.

This mindset, adopted by far too many people, helps to explain why so many feel like imposters. It’s because we are told it’s a necessary step in getting to where we want to go. That’s why I take exception with the phrase fake it until you make it. This is simply a damaging phrase.

The complexity of comparison.

One reason why I advise against this phrase is that it typically leads to an unhealthy amount of comparison between you and “the competition.” When we become hyper focused on this idea that we’re fake or imposters, there’s inevitably a gold standard that we’re trying to meet. There’s always someone you feel has already made it and you think you need to do everything you can to get to where they are.

“I can’t wait until my business is as successful as XX.” “Maybe someday I’ll be as well-off as XX.”

While entrepreneurs must measure themselves against the competition, too much of this type of thinking can lead to rash decisions and do far more harm than good.

I’ve seen businesses push to expand long before they were ready, simply because business XX was expanding and they didn’t want to get left behind.

I’ve seen couples without the financial means buy an enormous house or fancy car, just to keep up with XX.

Are you beginning to see why this can be such a toxic phrase? When we’re constantly telling ourselves we have to fake it, we do things to imitate others that might not actually be in our best interest.

Be yourself.

The bottom line is that true success as an entrepreneur will not come from pretending to be something you aren’t, or pulling the wool over everyones’ eyes. It will come from the hard work you put in each and every day to learn and grow.

If you aren’t good at something, having the humility to recognize this and work on it will take you much further than pretending like you are. Showing this type of vulnerability does not mean beating yourself up and thinking you’re a failure, it means not thinking you can take shortcuts by creating a facade.

So be yourself. That’s the only way you’re going to succeed.

Imposters can do the impossible.

Again, if you feel like an imposter that’s okay. We’re all forging our own path. What’s not okay is allowing you and your business to stray from what got you into business, your core values, beliefs, etc., because you’ve decided faking it is the only way to get to the top.

Instead, try to “face it until you ace it,” or “learn it until you earn it.” These principles invite you to confront your challenges head-on, not shy away from them or look for some workaround. I’m confident that as you shift your mindset in this way you’ll feel more value in your own abilities and feel less and less like you have to be just like somebody else.

Your business, and life, will be most successful when you are being you.


Author of “The Entrepreneur’s ParadoxCurtis Morley is a 5x entrepreneur, author, educator, thought leader, and patent holder, now dedicated to helping entrepreneurs achieve next-level growth. He has built companies achieving 20x growth and acquired 96 of the Fortune 100 as clients. He’s been Entrepreneur of the Year, 40-Under-40, and Inc. 500/5000 six times including Hall of Fame.



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