How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome & Grow Your Nonprofit or Freelance Biz

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You are tired of getting in your own way
  • You are not confident when submitting a grant application
  • You are not confident in securing nonprofit clients or partnerships

And you want to:

  • Gain confidence when approaching clients or funding sources
  • Learn how to believe in your business or nonprofit
  • Become your real self all the time

If you are suffering from squeamish feelings when pricing your services or talking about your nonprofit, you might be dealing with imposter syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

You may have heard this term kicked around on social media, podcasts, books, and more. But it is real. According to Very Well Mind, Impostor syndrome is defined as:

“The experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.”

Originally coined in the 1970s by psychologists, this term was geared mostly toward highly achieving women. However, I find that this notion – even though it was coined only 50 years ago – has been around for a long, long time. It almost seems like it is a part of human nature. I have seen people sabotage themselves by not applying for that grant, not opening that business they talk about all the time, not asking that guy out they are smitten with, all due to elements of impostor syndrome.

How do I know? Well, I have experienced impostor syndrome!

Let’s first define the different types of impostor syndrome. This is important to see if any of these (or more than one) has held you back in the past or is holding you back right now.

When we can really identify what is driving that ‘overwhelming feeling’ or that feeling in your gut where you aren’t sure why you can’t take action – then, and only then – can you overcome it.

#1 The Perfectionist

Yikes. I have been so guilty of this one. Now if you have ever taken any type of strengths assessment and have been identified as a high achiever, you may have experienced Perfectionist Impostor Syndrome.

What is the Perfectionist Imposter Syndrome?

It’s when you set exceedingly high goals for yourself and if you don’t meet them, you beat yourself up about it.

Even if you meet 50% or 75% of the goal,  you might go into a downward spiral and think you are not worthy because you didn’t meet 100% of your big audacious goal.

How do you know if you might be a perfectionist experiencing impostor syndrome?

  • You have a hard time delegating. Nobody can do it like you. You can’t clone yourself, but you sure wish you could! This leads into not getting everything done that you want to do.
  • When you miss your high mark you automatically think, “I’m not cut out for this” and feel a sense of personal shame. This makes it hard to put yourself out there!
  • You think your work should be PERFECT. And because of that you procrastinate a lot of time or end up not moving forward.
  • You might not submit ‘send’ on that grant application because it could be re-worked and it’s not perfect.

How to get over Perfectionist Impostor Syndrome:

  • Make sure you celebrate all the wins, even if that win is a failure. You tried and did it. Maybe it didn’t work, but at least you got something out there in the world! Make sure you celebrate your tries!
  • Push yourself to act before you are ready! Remember, action most of the time is so much better than perfection and inaction.
  • Get a tribe around you that supports you.

#2 The Expert 

The Expert Impostor Syndrome is when you believe you must become an expert in all knowledge. If you don’t know one little thing it brings up failure and shame.

You might be experiencing Expert Impostor Syndrome if…

  • You refuse to move forward in doing something unless you can check off all the requirements.
  • You have years of experience in a field, but feel like you still don’t know a lot.
  • You feel squeamish when others call you an expert.

How to get over Expert Impostor Syndrome…

  • Finish up that grant and send it out! Do NOT put it off for another year hoping to keep improving your grant writing skills. Even if the grant does not get awarded, you can ask for feedback so next year it is even better or you might actually get the grant awarded!
  • Take a certification or course if you really need it, but then start applying your knowledge right away!
  • Get a tribe around you that supports you and pushes you!

#3 The Soloist 

It’s you against the world. To make it to the top you must do it yourself and getting help or advice equals failure.

You might be experiencing Soloist Impostor Syndrome if…

  • You often avoid getting help. Inclusion? Forget it. That means people will think you don’t know what you are doing… ahem, even if you don’t know what you are doing.
  • You get irritated when people offer help. Are they out to sabotage you or are they weak? These are thoughts that run through your mind.

How to get over Soloist Impostor Syndrome…

#4 The Natural Genius

You pick up an instrument for the first time and in your mind, it will sound amazing, but then the music comes out as harsh noise. Ugh.  You must not have a natural ability to be a musician. So you tell yourself and everyone around you that for the rest of your life and never pick up an instrument again. The Natural Genius Impostor Syndrome thinks that if you aren’t immediately able to pick up something then you must not be able to ever achieve success in that domain.

This is often exasperated by teachers and parents. For example, you may have written a very creative poem when you were in 3rd grade, so your teacher said you were a talented writer. You believe this so had more fun and focused on your creative writing and became a good creative writer. So the notion of having ‘natural talent’ was developed.

But the opposite can be true. Maybe the first time you took a ballet class you couldn’t keep up. Your parents might just say you aren’t that coordinated. You believe them and never go any further in dance or sports claiming you are a clutz.

You might be experiencing Natural Genius Impostor Syndrome if…

  • You aren’t perfect the first time you try something, it just must not be for you.
  • You have a track record of getting everything perfect, so not getting this one thing right means you should give it up.
  • You don’t like the idea of having a mentor, coach, or tutor because that means you will need to try too hard to get something right.
  • If it isn’t easy, you won’t even try it.

How to get over Natural Genius Impostor Syndrome…

  • Stop comparing yourself to other people. You aren’t going to pick up a pen and know how to write a grant if you’ve never written one before! Be okay with being one step further tomorrow than you are today in learning a new skill.
  • Celebrate learning in small increments. Maybe you learned the “G” in the GRANTS Formula today! That is a huge win in making you a better grant writer today!
  • Get a tribe around you that supports you and pushes you!

#5 The Superwoman/Superman

You gotta do it all! On top of that, you gotta do it all with flying colors!

This is another one that I have often suffered with. I love words of affirmation and when I am recognized with doing things well, it makes me work even harder. There is nothing initially wrong with this. However, this quickly becomes an issue if I find my self-worth behind these roles, and the work I love to do starts to suffer.

For example, I have limited myself to serving on one or two nonprofit boards of directors at a time. As a grant writer, you will be asked to always serve on nonprofit boards, but what I have found out is that if I stretch myself too thin then I am not able to focus on my business or on some of my personal values.

One of my highest values for my life is health and wellness. To feel successful and that I am living fully in that value, I love working out at least five days a week. Taking the time to exercise and get my mind right before I start my day has been vital to me for decades. If I don’t take this time for myself I get edgy and irritable and start feeling less creative. It is very important to me.

But if I am taking on too many roles, then I inevitably will lose that time for myself. So I have had to learn how to say no. When asked to take on a task, I have trained myself to say, “Let me first check my schedule,” or a straight-up, “I already serve on a board this year so am committing my time and energy to that one. Maybe next year we can talk again?”  So, if I am scattered and all over the place because I am doing 5 million things and trying to do them all well, then I am not taking care of myself or meeting my highest values.

You might be experiencing Superwoman/Man Impostor Syndrome, if…

  • You stay later at work compared to everyone else, even though you realize you are not taking care of your personal needs.
  • You haven’t had fun in a long time because you are too busy.
  • You say ‘yes’ to anything before you take the time to consider you are saying ‘no’ automatically to anything else.

How to get over Superwoman/Man Impostor Syndrome…

  • Write down your values and see if you are really reaching them. If not, it is time to reprioritize your life.
  • Start saying a polite ‘No’ to everything that comes your way until you stop feeling so overwhelmed. Remember, your work or effort will start diminishing if you keep saying yes to everything.
  • Get a tribe around you that supports you and pushes you!

To Sum Up:

Impostor Syndrome wears many hats and comes with many masks. So it is important to self-evaluate and identify if you are living with imposter syndrome and how to overcome it. Until you address this, you might not be able to confidently apply for grants, write grants, or even open your own business.

You may have noticed that I added ‘get a tribe around you that supports you and pushes you!’ as part of a solution in overcoming all impostor syndrome types. This is extremely important as we need accountability and to get called out when we get in our own way. It’s easy to start making excuses for ourselves if no one else hears those excuses.

So be sure to find a like-minded group of individuals who will push you in a positive manner. Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Masterminds, memberships, coaching, and other types of community are SO good in making sure you overcome impostor syndrome. But first, it is important to identify it. So as I restate the types of impostor syndrome, think of what you may suffer from and need to overcome.

List of Sources and Data

  1. Very Well Mind:
  2. Brené Brown Quote
  3. Time. “Yes, Imposter Syndrome is real. Here’s how to deal with it.”