Entrepreneurs Who Feel Like Imposters


Inc has an interesting article about "imposter syndrome" and entrepreneurship. Think the opposite of Larry Ellison.

By most definitions, Bud Stockwell has hit the personal-fulfillment trifecta. At 53, he owns a profitable $2 million health food store called Cornucopia. His business is a beloved institution in Northampton, Massachusetts. Cornucopia also satisfies its founder's activist urges by providing a platform from which to promote natural, healthy living.

In fact, Cornucopia is such a fine business that last year it was named best small natural foods store in America by a natural products publication. When a reporter called to interview the owner for an article about his award, Stockwell readily answered her questions. But then he told no one. Not his wife. Not his daughter. Not one of his 23 employees. "The magazine came out two months later and it was almost like I was embarrassed by it," says Stockwell. "I didn't feel like I deserved it. I think we have a great business, but how much of that was because of me and how much is because of our location or the staff? There's still part of me that always questions that."

Stockwell's self-doubt is an example of the impostor syndrome, a term coined in the '70s to describe the fear that one is not as smart or capable as others think. People who feel like fakes chalk up their accomplishments to external factors such as luck and timing, or worry they are coasting on charm and personality rather than on talent. Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds;

I'm not sure this should be a psychological disorder. Sometimes it's the truth. Right place. Right time. I could never start a new business blog and build the readership that I have now. I think the fact that I'm smart enough to understand that is an advantage, not a handicap.

  • Whether their feeling is accurate or not probably doen’t dictate whether it is a syndrome. Rather, we have how normal people behave and how abnormal people behave. It doesn’t matter if the abnormal people are actually right!

    By the way, I am suspicious of calling anything that two out of five successful people have a “syndrome”.

  • When people tell their story – of how they became so successful – I am always suspicious of people who don’t show the part where they were very lucky. Each very successful person has it. It’s delusional to think you don’t deserve success, but it’s also delusional to not notice good luck.

    The successful entrepreneurs are probably better at drumming up good luck. In many cases, I think that’s where the credit is due to entrepreneurs: Relentlessness and optimism.

  • Actually, that kind of a self-doubt might even be a good thing. It keeps you in check, and ensures a little dose of humility into our dealings. Sometimes it’s easy to feel on top of the world when you’re making more money than most people you know. Lucky breaks are often the most significant steps on the ladder to success :)