Here are 5 top tips to conquer imposter syndrome and lead with confidence as a young entrepreneur.
Today’s guest post is by Sofie Roux, Founder — BloomBox Design Labs
When I started college at a school I had dreamed of attending since I was six, I was awestruck. This feeling was rapidly followed by the thought, “How will I ever measure up to this amazing place?”
I threw myself into my classes and work and clubs, but I often wondered if I was doing anything right. I soon learned that almost every college student experiences some form of imposter syndrome, “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved.” I want to tell you what I learned about imposter syndrome this year — and especially how it can deeply affect young leaders.
After an amazing freshman year, I decided not to return for the fall quarter, but instead to focus my energy on leading my newly formed public benefit company to bring solar-powered, off-grid science, technology, and design labs to schools around the world, to help close disparities in access to high-quality education. This was extremely daunting, but the decision to go was largely guided by the values of fearless innovation and the pursuit of truth and beauty I had observed at college.
Now, I work full-time on my startup, BloomBox Design Labs. Being a young female founder can come with next-level imposter syndrome. Though I am far from an expert, and I can’t comment on running a big company, here’s what I’ve learned in the very early stages of my enterprise.
In moments of doubt, I have found inspiration from innovators that I admire, and from my current favorite dog-eared book, “Meditations” by the stoic Marcus Aurelius. Before I dispense this bit of advice, I’ll just say, if you have imposter syndrome right now, good! It means you are ambitious, sensitive, and ready to grow — a powerful combination for any young CEO.
1. Start with why: “To what use then, am I now putting my soul?”
Think of a problem that you are passionate about and then start forming your strategy. Even the most complex or seemingly impossible challenges can be deconstructed, and pursued one determined step at a time. It can be a tough journey, but if your idea reflects the passion of your soul, the journey itself will be a source of fascination and fun.
Make every decision in service of this idea, and keep that mission at the core of your work. Putting soul into the company is a powerful antidote for all forms of doubt.
2. Always keep learning: “The directing mind adapts itself.”
Being a CEO or innovator of any kind is like constantly being a student in subjects that matter, so soak up every bit of information you can. As a young CEO, you should know that you will never have all the answers, and that is the way it should be.
The journey of the company is to solve problems that may never have been solved. Remember to listen more than you talk. Have the humility to ask questions and learn — the best ideas and breakthroughs can come from the most unexpected sources.
Seek out and welcome diverse opinions, and lean into your weaknesses by practicing. Leaders that show some vulnerability create cultures of learning, exchange of ideas, and growth. The problems and people that challenge you to rethink and adapt will make your whole company stronger. Ask for help, be real, and keep learning.
3. Surround yourself with people who share your values: “Do not let the special quality of anything pass you by.”
The founding idea of your company is second only to a shared purpose with your team. These values will keep your organization in flight, even in the roughest weather of a startup.
Build your team from people who care about your company’s values and mission as much as you do. They will show up for you and your work when you feel that all hope is lost, as you will for them. When disagreements break out, the shared sense of purpose will transform them into creative discourse, and will keep you together and on track.
Those kinds of people are to be treasured. Keep them close.
4. Failure is a signpost: “All that exists will soon change.”
When you are in school — or on any track that has been run millions of times before — there are clear guideposts for success. You go to the next grade, go to college, and get a promotion. These established pathways are so important, but, by definition, when you are truly innovating, you embark on a journey without a guide or even a trail. When you do what has never been done before, the only indicator that you are making any progress at all is the next failure.
Thomas Edison wrote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Be resilient.
5. You are on your own path: “Make the best move you can.”
At the end of the day, what matters is that you live every day with integrity, and that you do the very best you can. If, on a hard day, all you can achieve is treating people with respect and kindness, and making decisions based on your values, that is enough.
Young people and outsiders may wonder how they can make a difference in a world of established order, tradition, and precedent, but the truth is young people are so well-positioned to see and feel the opportunities that challenge the status quo — those that change the world. Keep going.
I write this on a Friday night, as the clock approaches midnight. I am sitting at the kitchen table, with my running checklist more incomplete than I had planned for, and Marcus Aurelius staring disappointedly at me from the cover of “Meditations” on my desk. Imposter syndrome is still present! I have so much left to learn about being a good leader. All I can do is return to step one and go from there — with faith in our company’s ideals, and unwavering belief that we will make it.
Sofie Roux is a sophomore at Stanford studying architecture and engineering, and is the Founder and CEO of BloomBox Design Labs which designs and builds innovative educational spaces for girls in Malawi.
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