As a CEO, you want to be able to “do it all” and bring more skill and perspective to any situation in order to be a reliable resource for your team.. It’s a daunting role, especially in a startup (my company, Threads, launched out of stealth last year), because you want to reassure your employees that you have all the answers and are leading them to undeniable success. When you employ really smart people who you admire for their tenacity and intelligence, it can be particularly challenging to feel confident at the top.
This anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, but typically you find yourself thinking “am I good enough?“. Imposter syndrome is real and common. In fact, it was estimated that more than 70 percent of people experience these feelings of inadequacy at some point in their lives. In my current role and in the ones I’ve held that led me to where I am today, I’ve learned a few tricks that help me to stay grounded in reality and keep anxiety at bay.
1. Everyone is Human
No matter your role or experience level, everyone is painfully human. I’ve been lucky enough to work with great people, and as you grow in your career, you realize that those same people make mistakes. Achieving and accomplishing amazing things while being a flawed human being is impressive; being perfect all the time isn’t.
We live in a society that is accustomed to always seeing the best side of someone’s life, and in turn, wanting to only project the best sides of ourselves too. Social media has exacerbated this by making people feel inadequate on many levels—whether it has to do with their appearance, accomplishments (personal or professional), relationships, and much more. Knowing that everyone goes through the struggles that come along with being human, even if they may appear to lead the perfect life, helps to put things into perspective and keep yourself grounded in reality.
2. No Decision is Perfect
No one ever knows if something is going to work out. We can look at what has and hasn’t in the past, but ultimately, everyone is making decisions with incomplete data. Things are never absolute, but neither are you. While a lot of people try to make polarizing decisions—which tend to be binary—the decision at the end of the day doesn’t always need to be. And while no decision is perfect, making the best decision possible with your eyes wide open is the best thing you can do. For example, I often seek out advice from experts in a relevant field to make my decisions more informed.
Whether it was starting the company, seeking out funding for it, hiring decisions, or anything of the sort, I sought out mentorship from people who I respected and trusted in the industry (and who have done it successfully). The more I did this, the more I learned I was not the first to ask for help. Does it make any business decision a guaranteed slam dunk? No, but no business decision is, and I took comfort in the fact that on some level, we are all just winging it to the best of our ability.
3. Learn From Your Mistakes; Don’t Dwell on Them
People don’t think about you as much as you think they do. It’s true what they say: you are your harshest critic. If you are constantly beating yourself up over a meeting you could have said more in, or a presentation that could have gone better, you leave yourself no room to learn from the experience and get better; there is only blind regret and negative emotion. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t dwell on them—your coworkers most likely aren’t.
Finding ways to ease workplace anxiety helps to prioritize progress over perfection in order to continue growing. Personally and professionally, assuming that someone is more equipped than you to take something on robs more opportunity from you than actual under-qualification ever will.
While I know first-hand that leaders undoubtedly experience imposter syndrome as much as (if not more than) anyone, it’s also important that they do what they can to mitigate it for their employees. This can be done by opening transparent lines of feedback and encouraging employees of all levels to contribute ideas. Taking that feedback to heart and implementing changes that reflect it wherever possible has made me feel more connected to my employees’ needs and creative accomplishments while allowing their voices to be valued. Battling workplace anxiety and imposter syndrome can be grueling, but we all go through it, and at the end of the day, it’s what makes us human.
Rousseau Kazi, CEO and co-founder of Threads