The image of an entrepreneur is often one of an outspoken maverick who exudes confidence, is willing to give it their all and take on any naysayers.
While components of this image are from time-to-time true, it’s often a fallacy. Entrepreneurs are human beings, they have doubts and make mistakes. Yet, this isn’t the side we traditionally see or hear from these leaders.
The massively successfully entrepreneurs are quick to share stories of their ingenuity, of how they saw a problem and went after solving it. Just like your Instagram or Facebook page, it’s far easier to post and share the best of your life; that beautiful road trip you took with friends or the perfect brunch picture. It’s rare to see posts of someone’s struggles — that is too vulnerable. The same is true for these business leaders — we usually only see the highlight real — the big wins and rapid growth. We don’t hear about the struggle, self-doubt, and failure that inevitably preceded the wins.
This depiction of success makes entrepreneurship seem like a mountain that only the few can conquer — those who have the ‘it’ factor — natural born leaders.
In a recent conversation with NPR’s Guy Raz, the creator of TED Radio Hour, How I Built This and NPR’s Wow in the World podcasts, I was struck by his perspective on entrepreneurship and how he’s working to inspire a whole new generation of builders.
Guy, who’s interviewed some of the world’s most prominent founders and innovators, shared his belief that we all have, at some point in our life, experienced imposter syndrome — a mental pattern where an individual doubts her accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being found out as a ‘fraud’ or a ‘fake’.
His insight struck me because it’s a feeling I’ve experienced several times throughout my journey as an entrepreneur. Throughout my first six months in business, I constantly battled the feeling of being a fake — I had to fake it until I made it. Even after achieving a level of success, all it takes is a bad review, a tough client call or one miss to bring back the rush of thoughts that I’m not good enough. I’ve been able to manage and overcome these beliefs by commiserating with entrepreneurs in my community to help me realize these are simply thoughts and we all experience.
What happens though to that young, self-doubter with an idea but no community to support her?
Imposture syndrome limits the innovation and the future of entrepreneurs to those who feel they have ‘it’ — cutting out so many brilliant people and ideas.
How do we change the narrative about entrepreneurship? How can we show a different side of success?
Guy believes it’s about taking a look at the most successful entrepreneurs during their periods of crisis and struggle, “when they were lying on their bathroom floor crying about a failure of crisis– because that’s relatable to all of us.”
Through his How I Built This interviews with these prominent founders, he asks them to be vulnerable, to share their failures, struggles and low points — their humanness — on their journey to success.
It makes the entrepreneur journey seem less ethereal and more real.
Telling stories that bridge the divide and help explain how people, so seemingly different are actually quite similar, is a way to bring us closer together. It’s what inspires entrepreneurs from all over the world to go after their ideas, to test them out, to make mistakes, and to learn from them.
It’s what excited me about NPR’s How I Built This Summit. The summit is reinventing how we see entrepreneurship, by exploring both the ups and downs on the path to success. With sessions on ‘Overcoming Imposture Syndrome’ and ‘Networking for Introverts’ the summit is taking aim at some of the least discussed issues to inspire and support the next generation of entrepreneurs and builders.
We need more stories about the other side of success — the part that precedes it — failure, self-doubt and stepping out of our comfort zone. Through stories like these, we can change the future landscape of innovation and reinvent how people think about entrepreneurship.
This is the gateway for a whole new generation of diverse founders, builders, and innovators to share, explore and bring their ideas into the world.