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Why high achievers and business owners struggle with self-doubt

Jeffrey Shaw

How do you combat self-doubt and imposter syndrome as an independent business owner? Jeffrey Shaw started his self-employment lifetime career at the age of 14 years old, selling eggs door to door. In this episode, he’s empowering you with the tools you need to move past the hurdle of self-doubt to pursue your dreams.

As an adult, Jeffrey Shaw created a highly successful portrait photography business, where his images now hang in the halls of Harvard and have been featured on Oprah. Today he is also an author, a podcast host, a TEDx speaker, and a coach empowering self-employed individuals to truly build profitable businesses and pursue their dreams. In this conversation, we are talking all about the monster that keeps many of us from going after what we want: self-doubt.

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Self-doubt occurs at every level of success, especially when the bar is raised

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been an independent business owner or what level of success you’ve achieved, it is inevitable that you will feel self-doubt from time to time. It’s actually more common for high achievers, such as independent business owners, to experience self-doubt than people who work conventional jobs. The bigger and bolder you live your life, the more you will deal with internal challenges like self-doubt, self-criticism, and imposter syndrome.

In fact, the more success you achieve, the more self-doubt becomes an obstacle. Jeffrey has conducted several surveys about self-doubt and asked this question:

When do you experience self-doubt more? Is it when you’re doing something for the first time? Or is it when you’ve done something before, but the bar has been raised?

The overwhelming response was that independent business owners experience more self-doubt when the bar is raised. Once you experience a certain level of success, you question whether or not you can achieve it again or sustain your reputation.

It’s easy to think of success as the anecdote to self-doubt, but the truth is that success can fuel more self-doubt. 

Having conversations about self-doubt makes it lose its power

For independent business owners, self-doubt will never go away. However, talking about it openly can cause it to lose its power. A great example is the work that Brené Brown did with vulnerability. By creating a widespread conversation, she helped us see vulnerability as a strength instead of a weakness, which caused shame to lose power over us.

How to manage self-doubt

Jeffrey’s goal for his upcoming book about self-doubt is to start an open conversation among independent business owners so that self-doubt loses power. From there, we can learn to manage our self-doubt.

  1. Remind yourself of who you are. When we experience self-doubt, it’s like we have a powerful case of amnesia. We forget about what we’ve accomplished, our skills, and the confidence levels we’ve experienced before. Reminding yourself of who you are and what you’ve done is the first step to quieting the voices of self-doubt.
  2. Listen to the positive things your peers say about you. When you’re experiencing self-doubt, it’s easier for other people to call out your strengths than it is for you. Other people see amazing things in you that you can’t see when you’re lost in self-doubt, so listen to what they have to help pull yourself out of the trap.
  3. Use daily habits. Independent business owners need to rely on consistency to manage their self-doubt. Daily meditation, walks, or journaling are great examples. Choose a tool that keeps you grounded and that you can utilize in moments of self-doubt. 
  4.  Have a “shutdown phrase.” In high-anxiety moments, like the minutes before you walk on stage to present in front of an audience, it’s inevitable to feel self-doubt. Jeffrey teaches his students to create a shutdown phrase that tells their self-doubt to sit down and shut up. Using your phrase puts you in the right place to push through self-doubt and focus on the service you are providing and the purpose behind your work. 

How to combat self-doubt when others don’t support you

Many independent business owners feel discouraged when the people that they thought would cheer them on end up projecting doubts onto them or staying silent. It’s important to develop tools to show up for yourself when others aren’t showing up for you in the ways you thought they would.

You can use the science of decision-making to support you in this scenario. When you make a decision, there are three voices speaking at the same time: 

  1. Intuition
  2. Fear
  3. Reason

Each voice has an important role, but they operate in different ways. The voice of intuition tends to be the quietest voice, but it’s the one that should be trusted the most. Listening to your intuition is one of the best ways you can reconnect with yourself and fight self-doubt. 

The voice of fear tends to speak the loudest, and it fuels self-doubt, self-criticism, and imposter syndrome. When other people project their own self-doubt onto you and your vision, it is their own voice of fear that is speaking. 

How to navigate self-doubt when pricing your services

There is a strong correlation between self-doubt and self-worth, which is why many independent business owners find it hard to put a price on their services or raise their prices. What you are actually battling is what Jeffrey calls the “soul’s gatekeeper.”

The closer you get to doing your most purposeful work that is driven by wanting to make a positive difference in the world, the closer you get to your soul. That is when your soul’s gatekeeper, which is the voice of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, shows up. The closer you get to your soul, the more defensive it gets.

Additionally, there is a direct correlation between doing your most purposeful work and the voices of self-doubt showing up. The fact that these voices show up is a sign that you are doing something impactful. When you are doing your most purposeful work, you should be charging the highest amount for it.

The difference between self-doubt and imposter syndrome

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are often grouped together, but they are not the same thing. Imposter syndrome is worrying about other people finding out you are not who they think you are. Self-doubt is worrying about you finding out that you’re not who you think you are, and that hurts more.

Self-doubt has two negative consequences: it slows you down and it causes you to dip your toes into the water instead of diving in full force. Learning to manage your self-doubt can help you overcome these two consequences.

The biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail

Jeffrey has found that the biggest differentiator between businesses that succeed and the ones that fail is persistence and resilience. You don’t need to be the first one out of the gate to be the last one standing.

Important sections of the conversation:

  • [2:32] The correlation between high achievers and self-doubt
  • [9:32] Using brain priming to move past self-doubt
  • [12:13] How to manage self-doubt 
  • [22:57] What to do when others don’t support you
  • [27:43] Navigating self-doubt around pricing your services
  • [33:56] The difference between self-doubt and imposter syndrome 
  • [36:54] The biggest differentiator between businesses that success and the ones that fail

Sources mentioned in this episode

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