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Posted 25 Jun 2021

Beating Imposter Syndrome Into Submission With Tonisha Tagoe

This week I had a chat with award winning business woman and entrepreneur Tonisha Tagoe. Tagoe is the founder and CEO of Apples and Pears Holdings, she dedicates much of her time to supporting others as they start and grow their businesses.

Looking through her impressive resume you would not get the impression that she was someone who had ever struggled with confidence but as it turns out Tagoe is no stranger to “Imposter Syndrome” having even spoken publicly on the subject in order to help others. This all too common barrier to self-efficacy can be debilitating and cause careers to stall despite a persons talent and ability. She was kind enough to share with me her five tips for beating imposter syndrome into submission.

Imposter syndrome, says Tagoe, is “a lack of belief in your ability to do something regardless of the evidence right in front of your face. It’s not a good time—I’ve been there and it’s the worst! Not only do you feel like an alien, you also hate yourself for feeling that way. What happened to that strong person I promised to be?”

She said that she had to constantly remind herself that she was “educated, qualified, skilled and talented in my field and eventually I started to believe it. I put myself through Uni while I was raising a kid, got loads of degrees and worked super hard, so why did I feel like an imposter? We are our own worst enemies sometimes, and have this really messed up habit of not letting ourselves be happy.”

I know there will be many people reading this to whom this is very relatable, so lets dig in to Tagoe’s five tips.

Work Hard

It may feel like this first tip goes without saying but actually for many of us experiencing the immense anxiety of imposter syndrome we can become frozen and even self-sabotaging in our work. At least if we don’t try our hardest then we won’t have to face the idea that our best is not good enough. When this happens you can become the reason for your own imposter syndrome, feeding into it in a kind of vicious cycle.

As Tagoe says “The more positive feedback you get, the less inadequate you will feel. Some people like me just need it drilled into our heads until it sticks.” Working hard, going the extra mile and aiming for the best results every time will usually result in your efforts being acknowledged by others, this can serve as an external counter to your internal self-doubt.

Remember That Perfect Is Subjective

Perfectionism can play a role in imposter syndrome, holding yourself to impossible standards will feed into the feeling that your best is not good enough. It is also important to remember that what constitutes “perfect” will be different for everyone.

Tagoe says “I realised that done is better than perfect. People look for perfection, but if you’re a professional in something, your version of done is often perfect to someone else!” Imposter syndrome goes hand in hand with being hyper critical of your own performance. This attention to detail can be harnessed for good and make your work better than the rest but there has to be an end point to the critique and a willingness to receive praise from others. It is always possible that the thing you dislike is going to be loved by everyone else. When that happens be open to it.

See Critique As An Opportunity

Generally in life running away from our problems instead of confronting them only leads to increased anxiety. Part of learning and improving at what you do is addressing your weaknesses and overcoming them. Critique from others can be very triggering, especially for those of us that experience rejection sensitivity disorder, but with practice we can learn to turn this into an opportunity. Tagoe says “Failure and negative feedback is super helpful if used correctly. Let go of your pride and ego and accept that you need to grow. Once you work on this feedback, you will feel stronger and more confident next time.” She is right because knowing that you have directly addressed a formerly weak area of your performance can give you increased self-belief and create a model for tackling your imposter syndrome head on. Seek out ways to de-personalize the negative feedback and take time to process the information before responding or deciding on your next move.

Remember That You Have Earned Your Place

Counter your inner monologue by remembering how you got to where you are. “Being in the room means you’re worthy!” Says Tagoe “Whether you’re an employee, an entrepreneur or freelancer, you were chosen for a good reason. Keep telling yourself that.”  Whoever it was that recruited you for your position selected you because they believed you were the best person. Instead of comparing yourself to others remember that workplaces need a balance of skills and personalities to function at their best. If you were the same as everyone around you, you would not be offering anything unique.

Being Out Of Your Comfort Zone Is Key To Progress

Being the little fish in a big pond can be intimidatingFor this reason many people hold themselves back from bigger and better opportunities because they have gotten comfortable in a small pond environment. It is often exactly when you have taken this leap from one to the other that imposter syndrome really strikes. Tagoe says “When you’re surrounded by strangers who seem better and more qualified than you, consider that you are just moving up in the world and breaking out of your comfort zone. This is vital for success.”

We All Do It

Tonisha Tagoe’s advice is sound and applies to all careers, whether entrepreneurial, corporate of independent. I get some form of Imposter Syndrome every time I level up in my career – a new milestone for my business, the completion of my PhD. I seek coaching and reflective practice to unpack what’s happening for me and how to “fill the new boots”. Imposter syndrome happens to most of us at least once, yet is more common for marginalized and minoritized employees such as women, disabled people, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, those working outside typical age norms, people who grew up without material privilege. And of course, there’s intersectional compound. Those of us wanting to support the next generation of leaders and innovators can provide inspiration and motivation when we share our stories and role model the vulnerability of talking about our own imposter moments.

Read more of Nancy’s Forbes Blog here.