How to shake off imposter syndrome and start a side hustle

Jul 23, 2021

Side hustles have gained popularity in recent years, with 1.1million Brits opting to have a second job or side business. For students, there are several good reasons to start a side hustle. It can top up your income, offer flexible hours and present opportunities that you might not get access to in traditional employment.

But how do you find the confidence to start a side hustle when you’re still at university or a brand new graduate? Finding clients when you haven’t got any experience under your belt can feel impossible, to the point where you might suffer from imposter syndrome and avoid starting your business altogether.

I’ve felt like an imposter in every stage of my adult life. When I was studying music at university I didn’t feel creative enough to be on the course, then when I graduated and got promoted in my catering job I felt unqualified because my degree was unrelated to my profession.

Then, when I pivoted into the world of freelance writing I felt like an imposter yet again. Even though I was being widely published and had signed a book deal, I worried that my lack of academic and industry experience meant my luck was due to run out any minute.

Does that sound familiar? You may be living with imposter syndrome. The concept was first recognised in the late 70s by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes who said that it occurred less frequently and less intensely in men, making it a more likely problem for women.

The syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which you doubt your accomplishments. It manifests itself as a persistent, internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud, even though the person is anything but. It’s a fear of being ‘found out’.

It’s now generally accepted that both men and women can succumb to feelings of imposterism and social media platforms such as Instagram have been blamed for a resurgence in the issue for millennials. We’re bombarded with powerful imagery that amplifies the achievements of others which can trigger feelings of comparison and inadequacy. 

Maybe you have a degree in journalism but you feel unqualified to apply to work at a newspaper. Maybe you’ve won a design award but you never introduce yourself as a designer. Maybe friends and family constantly ask you to take nice photographs for them but you would never dare to advertise yourself as a photographer. Maybe you’re the self-appointed agony aunt in your circle, but don’t feel confident enough to sign up for that life coach training.

For me, it was a constant niggling. I was sure all my work successes had occurred by accident, or as a cruel joke. However, while writing my book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss I challenged myself to take clear action against my inner imposter, and it worked. 

The good news is that there are some simple steps that you can take today to shake off imposter syndrome and start your side hustle with confidence.

1. Update your social media bios

Your social media bios are prime real estate. You need to big yourself up there so that people are compelled to follow you and ideally hire you at a later date, so use it as a rehearsal for real-life interactions.

I used to struggle to introduce myself as a writer because even though I had been published repeatedly, I didn’t have a degree in English. However, putting the word ‘writer’ in my Instagram bio felt much easier than saying it out loud. After months of seeing it appear in my bio, I gained the confidence to say it in real life. Now I proudly introduce myself as a freelance writer and two-time author!

2. Acknowledge your negative bias

Most of us find it impossible to forget the nasty comments about our work even though there are hundreds of positive ones that contradict them. This is natural. Our brains are hardwired to highlight the negative things as a survival technique  Think about it: if you went on a trip to the beach and had a near-death interaction with a shark then you’d probably remember that part of the day far more vividly than the rest of the trip.

It helps you to avoid such a danger in the future by making this memory stand out in your mind. Unfortunately, the same is true for negative feedback or difficult experiences at work. While recognising your own negative bias won’t banish imposter syndrome, it’s often the first step to making real changes. Which brings me nicely onto the next point…

3. Work on savouring the positive 

In the same way that you might let chocolate melt in your mouth to make the most of the experience, you can practice savouring all your successes. As you begin to plan your side hustle, take a few minutes each day to think back on the things you’ve achieved. It might be something huge like purchasing your website domain, or it could be something small, like posting on social media about your business. 

Remember how it felt to check these things off your list. The satisfaction and sense of confidence it gave you to meet your goals. Doing this act of savouring regularly will remind you of all the skills that help you dampen that underlying feeling of imposter syndrome. Keep a notebook where you record all these achievements and then over time, you’ll have pages and pages to reflect on, showing you how far you’ve come.

4. Collect evidence 

Whenever you receive comments about your work that reaffirm your confidence, save them for future reference. Make it your mission to screenshot DMs from friends or positive feedback from your tutors and file them away in a folder that you can access whenever you need a boost. Imposter syndrome is scarily good at twisting the narrative so that you feel unqualified, but seeing evidence to the contrary and seeing it written in black in white can help rewire your brain.

If I’d understood what imposter syndrome was when I was a fresh-faced youngster trying to navigate my side hustle all those years ago, I’m almost certain I’d have seen more success in the early days. Above all, remember that it’s normal to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing…. Just don’t let it stop you from going after what you want.

Author bio

Fiona Thomas is an author and freelance writer with work published in iPaper, Grazia, Happiful Magazine and Huffington Post. Her most recent book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss has been featured in Stylist, Forbes, Daily Mail and was shortlisted for Business Book Award.

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