Are you afraid of getting too big for your boots?

leadership mindset personal effectiveness Aug 17, 2022
Are you afraid of getting too big for your boots? Imposter Syndrome and tourism

When brainstorming plans for the future of your business, do you ever get a sensation or doubt in your head over what others might think and how they might judge you? Might you feel held back because you are afraid of getting too big for your own boots? This is a manifestation of imposter syndrome, something very common in tourism, and it is time to put that aside and feel confident and proud of your story and offering.


What is Imposter Syndrome?

This is the defining feature of Imposter Syndrome - a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information to the contrary. It’s when people feel they do not deserve their success or current position. Flowing from that, come lots of other feelings: not belonging, being a fraud, living in a kind of semi-fear of being found out or discovered, feeling tolerated rather than accepted. It’s irrational because there is no evidence to back up the feelings.


Imposter Syndrome is common in tourism

Without going into my own life story, I am deeply familiar with Imposter Syndrome and what a hindrance to fulfilment and progress it can be. I have learned to recognise it and, and over the years, I’ve invested significantly in learning strategies to manage it and get past it. I also know it’s very prevalent – maybe not the really overwhelming and debilitating kind, but the ongoing nagging, hindering kind. Most of us experience it to some extent in our lives and careers.

It's a major contributor to stress and burnout in tourism entrepreneurs and business managers. I know this because it comes up frequently with my private coaching clients and even in our Member Huddles at The Tourism Space. It’s very prevalent amongst tourism business owners and managers in tourism, when so much ‘success’ depends on putting yourself out there in public all the time. I meet many experience providers who still express shock that anyone is prepared to pay them for what they do, who read raving reviews with disbelief and put it down to the good weather on the day they were there! Sound familiar?


Does any of this sound familiar?

People who experience Imposter Syndrome usually experience some of the following:

  • Putting your success down to luck
  • Doubting yourself and your ambitions
  • Being afraid of looking too big for your boots
  • Overworking in order to overachieve
  • Downplaying your achievements e.g. saying you were just in the right place at the right time, calling an achievement ‘a fluke’, calling yourself ‘a chancer’.
  • Dismissing positive feedback.
  • Having difficulty accepting praise or a compliment.


My Strategies for dealing with Imposter Syndrome

While I wish I’d known more about Imposter Syndrome much earlier in my career, I’m always grateful for the coach who first helped me recognise it and deal with it. It takes time and ongoing work. Here are some the key strategies that have helped me get past it (most of the time!).


1. Start with your very best visitor reviews and customer comments

Read them thoroughly and drink in every word. Acknowledge that people who owe you nothing and had nothing to gain from it took the time to say how great you, your experience or your service are. They are not lying – why would they? What they say is true and they have gone out of their way to ensure you know that.


2. Accept and acknowledge your role in making this success happen

Avoid dismissing these reviews and any other positive feedback you get. Understand that you played the key role in your good fortune. Take the time to pat yourself on the back and avoid thinking the only validation worth having is validation from the outside.


3. Rewrite your script

Use the positive words and feelings that you inspired in others to write a new script for yourself. Believe what they say about you and then own it. Write your own story – literally, write it down – in the best possible terms highlighting all you did to get you there. Be ‘full of yourself’ when you write it! This is the only way you can learn to think like a non-imposter.


4. Accept compliments gratefully and graciously

This can be a real challenge, particularly in cultures that value modesty. In Ireland, we really struggle with it! Practice what you will say next time you get a compliment. Here are a few examples – only a small change in wording that will massively change your mindset.

a. Swap ‘That was nothing’ for ‘Thanks, I was delighted’.

b. Swap ‘Ah, I was just lucky’ for ‘Thanks, the work paid off and I’m delighted with that.’

c. Swap ‘Ah sure you have to say that to me’ for ‘Thank you for saying that to me.’


5. Build your trusted network

Many, many people experience imposter syndrome to some degree or another. Understanding how others feel will help you. Also, recognize that others who are in your network value you, admire you and are even inspired by you. They choose to be connected to you – you add value to them too!


6. Stop comparing yourself to others

This was the biggest antidote for me. Learning to define what success is for me and being content with that (rather than always striving for more or being led by what other people want) has brought me great freedom. Take the time to define what success is for you. Quickly you realise that making comparisons with anyone else is pointless and the question of ‘belonging’ or ‘deserving’ is irrelevant. Run your own race!



If you feel like an imposter, it means you have had some degree of success, you’ve brought yourself somewhere new. My coach once pointed this out to me and it struck home. The challenge and the opportunity is to focus on your success, take ownership of it and avoid attributing it to luck or circumstance. As my good friend Jamese McCloy once shared in our Member Huddle “Yes, you need luck, but you have to meet your luck half-way”. That much, at least, you can take credit for!


Tina O'Dwyer

Tina is a Certified High Performance Coach specialising in tourism. She has extensive experience in sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism, food tourism, networks, clusters and collaborations. In September 2022, The Tourism Space will be launching a group coaching programme which has a key focus on mindset and your personal storytelling. Learn more about the Tourism Business Accelerator Programme here.

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