Identifying and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Published: Dec 05, 2022

 Career Readiness       Law       Workplace Issues       

It’s the most stressful time of year—whether it be annual reviews, bonus season, or law school finals—all are major events that can make us feellike we aren’t good enough. The dreaded imposter syndrome can take hold at any point in our careers. So, what is imposter syndrome? It’s that feeling that you aren’t as capable as others perceive you to be, and at any moment, you will be found out for your perceived fraud. Many who experience imposter syndrome are highly accomplished individuals, but the evidence of those accomplishments gets pushed aside and replaced with feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and insecurity. If you are feeling the doubt and pressure, here are some helpful ways to combat imposter syndrome when you are going through it.

Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?

Some of the common ways imposter syndrome rears its ugly head:

  • Feeling like your success is due to external factors and not personal achievement;
  • Feelings of self-doubt and fear that your abilities are inadequate or that you are a fraud;
  • Feeling like anything less than perfection is a failure;
  • Self-sabotage or constantly comparing yourself to others; and
  • Over-sensitivity to criticism, even if it is constructive.

Break the Cycle

Once those feelings of doubt creep in, many have the tendency to double down and work harder to overcome their perceived shortcomings. If you feel like you are in a position that you are incapable of performing or that you did not justifiably earn, diving into that doubt can have even more negative effects, like more anxiety, more stress, and feeling depressed. To combat imposter syndrome, you need to acknowledge those feelings. If you have a trusted friend or mentor, ask for some time to sit down to talk about what you are experiencing. Get it all out there! After you have expressed your doubts, ask for feedback from that person and really listen to it. While no one is perfect all the time, it is likely that the feedback you receive will be honest, positive, and can ease that perception of incompetence. If you are not one to spill your insecurities to someone you trust, get a journal, and write about your experiences. Make a list of your accomplishments and how you achieved them. Don’t sell yourself short and chalk up your accomplishments to timing or good luck—really think about how you got to where you are and remind yourself that your hard work and energy are what lead you to your successes.

Be Aware of Bias

Imposter syndrome can be common among high achievers, but high achieving women and minorities are more likely than others to experience it. Many law schools and firms tout diversity and inclusion as part of their culture, but the reality is there is still a long way to go for underrepresented people in the practice of law. This can lead to unrealistic feelings of unworthiness or self-doubt. Be aware of any bias against your gender or race in your professional surroundings—maybe it is a partner or client, maybe it is a peer, or maybe it is just a generalized notion that someone “like you” couldn’t possibly be so successful. Whatever the case may be, bias may lead you to work harder to “prove” yourself better than the stereotype. Another thing to be mindful of are microaggressions and outright discrimination. They may be subtle, but they can give you the feeling that you don’t belong, leading to those feelings of fraud. Once you acknowledge the existence of any bias or discrimination in your surroundings, make sure you also acknowledge your successes, your achievements, and how you overcame those obstacles. Talk with others about how you can change those perceptions of bias and move forward in a positive, progressive manner.

Don’t Compare Yourself

Another way to combat imposter syndrome is to stop comparing yourself to others around you; if it takes you longer to complete a task than a peer, don’t automatically think it is because you are inadequate and incompetent. No one is perfect at everything! Remember that today it may take you longer to get the work done, but in a few months, you will get better at it. Develop abilities and skills that interest you and keep learning. Everyone was new to something at some point in their life, and with time and experience, building talent and learning will grow into confidence in your abilities. Be mindful that someone else’s success does not have to mean that you are in any way flawed or unworthy—you can both be successful! After all, you did not get to where you are in your career because of some fluke—you got there because you worked hard and earned it. Constant comparison of yourself to others will only make you more miserable and can have a magnifying effect on your own doubts.

Make a Change

Overcoming feelings of self-doubt and insecurity requires you to change your way of thinking. Depending on where those feelings stem from, it may also mean making a change in your career. If you otherwise enjoy your work and surroundings and are supported by your colleagues, it may be time to change your own thoughts and perceptions. If you do not feel supported and are experiencing bias and/or microaggressions, it may be time to change your surroundings and look for a better work (or school) environment. Either way, if you are feeling the symptoms of imposter syndrome, you will have to change one thing or another (or another). The key is to not let those feelings of fear and anxiety stall your ability to change. If your feelings of doubt are coming from within, remind yourself that you didn’t “fool” anyone into your success, because if you did, someone would have noticed by now. If your feelings are outside your control, take your control back and look for those who will encourage and support you.

Get Professional Help

If you have tried to manage your imposter syndrome on your own, or with the help of mentors and friends, but you still can’t shake your doubts, it may be time to enlist the help of a professional. Take care of your mental health and dedicate yourself to improving the situation. You can also build on your connections for support. Look to classmates, coworkers, and peers who are supportive and encouraging. Reach out to others who are experiencing the same feelings and strategize on how to overcome the challenges together. Combating imposter syndrome will help you grow in your career, your personal life, and in so many other ways. Letting go of perfectionism and opening yourself up to others can help you realize that you are not a fraud. It’s time to give yourself the credit you have earned—and deserve!

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