Feeling like an Imposter in the legal profession? It might not be as uncommon as you think. A psychological phenomenon not unlike an anxiety disorder, Imposter Syndrome is a condition that impacts millions of people worldwide, regardless of their age or professional status. Mental health professionals report that people with Imposter Syndrome often experience feelings of self-doubt that, with time, explode into crippling fears of inadequacy, preventing otherwise capable people from finding real success.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
If you’re wondering whether or not you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome, it’s best to leave an official diagnosis to mental health professionals. At the same time, there are some pretty clear signs that accompany feeling like an Imposter—if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following in this Imposter Syndrome quiz, there’s a significant chance you’re grappling with something more than ordinary self-doubt.
- Believe that the success you’ve experienced so far is a fluke?
- Feel undeserving of your achievements even when you perform well?
- Worry about feeling shameful if your incompetence is revealed?
- Fear that people will find out you’re not as smart as they think?
- Feel uncomfortable highlighting your accomplishments?
- Compare yourself to others regularly?
- Feel like failure is not an option?
- Believe that you’re just making it up as you go?
- Think that success doesn’t come easy for you, and that you have to work for it?
- Get uneasy when you receive high praise?
Answering ‘yes’ or even ‘sometimes’ to a majority of these questions could be an indicator that you’re currently dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Often times Imposter Syndrome strikes like an anxiety disorder, causing crippling self-doubt at the worst moments: during exams, presentations and other important career moments. But where does it really come from?
At its core, Imposter Syndrome is a thought-driven condition. Taken step-by-step, Imposter Syndrome…
- T: Starts as a Thought,
- B: Becomes a Belief,
- E: Which reinforces your Expectations, and
- B: Leads to Behaviors based on those Expectations,
- R: Which, ultimately, delivers negative Results.
Beliefs that stoke Imposter Syndrome include phrases like:
- “I believe I am fooling people.”
- “I’ve got to over-prepare just to be prepared.”
- “Making mistakes is completely unforgivable for me.”
- “Other people have it easier than I do.”
- “It’s best to lay low and not be noticed.”
- “I’m in way over my head.”
- “Discussing my success is inappropriate.”
Beliefs like these lead to self-doubt. Note that self-doubt doesn’t make people with Imposter Syndrome any less capable than people without it—but once the Belief has been reinforced, it lessens peoples’ abilities to succeed. Their fear of being found out leads them to purposely aim low and reduce their Expectations. The Result? People with Imposter Syndrome end up taking the safe path, and refrain from causing disruption in their personal and professional lives.
How Imposter Syndrome Affects Attorneys
Imposter Syndrome impacts attorneys much like it does other successful people: in order to cope with feelings of self-doubt, highly successful people develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. Types of coping mechanisms used by people to stop feeling like an Imposter include:
- Perfectionism, where the person with Imposter Syndrome constantly reviews, fixes and over-prepares their work without satisfaction.
- Overworking, where the person with Imposter Syndrome works longer hours than other people, and feels stressed when they’re not working.
- Hiding Talent, where the person with Imposter Syndrome wishes to appear like a “natural genius,” and thus obscures their hard work to learn or accomplish a task.
- Working Alone, where the person with Imposter Syndrome feels they need to do things by themselves, and only reaches out to others out of necessity.
- Distrusting Themselves, where the person with Imposter Syndrome is concerned that they will be discovered for not being equipped for the job, and they don’t trust themselves to rely on their own expertise.
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How Attorneys Can Overcome Imposter Syndrome
While Imposter Syndrome can be crippling if left unchecked, it’s not impossible to overcome. Attorneys and lawyers dealing with the anxiety of Imposter Syndrome can start to dismantle it by examining their own beliefs about self-doubt and incompetence, and then challenging them. Here’s how to do so, step-by-step:
- Write out your beliefs: Take one of your deepest beliefs, i.e., “I am a worthless human being if I fail at this task,” and articulate it in writing.
- Challenge those beliefs: Once you’ve written them down, interrogate your beliefs. Are you really worthless if you fail at a task? Would you tell this to a friend, family member, spouse or child if they failed?
- Collect evidence to support new beliefs: Start collecting evidence to support new, better beliefs. Gather data about your abilities, competencies and value—the more, the better.
- Write down what you’ve learned in a journal: Beliefs are more likely to be reinforced if they’re written down somewhere. Writing new, better beliefs about yourself in a journal is a great way to make sure you don’t forget what you’ve learned and taught yourself. Moreover, writing in a journal can give you a reference point to turn back to the next time an unhealthy thought, such as feeling like an Imposter, comes back.
Keep the Learning Going with Lawline
While Imposter Syndrome can be a career-threatening experience, it’s also not permanent — and, with the right training, it can be completely reversable. By creating new beliefs to help you rewrite your expectations and actions, you’ll be much better prepared at combating Imposter Syndrome in its many forms.
Curious to learn more? Check out Lawline’s CLE course I Don’t Belong” – Imposter Syndrome in the Legal Profession, or visit The Journal That Talks Back to receive personalized Imposter Syndrome coaching.
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