If they only knew . . .

Have you ever asked yourself “what gives me the right to be here?” Are you a law firm partner who sometimes wonders why they ever elected you? Or in-house counsel who worries that the business people are finally going to figure out that you don’t have the answers they need? Perhaps you’re an associate and shaking in your shoes because you are being left alone with clients who any moment now are going to call the partner to demand that they send a “real” lawyer.

If so, you may be experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

According to the Caltech Counseling Center, “[i]mpostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.”

Imposter Syndrome shows up in the following insidious thoughts:

  • I’m a fraud and everyone is going to find out.
  • They think I’m an expert but there’s so much I don’t know.
  • I’ve been faking this all along.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • How did I get here? The hiring committee must have made a mistake.

Who Has Imposter Syndrome?

Almost everyone has feelings of inadequacy or doubt from time to time.

A client of mine recently attended the annual gala of a state bar association for women. She had been fortunate to speak for the organization in the past and they’ve expressed an interest in having her back later this year. After meeting and hearing speeches from and about women in the room who were judges, prosecutors, founders of their own wildly successful law firms, and fierce social action advocates, my client confessed to me several intense moments of thinking “Seriously? They want me to speak for these women? What could I possibly have to say to them?”

Interestingly, Imposter Syndrome is most common among highly educated, high achieving, gifted people. It’s also common among women as well as those from diverse (underrepresented) backgrounds. Although it was once thought to be almost entirely the domain of women, current research reveals that men feel it too, although they may not report it as readily. In short, it’s pretty much an epidemic.

5 Steps To Banishing Imposter Syndrome

So now that you know what it is, what can you do to quiet the negative voice in your head?

  • Recognize the Consequences. Awareness of how Imposter Syndrome can derail your goals is a good place to start. These are not just pesky thoughts and feelings swirling around in your head. They are potential dream-killers. Don’t allow Imposter Syndrome to keep you small.
  • You’re a Lawyer, Right? Look at the Evidence. Think of the clients you’ve delighted. The case you won or the deal you closed. The positive feedback and thanks you’ve received. They weren’t an illusion.
  • Do a Reality Check. There is a big difference between feelings and reality. No one is sitting around waiting for you to fail. You didn’t get where you are by accident (who becomes successful by accident?). And you have a great deal to offer others. Are your feelings the TRUTH? Or just your “truth?”
  • Look Around. Give yourself a break and remember that no one knows everything. Do you really think the lawyer down the hall has it all together? That she knows the answer to every question? That sage advice falls from her lips whenever she opens her mouth? She’s good, sure, but she’s not perfect. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a fraud.
  • Create Value. Get out of your own head by doing your best to help others achieve their goals. It’s harder to worry about your own performance when you are focused on someone else. To paraphrase author C.S. Lewis, think of yourself less and you won’t have reason to think less of yourself.

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