Since graduating from law school, I’ve occasionally (okay, frequently) found myself suffering bouts of imposter syndrome. Episodes are usually triggered by starting a new position and finding myself surrounded by a new set of inspiring and awesome colleagues. Primary symptoms? An overwhelming fear that others will discover I have no idea what I’m doing and that I don’t fit in. When these feelings strike, it’s time to smash them with your internal whac-a-mole hammer.
You’re only concerned because you’re competent
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, take heart. Imposter syndrome is primarily associated with high achieving, successful people. Indeed, new cognitive research indicates that it’s competent people who worry about their performance. Incompetent people don’t believe they are incompetent. As Bertrand Russell said, “[o]ne of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” Assure yourself that your feelings of incompetence stem from your keen sense of self-awareness.
Distinguish lack of experience from lack of ability
As a new lawyer it’s expected that you won’t know how to do things. This doesn’t mean that you’re incompetent, it means you’re a newer lawyer. The trick is to be the most competent newer lawyer possible. During my 1L summer, I worked for the ACLU in Baltimore. During an assignment meeting, I dutifully took notes and wrote that I was to write a “motion in lemonade.” When I got back to my computer, however, I Googled “motion in lemonade,” found examples, figured out what the heck I was supposed to do, and knocked out a decent first draft. Instead of viewing this story as indicative of my failure to learn about motions in limine during my first year, I choose to view this story as an ode to my Google skills and ingenuity. (Of course a truly competent person may have just asked the assigning lawyer for sample motions in limine instead of first turning to google. What can I say? Google never judges me.)
Women more likely to suffer
Research indicates that women are more likely to suffer imposter syndrome than men. Usually, once I hear something like this, I feel it is my duty as a woman to kick my insecurities to the curb. Men are less likely to suffer imposter syndrome? Well then I can’t let it get me down. If you’re similarly motivated by a little gender competition, this factoid might give you some peace as well.
Whenever I start a new job, I initially feel a tremendous sense of loneliness. I’ve found myself thinking, “if I got meningitis and died today, nobody would really care, I’d just be the new girl that didn’t make it.” Loneliness and imposter syndrome feed off each other. If you’re alone, your feelings of incompetence can burgeon without a friend to call you on your navel gazing.
This is only one of the many reasons why it’s imperative to connect with people at your office. I always think that you’ll know you’re on the right track the first time someone shares office gossip with you (not mean gossip, of course, fun and harmless gossip). That’s a sure sign that you’re no longer alone in the world and someone might care if you caught meningitis.
Your friends can distract you from your imposter syndrome, assure you that you’re crazy, and even share their own stories of self-doubt. Solo practitioners that I know call fellow solos to chat for this very reason.
The bottom line is that a little self-doubt can be helpful and even motivating. When I wake up in the morning thinking about items that I need to tackle, I sometimes feel anxious, but also energized and determined. The problem, of course, is when the anxious feelings start to torture you or undermine your happiness. Then it’s time to conquer your inner vampires.
(photo: Young businessman taking off a mask from Shutterstock)