Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

Dealing with Imposter SyndromeThis week we welcome back guest writer Kathryn Blair to discuss what Imposter Syndrome is and how you can deal with it if it’s something you’re facing.

“Imposter Syndrome” is a term that many of us have heard in recent years. And many of us that have heard of it, regardless of age, race, gender, or educational accomplishments, have had an instant “Aha!” moment. It is especially common among women and minorities, and it is prevalent in high-stress, high-achievement environments like law and academia.

Imposter syndrome refers to persistent feelings of being a fraud, being unable to fully incorporate your successes (or success generally) into your sense of self, despite outside indicators. This is often accompanied by a perception that you are alone in this feeling and a fear of being discovered in your fraud. Not an actual clinical disorder, it was nonetheless first named by clinical psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.

If you’re not sure that describes you, would you consider yourself a perfectionist? Do you avoid new things because you’re not sure you’d be good at them? Do you continually undervalue or forget your own achievements? Do you worry that you don’t deserve your place at school or your job? Do you fear asking for help on a project or task will reveal you to be incapable? And if you’re still not convinced that your feelings of fraudulence are imposter syndrome and not, well, real-life actual fraudulence, Clance developed a scale for self-identification.

A touch of imposter syndrome probably won’t hurt you, but at times it can interfere with your goals, keeping you from pursuing a career or an opportunity. It can be frustrating, stressful, and at times distracting, but the good news is that there are a number of things that you can do to help combat imposter syndrome, especially when it starts to feel overwhelming. Here are six things to try when imposter syndrome is interfering with your life:

1. Recognize Imposter Syndrome is Common

It is helpful to identify your feelings as imposter syndrome and that imposter syndrome is common, maybe even normal. You’re not alone in this and many of the people around you are feeling the same things as you. This can sometimes be enough to banish these thoughts, or at least put them on a back shelf. It can also be an impetus to talking to others about them, which brings us to…

2. Talk to Friends or Colleagues that you Feel Comfortable with

Chances are, they have felt this way too. Talking about your shared experiences, your individual accomplishments, and supporting one another as these feelings wax and wane can be empowering and serve as that boost you need to keep going, try something new, or ask for help.

3. Talk to a mentor

Recognizing that those who are in similar life circumstances are feeling similarly to you can be empowering, but consider also reaching out to someone who is more advanced than you in your field for additional perspective. That mentor you look up to may have also suffered from imposter syndrome — or, if they haven’t, they may be able to help you find perspective in your own feelings.

4. Internalize the Idea that Mistakes are Part of Anything Worth Doing

This is a difficult lesson, but worth working on. Look for the knowledge that you gain from mistakes. For example, studying one way wasn’t very effective — great, now you know not to study that way anymore! That case wasn’t the right precedent — OK, why did you think it was and how can you avoid making similar mistakes in the future?

5. Shift from looking for External Validation to Internal Validation

School has trained us all from a young age to seek gold stars and awards. But if we won’t believe ourselves to be successful even with a heap of gold stars to our name, how can we define success? Try to build internal sources of validation for yourself, like recognizing what you value in the abstract (resourcefulness, grit, perseverance, creativity, reliability, etc.) and measuring yourself against those values.

6. Accept the Challenge of Learning New Skills in Increments

Many of us seek to be perfect at something on our first try, we are looking for our natural talent — we are Harry Potter in search of our Quidditch. But very few of us have that sort of innate talent, and the chances of you stumbling upon that one thing you are naturally talented in aren’t that high (it could actually be Quidditch, but if you’re a muggle that doesn’t do you much good!), so we shouldn’t let this preoccupy us. Instead, seek opportunities to learn new skills and recognize that they take time. Commit to the process.

Imposter syndrome is real, but it is also common. If you are struggling under its weight, consider these six strategies to try to keep it in check — keep going, you’re not alone!

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About Kathryn Blair

Kathryn is a tutor for the Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. She earned her MA and BA from Stanford University and her JD from Stanford Law School. After several years as a attorney with a large DC firm and then as corporate counsel for a Fortune 500 company, where she focused on international trade and investment law, she realized that she missed studying and teaching law and history. She is currently pursuing a Phd in legal history.

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