The impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” I find that a lot of lawyers (myself included) struggle with this. No matter how many cases you win, how many glowing evaluations, the letters from clients praising your good work, there’s that nagging voice inside that keeps telling you that you aren’t good enough, you’re a fake and any day now, everyone is going to figure it out.
If you also struggle with the impostor syndrome, take heart. You aren’t the only one. Research also indicates women and people of color are more prone to struggling with it. Women are also more likely to talk about it versus men who tend to struggle in silence.
Here are three strategies for working with the impostor syndrome.
Give it a name
That voice inside of your head that’s constantly criticizing you, telling you how you’re a fraud, not good enough, a screw-up, give the voice a name. I call mine, Little Ms. Perfect. In my mind, imagine that the voice of the impostor syndrome is coming from an 8-year old girl. She has full make-up on, dressed in an adult dress, she has her mom’s heels on and she’s ranting about how things should be, how things aren’t right, how I should be better, how I am screwing everything up.
You can fill in the details of your own impostor syndrome. Creating an avatar of your inner negative voice is a helpful way to gain a bit of distance between you and the chatter. You can begin to see that the voice of the inner-critic isn’t really you, that it may be a part of who you are, but isn’t the sum of you.
Invite the inner-critic for tea
There’s a reason for why the inner-critic of the impostor syndrome exists and it may be useful to get to know it. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, believe what it has to say, or give it a lot of airtime in your mind.
For example, let’s imagine that you just won a hearing and the inner-critic is going on and on about how you’re still a terrible lawyer, you only won because you just got lucky, and that next time, you’ll certainly lose.
Instead of ignoring the voice or getting anxious over it, you can simply invite that voice down for tea. Invite him or her to explain why it thinks that. What it’s afraid of. Then you can reassure the inner-critic that you’ve got this. There’s no cause for concern.
Start a “well done” file
Humans are hardwired towards remembering the negative and quickly forgetting the positive. This is known as the negativity bias.
Consider all the cases you’ve handled over the past few years. Recall the details of the arguments you’ve won, job well done, kind words of praise you’ve received. Now, try the opposite. Recall the motions you’ve lost, criticisms, or some type of screw-up.
I’m guessing it’s much easier to recall the details of the cases you’ve lost.
If you consider it from an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense. You want to remember the berry that made your stomach upset or the poisonous snake.
In order to combat this, start a “well done” file. Save the kind emails you receive, the praise, the positive feedback. Keep a journal. You can also have a regular gratitude practice where you jot down the many blessings in your life.