Issues · Law School · Legal Practice

Skills Beyond Question: Beating the Imposter Syndrome

I have been writing a few pieces outside of this site lately and have been trying to find the guts to make pitches to “bigger” platforms because there’s a voice in the back of my head that questions my ability to write? And to be honest, I would have taken the leap to do more and more writing a year ago, but my fear kept holding me back. I keep thinking that I’m not that good, I have no real training, is my voice even needed? But a  few things happened that encouraged me to push myself. Maybe I will fall flat on my face in my attempts to write on larger platforms, but at least I will have tried.

Have you ever felt like this? Like your realistic goals were just unattainable? Or been in a spot in your career where you feel entirely unsure of yourself and your capacity? I imagine you have because most of us, especially women and especially women of color, experience what’s known as the Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is a feeling of dread and inhibition that all our success and victories can be chalked up to dumb luck. That we don’t have any real insight or worthwhile expertise and eventually someone is going to realize that we don’t belong in whatever position we’ve attained. It’s harsh and it’s real. There are many articles on IS and how it impacts high-achieving women, but I think IS is an especially difficult thing to overcome when you’re also Latina because we experience the professional world much differently than our White counterparts.

 

First, we have to learn how to enter and navigate a profession without much information. So often we may feel like we just stumbled into our job, maybe through dumb luck, rather than because of our skills. Then because we’re so detached from the profession, we may feel confusion about certain standards or business norms, which make us hesitant and again, makes us question our capabilities because everyone else just seems to get it and understand. Finally, for those of us that did not grow up middle-class, we may feel completely isolated or out of touch from our colleagues and they work culture they’ve created. If everyone seems to fit in, but you, then of course you’re going to question your right to be present in that space.

 

Probably through my entire time in law school I felt like an imposter. I remember in orientation where one of the deans read a list of things some of my classmates’ accomplishments and I thought, “hmm. What am i doing here?” I didn’t know yet how foolish it is to compare my journey with others. So instead, I felt like somehow I gotten in by chance. I never felt secure in my ability to actually be a good attorney until after law school.  


Passing the Bar was my first big push into believing that I was capable of practicing just like everyone else that seemed to know so much more than me. But once I started being responsible for clients I didn’t have time to question my abilities–I had to put in the work to get them the results they needed. Doing the work is what eventually evaporated any concern I had about not being a good attorney.

 

Where will (or did) your aha! moment happen that makes you realize you’re not an imposter, rather that you’re beyond just capable, and actually a pretty badass attorney?


I think it’s a “moment” you have to create for yourself. First, you should look at everything you’ve achieved to get to your goal as proof positive of your talent. I think back to myself 1L year, sitting at orientation; hearing how some of my classmates had been interns in congress, or professional athletes, or had traveled the world. Instead of being intimidated, I should have straightened my shoulders and reminded myself that I had earned my seat at school, just like them. And if I had been given the same resources, information, and access to opportunity maybe I also would have a similar backstory, but instead I did what I could with what I had. Maybe reminding myself that I was their equal would have made my law school experience a better one–or one that wasn’t as filled with self-doubt.

 

But it’s not just enough to remind yourself that you’ve worked hard. Obviously that’s not enough. You have to keep working hard in order to create and sharpen the skills that will make you an expert so that you stifle any false belief that you’re an imposter. Are there times in your career where you feel like you’re a fraud and that any moment you’ll be found out? When do these feelings arise? When you have to litigate? When you’re asked to present at panels? When giving advice to clients? Zone in on when and where (and who!) makes you feel like you’re not at your best and then push yourself to strengthen these skills. Take specific CLEs, accept speaking engagements, submit topic proposals for journals–whatever will make you actually strengthen your skills so that you finally accept that your talents and abilities are beyond question.
How do you push back against feeling like an imposter?

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