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Why me…? Why not! Dealing with imposter syndrome

Book open Reading time: 3 mins

‘Imposter syndrome’. That much talked about insecurity that so many people can’t shake off (and it’s everywhere – even the incredibly successful, like Emma Watson and Michelle Obama, have talked about how it has affected them!)

So what is it, who gets it, and how do you stop it from holding you back in your career?

What is it?

Imposter syndrome was first defined by psychologists in the 1970s but is more relevant than ever in the competitive working world of 2020. It affects us all differently, depending on where we’re at in our personal or professional lives. For some, it might be seeing a job (or training contract!) that we’re qualified for, but having a nagging doubt in our ability that makes us deselect ourselves. Sometimes that doubt runs deeper, not just in our ability, but in whether an environment like a law firm is ‘for me’…a fear of not fitting in.

As we progress from job to job during our careers, imposter syndrome doesn’t necessarily go away. It might flare up in different ways; ahead of a big presentation, or during a promotions round, or when moving into management. It might also pop up as a search for credibility and a (probably unfounded!) belief that colleagues don’t ‘take you seriously’– no matter how knowledgeable you get, you never quite believe that your ability to do a good job is recognised.

The common factor, in all of these examples, is persistent self-doubt, or a sense that all of your achievements so far have been luck and that you’ll eventually get ‘found out’.

Who gets it?

Pretty much everyone gets imposter syndrome at some point, but research shows that those who are underrepresented in professional roles can struggle with it more. The New York Times gives some interesting insight into why that is and has some useful tips on how to navigate feeling like an imposter.  

That said, at Shoosmiths, we recognise that our diverse workforce is one of our biggest strengths, and we believe that talent can come from anywhere. So if you’re thinking about a career in law, but have doubts in your mind that are unrelated to your potential to be a great lawyer, don’t let that put you off! Of course, not everyone gets every job that they apply for, and that can sometimes damage confidence and allow imposter syndrome to rear its head, but there are lessons learnt from every experience.

So how do you stop it holding you back in your career?

The good news is this – imposter syndrome doesn’t have to hold you back from achieving your career goals. Three tips for keeping it under control;

  1. ­Remember that more people than you think feel this way. Recognise what you’re feeling, and try to give things a go anyway (even though that’s probably easier said than done!)
  2. Regularly remind yourself of the things that you’re good at. When you get good feedback on an essay, keep hold of it, or when you’re in a job, save emails that acknowledge you’ve done well.
  3. Think of imposter syndrome as an occasional visitor, so that when it arrives, you can put things in context and remember that you’re confident, capable, and on track to success!