Why Lawyers Are More Prone to Imposter Syndrome and How to Confront it Head-On
The legal field is a recipe for imposter syndrome.
Let me show you what I mean.
If you’re new to imposter syndrome, it’s defined as the persistent feeling of self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite having achievements proving otherwise.
“Who am I to practice law? If everyone really knew me, they would have me disbarred. I would never have a license.”
It’s the aching suspicion that despite all of your accomplishments, you’re still not quite good enough to cut it.
As a kid, you probably took these kinds of words to heart, “Sit up straight, make good grades, go to the right school, go to the right college, make the right friends, wear the right outfit…”
From the beginning, high-achieving personalities start attaching our worth to what we can accomplish in life. Before we know it, our mindset is that if we’re not achieving things, then we’re irrelevant.
Then we get into law school.
As you know, law school is hyper-competitive. It’s perfection or perish. You don’t make mistakes. You can’t ask for help. You can’t show weakness of any kind.
(Oh and, by the way, they don't actually teach you how to practice law.)
They throw you out into the legal profession, which is full of even more competition and inhuman levels of perfection.
So now you have these incredibly capable, smart lawyers who absolutely do not believe in themselves.
They’re walking around an office every single day, just waiting for the house of cards to fall.
They’re waiting to get fired, to make a mistake, for a client to be lost, for a case to be lost, or for a partner to blow up at them.
They're waiting for all kinds of things to happen because deep down, they don't feel like they’re capable. They don’t ask questions, because they’re afraid the minute they ask a question, people will know they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Can you see how this becomes a vicious cycle?
Then we have the fact that a lot of the law is actually subjective. There are different arguments you can make for a given situation, which feeds into us not being sure. It could be this, but it could also be that. This can literally keep us stuck.
So how do you know if you’re struggling with imposter syndrome? What are some characteristics?
Self-doubt - I can’t tell you how many lawyers have told me, “I'm just shocked I haven't been disbarred.” These are people who have been practicing law for 20 years. They know they shouldn't actually be disbarred, but they still have the story in their head that if someone really found out how much “didn't know what they were doing,” they wouldn't be here. They live with the fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Overachievement trap - This is the drive inside of us to always be chasing gold stars. We set an unrealistic expectation of perfection that no one can live up to, and then we overachieve to compensate for that feeling over and over again.
Comparison - This is the need to be constantly comparing ourselves to everybody else. We look at what everybody else is doing in the law office, what other people from law school are doing, what people on Tik Tok or Instagram are doing and on and on. We feel like everyone else knows what they’re doing, but we don’t.
Inability to ask for help - This is the hesitancy to ask for help or show weakness of any kind. The story we tell ourselves is, “If I ask for help and somehow admit out loud that I don't know everything, then I really will be found out as a fraud.”
All of that combined leads to nothing but anxiety, stress, and burnout.
If you’re constantly telling yourself, despite evidence to the contrary, that you’re not good enough, those thoughts start to manifest in your life, and not in a positive way.
Your relationships start struggling. Your work starts struggling. You stop sleeping. You might even develop health problems like migraines, adrenal fatigue, or other illnesses.
Can you relate to any of this?
These are not unusual feelings. There’s nothing wrong with you for having them. It's what you do with them that matters.
So based on the ideas I’ve shared so far, ask yourself:
How is imposter syndrome showing up in my life - personally, professionally, spiritually, or financially?
Take a really intentional and honest look at things. Once we bring things to the light, then we can actually start to do something about it.
Here are 9 easy, practical ways to combat imposter syndrome:
Become aware of your self-talk.
Once we know better, we do better. That goes for all of the nasty self-talk. Flip it into positive affirmations instead. Challenge your self-talk by asking, “Is that really true?” Acknowledge the thoughts. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just let them come up to the surface and start picking them apart. Deal with them, and then move on.
Make a powerhouse list.
Make a list of all of the things that make you a badass in life, in law, in finances, spiritually, whatever it is. Get your journal out and just do a brain dump. Keep it next to your bed, and keep adding to it. Add the small wins, the big wins, everything.
When you’re doubting yourself or feeling unsure, go back and pull out that journal. Read what makes you a powerhouse and remind yourself of those things.
Set realistic expectations.
When you set realistic expectations for yourself, you can actually start building confidence by meeting small goals. Many of us have set completely unrealistic expectations for ourselves that no one can live up to. Simple, small, sustainable changes over time is what leads to massive change.
Find mentorship and community.
There is no better way to realize who you are and what you’re capable of. Get yourself in a room with other like-minded professionals who are going where you want to go. Do not be afraid to invest in yourself by hiring a coach.
A great coach does not try to completely overhaul your life. A great coach helps you get on track with where you want to go. A coach is an advocate, a mirror, and a perspective-changer who is there to support you in your growth journey.
If you’re interested in coaching, you can sign up for a breakthrough call. I would love to chat with you and see if we could be a good fit.
Invest in professional development.
Keep investing in your own development as a professional. The more you hone your craft, the more confidence you build. Coaching is a great way to do this, but you can also listen to podcasts, read books, take courses, or attend conferences.
Comparison is the absolute thief of joy. You’re on your own path. What everybody else is doing is not your business. Keep your eyes straightforward. Don’t look in the rear view mirror. This is your journey. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
Learn from failure.
When you make a mistake, fail forward. We're all going to make mistakes. No one is perfect. After a mistake, I always ask the question, “What can I learn from this?” Let it sting for a minute, and then ask yourself what you can learn and how you can do better.
Be intentional about self-care.
This can be very simple. I’m a huge advocate of driving in the car in silence. Turn off the radio and just be quiet with your thoughts. Let yourself think. Relax. Be silent for 10 minutes while you're driving to school or dropping kids off at soccer or whatever it is.
What are things that bring you joy? Start doing those things again. Find hobbies, hang out with your girlfriends, laugh, dance, play with your kids. Start to bring joy back into your life so you can get out of this negative self-talk.
Celebrate small wins along the way.
The more we celebrate small wins along the way, the more confidence we build. We acknowledge that we’ve kept a promise to ourselves. We show ourselves what we can do and build the confidence to keep going.
Start rewriting the stories in your head. Don’t trust every thought you have, but test those thoughts by asking what’s really true.
Use these practical tools like self-care, community, and investing in yourself. Make them part of your habits, so when you're stepping into a new level and those feelings of fear and doubt come up, you can coach yourself to the other side.
I’m proud of you, my powerhouse friend.