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How to overcome imposter syndrome

28th August 2019

Professional man working on a laptop

In your career, the last thing you want is to be held back by your self-doubt, which is why imposter syndrome can become a huge hindrance. It can affect anyone, whether you’re working at a lawyer job in house or as a paralegal, however, it’s most common in those higher up their career ladder. In this article, we explain more about the imposter phenomenon and some of the techniques that can help.

What is imposter syndrome?

Group of professionals working in an office

As the name suggests, it’s feeling as if you’re an imposter in your own job position, which sparks fears of being ‘caught out’. You feel as though you’re undeserving of your status or responsibility and you may think someone else is better worthy of your success.

Kate Atkin, is an inspirational speaker on imposter syndrome, tells us: “It isn’t really a medical condition, it’s is better described as a phenomenon. The reason for this is that it’s something some people experience intensely, but not all the time.”

We also asked Lindsey Hood, an imposter syndrome coach who helps successful professionals, for a description: “It’s when you feel you are not good enough and that you’re some kind of fraud to be in the position you are in, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

“Statistics suggest up to 70% of us struggle with feelings of being an imposter at some point in our lives. Very successful individuals may struggle with these feelings - Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Kate Winslet, to name a few, have publicly said they sometimes feel like an imposter.”

A freelance translator, Madalena, who has spoken about imposter syndrome on her website Madalena Zampaulo tells us: “It’s a fear of rejection or of not being good enough at the job one is asked to do, coupled with the worry of being called out as a fraud. This doesn't mean that the person who feels like an imposter is unqualified. Many highly qualified people struggle due to feeling they’re not deserving of success.”

Someone who has helped many overcome obstacles in their career is Sarah Jones, who offers coaching to reinvent your career. Sarah gives us an insight into her expertise on imposter syndrome: “It can feel as though your success is not about you – but connections, or ‘anyone could’ve done it’. It was first named by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s and originally related to senior, high-achieving women in the workplace but then it got broadened out to cover other areas of life.

“You will notice nagging doubts, feel insecure, unconfident, a fixation with past mistakes, negative self-talk, anxious and an overall feeling of just not being good enough. You just doubt yourself and it plays on your mind.”

Read on to discover some of the best ways you can overcome imposter syndrome.

Keep a record of your achievements

Woman writing in a notepad

A simple but effective way to try and overcome feeling like a fraud is to make a list of your accomplishments. This method is recommended by Lindsey who explains: “Keep a record of all your achievements and then keep adding to it. When those feelings of being an imposter strike, you have your own evidence to help remind yourself of why you are deserving of your position. The second reason I like this technique is that it is training your mind to look for the things you are doing well.”

Kate Atkin also recommends this technique: “Keeping a note of positive feedback and recognise that you are doing your job because you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do it.”

Maintain a positive mindset

Although it can be easier said than done, try to make a conscious effort to think more positively. We asked Nikki Alderson, an experienced barrister and a corporate and executive coach for lawyers, for her tips to overcome imposter syndrome: “Firstly, maintain a positive mindset: think about your strengths and remind yourself of them daily; consider using affirmations to train your brain to turn the noise up on your positive attributes and thoughts, and quieten the unhelpful negative inner voices causing you to doubt yourself and your abilities.”

Create a supportive network

Make sure you confide in other people as sharing your feelings and hearing other people’s point of view can help you overcome your doubt. Nikki Alderson continues to tell us: “Keep the company of a supportive network who will encourage you and feedback to you in a constructive, non-critical, way. Don’t shy away from this feedback and identifying areas of development. Be prepared to use it to grow rather than being held back by it.”

Listen and read more

Man reading a business newspaper

Once you realise how common these feelings are, and that some of the most influential people in the world experience it themselves, then imposter syndrome will become less daunting. Kate Atkin explains: “Learn more about the imposter phenomenon. Recognise you are not alone – but also recognise some people don’t feel it, and you don’t have to either. Plus, you’ll say it’s ok to be proud of what you’re good at.”

Nikki adds: “Read Becoming by Michelle Obama, a strong and powerful woman who describes being dogged throughout her life by the feeling of not being good enough. Her advice quite simply was ‘work hard and let your work speak for itself.’”

We also spoke to Kara Loewentheil the founder of The Lawyer Stress Solution, a series of podcasts for life coaching for lawyers. Kara reveals her top tip for overcoming podcasts: “The way to resolve imposter syndrome is to work on changing your thoughts bit by bit until you can truly believe in your own capabilities, talent, and worthiness. Easier said than done, but there are cognitive change strategies you can use to actually rewire your brain in this way - like those I teach on my podcasts The Lawyer Stress Solution and UnF*ck Your Brain.”

Madalena adds: “Read a wide range of content and read often. Network with those who are leaders in the areas you'd like to feel more confident about.”

Dress the part

Professional man and woman

Try following tips on how to look more professional at work, and in turn, it will help you have a more confident mindset. Sarah Jones explains: “Trying to dress the part at work and using body language to overcome negative thinking, often called power poses! Also, I always recommend positive self-talk and keep repeating this to yourself.”

Accept what you’re feeling

Professional man and woman laughing

Finally, the best thing you can do is acknowledge your feelings and persevere with your career regardless. Sarah Jones continues: “The key is to not run away and use your fear as fuel – step into it and get some guidance.”

Madalena adds: “I would tell anyone who struggles with it to remember that everyone had to start somewhere in their career, and no one is perfect. By allowing yourself to accept feeling like an imposter from time to time, you can start to pinpoint what makes you feel this way and take positive steps to improve in concrete areas that will help you feel more confident, polished and prepared.

“Surround yourself with people who are smarter or more successful than you in whatever area you'd like to improve upon. And remember that having bouts of imposter syndrome is normal. It is a fleeting feeling of self-doubt and not a true testament to your skills or success.”

For quick reference, here is a list of techniques you can try to help you overcome imposter syndrome in your legal career:

  • Keep a record of your achievements
  • Work on having a positive mindset
  • Create a supportive network
  • Listen and read more
  • Dress the part
  • Accept what you’re feeling