Being the new kid on the block can be exhausting and stressful. I remember those first few weeks as a law grad, a mixture of excitement and self-doubt, still feeling like I was playing dress up in my big girl pencil skirt and heels.
At lunch I would watch a group of Senior Associates eating in the kitchen, so relaxed, chatting about work, joking about colleagues, making it all look so effortless. I was overwhelmed with a sense of envy and impatience. I looked at them as a child looks at a teenager – as though they were real adults. Though these young lawyers were only a few years my senior, in my eyes they were so put together, so fluent in talking lawyer.
I imagined that they were not overcome with stress on Sunday nights, nervous to pick up their work phone every time an unknown number (or worse yet, an actual client!) called. I imagined that, having amassed a handful of years PAE, everything was their ‘bread and butter’ and nothing that came across their desk could possibly fluster them. I couldn’t wait to get to the point where I wasn’t so deeply doubtful of my abilities, when I wasn’t always so hyper-aware of my junior burger status.
While it’s perfectly normal for a fledgling lawyer to have these feelings, I always assumed that with the passage of time and gaining of experience, those feelings would magically melt away. But they didn’t.
I’ve now worked in the legal industry, both as a lawyer and now as a legal recruiter, for several years, and during that time, I’ve spoken to countless lawyers, both junior and very senior about their careers and personal development. One thing that has become clear is that imposter syndrome is more common than not – and certainty not limited to the newly admitted.
Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they are deserving of accolades.
For many, the interim solution to managing the self-doubt that goes hand-in-hand with effects of imposter syndrome is to employ the age-old adage: fake it till you make it. We hear it all the time, but if you wait to get to this magical and ever elusive milestone of ‘making it’ to appear, you will all be waiting forever.
‘Making it’ is a subconscious and subtle gear shift that happens gradually and imperceptibly with time, familiarity and repetition. It’s important to remember that while, in theory, competence and confidence go hand in hand, in practice, more often than not, they actually diverge.
In other words, it’s ok to have self-doubt! A healthy dose of self-doubt (or imposter thoughts) can actually be a good thing – it can make you more compassionate to those you work with, enable you to make smarter decisions because you are willing to question yourself, and make you more curious and open to new information.
And one more thing to keep in mind, borrowing the words of the inimitable Amy Poehler: ‘You will never climb Career Mountain and get to the top and shout, “I made it!” You will rarely feel done or complete or even successful. Most people I know struggle with that complicated soup of feeling slighted on one hand and like a total fraud on the other.’