May 08 2013

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Don’t Let Impostor Syndrome Undermine Your Confidence this Summer

Posted at 9:16 am under Law Library

As finals are coming to an end, you’re starting to look forward to the summer.  Whether you’re going to be a summer associate at a fancy firm or an intern for a non-profit, a little voice in the back of your mind may be nagging, “Am I ready for this?”

If you don’t respond to this question with a resounding YES, don’t worry.  It’s normal to be nervous and feel your future employer thinks you’re smarter than you believe you are.  However, this may be a form of impostor syndrome, where one believes s/he is a fraud and does not deserve the success s/he’s achieved; all success is attributed to luck or other external forces.  Of course, this is completely untrue, but it often impacts those who are high achievers, like Joseph, the university professor, whose story details how every achievement was another opportunity for others to discover he was a fraud.

If you find yourself having these thoughts, what can you do to remind yourself that you’re an intelligent person who has earned each achievement based on your own merit? Make a list of all of the things you’ve accomplished in the last year.  What did you do that you were really proud of?  Surviving a tough class, writing a well-researched seminar paper, or arguing in Moot Court?  Surviving the first year of law school is a huge achievement in and of itself.   Many people also find it useful to share their doubts with a trusted friend or family member.  These people know you well, and in addition to validating your abilities, they might also be able to help you think of positive ways you can prove to yourself that you are in the right place and capable of doing the job.

Impostor syndrome is very self-focused, so one way to combat it is to help others.  Not only will helping others give you an opportunity to share your expertise with others, but it will remind you that no one is perfect or completely self-sufficient.  Therefore, it’s ok if you don’t have the right answer all of the time either.  A final suggestion is “Fake it ’til you make it.”  Suspend your belief that you’re not good enough and pretend you belong.  Then act like it!  This doesn’t mean be arrogant; humility is still important, but you want to assert your knowledge and capabilities instead of keeping a low profile because you’re afraid someone will discover you don’t know something.  For more information on banishing impostor syndrome, see this blog post from gradhacker.

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