For Women in Law By Women in Law

Beyond Imposter Syndrome

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In the past four years, I have heard the term “imposter syndrome” more than I have heard it in my entire life. Perhaps it can be attributed to just starting out my legal career. Perhaps it is the cloud of isolation from friends and family – usual sources of support and encouragement – we all experienced during the pandemic. Perhaps it is because many of us are simply now more comfortable speaking about the topic.

Whatever the reason, the increased frequency of the term caused me to reflect on how it has impacted my own life and what I can do to break past the barrier.

I was in law school the first time I heard someone speak about imposter syndrome. I immediately thought, “well doesn’t everyone feel that way?” The feeling only grew as I started my articles and was called to the bar only two months after the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared.

For me, the most pernicious aspect of my imposter syndrome is that I thought I was hired – both for articles and as an associate – not because I’m a woman of colour (although I would be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind), but because I’m likeable. I reasoned that if decisions were really based on merit and not personality, surely they would have picked one of the other hundreds of more qualified individuals who applied.

Late last year I spoke with a friend about how I was feeling, and she challenged me to unpack what being “likeable” means in this context. When I did, I realized that people like me because I work hard, I have good judgment, I genuinely like my job and the people I work with and for, I’m adaptable, I don’t lose my temper, I don’t have big ego, and I don’t get discouraged. After sitting with this for some time, I now firmly believe these qualities allow me to be a better lawyer.

Seeing myself more clearly helped me realize that my self-doubt was interfering with the growth of my legal career and leading to feelings of isolation and disillusionment. Constantly thinking about what I “should” be doing made me miss opportunities to do what I’m best at.

I ultimately made a conscious decision to lean into my strengths and value my approach as a litigator. It is still a work in progress, but it has made all the difference in my confidence and my ability to bring value to my clients.

I do not purport to have all the answers; I offer my story in the hopes it encourages others who have felt similarly to challenge why it is you feel you don’t deserve the role you have. Whether you are too likeable, a realist, or feel you were only hired because of the colour of your skin, I hope this inspires reflection on all the unique ways your traits allow you to excel.


About the Author

Caryna Miller is an associate at Harper Grey with a broad litigation practice spanning in technically challenging complex litigation matters, professional liability defence, class action defence, and environmental contamination. Caryna has appeared and made submissions for her clients in courts across Canada, including the courts of appeal in British Columbia and Alberta. She joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2019 and was called to the BC bar in 2020.

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