Imposter Syndrome – Really?
I don’t know about you, but I have spent hours, if not days, of my professional life second guessing myself. It is hard not to when we have all these noises in our head influencing our belief in our capabilities. However, it is not just the noises in our head that are at play. There are concrete examples of biases and societal expectations that are continuing to oppress our development as lawyers and our confidence in the belief we deserve to stand on the front line too.
Recently, one of my associates shared with me the Harvard Business Review article “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome” and I couldn’t help but find myself pondering this issue again.
I want to start with the definition as proposed in the article:
“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’re deserving of accolades.”
This definition says a lot. It says that imposter syndrome is a space we find for ourselves – I doubt my abilities. I feel like a fraud. I don’t deserve the accolades. No matter the path to this belief system it is not healthy and likely not true.
The article focuses on the unacceptable experience of Talisa Lavarry, a woman of colour, when she tried to prove her expertise while in charge of a corporate event. She met persistent pushback from her colleagues which left her exhausted and with what was described as workplace induced trauma. She later went on to write a book about her experience and reflect on the imposter syndrome that she fell prey to – due to repeated systemic racism and bias.
Referencing the obvious dichotomy, the authors note that the systems that reward confidence, even false confidence, in men punish women for lacking confidence or demonstrating confidence. Driven by narrow definitions of acceptable behavior women are taught to believe they don’t fit in. They don’t meet the “norm” and so are stifled from reaching their full potential.
The article proposes a solution that bears repeating. We must continue to press leaders in our respective fields to create a culture for women and people of color that reduces bias and the experiences that culminate in the development of imposter syndrome. In other words, supportive work cultures will help shift this paradigm.
The authors argue that the answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is “not to fix individuals but to create an environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as just as professional as the current model”.
I love the article and everything it stands for, but in my view there is a missing link. I understand that I cannot make a sweeping statement that we all need to change our perspective, but I know some of us can do better at addressing our own personal insecurities. If you are feeling the shackles of the imposter syndrome, as yourself some questions that might help take them off. How hard have you worked to get to where you are? (I wager, extremely hard). How much have you learned? (Undoubtedly, a lot). How much better are you at your job than when you started? (Miles). I find when I ask myself these and similar questions and answer them honestly, I feel like less of an imposter. I find it impossible not to. My point here is that as much as businesses and law firms have to shift their culture (and they do) we can try to shift our thinking too. We are not powerless to influence how we perceive ourselves. We are capable of convincing ourselves of the truth – that we did not get here because we are frauds or not worthy. We got here because we are strong and gifted professionals that deserve a seat at any table. I say we proceed on this premise and maybe, just maybe, some of us will have a better chance of navigating the systemic issues that will take time and maybe even generations to change.
About the Author
Kim Jakeman, QC is a partner at Harper Grey and – in case this is your first time here – also the co-founder of Life in Law. Not only is Kim a skilled mediator, she also maintains a busy dual practice focused mainly on litigation in the area of medical malpractice, and regulatory work involving professionals facing disciplinary proceedings before a variety of regulatory bodies. Kim is almost as passionate about biking, her new love of surfing, and working out as she is about supporting women in the legal profession. A master of her own balancing act, when Kim isn’t busy with work, she spends coveted time with her family and friends.