Imposter Syndrome: A common theme

Over the time that I have been coaching female lawyers, recurring themes are coming up for clients around their challenges at work. Confidence issues around a return to work after maternity leave or going for a promotion or judicial position, for example. One topic that seems to be on the increase is so called “Imposter Syndrome”, the feeling that you are somehow winging it and at risk at any moment of getting “found out.”

You aren’t alone

Having recently come across the term for the first time, one client described feeling relief that it was an actual “thing” because she was not alone in experiencing those limiting beliefs. I think back to my career at the Bar and the times when, in order to progress my practice, I took on cases outside of my comfort zone. Of course they challenged me. On other occasions they made me feel out of my depth and in some instances, downright incapable.

Harnessing the good; disassociating from overwhelm

So what can we do to harness those feeling which in some respects come with the “Stretch Zone” territory and keep us focused on working hard and doing a good job but which also have the ability to make us feel debilitating fear and overwhelm?

What will you do?

By make these 9 simple changes to your approach, you can make a significant difference to your work place experiences and outcomes:

  1. Create a Success Board, a visual representation of your life to date, what you have done well, what you have achieved, what you have succeeded at: Your graduation, your entry date in to the profession, securing your first legal position etc. It is a great reference point to go back to on days when motivation is hard to come by and self-doubt is creeping in
  2. Think of and repeat daily positive affirmations, positive statements written in the present tense designed to inspire and motivate you and remind you of your own value. Tony Robbins, an American Coach, talks of the brain as a muscle, and just in the same way as a muscle requires consistent exercise to develop and grow, so too our minds need training to think differently and more positively about ourselves and our situation. “If it is to be, it is up to me” was a favourite of mine which I said repeatedly to myself on a daily basis.
  3. Spend time with and seek feedback from your trusted circle of colleagues. Whilst to be meaningful confidence must come from within, on the down days, it doesn’t hurt to remind yourself of the positive stuff that others say about you to win your own battle with your mind to tell it it is wrong when suggesting you can’t do something or your weaknesses will be discovered.
  4. Develop your support network. Go to events which will enable you to meet likeminded people and grow your trusted circle to good effect.
  5. Work hard to firstly identify your areas of development so you know the obstacles you are dealing with. Then work equally hard to counter-act them. If you know you aren’t great at delivering a presentation without notes, for example, push yourself, by doing the thing you fear, in a safe environment, and keep doing so until you break through the barriers of those limiting beliefs.
  6. Quieten the negative voices in your head. Acknowledge them and thank them for keeping you safe, but bat them away by saying to them that you want to break free of them this time. Tara Mohr, in her brilliant book, Playing Big, develops this theory and practice in greater detail.
  7. Read Becoming by Michelle Obama, a strong, powerful, female leader and ex-lawyer who describes being dogged by the question “Am I good enough?” throughout her life. Her advice to overcome it? To work hard and let your work speak for itself.
  8. Remember your raisin d’etre, your “what’s it all about?” Why are you doing what you are doing? Focus on your career goals and ambitions and work back from there. Put an action plan in place for their achievement. If you have a plan, even if you are knocked temporarily off course by imposter syndrome, you can course correct and get straight back on your clear path to success.
  9. Hire a coach. By doing so you can explore further ways to boost your confidence and side step the negative impact of imposter syndrome by having someone in your corner, shining a light on your strengthens and more to the point, your full potential.

 

Nikki Alderson is a former criminal barrister, now Corporate and Executive Coach supporting law firms and Chambers to attract and retain female talent within the legal profession and empowering female lawyers to achieve career ambitions whilst creating congruent lives. Having gained great insights into the responsibilities, pressures and “expected” career paths of those, particularly women, working in law, Nikki sees a challenge within the profession, which she hopes to address through coaching, of retaining talented women role models, given the dearth of women in senior partnership roles and within the judiciary

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