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Lawyer Wellness

5 Ways Legal Professionals Can Combat Imposter Syndrome

Let’s look at five ways you can manage and eradicate the effects of imposter syndrome— and how to identify it in the first place.

As a legal professional, confidence is key to getting your job done and advancing your career. But imposter syndrome — the nagging feeling that you don’t really deserve your success or that people will discover some fatal flaw that you’ve managed to hide — threatens that confidence in even the most accomplished legal professionals.  

As matter of fact, imposter syndrome may show up without you realising it’s there. Let’s look at five ways you can manage and eradicate the effects — and how to identify it in the first place.

#1 – Make a List of Things You Do Well

Many people suffering from imposter syndrome feel that if they can’t accomplish the extraordinary, they’re not really deserving of success. They are often perfectionists, worrying that anything short of the absolute best is not even worth the original effort. Perfectionism can look like:

  • Believing other people who are considered “the best” don’t need to put in much effort to succeed. So, if they can’t win their own case or easily figure out a legal issue, they conclude that they really aren’t on top of their game.
  • Believing success should come overnight. The myth of overnight success plagues people suffering from imposter syndrome. They try to do something a few times or for a few years but give up when they don’t initially succeed. They’re under the false belief that genuinely talented people succeed quickly and on the first try.
  • Believing they should know it all. People who suffer from imposter syndrome don’t reach out to others for help because they fear being seen as incompetent for asking “dumb” questions. They assume everyone else has the answers, but they are the only ones without them.

Healthy self-expectations should be respectful, fair, compassionate and reasonable, among other traits. If your beliefs make you feel otherwise, they’re probably unhealthy.  

It’s so much easier to dwell over your flaws than it is to celebrate your successes. If you find yourself feeling like you’re not good enough, challenge yourself to create a list of all the things you do successfully – no matter how big or small.  

When you have your list, paste it in a location you look at often – maybe on your bathroom mirror or next to your monitor. This will help remind you of your skills if you’re beating yourself up over your mistakes.  

How to change your thinking: If you see yourself as a perfectionist, consider this: Every accomplished person started somewhere. They learned from others, made mistakes and endured failure — and they still do today. You’re no different, no better, and—most importantly—no worse.

#2 – Actively Create Healthy Space from Work  

Some people with imposter syndrome work harder than they need to feel competent and diligent. They may stay longer at the office or take on extra duties without outwardly complaining. Know that everyone deserves healthy work boundaries and time off, regardless of how you perceive your performance. If you struggle to find time for yourself, look at your calendar and schedule three times throughout your week or weekend to do something non-work related.  

Try some of these fun and healthy activities:

  • Do a 15-minute guided meditation. You can even invite your co-workers to do this as a team!
  • Pack a special lunch. Our favourite foods can be so comforting and grounding. Enjoying your favourite meal at work can help you get through tough days.
  • Get active. Take a walk in the park, join a community sports team, or get a local gym membership. Exercise releases endorphins that can help reduce stress.
  • Invite a friend to get coffee in the morning.
  • Take a day trip somewhere in your state.
  • Try something new like rock climbing, a new restaurant, painting pottery, learning a new language.

How to change your thinking: If you have workaholic tendencies, schedule time off for yourself each week, whether it’s a long lunch, weeknight activities with friends or just time to read a book for pleasure. You’re more likely to allow yourself some downtime or personal time if it’s scheduled in and predictable. Keep your time-off commitments the way you would any other calendar appointment.

#3 – Assess if You’re Being Uniquely Hard on Yourself

People suffering from imposter syndrome have no tolerance for flaws; they demand perfection from themselves and from others. Perfectionism is on the rise; a study of over 41,000 people found perfectionism has increased over time, partly because people are comparing themselves to others thanks to social media and partly because of the competitive environments that colleagues and employers are increasingly creating. Here’s an easy exercise to assess if you’re being hard on yourself specifically. If you see yourself as a perfectionist, try this exercise:  

Think of a time you made a mistake. Talk yourself through the scenario as if one of your co-workers or friends did it. How would you react to the situation if someone you care about made the same mistake? If you find you’re more lenient on someone else other than you, it’s time to change your thinking.  

How to change your thinking: If you find you’re a perfectionist, work to accept that failure is part of learning. When you work on a task, aim to minimise errors, but accept that your first efforts may be less than excellent.

#4 – Lean on your co-workers for help

Despite the instinct to be “self-made” and take on the burden of every task yourself, no one achieves success entirely alone. It’s normal to ask for help from your colleagues.  

How to change your thinking: If you find the “loner” in your own actions, challenge yourself by taking a backseat on at least one project. Trying to be a loner will not only alienate your workplace colleagues, it will also leave you burned out.

#5 – Accept Your Mistakes and Learn from Them  

Consider a mistake you made and be constructive. What did you do right, and where did you go wrong? We can’t go back in time. If the mistake hasn’t been handled, find out how it can be remedied. If it has been fixed, consider how you can do better in future similar situations. What tools can you use to prevent this mistake from happening in the future?

Be honest in your self-assessment, and self-care

While it may seem that these imposter syndrome traits are harmless, the truth is that they can harm careers and productivity. Without an accurate understanding of your own competence, it can create unnecessary problems in the workplace. One study shows managers experiencing imposter syndrome are more likely to delegate both routine and challenging tasks to subordinates who also experience imposter syndrome. Another found a correlation between imposter syndrome and poor work/life balance — another frequent struggle among legal professionals.  

Consider tackling your issues around imposter syndrome as an important part of your self-improvement process. Everyone benefits when you understand that you were hired and remain in your position because you are qualified. You have a lot to offer your employer and peers. You are growing, as is everyone else.

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