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Twisting the Tale on Impostor Syndrome

Courtney Yonker and Matthew Paul Smith-Marin

Twisting the Tale on Impostor Syndrome
adventtr via iStock

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Impostor syndrome is feeling chronic self-doubt despite evident success. You likely had yet to experience it before attending law school. However, a few weeks from your first-semester final exams, you might feel defeated–the kind of defeat where you aren’t sure if you should even show up to try. After attempting every self-help trick to restore the faith to keep going, you realize that you feel inadequate. Impostor syndrome is starting to consume you. While none of the symptoms of impostor syndrome are typically longed for (e.g., fear, self-sabotage, self-doubt), think about twisting the tale on impostor syndrome: instead of considering these feelings as all negative, consider how you can make these impostor feelings work for you as a unique and special person.

Attributing Success to Luck

You could feel that your acceptance into law school was a mistake or that a high final grade in a course was a typo. These thoughts are tough and can significantly affect you as you progress through law school because you may start attributing success to luck. However, what if you were to consider that attributing success to luck also makes you curious when constructing an argument? How about your detail-oriented mindset? Or that it makes you humble? Instead of it only haunting you about your law school acceptance or grades, think of your power to link events and create relationships as the key to opening the door to the wonderful unknown. That empowers you to realize that you lead yourself to your successes.

Fear of Falling Short

Humans naturally feel unsure. They feel the pressures of society and the bias within the four walls of law school. The main fear is of falling short and not making it. For example, the Socratic Method can cause you to doubt your abilities because cold calling can make you feel lost and confused. However, being fearful of not living up to expectations shows that you are reliable, dedicated, devoted, and compassionate. For example, without this fear and nerves pushing you, your academic accomplishments and the devotion you will have in practice wouldn’t be near your potential. Use this fear to strive to raise the bar and set yourself apart in your studies and, ultimately, in practice.

Being an Overachiever

Impostor syndrome can lead you to believe that the drive to overachieve comes from a negative place. However, it can make you hard-working, creative, willing to push the boundaries, and, in many instances, a leader. Instead of seeing yourself as being cursed with needing to overachieve, maybe thank it for making you a person who strives for improvement and progress. And excelling beyond the confines of bare minimums and raising the bar is not a characteristic to be ashamed of.

Feeling Self-Doubt

Law school culture amplifies the feeling of self-doubt; however, what about the characteristics of being caring, rational, unique, and confident? How do these characteristics and self-doubt connect? If you didn’t care about something, you wouldn’t be mindful of it. You’re cognizant of your performance (and, in this case, doubtful of your performance) because you care about what you are doing. Arguably, being doubtful means that you are confident. How so? Generally, it’s not a lasting thought if you can’t do something. Perhaps, you may feel self-doubt because you know you can accomplish that very thing. Your mind is bringing you to this place of uncertainty because you know you can do it.

Overall, it is not feasible to overlook these difficult feelings during your time in law school. However, looking at these common impostor-syndrome characteristics positively may help you accept them and more easily function with them, too. Just remember, impostor syndrome doesn’t make you any less when you twist the tale and focus on your positive characteristics.