April 12, 2018 Practice Points

How Confidence and Self Valuation Can Advance Your Career

Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome.

By Hope Zelinger

Growing up, my parents always told me that I was my own worst critic. As I look back on my early years, it seems my parents were right. While I excelled in school, sports and extracurricular activities, I never felt like I was good enough. According to an article published on the Glasshammer website entitled Undervaluing Yourself? Here's How to Make Sure You Get What You Deserve by Karen Schoenbart, a renowned market researcher, my past insecurities are not uncommon. Indeed, citing a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, Schoenbart states that about 70 percent of people suffer from what is known as imposter syndrome, a phenomenon where high-achieving individuals have a difficult time acknowledging their own successes, and are further concerned that they will be exposed as frauds in their field. The article suggests that people who suffer from the syndrome are often afraid to seek raises or promotions because they consider themselves unworthy of such career advancement.

As a litigation attorney in a fast-paced and competitive field, I often work with attorneys who suffer from this syndrome. These attorneys are bright and hardworking, consistently producing a quality work product and impressing clients. However, they fail to recognize their value and lack overall self-confidence. In the article, the author provides these high achieving yet insecure lawyers with some tips on how to gain confidence and properly value themselves. As a self-proclaimed recovering “imposter,” I suggest the following tips helpful to overcome your insecurities and advance your career:

  • Don’t compare yourself to others; instead, focus on accomplishing your own goals.
  • Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  • Accept compliments graciously. Don’t deflect by acting undeserving. 
  • Show your humility by helping others, not through self-deprecation.    

In addition to the above tips, the article also suggests keeping a record of your achievements, for example, saving complimentary emails from clients. When it is time to seek a raise or a promotion you can reference some of these documented successes (cautioning that asking for a raise or promotion may not always work out, so if you don’t get the answer you want, don’t let it get you down). It is also important to share your most impressive wins/results with your superiors. Not only does this let your boss know what a great job you are doing, but it opens the door for feedback—feedback that is essential to your continued growth as a lawyer.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reporting your wins both to your superiors and your clients—and doing so with appropriate detail that highlights your efforts in the path to your success. Indeed, keeping clients well informed on the status and successes in a case is a crucial part of the job. Too often I see attorneys provide long and detailed case updates, but then send news of a win/good result as a mere afterthought. Use the win as an opportunity to identify best practices for similar matters/issues going forward. In doing so, highlight the steps you took to achieve the good result. For example, we recently enforced an offer of judgment in a unique setting often rejected by the court. In reporting back to the client, we highlighted the strategy in obtaining the victory, but with the goal of encouraging the client to try our approach in other cases in the same jurisdiction. Our communication allowed us to offer guidance on a going forward basis, and to enlighten the client as to our efforts.

View each challenge as a stepping stone toward the future. I faced such a challenge early on in my career, as a firm associate, when I began receiving referral business. It started as a one off assignment and after about a year, referral business occupied most of my time. I suggested to the managing partner that we hire another attorney to assist in growing the business. The firm disagreed. At that point, I realized that the firm did not value new business or the potential for growth in the same way that I did. Rather than get discouraged, I explored other options, and was able to convey my goals to other law firms and my vision of growing and securing new clients. I was able to transition to a firm that was a perfect fit. I have a support system, including mentors and peers who have helped grow my business without hesitation. Self-confidence, a positive attitude, and the ability to learn from a difference of opinions has allowed me to overcome the “imposter syndrome” and achieve professional success.

In summary, consider these two critical points. First, while it is important to overcome your innate insecurities, be careful not to cross that fine line between confidence and arrogance. While I have encountered hardworking successful attorneys who undervalue themselves, I have also crossed paths with attorneys who are entitled and rely solely on “talent.” In my view, hard work along with talent will always help you succeed. Second, your work ethic is within your control. Focus on what you can change, not on what will frustrate you and thus impede your success. Hard work rarely goes unrewarded.

Hope Zelinger is with Bressler, Amery & Ross, Miami, Florida.

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).