Imposter Syndrome for Aspiring Solicitors

In this guest piece, Laura Johnson shares her experience of imposter syndrome having recently gone through the process. Over to Laura who is a future trainee at White & Case for her insight!

Imposter Syndrome. Sit with that idea for a second. Have you heard of it before? And if you have, do you understand what it means? Sure, I’d heard it before, and used it quite generously too. But I’ll be the first to admit my real understanding only scratched the surface. So, I hope you gain as much from reading this article as I did in researching it!

Imposter Syndrome describes a feeling of inadequacy, or of an individual’s inability to internalise success. It’s a feeling that unites us, regardless of our experiences or backgrounds, and that is fed – rather than defeated – each time we achieve. It’s that nagging feeling that, eventually, someone will unmask you for the fraud you are.

I’ve felt this all too often in my life: when I first arrived at university, when I was elected as a sports captain, and even when I received my training contract offer. It felt like all these achievements were really a call to defend my position, to prove myself, as if I hadn’t done that already by achieving in the first place. And if I stumbled, everyone who ever doubted me would have been right. 

Well, I didn’t always know it but others feel this way too. Take Maya Angelou, for example, who said, “I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.” Or how about Neil Gaiman? He believed there would be “a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard… would be there to tell me it was all over”. Even the most successful of us can feel the effects of Imposter Syndrome. 

So why exactly am I telling you all this? How does it help you? Well, one of the other areas in my life where Imposter Syndrome was most rife was in the application process. It’s so hard not to fall into the trap of believing that there is one right path, one right answer, and one right timeline on your journey into law. And when you make it to assessment centres and vacation schemes (which you will!), it doesn’t stop there. 

During an assessment centre with Herbert Smith Freehills, all I could do was think about the other candidates and how much more impressive they were than me. And again, the week before my vacation scheme with White & Case as I flicked through the profiles that had been sent of my colleagues, there was a deep sense of inadequacy in comparison to these amazing individuals. 

Research says that approximately 70 per cent of people experience feelings of Imposter Syndrome in their lifetime, so it’s equally important for us to name it and understand how to channel our emotions into more healthy outcomes. Because Imposter Syndrome shakes our belief in ourselves, telling us to miss chances or to overwork to the point of burnout. 

So, what can we do? 

Luckily, it’s all in our control! 

The first step is acknowledgement. Once we recognise our feelings and accept them for what they are, we can begin to balance them out. Tell yourself that you are experiencing feelings of Imposter Syndrome. 

The next step is to discuss this with others. The Catch 22 of Imposter Syndrome is that no one shares their experiences because they don’t want to be discovered as a fraud. But these feelings are so natural. I’m confident that if you shared this with your loved ones, many would be able to empathise.

Now, the balancing work can begin. Think of all you have achieved in your life; this isn’t a bragging exercise, but rather an opportunity for you to celebrate these moments. And as you do, consider whether you gave these the attention they deserved at the time. If you didn’t, how can you change this so that you are fully acknowledging your successes in the future? Celebrating success is incredibly important. It may feel awkward in a society that encourages us to be humble to a fault, but by not doing so we set a precedent that these achievements don’t matter.

Next, consider how you deal with failure. Do you see it as a reflection of your worth? Or do you see it as an opportunity to self-improve? Try to consider that everyone makes mistakes; that is part and parcel of the human condition. These moments in life can teach us some of the most important lessons but you are not defined by them. How you respond is more important.

Use these moments to create a balanced picture of yourself. Rather than simply focussing on where things didn’t go as you’d hoped, try to see it holistically. Once you can recognise and accept both aspects of yourself, it will be easier to understand that your achievements are not merely down to luck.

And finally – but most importantly – take a look at your inner monologue. Those who experience Imposter Syndrome are often their harshest critics. Take a step back when you next berate yourself and think: ‘Would I speak to a friend that way?’. If the answer is no, remember to be kind to yourself in the future. Replace or balance out the harsh critic on your shoulder with a gentler one. 

There are no ‘quick fixes’. Learning to love yourself for exactly who you are in this moment takes hard work and I’m still working on accepting that I am enough. 

But, please, as you chase your dreams, remember not to lose your worth in the process. You will meet people who have more experience than you, who can speak more eloquently, who come up with original ideas like it’s nothing. Don’t despair in this. Surrounding yourself with impressive and inspiring people is a privilege. Instead of comparing and wishing you were someone else, remember the unique things that you bring to the table. Be happy and grateful for those incredible people in your life for pushing you to be better and express that to them! They might even be feeling the same things as you, and words of encouragement can go a long way. 

What I want to leave you with is this statement of encouragement. It might even be a mantra for some: 

You have talent. You are capable. And you belong. 

Thanks for reading and best of luck! 

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