Overcoming imposter syndrome
By Chetna Bhatt
Learn to befriend thoughts typical of imposter syndrome, says Chetna Bhatt
At a wellbeing conference I hosted with the Law Society, I recall somebody describing themselves as suffering with imposter syndrome. I invited others to put up their hand if they could relate. Nearly every hand went up.
Imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.
Several lawyer clients have reported feelings of inadequacy despite evident success; and carry a fear of being ‘found out’. No one is immune and it appears at all levels of seniority.
While imposter syndrome may be a thought train travelled on more regularly by some than others, it is universal to us. As Maya Angelou said: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out’”.
I help lawyers understand the principles explaining how the human experience is created to clear up fundamental misunderstandings and bring them practical benefits to help navigate life.
We have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day, yet we only engage with those that we think are meaningful. We accept certain thoughts and ideas as absolute truths and they appear to harden as we age. If, for example, lawyers attend to thoughts like, ‘I don’t deserve this promotion and any minute, I will get found out’, they will feel inadequate regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Engaging with insecure thoughts always results in some form of stress, worry and self-doubt. The more we attend to them, the worse we feel.
None of this is a reflection of the objective truth in the real world but a reflection of our inner world. We feel what we think. When we experience self-doubt, we’re feeling the effects of our illusory thinking.
It is helpful to note how human it is and to be gentle with ourselves when we get lost. Our thoughts are designed to look real to us, so it is only natural that we will occasionally get hoodwinked by the compelling power of thought.
I have yet to come across a lawyer that does not have recurring, distorted and insecure thoughts that they replay in their minds (believing them to be true) which impacts their ability to fulfil their potential. This is often coupled with perfectionist tendencies typical within the profession.
My clients often excel in one area of life but have zero confidence in another area. One lawyer was habitually worried about making a mistake at court which impacted her confidence; but she did not worry about her personal life and was confident at home. She realised the only difference was that she had a high level of insecure thought about work (that she considered was true) and a freer mind about her home life.
It didn’t make sense to her to continue worrying about mistakes; and when she had those thoughts, she let them pass by. Her confidence returned.
When we notice what’s happening and choose not to attend to ‘imposter’ thoughts, our minds naturally recalibrate and we feel okay again. It sounds counterintuitive to leave our thoughts alone. However, our minds have an inbuilt design for success and automatically bring us fresh thought and back to a natural state of okayness. Our job is to surrender to it.
Another lawyer with imposter syndrome asked: “But what if I have a real issue to resolve?” I explained that common sense solutions come to us (seemingly from nowhere) when we surrender to the present moment. He went on to realise this and described how an obvious solution to request help came to him when he had a freer mind.
I recommend befriending our ‘imposter’ thoughts as they provide a useful alarm system. When we wake up to distorted thinking, we can redirect ourselves back to the present moment and are reminded that we are doing just fine.
Understanding how our minds work gives us a fresh perspective. Law firm leaders are just as prone to imposter syndrome; and when they gain insights into how we all operate in the same way, they naturally extend more compassion to others who go off track.
Chetna Bhatt is the founder of Being Lawyers beinglawyers.com