In a series of videos, we examine "impostor syndrome", the feeling that leaves one doubting their own accomplishments and occurs often with diverse lawyers
Impostor Syndrome is the internalized feeling that leaves one doubting their own accomplishments and viewing their own actions as inauthentic, leading to worry that they will be discovered and exposed as a fraud.
For underrepresented attorneys, this deceptive feeling gives ways to “the idea that their success is an accident, and that it is merely a matter of time before they are exposed,” according to a recent program sponsored by the New York City Bar. And Ann Jenrette-Thomas, Chief D&I Officer at Stinson, stated in a recent article that “one of the insidious lingering effects of racism and implicit biases, is the notion that we, as lawyers of color, are perpetual outsiders.”
Indeed, for many lawyers of color, Impostor Syndrome is very real and felt in a variety of different ways. In new videos, several members from the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and The Men of Color Project shared how it impacts them.
Impostor Syndrome is Personal
Nadine Dabaja, a law student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, says that Impostor Syndrome is “the feeling of not fitting in no matter how much work you do, and no matter how successful you are.”
Even though Dabaja has achieved many of her goals because of her hard work, she says she often still feels like it is not enough or that she does not deserve it. “Even with the validation of others, you have a hard time believing that you deserve the position that you’re in,” she adds.
Colemon Potts, an associate at the Detroit Legal Group, characterizes the feelings of a fraud in his law practice by saying “it is the feeling that you need to fit in and need to adapt to the culture of whatever law firm or legal setting you may be in,” Potts explains, adding that this assimilation can lead to “losing your identity and heading down the wrong direction” in terms of your career path.
How to Deal with Impostor Syndrome
Not dealing with feelings of inauthenticity effectively can be crippling, allowing your inner critic to run the show. More specifically, this inner critic can pop up in various forms, underscoring such erroneous themes as, I’m not good enough or I’m just a token on the team, undermining the performance of attorneys of color and de-valuing their professional accomplishments.
Being positive is an effective tactic to overcome Impostor Syndrome. Aaron Roberson, law student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, makes sure that he repeats positive things to himself to remain motivated and to work through difficult issues.
Dabaja says she also does something similar: She reminds herself of her purpose, her strengths, and that she is where she is because of who she is as a person.
In fact, identifying with others’ experiences is another good tactic that can also alleviate feelings of Impostor Syndrome. Rosa Walker, head of diversity and inclusion at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, emphasizes the value of community. “A lot of us learn by listening to each other’s stories,” Walker says. “We learn from our own stories.” When lawyers hear common stories they can identify with, they realize there is strength in numbers. For example, Roberson says he surrounds himself with positive people to remind him he is qualified and competent. There is strength in numbers in bolstering confidence, too, he adds.
Writing can is another useful tactic. Jonathan Bogues, an Associate at Jordan Price Wall Gray Jones & Carlton, says he writes down positive thoughts and those things for which he is thankful. This is especially useful in a courtroom setting when Bogues’s inner critic is reinforcing feelings of inadequacy because he learned the opposing counsel went to Harvard Law and Bogues did not graduate from a top school.
Doing these writing exercises helps to increase consciousness around your accomplishments and allows you to recognize how far you truly have come and how much you deserve to be in this position, Bogues explains.
LaKeisha Randall, civil trial attorney and CEO of Atlanta Life Coaching & Consulting, recommends going one step beyond writing and advises younger lawyers of color to “practice mindfulness to recognize and fully understand that those things aren’t true.” More specifically, Randall says she works with clients to write down those critical thoughts for one week at a minimum in order to bring awareness to the words and thoughts and better understand their debilitating impact. Then, once the person is aware of the impact, Randall has her clients write a response to the thought. For example, in response to the thought, I am not smart enough to handle this project, the person might write, I am successful. I am able to do this.
Finally, perhaps the best tactic of dealing with Impostor Syndrome is by being comfortable and confident in your own skin no matter the setting. “I deal with overcoming Impostor Syndrome by just being myself, no matter what,” says Potts. “I’m not going to pretend to be somebody else just to fit in.” In fact, Potts takes it a step further and leverages his differences to bring about greater appreciation of these issues.
“I help those around me understand that I may have cultural or personality difference, but this is who I am, and they just need to be better understanding of it,” he explains. “And that helps them move forward in understanding different people in different situations.”