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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Law School

Imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon affecting high achievers, those who excel externally but struggle to internalise their successes. To put it succinctly, I like to think of it as when one’s competence is higher than their confidence. As I embarked on my journey through law school at Monash University, I found myself entangled in the web of Imposter Syndrome, a phenomenon that had silently shadowed my academic pursuits for years, unbeknownst to me.

Law school, renowned for its high standards and intense competition, provides the perfect breeding ground for self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome to manifest. Stepping onto the Clayton Campus as an overconfident and somewhat naive fresher, I was suddenly surrounded by the best and brightest minds – the duxes of Melbourne's top academic schools, the offspring of Australia's most prominent lawyers. I quickly began to question if I truly belonged.

The initial self-doubt I experienced went beyond questioning my ability to keep up with the coursework. It was an overwhelming sense of not deserving to be here. Once a teacher's pet who eagerly participated in class, I quickly became a quiet student, dreading the possibility of being called upon. Fearing if I was, I would be exposed as a fraud.

The fear of being "found out" is a hallmark of Imposter Syndrome, often leading to silent suffering. Many individuals afflicted by it endure their struggles in the dark, afraid to voice their self-doubt. They dread being unmasked as frauds, despite achieving outward success. It's a psychological burden that many bear but rarely discuss.

Despite still performing academically, this fear continued and eventually started to take a toll on my academic success. I would sit through classes, my mind too preoccupied with worry to absorb the lesson. I even started leaving Zoom calls and skipping classes.

Imposter Syndrome might not be an official DSM diagnosis, but it's a genuine and specific form of intellectual self-doubt which can greatly impede your success as a university student and lawyer. It often comes hand in hand with anxiety and perfectionism. The Imposter Syndrome cycle can be relentless, believing everything must be executed flawlessly and rarely seeking help. This manifests as either procrastination, where assignments are postponed due to a fear of not meeting high standards, or overpreparation, where too much time is devoted to tasks due to the same fear.

The cycle perpetuates as individuals continue to succeed despite their self-doubt. They attribute their success not to their abilities but to external factors like luck, further entrenching Imposter Syndrome.

Everyone feels like an imposter sometimes and that’s ok. It’s when the experience is ongoing where real damage to your success can be made. Truthfully, the feelings of imposter syndrome still often affect me today, but I have made considerable progress through finding strategies to help overcome it.

Firstly, it is beneficial to understand potential causes of Imposter Syndrome. These causes can be rooted in early experiences and personality traits such as the pressure to achieve. Many individuals grappling with feelings of being impostors grew up in families that emphasised achievement. This external pressure can blur the lines between approval, love, and self-worth, leading individuals to believe that their intrinsic value centres around their achievements.

Another noteworthy aspect is the experience of minority groups. People belonging to marginalised communities, based on factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and more, often face unique challenges that contribute to Imposter Syndrome. The awareness of being part of an underrepresented group can intensify feelings of self-doubt and non-belonging.

Personality traits also play a crucial role in susceptibility to Imposter Syndrome. Traits like self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism can make individuals more prone to experiencing these feelings.

Individuals embarking on new endeavours or undergoing significant transitions in their professional development, such as new university students or recent graduates entering the workforce, are particularly susceptible to Imposter Syndrome. These transitional phases come with a heightened sense of uncertainty, making it easier for self-doubt to take root.

Acknowledging Imposter Syndrome within oneself is the initial step towards overcoming it. Are you procrastinating excessively or over-preparing to an unreasonable degree? Recognizing these patterns is the first step in dismantling them. Speaking out about Imposter Syndrome is equally critical. Sharing this burden with mentors or confiding in friends who may have experienced similar feelings can provide immense relief.

Acknowledging your expertise and accomplishments is another vital element. Remind yourself of what you excel at and vocalise it to reinforce your self-belief. Another way to acknowledge this would be to write a two-column list of ‘evidence I am inadequate’ and ‘evidence I am competent’.

Understand that no one is perfect, and comparisons are often unfair. The person sitting next to you may be silently battling Imposter Syndrome as well. Each person's life is unique, with distinct resources, experiences, hobbies, and lifestyles that defy direct comparison. What may appear as a deficiency in one aspect of your life may be balanced by strength in another.

Seek trusted feedback from your network whether that may be teachers, peers, group project members, practice self-compassion and celebrate your successes!

Imposter Syndrome might always linger in the shadows, but it does not need to define your journey. By acknowledging its presence and taking proactive steps to combat it, we can unveil the phantom and embrace our inner greatness. Remember your feelings are normal, but we ensure that Imposter Syndrome finds no sanctuary within us. Before we seek the truth for others, it's so important we seek the truth within ourselves.

Written by Eden Squire

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