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Feature article

Kalde & Associates

Imposter Syndrome

I was at a legal function the other day, hosted by a colleague and friend of mine. It was one of those affairs lawyers go to for ongoing legal education.  We learn the latest law from the best and brightest of our colleagues. My friend was presenting part of the course and hosting it in her own legal practice headquarters. She also lectures at a University in her chosen specialty. When I complemented her on her talk afterwards, she replied ‘thank you, but I feel like a fraud’. ‘A classic case of impostor syndrome.’ I replied.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with impostor syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. It is not perceived to be a mental disorder but it has been the topic of research for many psychologists. Impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achievers. Psychologists have found several common behaviours of high-achievers with imposter syndrome:

  • Diligence: working hard in order to prevent people from discovering that he or she is an "impostor". Ironically this hard work often leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the impostor feelings and fears of being "found out".
  • A persistent feeling of being a fraud.
  • Avoiding displays of confidence, and telling people what they want to hear, rather than expressing their own convictions.

The solution to impostor syndrome, is in writing down your accomplishments. Writing therapy allows a person to organise and assimilate his or her thoughts. The written record of the person's objective accomplishments enable the person to associate those accomplishments with reality, rather than simply dismissing their own accomplishments internally. The written record can also remind the person of those accomplishments later.

Even Albert Einstein seems to have suffered from the syndrome near the end of his life. A month before his death, he reportedly confided in a friend: "the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”

It would seem to be a healthy mental practice to sit quietly, and take stock of our lives once in a while. In taking stock we should take note of the good we’ve done, the things we’ve accomplished and achieved. Our daily lives are normally so filled with taking care of problems that we seldom get the change to acknowledge what’s actually going right. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Eric Kalde

Kalde & Associates

Commercial Lawyers