The Antidote to Imposter Syndrome

Do not judge yourself or others by traditional success benchmarks that fail to capture the scaffolding or lack thereof behind that success. Keep your self-perception in check and celebrate your growth, whether or not it is marked by a grade or promotion.



Lynn Ryan
Associate Attorney
Corporate, M&A, and Securities
Husch Blackwell

Our profession is riddled with imposter syndrome.  We feel the need to compare ourselves using grades or billables, which we give the gravitas to say –definitively– who is the best. One solution to imposter syndrome is to divest ourselves from the idea that conventional benchmarks are capable of accurately capturing success.  

An effective leader should look to define their own success by a different, more honest methodology.  This includes adopting the critical self-reflection and humility that relates to imposter syndrome, while staving off the destructive self-doubt that characterizes it.  Critical self-reflection that probes the foundation of one’s success impacts not only how you show up in the workplace (for instance, how long you hold the floor in meetings), but also how you internally perceive teammates from an equity and inclusion standpoint. 

If you take a moment to reflect on your professional journey, you may see that grades and other conventional benchmarks tell a story of both hard work and the sheer luck of opportunity or access to resources.  For example, when you were in high school, there may have been only a question of where you would go to college, not if you would go.  The benefit of growing up in a culture of education and wealth makes it easier to reach for higher education.  To translate this example for a professional setting, a mother or father-in-law that doubles as a free nanny might make it easier for an attorney to bill longer hours and make partner sooner. 

It would be dishonest for someone with those kinds of extra resources to think their hard work alone is to thank for their success.  When you compare your grades or career progression with those of others, keep in mind the many factors that play a role.  This practice of holistic assessment will help you to see your accomplishments in a more honest, contextual light that accounts for inequity among us.

It is an ongoing process to divest yourself from the idea that a grade or promotion is indicative of your value, your capacity to do good in your community, your ability to excel in your career, or the effort you have expended.  Having been a Kindergarten teacher in Memphis prior to attending law school, I can tell you that some of my kids who worked the hardest were the ones stuck on the letter “A” in December.  They were the ones who did not have the chance to go to preschool.  They all eventually progressed to the point of reading in First Grade, and I have no doubt they are destined for greatness.   

You alone know if you are learning, growing, and exerting considerable effort toward your goals, whether they be personal or professional.  Do not judge yourself or others by traditional success benchmarks that fail to capture the scaffolding or lack thereof behind that success.  Keep your self-perception in check and celebrate your growth, whether or not it is marked by a grade or promotion. 

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