“I have written eleven 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.'” – Maya Angelou
Shortly after being called to the bar I had a conversation that sounded like this:
- “So what do you do?” I’m asked by an acquaintance
- “Oh I work in the legal industry”
- They look at me as if they’re waiting for the rest of the answer… because clearly that was only half the answer to the question.
- My friend chimes in, in a very matter of fact tone she says “she’s a lawyer”
- Then feeling the need to affirm my friend’ s statement, I say “Yes, I’m a lawyer”
Why did I do that? Why did I somewhat unknowingly attempt to shy away from what it is that I do? Why was it that in that moment I felt the need to deflect, and detract from what I worked hard to accomplish? A lot of long hours and hard work went into me being able to say “Yes, I’m a lawyer”.
As a newly minted lawyer I suppose I still had doubts about professing myself to be one. It was almost like saying it too loud or too proud would create the expectation that I would have the knowledge base of a lawyer 25 years post call [to the bar]. Maybe I felt that if there was a legal question I couldn’t answer, I’d be a poser.
I had similar thoughts during undergrad. And at the same time that I had my doubts, there was always this air of over-confidence, sometimes even downright smugness, that seeped through the pores of some of my classmates. Yes, a lot of the men carried that air (some stunk of it), but so did a lot of the women.
“Do I even “fit” in this programme?”
Frankly, I confuse myself, because even in those moments where I had my doubts, nobody could tell me I wasn’t capable of doing the work and nobody could deter me from prying all that I could from that learning environment. I was going to do it and do it well.
At some point in law school the concept of the “impostor syndrome” came up in class. And I remember thinking to myself – I can relate. I’m not going to recount the scientific or psychological bases and implications of impostor syndrome. But for those who don’t know, I think of it as that feeling of being out of place regardless of your success – the questioning of how you arrived at any given point in school or your career.
Whilst I consider myself to be a confident woman (insert finger snaps), there are moments when I have my doubts, when I question my abilities and my success.
The doubts that prevent me from acting, the ones that stall growth, while not always easy, those are the doubts that I know I can’t keep around – those have got to go. I think we all have different strategies for figuring out how to get rid of those doubts, whether through turning to a network of family and friends or seeking the advice of those we admire and respect. There are different things that work for each of us.
But how can we make our doubts something else?
This is something I’m working on myself.
For one, I definitely subscribe to the “fake it til you make it mentality”. I also subscribe to the “say yes I can help and then figure it out later” mentality. I believe in forcing myself through situations where (in my head at least) uncertainty looms. Sometimes I say yes before I have a moment to think too deeply about what I’ve committed myself to. Once I say yes I’m less likely to withdraw, and more likely to charge forward. In those moments of doubt, I’m more likely to come up with and justify a “no” response, when I take longer to make a decision. Once I commit – that’s usually it. It’s a big part of the reason I rarely ever return clothes.
I also oddly embrace the presence of some doubt in my life. I think in some respects when these doubts are converted into action steps for improving and bettering ourselves, they keep us in check. Perfection is an illusive concept. There is always room to be better. That’s something to be embraced, not condemned. If we wait for things to be “perfect”, or for the timing to be “perfect”– to me it seems we’d never move forward with anything.
Fear and doubt are real factors in our lives – maybe sometimes it hurts us more to be on a quest to ignore them. Maybe our focus should instead be on progressing, moving forward and challenging ourselves to address that fear and that doubt. There’s a sort of peace that comes with saying to myself: “I’m not sure, I have my doubts, but the fear of not knowing/doing/acting is even worse”.
Don’t let your doubts inhibit you. Like Maya Angelou, you keep writing, fighting, singing, lawyer-ing, starting your new business, studying, teaching, drawing, styling, or whatever it is that you do. Use that fear and doubt as fuel for growth and a means to avoid complacency. Turn something that on it’s surface level isn’t good, and make it work for you.
Hey, I may be an impostor, but the goal is to be so good at it, I’ll even convince myself.