Don’t worry. It’s completely normal.
Written by: Scot Goins, Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success
Introduction: Law Students and Impostor Syndrome
In Part 1 of this post, we discussed how students here at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (AJMLS) or any law school, can fall victim to negative self-talk and doubts. The stress and new challenges associated with a law school education can lead many to suffer the aptly named Imposter Phenomenon (also referred to as Imposter Syndrome). Below we discuss helpful strategies that you can utilize to be more realistic in assessing your own abilities and to increase your confidence.
Recognize That You Are Not Alone In Feeling Like an Imposter
Sometimes, a simple reminder of the fact that a student is not alone in feeling this way is all it takes to shake them out of these impostor feelings. It is easy to self-isolate when feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, and then to develop a sense of being the only one in the proverbial boat. It can be helpful to take time to look around and realize that self-stigmatization is something internal, and then to focus externally and realize that others are very likely feeling the same way. Communicating with other students generally quickly reveals that other people are also experiencing doubts and struggling with similar feelings.
Talk To Your Mentors
Although reading about feeling like an imposter and developing a cognitive understanding that you are not alone in feeling this way is important, there is something to be said for talking and sharing with someone who has ‘been there, done that.’ Sharing your feelings with someone who has likely experienced similar feelings can be cathartic, and can help you realize that although your feelings are normal, they are also irrational. Here at AJMLS, the Peer Mentor Program can be an excellent resource for students to benefit from social and personal support, and the Office of Student Affairs encourages students to reach out.
Practice Recognizing Your Own Expertise
Although looking to others who are more experienced can be helpful, so can working with your peers. You may find yourself surprised to realize how much you actually have learned and retained, or how in-depth your understanding actually is, upon engaging with a study group or in a discussion about your legal learning with others. This can often be an eye-opening experience and help you to realize that you know more than you think, or that others are also struggling with the same things you are. Not only will this assist you in realizing that you aren’t alone in your feelings, it may also help generate new feelings of support and decreased isolation by opening doors to communicate with others who are similarly situated.
Remember What Got You Where You Are Today
Although you may be currently struggling with self-confidence or experiencing self-doubt, your life before this was likely filled with many academic achievements and personal successes. Sometimes, it is helpful to remember this and reinforce your awareness of everything you have done well that has put you in position to embrace your current opportunities. It can be helpful to write down accomplishments you have previously realized, moments where you have been fearful but ultimately succeeded, and even to make a realistic list of things that you feel are your strengths. An additional opportunity is to also make a list of areas that might be a weakness and to write down things you can do to improve those areas, or to seek out guidance for assistance in those areas. Being proactive in your approach can help you regain a sense of control and confidence. The Office of Academic Achievement and Bar Success at AJMLS is composed of caring and dedicated professionals who are passionate about helping you to succeed on your learning journey, and if you want to seek out assistance you can fill out this form and start the process.
Look Around You and Realize that No One is Perfect
I’m not perfect. You aren’t perfect. No one is perfect. If you aren’t certain of this, I highly encourage you to do an internet search for ‘fails’ for a reminder. The truth of the matter is that everyone makes mistakes, and no one person is perfect at everything. Everyone has their areas of strengths and weaknesses, as well as their good days and bad days. Albert Einstein has a famous quote that says, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Remember that law school is a new experience, and like any new endeavor, may take some time to adjust to and become proficient at, and each individual will have different experiences for how long this process takes. Be patient with yourself.
Be Aware of Your Internal Monologue
Professional athletes and coaches often laud the virtues of a positive internal monologue, or self-talk, and this makes sense on every level. It is difficult to imagine someone catching a successful touchdown pass, hitting the game winning free throws, or pitching a no-hitter if all of their internal monologue is a constant refrain of, “You aren’t good enough. You can’t do this. Everyone is better than you. You are a failure. You might as well give up.” In contrast, making efforts to become aware of negative self-talk and instead substitute it with positive self-talk is more likely to lead to success. When we consider professional sports, something as simple as, “I can do this!” makes sense, but many law students fail to consider that the same is true for them. Positive self-talk can be extremely beneficial for anyone struggling, and it is helpful to practice engaging in such when you recognize that you are engaging in negative self-talk. It is also helpful to visualize success, as opposed to focusing on potential negative outcomes.
Sometimes, being a law student can lead you to have a vast array of conflicting thoughts, feelings, self-doubts, both in terms of feeling like an impostor and beyond. Here at AJMLS, you always have professional counseling resources that can assist you in dealing with any feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, or really anything else that you have going on. Being proactive in dealing with your mental and emotional well-being can help you be the best version of you!
Although it seems likely that everyone will experience some combination of fatigue, self-doubt, and concerns about belonging at some point in law school, the good news is that there are a variety of ways to proactively take of yourself and to put yourself in the best position to continue achieving success on your academic journey.