{ "media_type": "text", "post_content": "After summer, I’m due to start my career as a big law associate.\n\nAnd I’m scared to death. Imposter syndrome is crippling me, despite having performed very well at both Ivy League undergrad and law school, as well as the bar exam.\n\nMaybe it’s my background - raised by an alcoholic, abusive single mother and making it against all odds and thinking I statistically should be in prison, dead or on disability. \n\nHow can I deal with this fear of failing?", "post_id": "60f872d4b0cf270022babfc9", "reply_count": 12, "vote_count": 7, "bowl_id": "5df70ed2f7169f002b172d3f", "bowl_name": "Big Law" }

After summer, I’m due to start my career as a big law associate. And I’m scared to death. Imposter syndrome is crippling me, despite having performed very well at both Ivy League undergrad and law school, as well as the bar exam. Maybe it’s my background - raised by an alcoholic, abusive single mother and making it against all odds and thinking I statistically should be in prison, dead or on disability. How can I deal with this fear of failing?

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I had every advantage in the world and also had/have imposter syndrome. It is hard. You can do it. Put your head down, work hard and you will see the results. I had a professor who was a former big law attorney tell me before I started when I was freaking out that no one really knows what they are doing - just doing the best they can with a little bit of fake it till you make it. I remind myself of that all the time. You have got this.

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Great advice, P1! OP: “Fake it til you make it” is how every expert got started. Nobody was the master on Day 1. Just as one example, Hemingway pretended to be knowledgeable about boxing and bullfighting for so long that he eventually DID become an expert on those subsections. Everybody fakes it until they make it, and I find that comforting. (Look at George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Donald Trump, or so many other bozos running things who have no idea what they’re doing. If you read recent American history — like “The Brothers” about the Dulles brothers — you’ll see that many elites are clueless. Many emperors have no clothes. Some do, but many don’t). BUT! If there’s one time in your life NOT to fake it, it’s as a 1st year associate. All your superiors should assume that no 1st years know anything. You pretty much get a pass for your entire first year (“just a first year, so he/she/they don’t know anything yet”) — it’s like kindergarten before you really start grade school. So it’s ALWAYS fine to say “I’m not familiar with that concept/term/assignment/deliverable/structure; would you mind please telling me more or pointing me in the right direction — I.e., someone to ask?” Or “how would you go about this task, step by step? I just want to do it exactly like you would, so you get what you’re expecting.” And then develop a few “phone a friend” options — 2nd, 3rd, 4th years, and fellow first years — with whom you have an explicit deal that you can ask them all the “dumb” questions in the world. And every 1st year associate knows virtually nothing about practicing law in BigLaw, so nobody has anything on you. You’ll actually do much better if you don’t try to “cover” or pretend you know something you don’t. Most summers and 1st years feel that pressure (some of which comes from low school Socratic method, which creates the false impression that you should know whatever the professor is thinking), but it’s SO counterproductive.

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You will do great! Honestly. Being humble is a great thing and imposter syndrome gets everyone from time to time. I think it’s great to surround yourself with smart people (hence the feeling you have) rather than the opposite.

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What helped me get over my imposter syndrome was realizing how hard I had to work to get to where I was. OP, you beat statistics. Through hard work & skill, you really did! Of course, there may have been some luck. We all have luck. But you know statistically, it’s not people with your background failing up into big law. You earned every inch of your way here and when you start, those same skills that got you here will carry you through! :)

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You will do better than the people with the easy backgrounds who always took for granted they would get into ivies and work at a fancy law firm. Imposter syndrome will make you work harder than your colleagues to compensate. A little self doubt is good. But honestly, you’ll be fine. - same boat, only old.

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Thank you!! I’m trying to get better at knowing how and when to ask people for help. I feel like I’ve spent so long trying to figure it out myself, but an important part of getting mentors is showing a bit of vulnerability.

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Tl; dr —- You got this. And I agree with all the above. One technique I try sometimes when catastrophizing or imagining I’ll fail…. play a little game called “and then what?” Apply your critical thinking skills and play out what would happen to a third person if the worst case scenario happened. (Not so dissimilar to gaming out risks that a client will face). If you imagine the chain of events like a flow chart, and actually map it out like a Crim Pro outline, you’ll realize there’s very little chance of things turning out really poorly for you, in the end. A few premises and touchstones: 1. No one can take away your past achievements. They’re done. You will have always accomplished what you’ve already done. You’re Thanos in the garden “it is done.” (But a good Thanos, and without evil Avengers to challenge you). 2. The top BigLaw firms rarely fire folks. And when they do, it’s a slow/long process with informal “cure rights” along the way, and “you’re not doing quite as well as your peers” isn’t generally cause for termination. You’ll usually have plenty of opportunity to either improve or have a soft landing. Very little danger of being fired in the first 2-3 years. 3. Statistically, big firms have high turnover. People will generally cycle through in the first few years, with relatively few lasting until years 6+ at the same firm. Much fewer make partner. So leaving or not making partner is not “failing” — it’s the norm. 4. If you do get fired or quit, you can most likely go to another law firm or another great job. Hooray! Your pedigree/accomplishments to date should give you a lot of comfort on that point. 5. Do you even WANT the prize? I.e., do you want (and will you continue to want over the next 5-10 years) to “succeed” at a law firm long term? What does that look like, and how do you define that success? Because you might find that the partner life is not ultimately what you even want or value most, and you may decide it’s not worth the tradeoffs. Perhaps you can achieve more success, happiness, and fulfillment elsewhere. 6. For most of things you’ll be anxious about at the firm, the consequence will not be getting fired. Perhaps some embarrassment, perhaps some negative feedback, but for the most part, there aren’t that many lasting consequences beyond “not making partner.” Statistically speaking, that’s the most likely outcome anyway, so who cares? So try to not sweat the small stuff. 7. By caring less, you’ll probably be more confident, do a better job, have a better sense for the big picture, be kinder to yourself, set boundaries better, and last longer. Counterintuitive, but likely true. (Especially for someone like you who cares so much naturally). With those things in mind, play the “and then what?” game. Most times it ends with you still winning, just in a different way. One of the biggest end points is “nothing” — that’s where the game ends most times. “I missed a partner’s email until the next day!” Okay, and then what? “He’s annoyed at me!” Okay, and then what? “Nothing.”

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Face it head-on and beat it. Make sure you get regular feedback and communicate frequently with your superiors to ensure you get feedback that tells you that you're doing well.

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Treat this challenge no different than those challenges you faced with your family. Acknowledge its existence, let yourself sit with it when needed, appreciate it for its ever-present reminder to work hard, set boundaries with it so that it doesn’t consume you, and then set out your plan to become someone different than that (i.e., not an alcoholic, not abusive, not an imposter). Also, one thing I’m often reminded of is that our profession inherently exists because there are always new, unresolved questions that no one has yet answered or that implicate factual circumstances that no one has had to navigate. While experience offers some insight into resolving those questions, it also has its weaknesses, e.g., enabling creative blinders to solving new problems. Embrace your early career for its opportunities to ask questions, absorb tons of information and experience, and think creatively (and share those creative thoughts). We’ve all been there and can appreciate the trial-and-error that comes with being brand new, so long as you care about the work and are committed to learning more. You will thrive.

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There is no such thing as imposter syndrome. Thus, you cannot have imposter syndrome.

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