Imposters, Professional Pressures and Perseverance

22 October, 2018

When I secured a training contract at Cripps, I was most excited by the prospect of working for a firm that is constantly evolving, while fostering a truly inclusive work culture that takes account of and endorses people’s differences. As Angela Alvey, one of my fellow trainees rightly describes:

 

“On our first day, everyone was really welcoming and I felt so much positivity around the firm. Cripps is inclusive and not particularly hierarchical which makes people far more approachable. Despite the fact that we have so much to learn as trainees, I finished the first week feeling valued as an individual, excited to be a part of and have the opportunity to contribute to Cripps’ continuing success.”

 

Of course, the first weeks have involved embracing the unknown, while quietly reminding yourself that yes, you really have secured your training contract and no, LPC exams really didn’t go as badly as you thought!

Today, the five years of higher education to get to Cripps feel like ancient history. You would think that (by now) as I am (finally) through the door, I could revel in my achievements. Successes, rejections, countless hours of studying, have led us all here. Yet being here does not, in itself, seem enough of an affirmation that it’s true.

Despite having the Cripps ID badge, mugs, stationery and t-shirt to prove it, my stomach flips, waiting for the moment that I get a tap on the shoulder and to hear: “Sorry Lauren, there’s been a mistake. You shouldn’t be here.”

 

The Imposter Phenomenon (IP)

 

An article in the Guardian recently reported that the fear of being exposed as a fraud is experienced by more than 70% of people, at least once in their life. Is it possible that we are all masters of deception and have successfully tricked everyone about our intelligence, insights and have falsified our exam results? The short answer: no.

IP is an experience, first described as such by Pauline Clance in her article discussing the Imposter Phenomenon in high achieving women. It is increasingly prevalent in a gig economy, as employees are faced with changing jobs and increasing uncertainty. More specifically, the legal profession attracts and exacerbates inconceivably high expectations around competence. As the use of AI is an increasing trend in the profession, with both City and regional players telling us that technology and innovation are part of their focus, the lawyer’s role may become more about judgement, experience and advice, with excellence as a given. Generally, the legal profession has a strong, goal oriented focus. Aspiring solicitors must show commitment to “The Law”, as early as GCSEs. This culminates in the epic saga that is finding a training contract and securing your future employment as an NQ (newly qualified) solicitor. With enthusiasm and drive, comes an intense fear of the unknown and endless perseverance.

Unsurprisingly, IP is reportedly more prominent in women and those in minority populations due to an array of social and cultural inequalities. After attending a university that only allowed women to graduate 70 years ago, it is arguable that IP beliefs bear relation to facts. Motunrayo Alamu- Folorunso (who also joined the firm with me as a trainee solicitor at Cripps this September) has shared her personal experience as a reflection of this:

 

Being black and a woman means that there are two glass ceilings above me. Being a black, female trainee solicitor, however, does allow me to feel as though those ceilings have been broken to some degree.

Having said that, those barriers serve as a constant reminder that, at some point in time, black women were not considered to be of any value. This has the effect of leading us especially to feel as though such is the truth. Although our careers should not serve to validate us as individuals, they do play an important part in recognising that our skills and intelligence are worthy of merit. I remind myself of this every day.”

 

There is no doubt that in pursuit of excellence and our qualification aspirations, we have proven ourselves worthy at each milestone. Our successes are attributable to our focus on the goal. The question is when will we decide to finally feel comfortable.

 

Manoeuvring through this paradoxical situation…

 

In 2016, The Huffington Post published an interview with behavioural expert Caroline Webb, who suggested that the imposter experience can positively influence one’s career trajectory. After all, personal and professional growth occurs when we push ourselves into something new.

Before becoming impatient with ourselves and allowing any doubt to creep in, it is important to remember:

  • That it is normal not to know everything
  • Not to freeze frame any mistakes
  • To discourage comparison with others
  • To have the courage to be imperfect
  • Not to attribute success to luck
  • Not to dwell and obsess on the trivial

 

For more information about the Imposter Phenomenon see this link: https://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/what-is-the-impostor-phenomenon/