Imposter syndrome or impatience?

Throughout primary and secondary education, I didn’t find school hard and thought I was pretty decent at the topics I took and got good grades. That’s not to be arrogant but to set the context. The schools I went to were pretty diverse so I had peers that looked like me and I didn’t feel out of place. I felt like I was doing ok in my tribe. Big fish, small pond.

Then I got to university. The tribe I was in grew exponentially and I was trying to figure out whether I belonged or whether I had to “fit in”. That question dictated my actions for several years following and has politicsed. Small fish, big ocean.

I was trying to find my belonging through the relationships I started, social events I attended and student groups I associated with.

I met people who I thought were way smarter than me. I didn’t get into my first degree choice of “architecture”. My portfolio was crap because I didn’t prepare it properly and prioritised other responsibilities in the lead up to the portfolio deadline. I ended up staring university doing an Arts degree, not even knowing what Arts and Humanities were all about. My imposter syndrome was born on the first day of semester one in 2009.

I got through the semester with decent marks, not having done any study like this before at High School. Come semester two, I decided I would either major in Social Science for Public Health and Anthropology and add on a law degree to dive deeper into the policy space. I don’t know where the heck I got that idea from.

Law school wasn’t my first choice. I don’t know why I thought doing law would help with health policy. Regulatory environment and risk maybe, but because we have ACC, there isn’t much by way of litigation/medical negligence. Regardless, I braved through the dark years of part-two law, got through some papers (miserably) and salvaged some decent grades by the end.

Now that I’m practicing, the law is this huge playground and I have no idea where I want to start but can’t help but feel I’m not getting where I want fast enough or strategically enough. I’ve already thought destructively about my legal career at least twice through all of the unhelpful thinking styles below. My personal fav – compare & despair (which I’m sure many colleagues have had as well).

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My compare and despair usually centres around:

  • Am I getting enough experience now – to pay off later
  • Am I working hard/ smart/ long enough
  • Am I advancing quick enough
  • Am I smart enough/ how do I improve my logic/quick reasoning faster

This is when I wonder whether I actually have imposter syndrome, or whether I am just being impatient and need to let experience do its thing – i.e. just give it time; and if I’m not setting up my opportunities in order to address the points of concern, then I should just do that.

What is working currently / happy points: 

  • I feel challenged
  • I am making a constant difference
  • I have a lot of autonomy
  • I like doing research and exploring the law and trial strategies
  • I’m pretty good at managing clients
  • I enjoy advocacy
  • Working with diverse client groups
  • I like working with Sam

I am struggling with:

  • Managing client expectations from time to time when we get a difficult one
  • I know I am a millennial but I want mastery and expertness to happen faster – I’ve calmed down and understand I should enjoy the process as well.
  • I am lacking confidence in my ability – I’ve made more lawyer friends who I’m open with (not many are!) to bounce ideas when I’m unsure
  • I need more support and I need to make it happen – I’ve had a coffee with a few more female lawyers (following up on male lawyers before we meet).
  • Reconciling my cultural obligations (silent) expected of me in the day to day life of the world I operate in.
  • How do I set myself up in the short-term for the medium or long-term gains. Including my living situation/environment
  • How do I present myself as a strong/bright and humble Pacific female lawyer without being invisible?
  • Differences are valuable – what is my point of difference?
  • Example of my imposter syndrome flaring i.e. in Court where I hadn’t practiced something orally.

Some possible positive solutions:

  • Find a range of support and mentoring interventions including sound-boards (people at my level willing to tell me un/realistic my aspirations are)
  • Use my boss to talk through day to day casework as per usual
  • Find a Polynesian women barrister for lots of reasons;  about law, being a PI female lawyer, cases, etc – have found 4 from diff area’s of law (2 poly; 2 not)
  • A male experienced criminal lawyer to discuss cases – still struggle with this.
  • Find an experienced and reputable clinical psychologist to help with occasional support and advice.   Good for making sense of difficult cases, boundary-setting strategies and also your own mental health and resilience – I’ve been seeing a counsellor every so often, which helps (not sure whether to remain or seek a clinical psych. Like you recommended).
  • Use an occasional expert “other” outside of the law to enable you to set goals and strategize about the future
  • Set up a group of like-minded people in law around your age whom  you like and trust to meet informally every 3 months or so to catch up/talk about common issues in law and have some laughs
  • Build a bigger network of people you like and trust outside of law to make sense of all the issues people in normal jobs and life deal with at this age – these are a group of close gfs. We don’t catch up too often as a group, but definitely three times a year.
  • Talk to a range of people inside and outside of law and find some interesting short term legal post-grad learning opportunities in the US.  Use TEC and the Law Society to find funding options, scholarships (e.g. PM Scholarship, etc) – am looking to enroll and finish my PGDip in Public health (6 more 15 point papers to complete); applying for a pacific island leadership fellowship 4-month programme funded by USA (Hawaii and Taiwan based).

There are a quite a few Pasifika/ indigenous lawyers doing amazing things now. And I am inspired by them & my peers. I would like to attempt becoming a “pracademic” of sorts focusing on systemic issues – namely, the health sector/justice sector interface, but before committing to any further level of study – I need to make sure these are the things that actually make me happy career-wise.

Staying in legal practice

Apparently for my personality, working in law is a good fit. I’ve done a few personality tests (MBTI = ENTJ; DISC and others) and my star-sign says law is a good fit or the type of work involved in this space. Of course, there is the cultural lense that comes with that as well. In any case, none of that matters anyway because the only important thing is whether I enjoy it.

I know I want to stay in practice for a while longer – maybe another 5 years or so. Maybe venture into in-house legal at some point if I decide that I want to enjoy family life a little more without the trial litigation space. I’m not sure my mind would be able to sit still – I would need to definitely be a pracademic if so.