Imposter syndrome

Does anyone else get this at work? Has anyone actually had any help in managing it? The older I get, the worse it becomes. 



Everyone has it.  You don't need to be good at your job, just better than your colleagues at pretending you are.

I have it. Especially around people I perceive to have a “better pedigree” than myself. In therapy I’ve learned that most people really aren’t that confident and don’t view everyone as a POS. 

A lot of my imposter syndrome is projected onto others from a deep sense of my own perceived shortcomings. Talking about it in therapy and having a frank discussion with a senior partner I’d like to mentor me at my future firm has helped. 

In law school I used to be embarrassed if I was cold called and got the wrong answer (despite prepping). I only later realised that an essential part of learning comes from getting things wrong.

Essentially I’m bright and likeable and that’s enough. If I can calm myself down and quell the anxiety before it starts I can cope better.

I'm too hungover to worry about it today whilst pretending not to be hungover which makes me an impostor.

What jelly and rumpy said. I've been found out before when working with more experienced colleagues. What I'd try to do was cover up my shortcomings rather than humbly accept what I needed to learn.

I had it all the time at the Bar. I remember standing in the garden having a cigarette at Chambers early one morning having come in to get some printing done before court. I was joined by our Head of Chambers who is a bit of a legend in her practice area and a fantastic lady. She asked me what today was bringing for me and I told her that I thought that today was the day that I was going to be found out. She laughed and told me not to worry because every day is like that - we're all faking it really. It helped a lot (and I wasn't found out that day).

Outside interests that test you by an objective standard rather than the politics and headgames that prevail in the workplace. People like to undermine you at work whether it's rivalry or bosses trying to talk your value down. You are unlikely to be crap at work if you are good at other things so if you have external achievements they're useful to remind yourself that you're not shit.

'course you may get a boss or prospective employer that tries to stop you doing this kind of thing or tries to rubbish it. That is a huge red flag of a shite manager IME & an unreasonable overreach of an employer into your private life & personal development.


I had (unhelpful) therapy that basically said - it's a woman thing, get over it. 

I do not have it

I don't think I am particularly good but I do think most people are mediocre at best

look at the fvcking PM ffs

chill - you are good enough

We had a really useful session on this when I was on secondment. The directors were all discussing their own experiences of imposter syndrome and how they felt. And as above, basically everyone has it. It's totally normal. Try not to let it phase you too much and remember, everyone else is bumbling through this bollocks too x

The "pedigree" thing is strange.   I mentally downgrade anyone with what I think the OP calls pedigree. If they flaunt and rely on the "bloody good chap!" factor, it's usually because they're not good enough, so I watch carefully.   We just hired someone (I wasn't involved in recruiting this person), and on first contact he waffled and name-dropped (and embarrassingly got some of those names wrong).  He's not gonna last.

I don't have it in my current job. The previous job was hard, and there's nowhere to hide when you are on your feet in court.

I used to have it a lot.

I don't now because:

1. I give fewer fooks about work generally

2. I am mostly doing stuff where I know what I'm doing (and have someone to discuss with if anything awkward crops up)

3. There are SO many solicitors I deal with these days who are unbelievably and embarrassingly crap.  And they are qualified enough to know better.  Astonishing and rather depressing. 

When I was a trainee, at every training session/town hall/whatever whenever there was an opportunity to question a partner, I would ask ‘What was the worst mistake you made as a trainee, how did you feel about it, and what happened?’.  It was illuminating (and encouraging).  Actually, I didn’t need to do it at all the events after a while, as other trainees appreciated that it was a good question and beat me to it.

When I was a new partner, I asked senior partners ‘What was the worst mistake you’ve made as a partner?’. With similar results. FAOD, I do not recommend that trainees ask that question.

Everyone has it to a degree but might like most mental health issues, if it gets too great it can cause problems.

Think mine comes from my background - I'm not a posh public school kid with money from my parents. But I also have a 'screw it' attitude so that helps and I DGAF if people like me or think I'm good.

FAOD, I do not recommend that trainees ask that question

why not, if you did and found the answers illuminating and encouraging? 

I've stopped having it so much since I've felt confident enough to say "ha fvck knows!" Or words to that effect when necessary. People seem to respect it and oddly, think I must be falsely modest and therefore actually really switched on

i love this aspect of (UMC / public school - which I encounter a lot at work) English character and make full use of it 

Yes. I have it. I don't think it will ever go away. My department is just populated by really Bright people. People in other departments that I work with - not so much. 

I am perpetually surprised at the quality of output from those other departments that lands on my desk and how when those people hit "send" on the email to my inbox, what they sent must have either been their  best, or they couldn't care of it was good enough. 

However when I look at what my own department outputs I'm always amazed at how relaxed and easy they are when talking about their work and how good the quality of output actually is. (I understand maybe if, in a parrallel universe I did that exact task, I might think their work output wasn't all that as I would be as close to the detail as them.) Sometimes I look at my own work output from a sort of "out of body" perspective and think "omg. Thats really good. I can't believe you produced that". That doesn't happen very often though. Mostly I think "phew, you just scraped through"

Ask them worst mistake as a trainee, yes.

Ask them worst mistake as a partner, no.  They are far too likely to say that it was agreeing to hiring you!

Generally no. I understand that I am good at my job and am more likely to feel unappreciated for it.

It's definitely in a work capacity (I am quite confident and easy going in other situations) but its got worse the more qualified I've got (and the less drunk/hungover) and the more I feel people expect me to know.  

I rarely got anxious at work as a 0- 10 year PQE (probably 5 or 6 days max in all that time) but now I often feel quite sick at the thought of being higher up the ladder and being the final say so in things. I

Maybe I just need to turn to drink like I used to and/or take your advice to fake it til I make it, knowing others are winging it too. 

Thanks all! 



Yes, I constantly think if clients and colleagues knew how shyte I was I would be out on my ear, but then nobody seems to have spotted this in nearly 20 years so assume most people feel like this when subjecting their work to the level of scrutiny one can only do one's self

I think I have the public school variant of this which is to assume that everyone else is as incompetent as oneself

which is not always true

seriously, just think how useless everyone else is

some people are useless and bluff well but you are experienced enough to see through it

I love making calls because it's 50/50 can't be wrong

Is being the final say so a relatively new step?

When I became the final say in certain things it was terrifying for a year or so but it passes to an extent, and especially more so when you accept that having the final say doesn't mean you shouldn't bounce ideas off other people. Also, there is rarely a totally wrong answer in these things, it's often about balancing risks and which one you choose to take or advise and how you caveat that.

I am the final "say so" in my line of work so that is scary. Im thinking of switching departments so I can be the one that sends emails which I'm currently complaining about as being poor in quality but not because I could just start producing rubbish output , but because knowing I'm not the final say so might actually result in better work out put and better mental health. 

Not as much as I used to by a long shot.

Have learned that if I apply myself to something I can usually do a pretty good job, and generally I seem to get some praise/recognition for it.

Which nicely boxes off work so I can focus on other bits of my life instead of obsessing about my job and whether I’m any good at it (which lawyers love to do).

A key characteristic of successful partnerships is that risks are syndicated.  

When you are not sure about a decision, it’s sensible, and indeed expected, that you will discuss it with other partners.

So you can all share the blame together … or find another way.

I have it in tonnes!  Literally tonnes.  And it hasn't gone away since i took silk either.  If anything i now get even worse attacks of it especially when Judges say "well i am going to see what Ms B* says about this" and i stand there metaphorically looking behind me and saying to myself "why ask me, ask a grown up ffs"!

Tangent Boy speaks a lot of sense, i know plenty of senior counsel who have it BAD too and plenty more who have that "today is the day i am going to be found out" feeling.  I did my first full on trial as silk early this year.  The feeling when the Judge told the jury that in a moment he was going to call on Ms B* QC to open the case made me feel as sick as a dog.  I remember thinking "holy fvck, its real and i am going to look like a proper berk".  My junior was amazing in that case and must have been psychic as just pre me standing up he passed me a note that said "You've got this, knock 'em dead superstar".  All bollox but it made me feel a teeny bit better.

I guess what i have learned is much of what Clerg says, there are plenty out there worse than you.  Plenty.  When i was suffering badly from anxiety about ten years ago and could barely contemplate walking into Court i had a little mantra i used to say that my colleague and mentor once told me; "I'm OK".  It sounds simple and pointless but its true.  I may not be the best, i am most likely not the worst, i am OK.  And it got me through a number of terrifying moments of doubt.

You're OK Cuppers, you're OK. x

one thing I find helps is to review your advice or written work in the cold light of day after whatever it was about is all over.   This allows you to view it more objectively and I find I am always a bit surprised at how well it reads compared to how I felt about it at the time.

It will be a lie if anyone suggests that they don't. That self-doubt is also helpful sometimes. 

Surprised to see so many successful folks on here suffer with this, esp. Counsel who you would think 'backed' themselves from a young age at the Bar.

I've never thought this in my career - running your own firm means that you need to have confidence in your own decisions, both for your clients and yourself.

However, batting in  pre-season nets in my first year of Uni I certainly did have imposter syndrome - I remember I literally couldn't lay a bat on 2 overs from  some kiwi leg-spinner, and slunk off, knowing my level had been found out.

I don't get how you get comfort from knowing there are people out there worse than you. 

You've got a task in front of you that you can't get wrong and it's against that task you're being measured. 

There's two areas it could go wrong: you could literally get the law or facts wrong because your, say, didn't appreciate section x takes you out of scope so the answer is actually the opposite of where you landed 

You could also make a poor judgment - not because you jumped the wrong way in hindsight, but because you failed to appreciate the importance of even existence of a relevant factor. 


The Counsel point is quite the opposite of what you suppose.

I have a friend who is a fairly young silk and he was at dinner with us and was not drinking as he had to get a skeleton argument finished and I asked if he would be getting up early or what. he said he would sit down to work for a couple of hours before going to bed.  I asked what gave him the self-discipline to do that and he said "fear of being found out in the Court of Appeal". 

Like Marshall I've only ever had it in a sporting context and even then it wasn't a fear of being found out but just simply wondering if I could manage the standard that was expected of me.  Last week I was sailing with three of the best sailors I know which ratchets up the pressure not to do something dumb and to be fair I only got called "fvcking muppet" once which is high praise from the person in question.

If I was confident that I'd found all the relevant law, and had all the relevant evidence in mind I'd be dandy. It's the fear that I've missed something important or reached a bonkers interpretation but didn't realise as I was so caught up in the detail it seemed like a natural conclusion in the moment. 

That's it Muttley. I have very little self-discipline and am naturally quite lazy, but I worked all the time because I knew that I was going to be asked very difficult questions by the judge the following day. I developed a lot of techniques to calm down the racing brain in court, particularly when I acted for Local Authorities in care proceedings as I knew that I would have a very hard time of it if our ducks weren't in a row.

I have always worked hard assuming that others are brighter than me and more firmly focused, and that I therefore carry the exposure risk and they are safe bets. That's of course just a bag of insecurities at work, not a balanced view. But deep down I have a very basic psychology which says I have to know something inside out, every bit of it, before I feel at ease with all contingencies ahead. And until I feel at ease I feel fully ill-at-ease and that's where chaos lies. So I work and work at it. And guess what? not everyone does, so that's how you end up being credible. 

There are three important points  in a career in our profession.  First, it;s surprising how bad some people are at it without getting caught out.  Standards are not as high as you think ,but that's all to do with training and the company you keep. If you are in the top end all the time, among good people, you think that's the norm. That stresses the mind and you keep yourself to a very high standard. But in fact the mean level of competence is much, much lower. Yet I wouldn't want to be living at that level , flying by the arse. That would be more scary still.

Second, most (not every) lawyer gets this propelling fear but the successful ones are those that do not let the fear inhibit them. Rather, they use it to propel them towards higher and higher performance.

Third, we have to speak to ourselves at some point and be honest about what we have achieved and how we fall to be regarded.  The imposter syndrome cannot make us trip over ourselves and we have to give credit for where our strengths lie, or we fall on the wrong side of the second point.  That comes in time and you just have to say yes, you can do this.  But that does not mean you give up the care and hard work,  as the wonderful thing about a profession is that the standards and targets shift with you over time. There is always a higher level to attain.  But you might give up some of the worry once you have proven to yourself that you are not likely to drop the ball or fail.  We all have to be honest about this and stop holding ourselves back unnecessarily. 

My headmaster used to say this: if you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right. 

Isn't it a form of arrogance?

I MUST be the best and EVERYONE WILL NOTICE AND CARE if I'm not

People got their own issues to think about

That said I have crippling social anxiety which I can't really explain because I have no fear of what others think of me on a logical level

I am not sure its a "must be the best" rather a "please don't let me be the worst" approach to life.  At least it is for me.

A friend retired after a very successful career and stood up at his retirement dinner in front of the great and the good and said essentially “well I never got found out”. 

Ught blah

I just think folk should get over themselves

It's just a job and if you can do it without maiming, groping or ruining anyone then isn't that good enough

And even if you can't, everyone makes mistakes

Dunno about imposter syndrome but there's a few examples of main character syndrome on this thread 

I used to have it at the firm I trained at. I don't anymore. 

The thing about all mental illnesses is you can't just 'get over it'



Mutters makes a good point about having a skewed idea of standards from spending all your time at the pointy end of things. I did a secondment to the legal department of a major bank that dealt with SMEs and HNWIs. Our customers were generally not using high St firms but entry level "city" firms or major country firms (the market is a bit different here and you don't really have big regional players because you don't have many secondary cities). 


Anyway, the general standard of the lawyers work was atrocious. One of my colleagues has a favourite war story of an SPA that had no operative clause that actually effected a sale, but there was loads of stuff like that going on all the time. 

It gave me a lot of confidence that:

(A) if I occasionally come up short compared to colleagues that's because we're all working Toba very high standard

(B) if it all goes horribly wrong I would be able to eke out a living in a regional town doing very little hard work and sponsoring the local footy team.



I would like credit here, if I can't get it anywhere else, for staying schtum while a colleague used a work meeting to share their heartbreaking struggle with impostor syndrome. 

Some things I refrained from saying :

The next work item, that you are delaying while expressing your feelings, involves a litigant the victim of violence too awful to describe on a chat board. Have you absolutely no sense of perspective.

Do you think, if you worked harder, paid attention to detail, read your emails and read the fast moving caselaw in your supposed specialist area, that might help relieve these debilitating symptoms you are experiencing?

Some people are impostors, and that's a pretty broad hint even to you, colleague.


Rhamnousia07 Oct 21 15:52

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Isn't it a form of arrogance?

I MUST be the best and EVERYONE WILL NOTICE AND CARE if I'm not

People got their own issues to think about


I don't think so. It is about appearing to be highly competent at the role you have said you will play. There is one particular judge down here (Rex knows who) who would absolutely rip into you when acting for Local Authorities if your client had failed to do something that they (probably) should have done. Given that this happens all the time in social services, you had to be prepared to field a barrage of highly loaded questions, having already had 3 or 4 other counsel have a go in conference before the hearing. All of this in front of the client (whose fault it sometimes was, although fault usually rested with under funding/staffing) who would expect you to be able to bat these off, and they would notice and care if you didn't.