Two years ago, when I arrived in Newton to begin my law school journey, I wrote a blog post entitled Act Like You Belong. Because You Do, where I briefly explored my own internal struggle with feelings of self-doubt, which some people call “imposter’s syndrome.” My goal was to encourage others (and myself) to understand those feelings in order to control their own destiny.
As I begin my third (and FINAL!) year of law school, I can say that while those feelings of self-doubt fluctuate, they never disappear completely. I had an overwhelming feeling of being unprepared on my first day at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office during my 1L summer. I had the discomforting feeling of self-doubt on my first day at a big law firm this past summer. These feelings were as strong as when I stepped foot on the Newton campus.
As I wrote in the blog two years ago, the issue is not the presence of those uncomfortable feelings, but how you deal with them. My second day on campus (and my second days at the Attorney General’s Office and at the law firm) were more comfortable than the first. Each day that passed lessened these doubts, and strengthened my confidence.
Act Like You Belong was more about describing those feelings in order to understand them. Today, I want to write about how I overcame them. These suggestions may be obvious to you. But it’s important to recognize that we all are at a different place on our journey – and wherever you are, I hope you find some inspiration in them.
I encourage you to offer some of your own advice for battling self-doubt in the comments below. Here is mine:
1. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else.
Law school is cast as a fierce competition of intellect that weeds out brilliance by using a type of bell curve. But that’s not the reality. Sure, grades are important. Yes, students who finish at the very top of the class will likely secure a job quickly. However, that is only true for a small percentage of the class.
Frankly, I did not finish near the top of the class during my first semester of law school. But I did just fine. All my preconceived notions entering law school terrified me because I thought that if I didn’t finish near the top, I would be strapped with a mountain of debt without any job prospects. The fault in this logic is that I was comparing myself to everyone else.
Once I stopped focusing on the achievements of my classmates (and rather celebrated their success!), I was able to focus on my own journey. By focusing on myself, I was able to heighten my self-awareness, enabling me to share my story more effectively – which ultimately contributed the most to my ability to secure post-graduation employment.
All this to say, don’t compare yourself to other people. You are on your own path. Focus on getting in touch with this journey and measure only personal success.
2. Focus on the work.
The truth is, you can’t control how a professor will decide to grade your exam. You can’t decide the status of your offer letter. You can’t sit across the table from yourself during an interview. And – as noted in the first point – you can’t control the achievements of your classmates.
I recall sitting in classes with students who were much more well read than myself, and listening while they quoted and compared classic books. I remember feeling inadequate that I couldn’t follow the analysis because I hadn’t read those books in high school or during my undergraduate years. Then I asked myself – what does that matter? We aren’t assessed by what we knew coming into law school, but rather on the mastery of the material in the classroom. So that’s what I focused on, and it changed my own path forward.
The only thing that you can control is the output of your own work. Your success in law school (and beyond) is not dependent on the amount of knowledge you already bring to the table, but rather the amount of effort you put forth.
Tune out the noise. The only real competition is yourself.
3. Trust the process.
Law school is daunting. The various critical steps along the way – from school applications to job interviewing – is overwhelming, which adds to feelings of self-doubt. I look back on the 1L internship search and wonder how I stayed sane. It felt like I was simply trying to hold on for the ride. In many ways, I was going for the ride and it was my responsibility to not let go.
While the roller coaster ride of law school will often make you question your competence and ability, I encourage you to trust the process! That process is already laid out, and there are a lot of people at BC Law to help you along the way, so that if you compete only with yourself and focus on effort, you will succeed.
As I enter my third and final year here, those are my three tips. My intention with this post is to help prospective students and 1Ls (and anyone else!) feel a bit more comfortable knowing that they are not the only people struggling with these uncomfortable feelings. I provide these tips to overcoming self-doubt in order to amplify my message from two years ago: you belong here, and your own personal success – however you define it – is there for you to take.
Other students and alumni reading this, do you agree with my main points? Do you have other words of advice? Comment below.
Travis Salters is a third-year student at BC Law, and president of the Impact blog. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.