Monday, June 29, 2020
My Lifelong Frenemy
As I sat down to put fingers to keyboard for my first blog post, I found myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas swirling around in my head. Overwhelmed by my thinking that this post must be perfect, thoughtful, groundbreaking, and transcendent. I was convinced that this post must be rainbows and unicorns rolled into one, it must be as mellifluous and powerful as Aretha Franklin’s voice, it must be everything to everyone, and it must be nothing to no one.
It took me about 20 minutes to ask myself the obvious question (beyond the other obvious question of why I would set the bar anywhere near the otherworldliness of ‘Retha): “why, exactly, must your first blog post be all of these things?” In that moment, I realized the pressures I felt are traceable to a lifelong frenemy that, much like a phoenix, continues to rise from the ashes: imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is characterized by one’s persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt about their abilities or achievements, coupled with a fear of being exposed as a fraud despite those achievements and ongoing success.
Thinking about my old frenemy brought to mind a conversation I once had with a student. For the last couple of years, I have served as a panelist during our 1L orientation diversity and inclusion program. At the end of last year’s program, a student approached me to, among other things, thank me for sharing my 1L experience with imposter syndrome.
I am a Black woman and first-generation college graduate who grew up with few socioeconomic advantages. To say law school was a culture shock would be an understatement. I spent most of my first year convinced the admissions office had erred in admitting me to the law school and much of my second and third years dismissing my achievements as “luck” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop” (i.e. for someone to realize that I was a fraud and did not belong at the law school).
At the end of my conversation with this student, they asked “when did you overcome imposter syndrome?” I do not recall what my answer was in that moment, but the question has triggered several deeply personal moments of introspection. When I think of that conversation, I know the honest answer to that student’s question would have been (and still is): “I’ll let you know.”
If I’m still trying to figure out how to consciously uncouple from vanquish my lifelong frenemy, it is incumbent upon me to be cognizant of similar challenges experienced by students and supportive in helping them work through—or past—those feelings of inadequacy. To this end, today I renew my commitment to: name my frenemy unapologetically, serve as a sounding board and source of support for students battling imposter syndrome, remind those students of their strength and accomplishments, and encourage them to be kind to themselves. I also commit to taking my own advice.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)