In the dynamic landscape of the tech industry, my journey was inspired by a remarkable female patent attorney. Little did I know, my curiosity, fueled by a genuine desire to learn, would later uncover a prevalent challenge—imposter syndrome. Join me as I share personal reflections, insights from a revealing study, and explore the transformative power of embracing growth amid doubts.
Before I returned to law school at age 37, I worked in the high-tech industry for nine years. My first boss was a female patent attorney for an international software company. She inspired me with her intelligence, work ethic, and ambition. She outshined her male counterparts.
Questioning Judgment. **I wanted to learn everything I could about intellectual property (I know, I am a nerd at heart). However, it seemed to put my boss on edge when I asked questions. After a while I asked if I was doing something wrong because she seemed to get agitated when I asked so many questions. Her response shocked me. She said, “I feel like your questions are questioning my judgment.”
This took me aback because the purpose of my questions was to learn why she did things the way she did. I wanted to learn how she thought so I could then anticipate her requests in the future without having to ask questions. That has always been my approach to life. Ask questions so I can understand how the other person thinks so I can anticipate their needs. But here, my questioning caused a completely different reaction. Unfortunately, it was not the last time a professional woman with whom I worked would feel my questions questioned their judgment.
Imposter Syndrome Unveiled. **I’ve often wondered why professional women feel threatened by questions much more than a male colleague does. I recently discovered a KPMG study that found “75% of female executives experience imposter syndrome in the work place.” “Imposter syndrome” refers to a feeling that one is a fraud or involves someone who doubts their abilities. I know I have felt this throughout my career. That is what has motivated me to work twice as hard as others. When I encounter a problem at work, I have always made sure I came in with solutions so others would see me as competent. I have felt the need to be an “expert” before trying something new because what happens if I fail. I have feared failure because that would expose my ignorance.
Overcoming Fears and Failures. **Luckily, I know that I’m not alone in my fears. The “imposter syndrome” has been an ongoing conversation with many of my female colleagues and my clients. These experiences I previously characterized as “failures” has added to my success because my resiliency has helped me learn from these experiences.
Empathy Through Experience. What have I learned? It is because of my past “failures” that I can empathize with my clients going through separation and divorce. I share my life experiences because it often gives hope to my clients. If I can go from being a single mom on welfare who has survived abusive relationships to a successful attorney and business owner so can my clients. The things that I have learned the hard way has enabled me to discover tools and develop skills that I can share with my clients.
When fears around making a mistake creep up inside of me now, I try to reassure myself that it is an opportunity to learn and get “back on the saddle.” I also reach out to my mentors and trusted friends.
Failure is an important part of our growth. It is what we do with our “failures” that makes all the difference in the world.
How do you empower your clients facing doubts?
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