Square Up Imposter Syndrome

Quick tips for young minority lawyers who question whether they belong or are qualified.

How do you “square up”[1] against an intangible phenomenon? My name is Helen Osun, a graduate from the Howard University School of Law. I am currently a junior associate at Crowell & Moring in D.C. and with all of my achievements and past successes, I still struggle with imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is described as a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments… despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.”[2]

Imposter syndrome is common especially in women. The feeling of not deserving what you have accomplished is further compounded by being a black woman because black women exist in a world that tends to question their success or their right to particular places. So I think as a woman of color who works in spaces where I am the minority, and often may be the only one, it is equally telling to feel like a fraud in specific spaces.

How do I fight against these internal thoughts:

Affirmation - I affirm myself through people who remind me, daily, weekly, or even monthly, that I deserve to be in any space I find myself in. My successes and accomplishments are valid no matter the size.

Work in Progress - I constantly remind myself that I am a work in progress yet qualified. There is no such thing as perfection. So when a partner or a counsel makes red-line edits to my draft it does not mean they think I’m a terrible lawyer or that I’ve been found out as a fraud. All it means is that this is my opportunity to become a better lawyer.

Brag Sheet – I created a brag sheet. Sometimes I need to remind myself I’m pretty awesome! So I list all my accomplishments and positive information, in and out of work, so I can visually see evidence of my competence.

Don’t Speculate, Believe in Your Magic – I have a tendency to believe in the worst or to always prepare for the worst case scenario. I promised myself in 2019 to be more hopeful, more trusting of my magic, and not to speculate.

I hope you can see that there is no gimmick, no book, or gadget that one needs to buy to “square up” against imposter syndrome. All you need is a healthy check in with yourself and friendly reminders that these thoughts, while normal and often seen in high-achieving woman, can destroy your magic.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I tell myself constantly, who would want to live in a world without Helen’s magic? :)

[1] Cambridge Dictionary, Square Up (last visited April 17, 2019), https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/square-up (“to prepare to fight”).

[2] Wikepedia, Imposter Syndrome (April 17, 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome.



Thank you so much for sharing these tips and resources. This is something I struggle with greatly- when classmates tell me “You probably got (x) because youre (x)” and try to play it off as a compliment Im never sure how to handle what I feel. Your idea of a brag sheet is really helpful. I wrote a brag sheet, and in 2 months I’ve won multiple awards, been invited to speak at a conference, and was selected to receive a prestigious research assistantship. And in every single instance, the first thing I said was I don’t deserve this. It was good to write a brag sheet out, and tell myself I DO deserve this, and to let myself feel happy for my hard work. Thank you!


Thank you! Your kind words mean a lot to me! I constantly have to remind myself - nope you deserve this, you earned this, etc.

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