Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome

You’ve been studying for the bar exam for weeks now and you are proud of yourself for working so hard and learning so much material. Things are starting to come together and you are just about to be cautiously optimistic when you get taken down by the Impostor Syndrome.

You on the outside: You get top grades. You have a great job lined up. People describe you as amazing.
You on the inside: I’m a fraud, my past successes have been flukes and any minute everyone is going to find out I don’t deserve to be here.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you are not alone and this feeling has a name: The Imposter Syndrome. In a 1978 study psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Immes identified the impostor syndrome as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” These people “are highly motivated to achieve [but] live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”

You feel like each step forward pushes beyond the bounds of your ability. The self-doubt is overwhelming, almost paralyzing.

What do you think you’re doing?

Who gave you permission to be here?

What made you think you could do this?

We imposters hold ourselves to impossibly high standards that we’d never expect someone else to be able to achieve. Our thinking tends to be, “If I don’t know everything then I don’t know anything.”

The Impostor Syndrome causes us to overthink and second-guess ourselves. We spend too much time worrying about how everyone else is judging us (FYI: they’re not). Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy writes, “Impostorism steals our power and suffocates our presence. If even you don’t believe you should be here, how will you convince anybody else?”

I hope you noticed how I’ve used “we.” That’s because almost everyone experiences the Impostor Syndrome. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in my office struggling to get work done because I’m caught up in feelings of inadequacy. I’m afraid I’ve fooled everyone into thinking I’m more competent than I actually am. I did not earn this success and there is no way I can sustain it. And then I whine about it to one of my sisters and get a much needed reality check: my success is not a fluke and I know what I’m doing.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why, in spite of past achievement, do we view ourselves as imposters?

A big part of it is failing to internalize our success. The good news is that there are things we can do about it.

  • Normalize it. Imposter syndrome is a situational phenomenon so call it out when it hits. Take away the power of the feeling by talking about it. Not only will you feel a sense of relief by putting it out there but you’ll see that other people feel the same way.
  • Own your achievements. Accept praise and positive feedback. Allow yourself to feel good about what you’ve done and acknowledge that you earned it.
  • Stop being your own worst critic. It’s impossible to know everything so give yourself a break. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Don’t diminish your contributions. Present your ideas without qualifying them with negative disclaimers like, “this is probably dumb but…” or “you’ve probably already heard this but…”

This is easier said than done and although our feelings of inadequacy won’t disappear instantly or even completely, we don’t have to let the Impostor Syndrome control our lives.

-KSK

Want to learn more?

Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, Your body language shapes who you are, or read her book, Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

July Bar Exam: Issues with ExamSoft & Latest Microsoft Update

Important Information for July 2017 Bar Takers

Microsoft has been pushing the Windows 10 Creator Update.  If  your jurisdiction uses ExamSoft and you have not already installed it, do NOT install it now because it does not meet ExamSoft’s minimum system requirements. This is because ExamSoft does not have a scheduled update in time for the bar exam. In Ohio, the Office of Bar Admissions strongly recommends that you not use Windows 10 Creator. If you already downloaded the update, you must be capable of performing the workaround.

For those of you taking a bar exam in other jurisdictions, contact your state bar examiners right away to find out your state’s protocol.

  • Not sure if Windows Creator update is installed? Follow the instructions here.
  • Need to delay the update? Follow directions here (directions are near the bottom).
  • Need to uninstall within 10 days of updating? Follow the instructions here.

At the time of this post, ExamSoft is waiving the $50 fee for a re-download request. If you need to re-download, you should email or call ExamSoft and they will take care of the process for you.

I will post updates as I receive them but if you have any questions, contact ExamSoft or your Office of Bar Admissions.

-KSK

Mid-Prep Motivation

I talk about motivation every year around this time. That’s because we are at the slap-happy stage of bar prep. You’re getting the work done and haven’t lost all your drive but that laser-focus from the first few weeks isn’t there. A quick look at social  media reveals lots of clever bar exam posts, photos, tweets, and hashtags. I’m not saying you need to go off the grid or avoid social media as it can be a wonderful way to find and share motivation but the key word is motivation. This is the psychological drive that compels you to a certain goal. It is intrinsic and comes from within. It means that you attribute success to factors under your control and believe you have the skills to reach your goal. So please stop with the those unstaged pics of you with caffeine , you about to study, or you working really hard. Not motivational and so overdone. You can do better.


According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest will remain at rest. There is a natural tendency to do what we’ve always done. It’s called inertia. But taking even the smallest step is starts the momentum that keeps you going.  Staying motivated is not always easy. But you have a choice- you can stay where you are or take action. The decision to act is a scary one but crossing the threshold is liberating.

635950634795151336967118572_you-cant-create-motivation-writetojoncook-1j901wa
credit: Karmun Loh, British Blogger

Motivation and inspiration don’t happen to you. You make it happen by taking the first step. Although this ultimately has to come from within, sometimes you need a little external push to get going. Nothing wrong with that- just get going.

-KSK

Incorporating Mindfulness Into Bar Study

Free your mind and the rest will follow.

-En Vogue (1992)

Mindfulness means being aware of the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. It is the ability to be fully present of where you are and what you are doing, and not being overwhelmed by what is going on around us. A common way to practice mindfulness is through meditation but before you roll your eyes and dismiss this as something you’re not interested in, don’t need, or don’t have time for, think again. Why should you practice mindfulness? Because it works and not just for bar prep. Click here to check out some of the numerous physical, psychological, and social benefits.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to sit in the lotus position and say “Om.” If you are in the midst of experiencing intense emotions (say, feeling overwhelmed by all of the material you are supposed to learn for the bar exam), take one minute to just stop and breathe. Pay attention to your breathing, notice the rhythm and feeling of how you take the air in and push it out. It’s not as simple as you think. Our brain is so wired to do everything that it we need to remind it to really notice the senses in a given moment, the ones that normally slip by without us ever being consciously aware of it.

How mindful are you? Take this 5 minute mindfulness quiz and find out.

Chances are, you are not as mindful as you could be. You could be a bit more accepting of yourself and your feelings, a little less self-critical and judgmental.

Here is a simple exercise to get you started:

  • Set aside some time. We’ll start with one minute.
  • Breathe in for a count of seven, hold for a count of seven, then release your breath for a count of seven. Repeat this cycle two more times.
  • Focus on the present moment. It’s not about quieting your mind or achieving a state of zen. The goal is to pay attention to the present moment without judging yourself.
  • If you notice judgments entering your thoughts, make a mental note, let it pass.
  • Return to the present moment. Again, don’t judge yourself for any of your thoughts. Simply bring your wandering mind back to the present.

The process is simple but not necessarily easy. You need to keep doing this- even once a day is sufficient.

One great thing about mindfulness is that it is so much more than breathing. You can do it with anything, any time. Below is a list of resources to help you get started:

-KSK

How to Address Bar Prep Stress

Address the Stress

StStressress is any demand placed on your brain or body. A certain amount of stress is normal and can often help you overcome challenges. But too much stress can be both physically and mentally detrimental. It takes control and starts to have a negative effect. Pay attention to how your body and mind respond to stressful situations, acknowledge what you are feeling, deal with it, and take back control. Recognizing you are stressed is the easy part. Dealing with it takes a little work.  Here are a few tips to help you address the stress:

    • Stop making this a competition. It doesn’t matter if you’ve completed 24% of the commercial bar prep assignments and your friend is at 29%. It doesn’t matter if your friend is creating flash cards and you’re not. Stop trying to win the bar exam. Comparing yourself to others is stressful. Focus on your progress and don’t worry about everyone else.
    • Focus on the process, not the product.  You don’t know the material yet so stop trying to answer questions from memory. Use your notes and outlines to answer questions and learn in context. You will go off-note in July when your brain has had time to process the material.
    • Protect your productive time.  I don’t want you stressing out because you’ve been *studying* since 9am and are still at it at midnight. If other people are interrupting you, there’s an easy solution: Move. You are not a tree. What is more difficult is to stop interrupting yourself. Studying for the bar is not fun so there is always something you’d rather do. I fully acknowledge there is a lot going on in the world but do you need to know right this second? Use a timer to track your billable study hours. Every time you stop studying, stop the clock. It won’t take long to see if you are truly protecting your productive time.
    • Take care of yourself. Eat right and exercise. You don’t have to go on a juice cleanse or work out 4 hours a day. Taking care of yourself means drinking a glass of water, eating an apple or carrot every now and then, going for a walk around the block during study breaks. Give it a try and I promise you’ll be amazed at how much more energy and focus you have.
    • Go to bed early.  Go to bed before midnight and get 7-8 hours of sleep. I don’t mean get in bed and watch videos until 2am. I mean: Go. To. Bed. No electronics. Head on pillow. Eyes closed. Sleep makes an enormous difference in being able to manage stressful situations. It gives your body the defenses to fight disease. No one wants to get sick during bar prep.
    • Avoid external stressors. If someone stresses you out because of their attitude, competitiveness, panic, etc. then stay away from that person. You can use the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and (nicely) say that you are having trouble studying/focusing and are going to find another place to study.
    • Believe in yourself.  Enough said.

-KSK

The Stages of Bar Prep

RSemerad
Guest post by Ryan Semerad, 2016 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, law clerk to the Hon. Judge Michael P. Gibbons, Nevada Court of Appeals

Bar Prep occurs in five stages.  As a recent Bar Examinee, I will tell you what you’re about to experience.

Any difficult process begins the same: we all deny it’s happening.  With the bar exam, the denial occurs passively as other big things happen in your life.  You just finished final exams and graduated.  Or you just relocated.  You just got engaged or married.  You recently had a child.  You are looking for a job.

These major things will cloud your vision.  You know that bar prep is around the corner, but you are not ready to accept it.

Nostalgia
The next stage is nostalgia.  You will begin your studies in earnest.  You will go to classes, watch videos, take notes, etc. on topics that you studied way back at the beginning of law school.  Contracts, property, constitutional law, torts, and so on.

You will have energy and your familiarity with these topics will put you a bit at ease.  You will strangely feel like this is not going to be so bad.

This stage lasts for about a week—maybe two, if you’re lucky.

Discomfort
After a brief period of something resembling okay-ness, you will descend into discomfort.  You will realize that the exam—and your preparation—will cover many topics only some of which you are familiar with and others you have never encountered before.  You will feel overwhelmed and underprepared.

You will write your first graded practice essay and feel a jolt of unease as you fail to recall from memory any rule statements or legal propositions.  You will feel very bad about yourself and very uncomfortable with your studies.

You will start to shift into new topics before you feel solid on the old topics.  You will be tested on three topics in one day and you will forget that you had already covered the first topic that seemed so familiar only recently.

The multiple choice sets you complete will be harder than you expected.  And you will struggle to hit your targets.

But here’s an important piece of information to hold onto during this time: your discomfort during this stage is the reason you will pass the exam.  Your discomfort will drive you to study hard and focus.  You will not be distracted by seemingly endless number of other, better opportunities happening in the early summer.

And here’s another important piece of information: do not let your discomfort dictate your study schedule.  Follow the schedule your bar study program has for you.  Do not study constantly or sprint ahead of the program.  Slow and steady and uncomfortable is the path to success.

And if you are feeling especially overwhelmed, use your nervous energy to prepare in simple low-energy ways after you complete what you need to for the day: make flashcards of key terms and phrases; print out example answer essays and organize them by topic; organize yourself.  Do mindless things that will help you study down the road.

Panic
I would like to tell you that things improve after ‘Discomfort,’ but I’m here to tell you how it is not how you want it to be.  You will feel worse.  Sometime after the Fourth of July (assuming you are taking the July exam), you will start to panic.

You will notice that there are only a few weeks until the actual exam begins.  You will genuinely believe you cannot pass the exam.

You will nervously talk to friends, family, peers, and professors about the exam, about rumors about the exam, about crises arising among the ranks, and other disaster stories.

Here’s the thing: if you have been following your program and working slow, steady, and uncomfortably—and you have not been afflicted with a major medical emergency or family tragedy—you will be okay.  You just have to have put in the work, keep putting in the work, trust the process, and be good to yourself.

I cannot stress this last bit enough: be good to yourself.  Go see a movie, go out to dinner with a friend, get enough sleep, exercise some, watch some TV, breathe.  If you put in the time and effort to study, you can take a moment to do something fun and relaxing.  In fact, you really should.

A Lot
In the final couple weeks before the exam, you will enter the ‘a lot’ stage.  In this stage, you will feel many intense emotions.  You must anticipate and prepare for this inner tumult to prevent it from torpedoing your efforts.

About two weeks out, make sure you have all the items you will need for the exam and all the logistics are worked out.
Make sure:

  • Your car is running (or whatever transportation you need to the exam)
  • Your computer is functional and test-ready
  • You have proper identification and documentation to enter the test area
  • You have pens or pencils (as necessary or required)
  • You have comfortable and test-acceptable clothes and footwear

Doing all of these little things in advance will help you control your headspace come the days of the exam.

Finally, identify the two or three topics you are most afraid of getting essays on and make attack outlines covering the major areas within those topics.  And read them, study them, and memorize them.  You may not get tested on these topics, but you will not be afraid of being tested on these topics during the exam.

Final Thoughts
Treat bar prep like a full-time job.  Study slow, steady, and uncomfortably.  Make Mandelaprogress each day and review topics that trouble you.  Take your studies seriously, but do not allow them to consume all of your waking hours.  Take time to breathe, relax, and care for yourself.

Do these things and you will be okay.

-RAS

Should You Work During Bar Prep

Some individuals HAVE to work during bar prep. If you are in this group, keep reading because you need to see that it is possible but will require top-notch scheduling and time management. However, if you do not have to work but are considering it, you definitely need to keep reading. This is for those of you who worked during law school and it was fine. In fact, it was great. You had no problem with the work-school-life balance. You can totally work part-time while studying for the bar exam.

There is one small problem with this mindset: The bar exam is not law school. Preparing for law school exams is easy. In law school you could choose classes based on the professor, get to know that professor and what he or she expects on the exam. Even if you created your own outlines, you probably relied on outlines from people who already took the class. At the most, you prepped for exams in 4-5 subjects, had an entire semester to take in information, are tested on one subject at a time, can prepare for each single-subject exam one at a time, and the exams are often open-note or take-home. The bar exam is nothing like this.

Preparing for the bar exam is a 10-week, full-time commitment.The bar exam is closed-universe and tests 12-14 subjects at once over a 2-3 day period; you only have 10 weeks to learn the material and the skills; you don’t know what, how, or when something will be tested.  In spite of the differences, you still think you can work while preparing for the bar exam. I hear this from students all the time. The conversation usually goes like this:

Student:  I can work part-time during bar prep because I’m better when I’m busy.

Me: That’s great. You need to devote 40-50 hours a week to bar prep.

Student: No problem. I’m working now and have four classes. 

Me: Super. But to be clear, that’s a minimum of 40 billable hours: on-task and studying.

Student: Yeah, yeah. Sure. I’m only going to work part-time, 20 hours a week.

Me: Awesome. Just to make sure, can we do the math?

Student: Math?

Me:  Yes, math. Let’s start with the limited resource of time. There are 168 hours in a week. This is what we have to work with so let’s break that down into chunks of time. To make it simple, we’ll have you work in the mornings and study in the afternoon. Again, we’ll keep it simple and do 6 hours a day, 7 days a week. That gets you to 42 billable hours a week, slightly above the minimum.  

Then we sketch out a typical daily schedule:

Typical Workweek: Monday-Friday

7am: get up, shower, dress, breakfast, get to work.

8-12: work

12-1: leave work, eat lunch, maybe change clothes, commute to study location, set up lecture materials.

1-4:30: watch bar prep lectures (3 ½ hours a day is standard).

4:30-5:30: exercise, break, give your eyes a rest from staring at a computer screen for 3 ½ hours.

5:30-8 do assigned bar prep work.

8-9: go home, prep/order, eat, clean-up dinner.

9-12: watch tv, hang out with friends, read for fun, talk/text, social media.

12: go to bed.


This doesn’t seem too bad, right? Assuming you are on-task 100% of the time, you will have no trouble doing things like eating, exercising, socializing, and getting plenty of sleep. It’s true this example schedule does not account for anything like doctor, dentist, counselor appointments, but that shouldn’t be a problem because you’ve got 3 hours of free time every day. Easy to find time for other things.

The weekends will be even better because you only have to study 6 hours a day. Since you are already putting in 10 hour work/study days during the week, 6 hours will be easy. You can sleep til noon! Of course you won’t do that but you can sleep in.

Typical Weekend:

9am: get up, shower, dress, eat, get set up to study or commute to study location.

10-1: do assigned bar prep work you didn’t get to during the week.

1-2: eat lunch, stretch, take a break, etc.

2-5: do regularly assigned bar prep work.

5-bedtime: free time! This is plenty of time to do things like work out, socialize, do laundry, basic cleaning, go to the grocery store, get gas in car, get a hair cut, etc.

Note: If you go to church, make sure to either get up earlier or add two hours to the day as you’ll need time to dress, commute to and from church, change into study clothes.


This weekend schedule also assumes that you will be 100% on task for those 3-hour blocks of time. But that shouldn’t be a problem because you will disengage from all distractors and not need to take any unplanned breaks. This schedule doesn’t sound too bad, right? You can do this every day for 10 weeks.

Again, assuming you are 100% on task for the 42 hours of study time, you have 25-35 hours of free time every week. You can do whatever you want. Go to the dentist, clean your apartment, binge-watch something on Netflix. What’s really great is that your time is flexible so if something comes up, all you have to do is adjust your schedule accordingly. For example, if you don’t want to study one weeknight, you can move those hours to Saturday or Sunday and just put in a full day then. If you have plans to go out of town for the weekend simply add 2 hours of studying to each day during the week. Or if you are attending a friend’s wedding, if it’s in the evening, you are good to go because you can get 6 hours of studying in easy, especially if you get up earlier. And if you’ll need to sleep off the celebrating, you can just study Sunday evening.


One and Done


The bar exam is the final step to becoming a licensed attorney. You want to pass the first time so you can actually practice law. If you don’t have to work, then don’t put this at risk. If you still think working during bar prep is a good idea, get a copy of the detailed bar study schedule from your commercial bar prep company. 40 hours a week will get you through 70-75% of the material. If, after seeing the sheer volume of material and assignments, you still think working and studying is a good idea, go talk to the bar support person at your law school. Let that person help you create a structured schedule that will keep you on track. Once you fall behind (and you will), it is extremely difficult to play catch-up.

This was a really long post because deciding to work during bar prep is a huge decision and it should be an informed one. Make the decision that will best help you achieve the goal of passing the bar exam.

-KSK