Imposter Syndrome: An Orientation Recap

I can’t quite believe that it’s been almost exactly a month since I started at Harvard. The time has flown, at least in part because I haven’t had a whole lot of time to catch my breath (in a good way, mostly). But I wanted to write a post about the orientation experience to give a window into what starting at HLS is like — I think it did a really good job of setting us up to create a solid environment for ourselves and for each other.

One of the first impressions I got upon coming to campus is that Harvard Law School is HUGE. I knew that conceptually, but the law school population itself is almost as big as my (large) high school — about 1800 students. In order to make it easier to get to know people and avoid getting lost in the shuffle, HLS divides the 1L (first-year) class into seven sections of about 80 people, each of which has a professor as a section leader. It sounds like a lot, but orientation is basically four days of intensive section bonding, so we all got to know each other really fast. At this point, I recognize everybody in my section and probably know about 90% of the names.

The first day I actually got to campus was a Wednesday, and I was just there to pick up my campus ID. As I was walking out of the main law school building, someone on the faculty stopped me and greeted me by name. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. He introduced himself as my section leader and Torts professor, and then I finally connected him to the headshot I’d seen on the website. I can’t say that this is necessarily the norm for section leaders, but before orientation had even really gotten going, this professor had taken it upon himself to learn all of our names, first and last.

Orientation started in earnest the next day, and we had the typical slew of info sessions, panels, and tours, interspersed with a few section-specific meetings. In addition to our section leader, we had six 2Ls and 3Ls (second- and third-years) who acted as orientation leaders/mentors for our section (and who later TAed our Legal Research and Writing class). We call them our BSAs (because they’re part of the Board of Student Advisors). One of the things the BSAs did on Thursday was run a session to get us ready for cold calls in the classroom (I’ll write a full post on what that’s like later — in the meantime, if you’ve seen The Paper Chase, Legally Blonde, or any of the other law school movies, you’ve got an idea). Our BSAs, because Section 5 is the best section, accomplished this by asking us hard-hitting questions about Harry Potter. I was cold called on whether Ron Weasley deserved to end up with Hermione Granger. As you can imagine, especially if you’ve ever experienced the depth of my love for Harry Potter, this was a good sign that I came to the right place.

Another highlight of orientation was our section leader playing the full video of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan, definitely one of the best Disney pump-up songs ever. But in addition to that, it turns out that the lyricist is an alumnus. Go figure.

But there were two themes that took center stage at orientation (besides all the typical administrative, etc. stuff). One was set particularly by our section leader. He put strong, repeated emphasis on the importance of creating a supportive, loving community for each other, particularly within our section. He told us he expected us to learn all of each other’s names by face and by voice (for conversation in class), and that our experience here and our future after would depend heavily on the extent to which we supported each other now. It could easily have been an empty admonishment, but the fact that he’d taken the time to learn all of our names and things about our backgrounds made us take it a lot more seriously. Everyone in the section has been really nice, helpful, and open in the last four weeks, and I give a bit of credit to our section leader for that.

The second theme came up both in our meetings as a section and in the more general panels and talks for the whole entering class. Time and again, we heard a variation of, “We did not make a mistake. You deserve to be here. You can succeed here. You are not a fraud.”

Law school can be hard and scary. You’re surrounded by startlingly accomplished, intelligent people, both as professors and classmates, and it can be easy to convince yourself that you don’t belong among them. My classmates seemed a little confused by this emphatic and repeated refutation of “imposter syndrome” so early in the process, but as a writer, I recognized the symptoms that they were working to head off.

When you’re doing something hard, something risky, something that doesn’t offer constant feedback or allow you to gauge exactly how you’re doing at any given moment, it’s easy to doubt yourself. Even if, or maybe especially if, you’re used to being really good at things. How can you know if you’re in the right place doing the right things? Maybe, really, you’re just fooling everybody, just pretending. But what if they find out that you’re a fake?

My Property professor wrote our casebook and is working on the next one. My Torts professor argued the Supreme Court case he had us read for our mock class during orientation (and was the Executive Director for investigations into the Gulf oil spill). My Crim Law professor for next semester has argued a bunch of cases for the ICC and worked on the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Doubtless they and all my other professors have done lots of other impressive work I don’t even know about. This is terrifying, to say nothing of the amazing accomplishments of my classmates. It’s easy to go, “I just turned 23 and I’ve never had a full-time job. What am I doing here?”

Imposter Syndrome is a lie. There are lots of reasons for that, but one is that everyone is faking it. No one knows what they’re doing. Not in law school, not in writing, not in life. So decide that you have a right to be where you are, not to the exclusion of everybody else, but alongside everybody else. Take up space. Practice your art. Have opinions and learn why you’re wrong, or right.

If you’re in law school, or thinking about going to law school, know that sometimes, you’ll feel like you’ve pulled one over on everybody else, and maybe on yourself. That’s okay. It’s normal to feel like an imposter when you’re doing something hard, something worthwhile. You don’t have to do it forever, but at least give yourself a chance. Keep speaking up in class, even when you think you’re wrong. Keep participating. No one is 100% sure what they’re doing, either.

If you’re interested in more on this topic, LS Hawker and I talked about self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome on our podcast in May, and you can check that out here.

So orientation was a great time getting to know everybody and reminding ourselves that we all deserve to be here. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on my first few weeks of class and how law school really works. Have questions you want a law student to answer? Toss ’em in the comments!

Creation over Consumption: A Challenge

Our lives are an ever-changing balance between creation and consumption. Mindful and intentional consumption is important and essential–consuming food, resources, and ideas, when done with intention, contributes meaningfully to our lives and helps us contribute meaningfully to the lives of others.

Unfortunately, though, our culture is largely one of mindless consumption. When we’re bored (or just not overstimulated), we scroll through Facebook, flip on the TV, or surf Buzzfeed. We play mobile games while we’re waiting in line. We listen to the news in the morning and the radio in the car, and spend the rest of our day with several tabs of email open and social media sending us notifications every five minutes.

On the other hand, how much time do we spend every day creating value? How much time do we spend on creative hobbies or passion projects or actively contributing to our health? If you’re anything like me, that amount is much, much lower. Some days, it might be non-existent. Continue reading

Prioritizing like Warren Buffett

In a post on Live Your Legend, Scott Dinsmore talks about one tip on prioritization that Warren Buffett gave his pilot. The system goes like this:

  1. List the top 25 goals you want to achieve, either in the next few years or in your lifetime.
  2. From that list of 25 goals, pick your top five most important. Put those on their own list of current goals.
  3. Put the other 20 goals on another list.
  4. Avoid those 20 goals at all costs until you achieve the first five.

Sounds a little terrifying, doesn’t it? Committing to five goals so much that you’re willing to sacrifice all of the others to achieve them? But, according to Warren Buffett, that’s how you become successful: focus on your highest-priority goals to the exclusion of all else. There are a lot of good articles out there about why taking advice from those in extraordinary circumstances can be less than helpful, but I think this one might be the exception to the rule. Continue reading

Where Does Your Time Go?

You have 168 hours every week. Is hard to believe? It doesn’t seem like it can possibly be that much time. Even if you work 40 hours a week, sleep 8 hours a night, and spend 12 hours commuting, you still have 60 other hours to work with. So, what are you using your time for?


No matter what your answer to that question is, you’re very likely wrong. People are prone to drastically overestimating how much time they spend actually working and underestimating many of their other activities. Laura Vanderkam, time management guru, admits to complaining endlessly about her 60-hour work week until she discovered that in actuality, she was working much closer to 40. If you’re hard on yourself about not spending enough time on your family or yourself, this could be you. Continue reading

The Wonders of a (Partial) Internet Blackout

Last week, I decided to do a productivity experiment/challenge that included living for a week as if I had no wifi at home (though I live with three other people, so I couldn’t actually turn it off). I had other challenges for the week as well, which I’ll recap throughout the week, but I want to start with this one because it’s such a profound challenge as an ever-connected Millennial. Continue reading

The Why of Productivity: Your Level 50

In my post at the beginning of this week, I promised I was going to take some time during the week to blog about my Level 50, a term I took from Nerd Fitness to describe my ideal life. The idea is that you have know why you’re doing what you’re doing. What do you want your life to look like? Life is about the journey, not the destination, to be sure, but what direction is that journey taking you? Continue reading

The Productivity Challenge Week 1: WiFi

Happy Sunday! Tomorrow’s the start of a new week, and to celebrate the upcoming launch of my productivity eBook, I wanted to start a new series on my blog. You see, I’ve spent many, many hours of my life reading productivity blogs and books, listening to lectures, etc. But there’s a difference between knowing all of the fabulous productivity advice that’s out there and actually using it. And since I’m trying to get this eBook done and out to you all as soon as possible, I thought, what better way than to do a series where I actually take my own advice and chronicle my progress? Continue reading

NaNoWriMo 2013: Murphy’s Law Edition

If you’re familiar with National Novel Writing Month, particularly if you or someone you know has done it, you’ve likely heard some of the horror stories that seem to crop up each year. People lose notebooks, flash drives, hard drives, files, and every piece of technology they own crashes. That’s why National Novel Writing Month even has a “Back Up Your Novel Day” on November 13 or 14, depending on the year, to remind participants to back up their hard-earned words on an external hard drive, flash drive, or in the cloud, because bad things do happen to good writers.

The closest I’d ever come to that was losing about 60 pages of a work in progress in high school because I was writing in spiral notebooks and lost one of them. But that was before the genesis of my adventures in NaNoWriMo. Other than disasters of my own making, like giving up too early, nothing like that had ever happened to me. Before this year. Continue reading

NaNoWrimo 2013: Day 1

Hello, all!

Sorry for my long blogging hiatus. Today is the beginning of yet another National Novel Writing Month, which means, of course, that I’m procrastinating by writing on my blog. I feel a little justified, though–I went to a midnight kick-off last night and wrote 1,777 words, so I’ve written my goal for the day. Of course, I should get ahead for the days coming up when I won’t actually get there…

The kick-off was a ball! The Pittsburgh Wrimos are a fun and quirky bunch, and hanging around IHOP late into the night pecking words out with them was a lot of fun. One of our awesome MLs (Municipal Liaisons) got us goodie bags, which are great. So I’m off at a good start to the month, though I am a little sleepy this morning.

For those of you on the NaNo site, my screen name is _cgirl921 (a holdover from five years ago that I can’t seem to change). Add me and pressure me to keep up on my word count!

That’s all for now, folks. Count on me to keep blogging as I find ways of procrastinating without being on Facebook. Weeee!


(Wordcount: 1,777)