The Paradox of Errors / The Imposter Syndrome
Thread poster: LegalTranslatr2

LegalTranslatr2  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:01
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Mar 11, 2002

I was reading an article published by a professor at our local law school \"When Fear Knocks: The Myths and Realities of Law School\" and I encountered a number of points that could also apply to translators/interpreters (link to complete article follows).

\"Myth #7: The Imposter Syndrome

I find it particularly intriguing that lawyers typically suffer from what is well-

known as the Imposter Syndrome. This means that throughout their careers lawyers

often experience themselves as people who enter a situation, regarded as the expert

or person in charge, when in fact they see themselves as teetering dangerously close

to the edges of their own competence. One common sentiment is that everyone in the

room knows more than you do, or is better educated than you, or is more capable

than you. Sooner or later you are the \"Great Oz.\" As time goes by in the practice of

law we all learn to cope with this and overcome this in various ways. We actually

learn to appreciate the Imposter Syndrome for fear of its toxic mimic: the Top Gun

Syndrome is far worse.

The Top Gun Syndrome is the situation in which one actually believes that one

is utterly incapable of error and is an absolute expert in all things that come in front of her. It is hard to believe that anyone would be so foolish as to think that they have completely mastered the law, legal analysis, and all possible angles. For in almost any day, even if you are highly competent at what you do, someone will offer a point of view, or a case, or a prospective you may not have considered before. Among first-year law students, the Imposter Syndrome manifests itself in a variety of ways. Often the law students feel - secretly - that other students know more, are smarter, are more connected, have better opportunities, etc. The truth is, just about everyone in the room feels exactly the same way. Quite honestly, if they do not, they probably should. Intriguingly, if you step back from the Imposter Syndrome, you begin to recognize that it is nothing other than a healthy recognition of one\'s own limitations and it is a natural and common feature of being a professional. I often feel

that the essence of professionalism distills down to the fact that to be a professional

is to be someone who can master not only difficult concepts and well-received

wisdom, but can also experience herself at the frontier of her abilities and be willing

to confront the challenges that society has that will test the abilities of even the very

best among the professional caste. At some level we are confident and capable based on past experience, and at another level we are challenged and somewhat unnerved by the open-ended possibilities in front of us...\"

\"Myth #22: The Paradox of Errors

This is really not a myth but a paradox. The Paradox of Errors is that while mistakes by lawyers will occur, they are unacceptable. I remember working on a brief when I was in practice with a now-deceased lawyer. He was a crusty litigator in the old mold, who had successfully argued in major cases. While working on a brief with this lawyer, an error occurred. It was early in my career and I was summoned to his office in a very calm and deliberate tone, he pointed out the error. He sensed that I was uncomfortable, because I tend to be a perfectionist, and stopped for a minute to say something that has stuck with me every since. He said, \"I know that errors will occur, but they are unacceptable.\" In the practice of law, as professionals we begin to set for ourselves a standard of perfection that borders on strict liability. We assume that we will not even make the most venial errors. Our learning techniques are oriented toward the notion that errors are simply unacceptable. Nonetheless, we know they will occur. How is it possible to enter a profession whose standard is the acceptance of nothing less than perfect, knowing full well that you will make mistakes and fail to meet that standard? At a certain level, it seems sort of stupid that anyone would ever want to do that to themselves. I guarantee you that at least once in your career you will make one monumental mistake, you may make several...\"


Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:01
Spanish to English
+ ...
Fascinating! Mar 11, 2002

Describes feelings I\'ve had (impostor) or am terrified I might feel and not know it (top gun)! And how sobering the Error Paradox!


Endre Both  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:01
Member (2002)
English to German
Great parallel Mar 12, 2002

A superb piece of thinking, thanks for sharing it, Jeff.

This element of masochism, of swinging back and forth between the impostor syndrome and the top gun syndrome is a basic element of my professional life (although I spend considerably more time at the impostor end).

I think what makes a master is, among others, being as consistent and close to reality as possible in his self-appreciation. Which seems kind of hard to achieve for lawyers, translators and probably anybody in a non-repetitive and \"open-ended\" job...


Isabel Peralta  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:01
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Thanks for good reading (and thinking) material Mar 12, 2002

I had a look at the full link you gave us and it seems to be a little jewel of a reading...As you said, it can be applied to translators but also to most professions if you stop to think about it. Who would have said that lawyers are good for something?(Imagine a smiley with a wink here, I can\'t manage to do them yet!)


Silvina Beatriz Codina  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:01
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
Great reading, Jeff Mar 12, 2002

I had already read about the Imposter Syndrome, as applicable not only to lawyers (or translators), but to all independent professionals: the feeling that you are not as good as you claim to be and that, one day, everybody will find out. I hadn\'t known about the Paradox of Errors, although I know the feeling. I often felt like the Pirandello character whose entire life (or in any case, my professional life) could be judged by a single mistake. icon_frown.gif

I think that in our case the Imposter Syndrome is compounded by a feeling of inferiority stemming from the fact that our profession is not yet properly recognized as a professional service with high quality standards and that deserves to be well paid. When I was in college I was told by a professor that we would often hear, after delivering a quote, variations of \"That much? Well, I have a niece who studies English at an academy and she could do it for me...\" In the Italian forum, a translator told about a client who expressed surprise about a translator\'s services being more expensive than a bricklayer\'s.

What I had not considered was that the Imposter could be considered as an incentive to strive for perfection. How true! We are selling an image of ourselves all the time, and we have to live up to it.


Luca Tutino  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:01
Member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
Thanks Mar 12, 2002

Great reading. Ciao.


Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:01
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
A real pleasure Mar 13, 2002

Thank you for posting this. With all the bashing lawyers get, it\'s nice to see a piece that ends on an uplifting note and is infused with a loving spirit throughout.

I think the author might have done more with the myth that the law uses English as we know it, but that naturally opens up an opportunity for an admirer to build on.



English to Russian
Hmmmm Mar 20, 2002

Intellectual hippy trash. Light years away from reality. The old Yorkshire saying \'Frame up, laddie, or it\'s door!\' should be the motto of our profession.


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