The Street Smart Law Blog

Writing 2
  • Frederick L Shelton

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I’ve worked my way up from being a homeless teen to being the CEO & president of a

national legal recruiting and consulting firm. I have a solid brand. Every day, Ivy League graduates and attorneys from all over the country, take heed to the career and management advice I have to offer. Yet those thoughts still come. Deep-seeded insecurity, self-sabotage and flashbacks to my time on the streets. The first thing to do is recognize Imposter Syndrome related thoughts the moment they occur. The next is to take some kind of immediate action. Although our family is incredibly close, my wife and daughter aren’t the ones who have helped me overcome this. They will always tell me I’m the greatest, smartest guy on the planet because they’re family and they love me. So while I love hearing such things from them, the impact isn't as strong as from other people.

Surprisingly, my best support system are clients and business contacts. For example, I recently had one of those Imposter Syndrome Moments for the first time in months. My mind just started heading in the most negative directions possible and I felt like I was going to be exposed for the fraud I felt like I was.

So I picked up the phone and called one of my clients, who happens to be have degrees from Georgetown and NYU. “Feel like some free consulting?” . After she responded that she’d love some, I shared a couple tips on branding and how her firm's website might be beefed up. The call ended with her thanking me profusely for my time and "brilliant ideas".

The negative thoughts were eradicated long before the call was over.

Another time, I called a young lawyer whom I’ve been mentoring. He was incredibly excited to hear my voice and by the time I finished giving him his “homework” for building and maintaining his network, and client development, he couldn’t thank me enough. I was a homeless teen. I don't have a high school diploma. Every person I work with has at least one upper graduate degree. If anything will help you get over Imposter Syndrome, it’s using your skills and accomplishments to help others.

So I have a list of people who I can call. Some of them are people I’m mentoring, some are clients but all of them have two things in common:

  1. They have no emotional attachment that would make them feel obligated to give me false praise.

  2. They have the ability to confirm that I am exactly where I belong. Because people who are that accomplished or successful, aren’t impressed by imposters. They’re only impressed by the real deal.

Calling people with those two attributes has proven to be the most effective strategy I’ve employed in combating Imposter Syndrome. And it’s worked.

Whereas it used to be a constant battle, it is now the rarest of occurrences. If you want to know more, just ping me at

Frederick Shelton

CEO, Shelton & Steele