One quality is more important than any other in having the life you want: confidence.
Confidence is ultimately more important than resilience, talent or even intelligence for having the life you want. Why? Without confidence, it is almost impossible to complete tasks well, make decisions, define your career, be a leader or have a fulfilling life outside of work. Lack of confidence and self-doubt is the common denominator of burnout, stress and anxiety.
It may seem obvious, but during COVID, I’ve observed that successful lawyers have confidence while those who are not successful — or don’t feel successful — lack confidence.
Self-Doubt Is a Wrecking Ball to Confidence
Lack of confidence, especially self-doubt, causes people to overthink, make bad decisions, lose focus and ruin their health. It lives in the past and is the bastard child of perceived mistakes and failures. Even when you do well, overwhelming self-doubt robs you of satisfaction and demolishes your confidence.
What can you do if you are riddled with self-doubt and spiraling toward burnout?
Strategies for Building Confidence
Fortunately, a few easy strategies can help you get back on the road to a rewarding life.
1. First, shift your focus inward.
Most people who hire coaches or therapists are focused on acquiring a goal — a promotion, power and money. They are focused on concrete external achievements rather than the inner qualities required to create them. Instead of external “work,” you need to be focused on the inner work: building confidence.
2. Turn “mistakes” into lessons — by gaining a higher perspective on learning and relearning.
We learn more from challenging experiences and disappointments than we do when we get exactly what we want. This is the concept of “mistakes versus learning lessons.”
Just because you don’t get what you want or expect, that doesn’t mean you made a mistake or did something wrong. Self-doubt breeds in the spaces between not getting what you want and taking your next step. If you do your best, but don’t get your desired result, consider what you learned and can do differently instead of worrying about not being perfect.
3. Focus on the big picture.
When you lose sight of the big picture and instead focus on income and status and compare yourself to others, doubt will always creep in and take over.
You simply need to focus on the big picture. If you’ve forgotten what this was for you when you started practicing law, for most attorneys, the big picture is to help people. The big picture also contains healthy amounts of self-compassion. We recognize that we didn’t get what we wanted, but we learn and do better.
4. Practice self-compassion to clear the way for self-confidence.
Are you your own best friend or your biggest critic? Do you have conversations with yourself? The negative aspects of your psyche are the ego, the inner child and the inner critic. Self-compassion does not allow these negatives — whether stemming from half-remembered critics, teachers, family members or peers who were unkind and manipulative to control you — to hijack your confidence. Self-compassion responds to inner critics with love and kindness.
It is your choice whether to obsess on inner criticism or remember that the legal profession is challenging and complex and that few people get to be lawyers.
One of my favorite sayings is “chin up and march on.” Another is “NEXT!” Find a mantra or affirmation that cheers you up and helps you remember how good you are. If you focus on those, positive results will certainly follow.
Imposter Syndrome Is Another Enemy of Confidence
A common cause of self-doubt is a personality defect known as imposter syndrome — the belief that we are flawed and incompetent and one day someone will discover that we are frauds. It is just a matter of time. People with imposter syndrome tend to spend more time building castles in the air to fool everyone — external achievements — than simply being transparent and honest. We make promises to ourselves and others that are doomed to disappoint. We wear different masks like disguises intended to convince others that we are someone more perfect than we are. Ultimately, we are setting ourselves up for failure and burnout.
Why? We have forgotten the big picture. Instead of focusing on how we can help, we are focused on external gain. Confidence is the result of positive virtues, which is as important as achievements, if not more.
My last jury trial is a perfect example. Twenty years ago, I represented plaintiffs who claimed that the large corporate defendant had financially damaged them. I was the sole attorney for my clients, up against a room full of corporate defense lawyers. After a two-week trial, the jury awarded almost $1 million to my clients. Most attorneys would have been overjoyed. I could only hear my ego, inner child and inner critic. I was so burnt out that I quit practicing law shortly after. I wish I had known what I know now.
Building Confidence Requires Compassion, Forgiveness and Love
Confidence is an inside job.
Focus on the big picture and ignore negative self-talk. You are only as good as you believe you are. Let that belief be the foundation of your success.
Subscribe to Attorney at Work
Get really good ideas every day for your law practice: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch (it’s free). Follow us on Twitter @attnyatwork.