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The interviews and the wining and dining are behind you. You’ve accepted the position and joined your new law firm. You’re excited by the opportunity, but you worry about your initial performance. You promoted your skills, experience and expertise pretty strongly in the interviews. Will you be able to live up to expectations?
We’ve all felt performance anxiety in new situations. A little nervousness is probably a good thing, as it keeps us focused and alert. But if there’s too much stress, you can undermine your productivity, success and satisfaction in your new role. What can you do to mitigate that feeling that you’re “just not good enough” and tackle your new legal responsibilities with confidence?
We’re often our own worst enemies when we’re new. Here are tips to help you be more comfortable, confident and successful in your new position.
One of the reasons for performance anxiety is the mindset you bring into a new situation. Carol Dweck, Heidi Grant Halvorson and other researchers have shown that our in-going mindset has a huge impact in how we anticipate and experience new situations.
Simply put, in new situations people often focus more on performing than learning. Or as Halvorson puts it, we focus more on “being good” than “getting better.”
Obviously you want to do well in your new job, but focusing too much on performing can cause you to approach the initial legal work as if it’s a make-or-break test of your natural skills and abilities. You’ll either succeed spectacularly or fail miserably. No pressure there.
With a performance mindset we also tend to:
All of that just adds unnecessary pressure that undermines confidence and removes all the fun and excitement of the new role.
Fortunately, researchers have found that there is a better way. A simple shift to seeing new situations as learning opportunities instead of performance tests can reap huge benefits. More specifically, a learning-oriented mindset:
How can you approach your new job with a learning mindset? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Identify what you want to learn from your new role. What skills do you want to improve? What new knowledge do you want to acquire? How will these help you achieve your career goals? The more you can make these salient and important at work, the more you will focus on learning over performing.
2. Approach others as teachers, not evaluators. Ask yourself what you can learn from others at the firm. Who can help me get up to speed quickly? Connect me with critical resources? Help me make sense of organizational dynamics and politics?
3. See every experience as a learning opportunity. Whether things go well or poorly, reflect on what you learned and how you can do better the next time.
4. Mental rehearsals are almost as good as the real thing. If you’re nervous about an upcoming performance, practice in front of the mirror or in the car on your way to work. Anticipate what might happen and experiment with what you might say or do in response.
5. Enter new situations thinking “I’m excited” instead of “I am calm.” Harvard researcher Alison Wood Brooks has found this approach helps people enter new performance situations with an opportunity mindset instead of a threat-oriented mindset.
The more you can approach your new position as an exciting learning opportunity instead of an endless “American Idol” performance, the more comfortable, confident and successful you’ll be.
Keith Rollag is Associate Professor and Chair of the Management Division at Babson College. “Success” magazine recently declared his new book, “What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations” (AMACOM) one of the “10 Best Books of 2015.” Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithRollag.
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