If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. — Dale Carnegie
Life is hard, yet success is harder. To succeed risks must be taken. Even when things go right and everything seems easy on the outside, those triumphs are often built on a foundation of failure, gambles, and numerous headaches. Part of taking risks is to accept and embrace failure. Fear did not stop Neil Armstrong from walking on the moon, nor did 1,000 failures prevent Thomas Edison from creating the light bulb. I admit I am always looking for the secret formula to triple my revenue and client base; ultimately, I am reminded, by those who have paved the way ahead of me, that I already possess the “secret.”
The secret to my solo practice and business success is working on my business versus in my business. The key is developing meaningful contacts with business executives. As an introvert, this is not fun. Yet I push through it. In doing so, I must attend events without knowing anyone, run for an election and lose, and even hire the wrong people. Despite the initial heartaches and rejections from each of these examples, my perseverance and determination reaped tremendous rewards.
Failure Comes First
As a new attorney, I quickly became dismayed with the practice of law and was on a mission to exit. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself to help two young girls leave Cuba for a future in the U.S. I knew nothing about immigration law and had to admit my ignorance on an American Bar Association group email list. Then a kind soul pointed me in the direction of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Again, I had to seek help from strangers. I remember leaving my first immigration conference with a migraine headache. This new practice area was hard, both from an educational and mental standpoint.
There were times I made mistakes, and I had to overcome my fear of failure by reaching out to my colleagues or taking a case despite the obstacles.
At times, I was ready to give up and admit defeat. Now, over a decade later, I am grateful that I pushed forward despite these fears and failures.
Work Through Fear of Failure One Small Success at a Time
After switching to immigration law, I began enjoying business success. At first, however, I felt something was still missing, and I wanted to become more involved in my community. Working in a rural area, I felt isolated from my immigration colleagues, and I wanted more.
I remember sitting in my car, making countless excuses as to why I should not attend a local event of female business leaders. I was alone and knew no one. It was awkward and hard. As soon as I entered the building, I felt intimidated. I wanted to run, but my feet were planted. Instead, I made my way to a small group and mainly listened. As I heard more about their successes I felt even more intimidated and overwhelmed. To this day, I remember leaving the event with a headache from the stress and fear.
The following month, I returned and continued the charade, returning until it became fun. I made meaningful and lasting relationships with the “successful” female leaders. Looking back, I realize that I stayed true to myself and did not bloviate my accomplishments. Instead, I asked a lot of questions and stayed engaged in the conversations. My cellphone was turned off and I sent “thank you” notes to the hostesses. Today I consider many of these women mentors and kindred spirits because they are a part of the secret to my business and personal success.
Now I enjoy walking through an event and recognizing colleagues, and I proudly sit on several community boards. If I had stayed in my car because of my fears, I would have missed out on some wonderful friendships and opportunities.
Despite my “successes,” I keep pushing myself. I cannot afford to become complacent. When I walk into a room of strangers, I continuously remind myself to smile, hold my head up high and exude confidence on the outside. My secret is that I am a ball of nerves, but with my smile and poise, no one else has to know. Yes, I have been snubbed on many occasions, and that is okay. When I enter a room full of strangers, I look for smaller groups or find someone else who is standing alone — often there is another introvert in the room.
Another secret: If you appear to be enjoying yourself by smiling, then others will usually gravitate toward you.
I also believe it is essential to pay it forward. I force myself to leave the comfort of my colleagues and search for newbies so that I can help them feel more comfortable. I am always impressed when someone reaches out to me. If you are attending a new event, feel free to contact the coordinator and introduce yourself ahead of time. Ask to volunteer before the event — it might create opportunities to meet others in a smaller setting, and the hostess will not forget your generosity.
Don’t Take Rejections Personally
I do not like failure or rejection. This is a possibility with each email I send, each task I attempt, and each proposal I mail. It is only later in life that I have embraced these rejections and accepted that the rejections are not of me personally. Instead, the timing may not be right, or the email may have gotten lost in the junk box. Despite being an introvert, I have pushed myself to speak at national conferences. Yes, it is heartbreaking when the feedback is not positive. Yet, constructive criticism is critical to my success. Rejection is valuable; it forces me to re-examine my approach, it prevents complacency, and it pushes my boundaries. I am always trying to learn, and better myself, both personally and professionally.
My advice: Keep an eye out for opportunities and JUST DO IT. Remember, the only thing holding you back is yourself.
What Fears Are Holding You Back?
I encourage you to write them down and set goals to tackle. Create a checklist with timelines. Is there an event you want to attend, a mentor you want to meet or a conference you want to speak at? Then do it — we will keep your fears and nerves a secret between us. While the journey may be bumpy, it will open new windows of opportunities that you may never have realized exist or believed could be attained.
MORE INSPIRING LESSONS FOR WOMEN LAWYERS
This article is Lesson No. 37 in “50 Lessons for Women Lawyers – From Women Lawyers,” by law firm coach and author Nora Riva Bergman (@LawFirmCoach). With contributions from Bergman and 49 women lawyers from across the United States and Canada, the book provides lessons and inspiration for women at every stage of their careers. Reprinted with permission.
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Also on Attorney at Work:
Lesson No. 38, “The Power of Putting Yourself First” by Kristine Reed
Lesson No. 39, “Slow It Down” by Stephanie Scarborough
“New Lawyers Should Have More Than One Mentor” by Amy Timmer
Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know by Ida Abbot