Through law school I found law students and lawyers to be a different breed. They were incredibly, sharp, well read and, often arrogant and obnoxious. I used to be terribly intimidated by them. I may have been as smart as the next person but was still new to Canada and did not understand the cultural context well enough. I was not good at reading cues and never could tell what people thought of me and my skills. The process of constantly guessing kept me in a perpetual state of high anxiety and stress. I could have just asked people but did not have the confidence to, thinking they would perceive me as unsmart. Anyway that was me.
During my articling year, a senior lawyer assigned me a motion to file in court. This was my first one. I was too intimidated to ask her how I would go about doing it and so did my reading of the procedural rules, prepared the papers taking great pains and filed it in court. We had three weeks to the motion date, when she asked me for the file. I meekly handed it to her, unsure of what I had done. I will never forget what happened next. She threw the file at me and went on a rant about how I had filed in the wrong court and had ruined her reputation as a competent lawyer before the Judge, given it was her name on the record. It turned out that there was a minor exception in the procedural rules which I had overlooked. For all I know she could have set me up to fail! Anyway, I broke into tears right there and began to sob uncontrollably, profusely apologizing like a blubbering idiot. I was ready to give up the law, my three plus years of study and all the sacrifices, then and there.As a trainee lawyer, I had a lawyer mentor Scot, who saw this drama and who asked me into his office. I will never forget his advice and to this day carry it with me. He said, “we all make mistakes. However, you can mitigate its impact on yourself by displaying confidence”.
The first rule is to never put yourself at the mercy of the other person in terms of how they make feel. Second rule, you take back control by saying – “I am sorry this happened but here is what I am going to do to fix it” because there is never a mistake that cannot be fixed with some effort and time. Third rule, if you are dealing with a reasonable person, they willsense your sincerity and agree and if they are not reasonable, your confidence should not suffer as a result – it is their problem. Needless to say these lessons hold good for all aspects of our lives.There is a postscript to this story.
This lawyer, who had given every one of us students a hard time, actually got very emotional and shed a tear when I went to say goodbye to her at the end of my articles. I am sure from remorse, thinking that she had emotionally scarred me. Thankfully, she had not. But what she had done, inadvertently, was taught me to play the confidence game. I stopped getting down on myself for mistakes I made. I looked for solutions. I also learnt to treat people who reported to me with dignity, to never intimidate, to always be available to support, mentor and coach knowing that the leader in each of us blossoms in the right environment. One, where we can all be happily challenged to perform, thrive and grow.