November 13, 2017 Practice Points

How to be and Remain Confident in the Face of Adversity

By Angela A. Turiano

As lawyers, we have chosen a profession that is high-stress with a small margin for error. And as we face the daily challenges that our chosen professions hands us, big and small, it is almost inevitable that something will go wrong—an oversight, a miscommunication, an error in judgment. The vast majority of the time we, as quick-thinking, competent professionals, fix the problem and move on with our day/week/year. But what about the other times, when the issue can't be resolved and a mistake "blows up." Indeed, the most minor mistakes can be exacerbated by external factors beyond your control and lead to disaster. In these situations, even the most confident among us can be brought to our knees. While true, the phrases "everyone makes mistakes" and "things happen" only go so far.

Thus, when "disaster strikes," how do you keep going and remain confident, or at a minimum, continue to convey confidence? Lisa Iarkowski attempts to answer this question in her article published on glasshammer.com entitled "How to be Confident (even if you are not)."

Ms. Iarkowski begins by stating that "[c]onstant change and complex challenges at work can test the self-confidence of even the most accomplished of us. So how can we keep our confidence going strong, amidst the changes and challenges we're facing?"

The answer, the author concludes, lies in what social psychologists call "self-efficacy" or our belief in our ability to accomplish a specific future task. Essentially, when you believe in yourself, you are better able to take action, overcome obstacles and adversity, and produce optimum results. Ms. Iarkowski discusses effective practices that experts opine will help us to "strengthen our self-efficacy and build confidence for taking on future challenges." These practices can be synthesized as follows:

Act – Learn – Succeed – Repeat
The key is to learn from your experiences. The more you take action resulting in successful outcomes the more you increase self-efficacy and thereby confidence. According to mindset expert Carol Dweck, effort, learning, and persistence are far more powerful pathways to success than innate talent or ability. In other words, with every given situation where there is a negative outcome, focus on what you learned and how to avoid making the same or similar mistakes again. By doing so, you can transform a personal defeat into a "lesson learned for improvement."

To that end, the author suggests employing the "STAR" strategy or asking yourself the following questions:

  • What was the Situation (what, who)?
  • What Task (intention, goal) were you trying to accomplish?
  • What Actions did you take (what worked, what could work better)?
  • What were your Results (how do the outcomes compare with your initial intent)?

Learn from Others
Follow the lead of role models you have identified for yourself and become someone else's role model by acting as a mentor. To identify an appropriate role model, look for individuals who are similar to you and who have succeeded in areas you want to succeed. Then, identify the steps they took to achieve their goals and try to emulate those. Basically, if she (who is just like me) can do it, so can I! Equally as valuable is becoming a mentor. Erin Geiger, a vice president of business development at Hackbright Academy in San Francisco, who spoke to the glasshammer.com of the crucial role of mentoring for building confidence in women engineers entering a competitive, male-dominated field (for both mentor and mentee), stated, "[b]ecome a role model and mentor. Let's take an introvert. They may not think of themselves as a role model, but that confidence pushes out to others and it's mutual."

Manage Your State
The author's final suggestion is to identify the reason(s) for your self-doubt. As we are all likely aware, (and experts confirm), negative emotional and physical states, like stress or exhaustion, can have an overwhelmingly negative effect on our performance. This is because under these circumstances, we lose faith in our abilities, which weakens our self-efficacy and confidence. Thus, Ms. Iarkowski suggests following the advice of self-efficacy pioneer Albert Bandura, who proposes that when you are feeling insecure and doubting your abilities, think about why you are feeling that way. Are you overly stressed, not focused or merely overtired or sick? Regardless of whether it is a physical or emotional trigger, take these factors into consideration and take steps to reduce them. Only then should you revisit your situation and move forward, taking note if your level of confidence has increased. It is more than likely that you will have found new perspective and be better able to achieve optimal results.

Bandura's advice, I think, is also applicable in situations where it is obvious that the reason for your loss of confidence is the stress of a "big mistake." This is because this kind of stress can be exacerbated by varying external factors such as a lack of sleep or negative commentary directed your way. Whatever the trigger, identify it and take a step back before moving forward. Take some time to reduce the additional stress in whatever way that works best for you, whether that be going for a run, taking some time off, hugging your child or having a drink with a friend.

While I am no expert, my personal suggestion on how to remain confident, both generally and, even more so, after your confidence has been shaken, is to give yourself a pep talk. While this may sound trite, it can be a very effective technique. It has worked for me. This is because the failure to believe in yourself can become a self-fulling prophecy. Thus, a reminder of why you should believe in yourself can be very effective. Think of all of your academic achievements and other successes to date and then tell yourself that you are just as smart, if not smarter, than those around you—that you are in the position you are in for a reason. These positive thoughts can reverse feelings of self-doubt and provide the confidence boost you need to proceed and excel.

It is inevitable that we will face many challenges throughout our career. When faced with such challenges, we can simply lose all self-confidence and hide in the shadows, or face the challenges, learn from the mistakes, and move forward to become a better lawyer and a stronger person who is able to navigate whatever challenges we know lie ahead. The choice is yours to make.