Lawyers: Who Do You Think You Are? — Jeena Cho

Lawyers: Who Do You Think You Are? — Jeena Cho

admin Anxiety , Career , Podcast
I remember many occasions throughout my career where my inner critic very judgmentally asked, “Who do you think you are?” I struggled with this voice that was constantly reminding me of all the ways in which I wasn’t good enough or smart enough, and all the ways in which I didn’t know enough. Perhaps you struggle with your inner critic too.
I wish in my younger days as a lawyer that I knew what I know now — you are entitled to show up, even  if you believe you aren’t enough . You can learn as you go, you can figure things out, and you can ask for help. Also, you are not the only one that struggles with the feeling of not enough.
Some time ago, I sat down with Laura Maechtlen on The Resilient Lawyer podcast . She is a  partner with Seyfarth Shaw  where she serves as the National Vice-Chair of the Labor and Employment Department and Co-Chair of the Firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Team. By all outward appearance and evidence, Laura is a model of success. Yet she too experiences occasional self-doubt.
In our interview, she shared that when she first started at Seyfarth as a second-year attorney, “Success, to me, looked like I still had a job in a year.” Despite positive feedback and praise, her inner critic would say things like, “God, they’re going to figure out that I wasn’t the girl that was meant to work in a law firm.”
The inner critic is a terrible roommate. It prevents us from celebrating our own success and finding joy in it. As Laura shared:
“When I recently was asked to serve in a new position at the firm as our Vice-Chair for the Labor and Employment Department — which is the greatest department in the world (although, I’m completely biased) — for weeks I would get up in the morning and think, ‘Did that really happen?’ The inner critic is amazing. I’m so lucky to be able to serve this amazing group of people. Sometimes I can’t believe it.”
You may be wondering, how do I get rid of the inner critic? In my experience, it’s not something you want to get rid of, but rather, you have to get better about recognizing it. Once you begin to observe your thought patterns, you can start to see the broken record that repeatedly plays itself over and over again in your head.
As Laura explained, “If I’m spending too much time worrying, thinking things like ‘I’m going to be fired tomorrow because I’m a terrible lawyer,’ I know I’m off in some way. When I realize I’m off in my thinking, it reminds me to re-center by saying, ‘Wait,  stop. Okay. What’s happening to make me feel this way?’”
When I asked Laura how attorneys could begin to work with their inner critics, she shared this sage advice:
“My first career was in music and I had a violin teacher who said that, for every good habit and good technique you learn when practicing the violin, you can practice a good habit once, and then you move on and it will sink in. But, to get rid of a bad habit, you must practice doing something the right way five times for every one time you practiced a bad habit. He said, ‘Bad habits have people, people don’t have bad habits.’
It’s the same thing with the ‘imposter syndrome’ thinking we all struggle with. For each time you engage in that negative thinking, you have to counteract it with positive thinking in a much greater quantity.
I wish for other people — especially junior attorneys — to pay attention to the positive feedback; to seek it out to counteract the inner critic, and to practice thinking about how you are contributing in a positive way and making sure you’re aligning how you spend your time and your career in a way that you’re positive and happy about.
When you practice law in this way, you can start to recognize that all those negative, self-destructive thoughts are just the impostor syndrome devil that has perched itself in your brain and you can work to get rid of that devil.”
What I’ve learned in my years of practice is this: I don’t have to get rid of that part of me that always feels as though she is never enough. That voice can have room in my head with all the many other characters. However, the inner critic is not allowed to be in the driver’s seat.
My wish for you, my dear reader, is this: you can be comfortable with who you are, your accomplishments, your failures, your gifts, as well as your shortcomings.