Lately this quote has been making the rounds:
"What would you do if you weren't afraid to fail?"
But I'm not sure that's the right question to be asking.
Sure, as a mental exercise it might be helpful...I mean, I'd love to be able to snap my fingers and climb Everest, or surf Mavericks, without going through the "Holy crap, this is really scary, I might die" phase. But am I actually going to do either of those things? Probably not. (Everest isn't inconceivable, but my one surfing attempt made it clear that's not the sport for me.)
Is there an alternative?
The Fear Isn't Going Away
I saw an interesting speech recently where the speaker talked about being so terrified by her new role that she literally couldn't sleep. She was up every night, worrying about what was going to happen to the company she was leading and fearing she'd made the wrong decision. At some point, one of her employees told her she was sure everything would be fine in the end, because this insomnia-ridden scaredy cat was "the most fearless person she'd ever known." Hello, disconnect!
But I think that's kind of the point - it's not:
"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"
(which implies that one magical day you won't be afraid) but:
"What can you do even though you're afraid?"
Let's face it - law school (and being a lawyer) is pretty scary for most people. You're in a new environment where you don't really understand the rules, the system is set up so you have to compete with the people who'd otherwise be your allies, and your immediate successes, or failures, are very public.
It's normal to feel intimidated. But - and this is a big but - feeling intimidated isn't a reason to give in to your fear.
You Just Have to Do Things Anyway
I was at the ABA Women in Law Leadership Academy last week, and speaker after speaker said basically the same thing when asked how she'd succeeded: "I went way outside of my comfort zone and I dealt with the discomfort until I figured out what I was doing."
Or, put more eloquently by Edith Perez:
Be brave, be strong, and figure it out!
So, the next time you're feeling afraid to do something, take that as a good sign! It means you're taking a risk, which gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.
Just don't sit around waiting for the fear to go away. It's not going to...so you may as well train yourself to deal with it. And act anyway!
Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox. A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, she was a member of the Columbia Law Review, a Civ Pro Teaching Assistant, a Kent Scholar, and a Stone Scholar. After law school, she clerked in the District of Massachusetts and was a BigLaw patent litigator for two years. Now she helps other aspiring lawyers get into law school, get through, and stay true to themselves in the process.
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