There is a common idea that confidence is this feeling of empowerment. Some people define it in the negative as if it the absence of fear or doubt. I don’t like those definitions. Perhaps they are true for some, but based on my own experience they are incomplete.
I think confidence is more of a process than an emotion. Thus, the test can’t be how you feel in any given moment. It has to be based on what you do over time.
So, when Attorney at Law magazine reached out to me to ask for a guest blog post, it didn’t take long for me to come up with a topic. I knew I had to write about confidence and explain it is really. I also wanted to explain why mindfulness and compassion are powerful tools for building confidence.
To learn more, check out the full guest post here:
We are talking about confidence this month on the blog. What does that term mean to you as it relates to the work you do for attorney recruitment?
In terms of my work, confidence means trusting my experience and skills enough to do the work involved in building rapport quickly with the best and brightest BigLaw Mid-Level Associates, and getting them to trust me with their careers. I have confidence in my communication style that I’ve built over the years that allows me to get along stupidly well with smart attorneys. I get confidence when I think about the ways in which what I do has significantly helped people.
I’ve had a candidate get a $110K boost in his base salary. Others get the mentoring or the adjustment in responsibilities they’re looking for. Some move to a place where the billable hourly requirement offers an improvement in work-life balance. I know these things give people meaningful change that they feel both in their careers but also in their lives outside of work.
The job market for lawyers is really active right now. Does that mean confidence doesn’t really matter or matters less?
It always matters. Having confidence allows someone to do their best work. Whether they are on an interview, or doing attorney work. Even if there is an increased demand for talent, the firms and businesses who hire attorneys are still interested in working with the best people.
Confidence tends to be important for lawyers, but how important is it when searching for a job or transitioning to a new role? Why do you think it is important?
I think it’s very important to appear confident when job searching or starting somewhere new. The reason that it’s so important is because there is competition for each role. All that law firm or business cares about is their needs and how to fill them. They’re interested in hiring the candidate who makes the very best business sense. The margin between the candidate who gets an offer and the one who doesn’t could be razor-thin.
I often compare it to the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding competition. Can you tell the difference between who wins first and second place? Me neither. Your interview might come down to a “photo finish.” Feeling and appearing as confident as possible will help you achieve your peak performance and make the best possible presentation in an interview.
Do attorneys looking for new roles care about how confident prospective firms appear? If so, in what ways?
Absolutely. Attorneys are looking for firms that can help them achieve their goals and solve their limitations. I deal with candidates who get multiple offers. They select the firm that best checks their important boxes. The one that can best be the aspirin to their headache. The main boxes are money, responsibilities, hours, lifestyle, environment and future career growth.
How does one effectively project confidence while searching for a job without looking like an arrogant jerk or overselling their abilities?
Your interview is a sales presentation. Zig Ziglar said, “selling is caring, and if you care you must sell.” I think adopting a more positive outlook on sales helps. Instead of looking at it as something that you do TO somebody, look at it as something you do FOR and WITH somebody.” You don’t want to sell ice to an Eskimo. You want to sell HEAT to an Eskimo. You can confidently present that your experience and skills are the solution to the company’s problems. This is not arrogance. It’s exactly what the interviewer is hoping to see. I always remind people before interviews to turn the volume up on their strength and what is unique about them.
Recently I presented a candidate who mostly did Toxic Tort Defense work to a firm that did more sophisticated complex commercial litigation. He was worried that his experience wouldn’t be very highly regarded. I reminded him that they wouldn’t be interviewing him if there wasn’t a serious chance that he could win. Then I remember saying, “maybe you haven’t worked on Cryptocurrency matters yet, but I bet you’re the only candidate they’re going to meet who speaks English, Spanish and Chinese.” I learned that the team was divided between him and one other candidate and the final decision came down to the Practice Group lead.
What practical tips do you offer the attorneys you work with to help them boost confidence to prepare for interviews?
I tell people to do their homework on the firm and the interviewers. Think of their best skills and plan to tell stories that demonstrate these skills. I tell people to prepare good questions for the interviewers because asking questions shows interest. I always suggest that people try to relax and trust their experience. I liken it to Tiger Woods teeing off on the first hole at Torrey Pines. When he walks to the tee, he’s not thinking about every little nuance of his swing. He’s not thinking about his foot position or club-head speed. Because he’s so well prepared by all of his experience, he’s able to simply approach the ball and swing. I tell people that no one is going to be able to talk about their experience better than they can, so just approach the ball and swing.
Bryan Silver leads the national associate division for the Attorney Search Group. In this role, he helps law firms build the best teams and helps associate attorneys accelerate their careers. Bryan grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. He is an Eagles fan and aims to prove that it is possible to be a decent human being at the same time. After pivoting from a career in digital animation and visual effects in movies, Bryan spent years in a niche sales role, aimed at the legal industry. Outside of work, he enjoys stand-up comedy, baseball games, movies, playing guitar, trivia nights, barbecuing and scuba diving. He lives in San Diego with his Wife, Marie and 5-year-old Twins, Lily and Joey. Bryan has an interest in mindfulness and that’s what led me to connect with him on LinkedIn. He’s a good follow and you should find him there too.
Recently, I came to a startling recognition: I have a somewhat inconsistent view about life choices. On the one hand, I have railed against succumbing to the voice in one’s head so many times that I cannot account for them all. Yet, on the other, I have also said that my life transformed and became much happier when I started to listen to that little whisper inside that told me to try something new. A few weeks ago, it came to me in a flash that perhaps I was speaking out of both sides of my mouth on this one. How could one both ditch the voice in one’s head and yet feel compelled to listen to it to follow one’s bliss?
For me, this flash revealed a paradox more than a cognitive dissonance. I knew from experience that both things were true. The trouble was, though, that I couldn’t quite distill the factors that made them both true. So, I left the question open for a while and sat with it for a few weeks. Ultimately, I concluded that the answer had been staring me in the face all along: life experience was the only real way to tell the difference between the voices in one’s head because experience tells us not just how those voices manifest and feel but also shows us the results of heeding them.
Experience has told me that I have more than one kind of inner voice: the doubt voice and the childlike urge to explore. My doubt voice usually appears in the form of words. It is like a parent that comes to keep me safe and in line. It tries to present itself as the voice of reason but can quickly become abusive at the slightest hint that I may ignore it. The other voice, however, usually isn’t a voice at all. It rarely manifests for me as anything so organized as a sentence. At most, I might get a single word that echoes in my mind for too long. More often, though, I get a sense—just a sense—that I want to try something. It’s like the urge to touch a soft fuzzy blanket just to see what it feels like. If it lasts long enough, my mind may start to offer scenes and imaginings of how this newfangled idea might work. Sometimes my doubt voice may push the idea away as irrational or impractical, but the most powerful ideas come back to me repeatedly when my mind relaxes when I am driving, or exercising, or meditating.
Following the divergent paths my inner voices have offered has produced insights too. The doubt voice invariably tells me to take the road more traveled. In some cases, there is an initial sense of relief when I have decided to let an idea go. What ultimately caused me to stop listening to this voice every time, however, was the recognition that listening to it often led me not to feel safe, but instead cloistered and stuck. Where the voice told me staying with the familiar would help me feel secure, it regularly left me feeling insecure because I kept failing to trust myself. On the other hand, following the childlike urge to explore usually felt more like play. Most of the time I have followed this voice, I would think “I have no idea what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.” I can’t say that this necessarily felt good. In many cases, it felt bad as I worked to create or try something new while my doubt voice stormed in the background of my mind. But the thing was that I didn’t care. It was like I knew I would be proud of myself just for trying even if whatever I did was a total failure and a waste of time.
Unfortunately, I can’t offer anyone a line in the sand that can tell you which inner voice to listen to at any given moment in your life. I can say, however, that awareness of those voices, including how they feel and where they lead, can provide the experience needed to distinguish between the two (or more) inner voices for yourself. A sense of balance and proportion may also serve as a guiding principle for many of us. Lawyers often find themselves guided by the voice of doubt since it is so closely associated with the logic that is our stock and trade. We may, therefore, benefit from time to time in letting another part of our selves take the reins and following those less rational and teleological notions to explore, experiment, and create.
Ultimately, though, the desire to really know the difference between the voices in our head and to have unshakable confidence that we are listening to “the right one” may point to something more fundamental: the reality that we can’t predict the future or totally control our lives. Noting the differences between our inner voices may give us signs to help us make decisions in life, but eventually we just have to let go and give ourselves the grace to make mistakes. Thus, while it may be a challenge to have these competing voices in our heads pulling us in opposite directions, it is not entirely a bad thing.
When we listen to our childlike voice and seek adventure, we may find challenges and a life we never imagined. When those choices lead to mistakes and mishaps, and you can bet that they will, our inner voice of reason may offer us a path to safety and security so that we can heal and recover until we are ready for adventure once again. Perhaps, then, these varying inner voices don’t represent a cognitive dissonance or a fracturing of our psyche at all. Instead, they may just represent the fact that a complete life has many facets and many seasons. In the end, it may not be so important to know which inner voice to listen to in any given moment, as much as it matters that we listen to our inner voices at all.
What is confidence? That question lies at the heart of Russ Harris’ book, The Confidence Gap. Most of us view confidence as a feeling and, in fact, that is how most dictionaries define the term. Oxford defines “confidence” as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” What this definition doesn’t tell us, of course, is when this feeling should or must emerge. To be confident, is it necessary that one start out that way?
Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us may assume that this is in fact the case. We may believe that good and necessary action emanates from an unshakable, and perhaps innate, belief in ourselves, our teams, or our values. We may have watched the courageous actions of others from movies, history, or even our own communities that made it appear that their bold acts flowed from confidence. As a result, we may value confidence highly and simply assume that feeling confident is essential to living a worthy life.
This, however, is the very confidence gap that Harris argues against falling into in his book. According to Harris, the confidence gap is the space between action and feelings of confidence. He argues with clarity and wit that many of us believe that feeling confident is a necessary precondition to acting with force and skill. As a result, many of us never begin and take the action necessary to develop true confidence. Over time, this process can accumulate into a cluster of memories and fears that make us feel powerless, stuck, and drained.
The way out of this, according to Harris, is to instead accept the reality that anything challenging in our lives will inevitably cause most of us to feel unsure. In other words, Harris tells us to stop expecting and trying to feel confident from the outset. He suggests that we use mindfulness strategies to help us allow uncomfortable bodily sensations and acknowledge the troubling thoughts that may impede action. Harris suggests that neither thoughts nor feelings are themselves problematic if we can learn to “defuse” from (or not overidentify with) them. As we go through this challenge and take on new risks, Harris also explains that a healthy amount of self-acceptance (or self-compassion as I would call it) is essential.
To that end, much of the book is devoted to describing strategies for defusing in detail, including my favorite, which is to sing your nasty inner commentary to yourself to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or to type the statements out and put them in a funny font. I mean, doesn’t the phrase “I’m going to ruin my life.” seem less threatening when you type it out in pink Comic sans? And don’t these well-worn self-doubt phrases seem a little less dire when you sing them to yourself in the tune of “Happy Birthday”: “I’m a terrible mom. I’m a bad attorney. I am a total failure. My life is a mess.”
They sure do. Because, as Harris suggests, the words and the feelings don’t have power in themselves. They only have power because they can create discomfort in us that can stun us into inaction. If we can use mindfulness strategies, however, to give ourselves some space and grace in the midst of that discomfort, we can still learn to move forward in the midst of discomfort. That’s when we find confidence because we learn that fear can come but it doesn’t have to hold us back. In this way, Harris suggests that confidence is in reality a process rather than a feeling.
You could learn a lot of the lessons from The Confidence Gap without reading the book. In fact, I liked the book because it seemed to explain back to me in logical and research-based terms what I had experienced in my own life. I had always struggled with self-doubt and overthinking, but started to work my way out of those habits with years of mindfulness practice. Eventually, I learned my pattern: I would feel a rush of inspiration to try a new thing, then set out to try it, and then feel scared and want to quit. After a while, my mindfulness practice became established enough that, instead of quitting or never starting at all, I learned how to not accept as true every thought that came to mind, care for my fear, and keep going. Over time, I noticed how often my fears were exaggerated and how rarely they affected my actual performance. Now, even though few new challenges go by where I don’t experience some fear and doubt, I am far more confident in myself because I know what to do with the fear and doubt. Now, I just bring it along for the ride instead of letting it drive the bus.
The Confidence Gap is a useful read because it can help you sort out the mélange of thoughts, sensations, and expectations that arise in the space between ideas and actions. The analysis in the book may help you understand what confidence really means for you and the strategies may help you avoid letting the confidence gap turn into a lifelong (or maybe just too long) inaction rut. So, if you want more confidence in your life or to understand the subject better, check out The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris for insightful analysis, useful strategies, and a much-needed examination of what confidence means.