A while ago I listened to the late, great Cerebronas podcast where they were guest in another WOC podcast. In the discussion, one of the hosts mentioned how surprised she was when she started law school at the homogeneity in body types. As I was listening, I found myself nodding along because it was true that in the law there is generally not a ton of body variation. And when I stopped to think why, the first explanation that jumped out at me is that most law school students are or were athletes at one point in time. For many of them, long-term participation in a competitive sport is how they learned leadership skills. And law schools love nothing more than enrolling future leaders. It was an aha! moment where I recognized that participating in sports is how many prove their leadership ability. The ability to pinpoint leadership experience and potential is important because it comes up in many areas of this profession–from your personal statement to a job interview, people want to know if you’re capable of leading them to success. And I have seen many people in positions of power use past athleticism as clues of potential success for up and coming lawyers. So recognizing leadership experience isn’t just navel-gazing, but rather can really impact your career potential.
Now, of course that is not the case for every person who played a sport and there are plenty people of color who are athletes as well. Yet, I can’t help but think of people who are excluded from participating in sports either because of the money required to do intensive extracurricular activities or because of cultural barriers that deter Latinx from participating in them. When I was growing up, I didn’t even bother to try a sport because I felt like it wasn’t something my family could afford. I also had friends from immigrant parent households who struggled to get their parents to understand extracurriculars weren’t just because you wanted to be “afuera de la casa,” but rather a traditional & important part of many people’s educational experience. So for people in this camp, how do you show leadership potential?
Luckily even if you weren’t an athlete, there are so many ways to recognize and highlight your leadership skills gained from nontraditional experiences. For example, many of us first learn leadership in our families. Even as children, we may be little protectors, helping to interpret and translate important information. You may have taken on serious responsibilities in helping care for family members, or working early to help with bills, or defending family when confronting racism or xenophobia. Let’s not forget navigating the system of higher Ed, often alone, or in spite of other adults telling you that you’re not capable of succeeding. All of those hardships can be proof of your ability to act like a leader; meaning you can strategize effectively, act with discipline, and show your ability to reach a goal. When you’re tasked to discuss your leadership experience in your personal statement or even at job interviews, consider tapping into these unique experiences to show the strength of your candidacy.
Right now, think about one or two examples in which you were a leader that is outside a typical leadership narrative. Practice framing these experiences and what you learned from them so that you’re comfortable presenting them. This will help others learn that there are different ways to show leadership and, more importantly, it is a good reminder to yourself of how your own experiences, many that may look different from the “norm,” have honed potential and talent within you to succeed.