The other day I was trying out a new workout DVD and the instructor encouraged/yelled at us to, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable!” and that hit me with a sudden realization that this is the perfect way we should approach our legal practice—especially when it comes to being in awkward situations; whether they be networking, teaching, or participating in public forums. The idea of embracing discomfort means that we seek out things that challenge and push us so that we can take our skills and practice to the next level.
In my case, I really wanted to increase my public speaking skills because I am transactional attorney 95% of the time and hardly ever go to court; so bout a year into practicing, I knew I had to do something to keep my oratory skills fresh. Thankfully, when you work in public interest there are a lot of opportunities to participate in giving presentations to community organizations. I started giving occasional presentations and trainings, but I was being overly selective and choosing only to speak at very welcoming groups—like counseling groups or social service providers. While I had to get over the normal nerves that come with public speaking, I generally enjoyed participating in these talks because it was nice to share the information with like-minded individuals. However, if I am being honest, I wasn’t really being challenged because I kept picking “easy” groups that would be welcoming and grateful for the information I was sharing.
A year later, I decided to really challenge myself and accepted an offer to train law enforcement agents. This was nerve-wracking because I knew I would be speaking to an audience that likely had hostile immigration views. At my first presentation, I was the definition of uncomfortable. I was nervous, kept having to pace myself (more than usual), and kept feeling like I was doing a bad job because no one seemed receptive to what I was saying or asking any questions. The whole time I was waiting for the shoe to drop and for someone to make a confrontational comment that I would have to address. My presentation ended and I left feeling defeated and bothered that I had let the demographics of the group rattle me so much. But, to my surprise, I did a good enough job that I was invited back. Encouraged by the second invitation and the fact that no one had started spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric, I returned and have continually provided this training to many law enforcement officers. Each time, I’m nervous, but I push through it and do better each time. And of course, no one has ever said anything outrageous while I’m presenting.
Some may say this apprehension I felt was just something I created in my head, and that may be correct. I mean, I guess it’s possible that all law enforcement agents lean towards having a very liberal view of immigration…
But even if that’s unlikely, the truth is that discomfort is very often subjective. It can be a barricade we impose on ourselves because we are nervous or scared or unwilling to push ourselves. Thus, the key is that we recognize it and work through it.
This can be applied in all areas of life, but is especially important in our legal practice. We should aim to acknowledge when we feel discomfort and figure out what we can do to change our reaction so that we improve and make ourselves better. The first step to figuring this out is to ask: what makes me uncomfortable? Do you hesitate to participate in public speaking? Do you do your best to get out of negotiations? Do you decline to take the lead in meetings or committees? It’s possible that the things we avoid the most are the opportunities we should seek in order to improve our legal abilities.
For example, you can go to trainings to build your skills; give presentations to small groups; or start volunteering in community organizations that would allow you to flex your leadership muscle in a friendly and open environment.
The goal of feeling uncomfortable is to get used to feeling the adrenaline, the frustration, and the nerves that usually tell you: No! Stop, you’re not capable of doing this! Because once you break through that discomfort and master the ability to manage those feelings, you’ll continue to improve (rather than stay stagnant), next time you’ll do better, and eventually, you won’t fear these things anymore. In fact, you may even learn to love doing the things you once disliked.