Issues,  Law School,  Legal Practice

Let Them Underestimate You: What Julian Castro Teaches Us About Expectations

First, this is not an endorsement, but we have to talk about Julian Castro. He killed it at the debate stage on Wednesday and was a surprising star of the night. It seemed obvious that his performance was a surprise to everyone but Julian Castro. I noticed how cool, calm, collected he was after he delivered it. He acted like he did exactly what he had planned to do, even acknowledging that “a lot of people were surprised” by his breakout performance. That’s when it clicked. Julian Castro, I’m sure, has a life experience of being a Brown attorney who is dismissed as someone who is incapable of delivering and has the skill & experience to let that presumption work to his benefit.


It’s a feeling so many of us can relate to–we walk into the classroom, the courtroom, the debate stage, and are presumed to be non-contenders.  We’re pre-judged to not be smart enough, talented enough, or even capable enough to improve. I can think of so many examples of this throughout my time in school and in my career.

And first, I have to say, it f-ing sucks. It sucks to be treated like we’re idiots because of stereotypes and prejudicial assumptions. It sucks that we lose out on opportunities–mentorships, internships, jobs, promotions, etc because of implicit bias. And telling you to just push past it isn’t super helpful, I know because it’s tiring to see people think so little of you and to experience real ramifications of it.

While that may be our reality at the moment, the truth is that even if people underestimate you–you have the ability to prove them wrong and advance & grow your career in the way you want.  Seeing Julian Castro take charge and place himself as a leader–when no one expected it–was an amazing example of why you can’t depend on others to gas you up and confirm your intelligence, or ability, or skills. You get to take ownership of the path you want to take; you have to affirm your abilities and talents; and you have to find paths and opportunities to strengthen those skills and talents without always having others validate your ability.

How do you do this?

One. Decide you are capable. We all struggle with imposter syndrome and worrying we’re not enough. But eventually you have to decide you are capable and that you’re going to work towards a skill or goal, regardless of other people’s belief in whether you can do it or not. Having faith in your own skills (and accepting you will stumble at times) is really the first step in owning your power.

Two. Be comfortable with working twice as hard. I know, it’s BS. But there will be a season in your career (seasonS, even) where you are working hard to get access to opportunities where others may not have to work as hard. How do you come to terms with this? For me it was understanding I was coming into this career in a deficit and so I became ok with putting in more effort. But honestly what helps is that working doubly hard will result in you being the most prepared, and being the most prepared in whatever setting will always be to your benefit.

Three. Learn to recognize when the well is dry. Finally, the reality is that not every program, firm, or partnership will be opened to you. Unfortunately, hitting a glass ceiling is hard to see (hello, it’s glass). Learning when to leave is tough, but it’s important to be able to discern when you’ve grown as much as you can and when there are still options for you so that you don’t waste your talents and skills.

Seeing Julian emerge as a leader in the first debate was such a great reminder to me of how often we’re underestimated and questioned. But even better, he reminded us of how sweet it feels when we blow past their low expectations and rock the f-ing show.