Legal Practice

What Flamin’ Hot Teaches Us About Success

First, if you haven’t seen Flamin’ Hot—you must! It’s a great American story and Eva Longoria knocks it out of the park with her directing. I’m probably going to watch it a few times because there were so many moments in the movie that resonated deeply and symbolism that’s worth re-watching. But when I was watching it, the piece that jumped out at me like a huge neon sign on How to Succeed happens towards the end of the movie. Not when Ricky pushes himself to be the best employee despite his circumstances; not when he gets the courage to advocate for himself and his idea; not when he recognizes that his lived experience and culture is a strength—no. What jumped at me the most is after the CEO gives him the green light, the rest of the senior execs roll their eyes, and then Hot Cheetos land with a dud.

The product doesn’t sell and everyone is ready to call it quits, until there’s a realization that the actions a company would normally do to ensure a new product succeeds (resources to market the product) never arrived. In that moment of realization, Ricky has a choice—he can just give up and accept defeat or he can figure it out on his own. In the movie, Ricky calls on his family and community for help, starts a guerrilla marketing campaign, and the rest is history.

This moment had my attention because this scenario, in big and small ways, happens to us all the time. Often when we try to make inroads in a system that is not used to people like us, we may be allowed in, maybe even given a “chance,” but then expected to succeed with even less resources and support than others. All of what Ricky had to do felt so familiar.

For those who have been practicing for a while, think of times where you were given opportunities, but then found yourself feeling isolated or frustrated because the support you thought you’d receive never came. In my own career, I can think of situations where I was given the green light to finally do something—finally do a deposition, finally take on a larger project, only to realize that, unlike other colleagues, I was going to have to figure it out on my own. When this consistently happens, you can’t help but feel like you’re being set up to fail.

If you are experiencing a situation where you have been given an exciting opportunity, but realize that the same resources and support usually given to similar situated colleagues aren’t being given to you, you have to strategize how you’ll respond.

In many cases, it is appropriate to ask for the same support others are receiving. What do I mean by support? It can be different depending on the circumstances—maybe it’s mentorship, maybe it’s being able to attend trainings, maybe it’s a budget—whatever is being offered to other colleagues to ensure their success should be offered to you. However, there can be support that’s given that’s more informal and hard to encapsulate. In those cases, it’ll be more difficult to ask for a “fair share,” and easier for those in power to dismiss any perceived unfairness that you may present to them. So be cautious about how you approach a request for support.

What is more likely to happen is that you’ll need to have a heart to heart with yourself about the fact that help isn’t coming in the way you hoped it would. It is gut wrenching to realize that the space you’ve been working in, contributing to, doesn’t value you the way you thought they did. It is natural to be sad about this. But soon after you have to identify what you need in order to succeed and how you can obtain it on your own—what will be your version of a guerrilla marketing campaign? In my case, when I realized I wasn’t going to be provided with the same resource to strengthen certain skills, I looked for ways to strengthen them on my own by finding free courses and seeking out more informal mentorship with attorneys outside of my work. While it is frustrating to have to figure this out by yourself, recognize that your firm doesn’t have a monopoly on how to make you a better attorney and you are capable of finding ways to succeed with or without them.

And that is the next question you have to answer—if you recognize that you’re in a space that consistently fails to support your success, or worse seems to be waiting in the wings for you to fail, you need to figure out what your long-term goal is with them. What is the benefit of staying at a space that doesn’t seem to value you? Sometimes there is a benefit (money or a work life balance), but don’t let that comfort be the only reason you stay.

Ultimately, whether those in power want to admit it, or even recognize it, they often hold begrudging feelings for “having to” let us into their spaces. There will be moments where the help you expected as a valuable, hard working member of the firm just never arrives. Those moments are disheartening reminders that we’re not truly accepted. But rather than accept defeat or downplay leadership’s abdication of responsibility—fight for yourself!

Yes, this is more work. Yes, that is additional frustration. And while maybe, eventually, you will have a Pepsi CEO who recognizes your talents, don’t wait on it. Find the tools you need to succeed even if they require innovation and seem nontraditional. Do what you need to to do to reach your professional goals regardless of who is helping you. Remember that fighting for yourself, your career, and your reputation is always worth it.