I recently attended a series of seminars put on by Torys LLP, the theme of which was to offer three takes on how to “spring forward” in your career. One of the seminars featured Marnie McBean, Olympic rowing champion, speaking on the parallels between the progression of an athletic career and that of a lawyer. Her message focused on how, no matter what your path, you need to “Start Happy to End Happy,” acknowledging that what “happy” is can be different as you move through the stages of your career.

Marnie spoke of the excitement that is typically held in the early stages of your career; we hold on to belief that hard work will get you results and that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. The message is that fears and doubts are normal and experienced by everyone. Of course, fears will creep in and when they do, the choice of a champion is to dig in and attack, even when you are scared.

She next described the phase of your career that begins once you have experienced success. It is common for lawyers (and athletes) to chalk up early successes to being flukes. A number of articles suggest that “imposter syndrome” is a feeling commonly experienced by lawyers (and not just at the junior level); you think that everyone else is smarter and more confident and that you are only one task away from being discovered as a complete fraud. Despite successful deals, positive feedback and continued employment, lawyers can sometimes be unable to internalize these accomplishments and conclude that they are competent at their jobs. One of Marnie’s tips for combating these feelings of self-doubt is to create a “Done List” which is the idea of making a list of your accomplishments which will empower you during times when you experience self-doubt.

Marnie also raised a point about mentorship that I think is frequently overlooked, which is that senior lawyers need mentoring too as this second phase of your career can involve challenges that result from greater expectations you put on yourself. So often we focus on giving advice to more junior lawyers but it is true that with success in any arena comes new challenges and doubts that require continued attention and guidance. More senior lawyers need to stay active, keep learning and have the confidence to reach out and ask for help when they need it.

Finally, Marnie’s speech concluded by touching on an issue I see frequently as a recruiter which is the need for each of us to take responsibility for our own career path and advancement. Marnie noted that as your career develops, you must adapt to success and manage the stress that can come with being on top. The take-home message was simple and inspiring: set yourself up with the training and skills that will allow you to succeed on the really tough days. This message is key at any point in your career and sets up a foundation that will serve you well no matter what path you choose for yourself. Click here for more information on Marnie’s career and her recent publication “The Power of More”.

Sherri is a Senior Consultant with The Heller Group. She specializes in recruitment and placement of associates and partners into law firms and corporations. In addition to spending time with her husband and two children, Sherri enjoys running, skiing, playing tennis and is a fan of the arts.

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