Developing a growth mindset

By Lee Holcomb

"As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression."

--Mr. Rogers

We’re all unique and we all have something that we can offer to life and to each other. Figuring out how to uncover that unique part of yourself and how best to develop that uniqueness in your everyday life is vital to living a happy and full life.

Last month, the Tennessee Lawyer’s Association for Women hosted the 2018 Women’s Empowerment Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. I was so excited to be able to work this event into my schedule. And I was not disappointed. I met some inspiring people.

When I started practicing law in 1998, the Empowerment Conference did not exist. In fact, I would say that many of the women at the conference have spent most of their careers practicing law in a “white male lawyer’s world.” But in spite of the challenges, or possibly in some cases because of the challenges, we had a room full of female attorneys that are all still practicing law and wanting to help make the legal profession a better more hospitable profession for women.

I left the conference with this question: why had these women stayed in the profession, when so many other female attorneys had left?

Statistically, there are more women graduating from law school then men. But according to the American Bar Association in 2017, 64% of practicing attorneys are male and only 36% are female.  See “A Current Glance at Women in the Law January 2017,” American Bar Association, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/current_glance_statistics_january2017.authcheckdam.pdf

Why does one female attorney push on in their legal practice when another one gives up?

What most people (male or female) want is to have meaningful lives where they’re contributing and making a difference. Each of us has our own unique qualities and gifts that we bring to the table. We also have our own past experiences and values that make up the core of who we are. All of these experiences together affect our mindset, direct our efforts and guide us in our daily lives, whether we’re aware of this or not. But what if you’re questioning yourself and your legal practice, then what do you do?

One thing is for certain, if you have the right mindset you’re more likely to stay on your path as an attorney. At the conference this was referred to as “grit” or a “growth mindset.” “Grit & Mindset: Implications for Women Lawyers,” Women Lawyers Journal, 2013 Vol. 98 No.3.

Here's the deal: the farther you go down the road to mastering your skills in your law practice, the more you must rely on your own creativity, ingenuity, perceptions, strategies, problem-solving capabilities, intellect, and heart. 

With the right mindset–every job, every brief, every lawsuit, every trial gives you an opportunity to advance along your path as a lawyer and a person. Learning how to make even seemingly tiny personal decisions each day in your legal practice, helps you realize your ultimate goal.

If you have a “grit” or “growth mindset” you’ll have “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and you’ll see your “abilities as flexible entities that can be developed through dedication and effort.” Ibid.

So try to remember three things: First, work hard and try to see challenges as an opportunity to grow. Second, identifying what you love to do will put you in a place of power–use a growth mindset based on joy to refine and recalibrate what you think your career is supposed to be and what it is supposed to be for you. Third, know that the answers you seek lie within you even when you are scared, confused, or frustrated.

What do these three things have in common? They are all internal mental attitudes that are available for anyone to access free of charge! Turn to yourself for guidance and knowledge as you go through difficult times and even times of growth. This doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to others for assistance, but ultimately you'll need to rely on yourself to make the final decision. And when you do this, your decisions will come from a place of power. They will resonate with others!

At the Empowerment Conference, we had a room of women attorneys who had traveled from across the State of Tennessee to be in the same room together. Some at the start of their career and some who are wrapping up their career--each one with a gritty growth mindset.

Originally published in the TLAW Summer Newsletter 2018

Lee Holcomb