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I used to be a law professor, and I remember in my class there was the nicest kid you can imagine who had immigrated from Russia a few years previously and wanted to be an attorney. He hardly spoke English and had a difficult time putting sentences together; however, none of this appeared to matter. He was always the first guy to arrive in class each day and always stayed after to ask questions. During class, he took notes and wrote furiously. He sat in the front row and appeared to believe he was going to be the greatest attorney of all time. He wore a suit to class each day when other kids were showing up to class in shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops. All of the kids in the class liked and respected him a lot.
Each day after class, he would approach me and ask me questions about ridiculously prestigious law firms and whether or not I thought he could get a job with these firms. I never had the heart to tell him that it would be impossible for him to get a job with most of these law firms due to where he was attending law school and his ability to speak English. He didn’t seem to care, however. For as long as I could take it each day, he would sit there and question me about various law firms and then, from time to time, ask me questions about the material.
When the semester was over, I continued to hear from him. Every three months or so, he would call me at work and ask me some questions as well. While he was smart, he couldn’t really write effectively, and his writing frequently confused tenses and was a mishmash of words. His writing would have been unacceptable to submit to a court, for example, much less to churn out to a white shoe law firm. In addition, his speech was difficult to understand because he had such a strong Russian accent, and he also would mangle the English language with practically every word he said.
One day, he stopped contacting me and I didn’t hear from him for a year. I was getting on the elevator in my building one day and was standing there silent as the full elevator rose to my floor. I heard the word “Professor!” I turned around, and there was the Russian kid standing there in a suit and holding a briefcase.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I work at a law firm in the building,” he said.
I was practically speechless. I invited him into my office, and he told me all about how he had managed to get a position with a decent law firm in the building. We spoke for some time, and I was very, very happy for him. In actuality, I had never believed this was something he was capable of.
He believed he was capable of this, however. And even though he was working at a decent law firm at the time, he still wanted more. For the next several months, he would call me every five or six weeks and ask me if I had anything at one of the four or five most prestigious law firms in Los Angeles. He was aiming really, really high at firms that hired people from the very top of their class at schools like Stanford where the kids that were hired as new attorneys were incredibly polished. Each time I spoke with him, I tried to gently tell him this wasn’t the sort of law firm he should be working at, but I would not say this directly. Instead, I would allude to this by discussing how competitive it was and so forth.
He wasn’t having any of this.
One day, I stopped hearing from him again, and I didn’t hear from him for at least another year. Then one day I was in a large skyscraper that is one of the most expensive office buildings in Los Angeles (rent-wise), sitting in the lobby speaking with someone, and he walked by. I shouted his name and he came right over to me.
This time he looked different. There was more self-confidence in his face than I’d seen in the past. His hair was better cut. He looked like he had a very good pair of shoes on and was carrying an expensive briefcase. I asked him what he was doing. He had switched jobs. While he wasn’t at one of these “top 5” law firms in Los Angeles, he had joined a group of attorneys who had recently broken off from one of those law firms. The law firm he was at was very prestigious by virtue of the attorneys working there. I didn’t ask how he got the job, but I’m sure it had something to do with calling or visiting one or more of these attorneys when they were still working at the former firm. When they were at the big law firm, I’m sure one or more of them said something to themselves like “we would love to hire this guy but we cannot–he just does not have the sort of pedigree, and so forth.” But when they started their own firm, none of this mattered anymore, and they could hire whomever they chose.
That’s what I like to think anyway. I believe this.
I haven’t heard from this guy in at least five years, but I’m sure he is doing well. How does a guy who speaks lousy English, cannot write a straight sentence, and who went to one of the worst ranked law schools in the United States (and didn’t even do that well in law school), rise to the pinnacle of the legal profession to work with some of the best attorneys in the United States?
What does he know that most people do not?
It’s simple: he believes that he can achieve whatever he sets out to achieve.
This may be a simple statement but it’s among the most “loaded” statements you will ever hear. Most people out there, at some point, believe they cannot go any further and stop themselves. They believe they cannot achieve whatever it is they are interested in achieving. This belief alone is something that keeps them from achieving whatever it is they want to achieve.
I live on a small farm of sorts where I raise ducks, chickens, goats, sheep, and tortoises. Several months ago, I purchased a herd of goats to join my lone male pygmy goat. If you haven’t seen a pygmy goat, as their name implies, a pygmy goat is very small. In fact, a grown pygmy goat is about one third the size of a normal goat. I feed these animals every day and spend a lot of time observing them. The strangest thing I have noticed is that the leader of all of the animals–the goats and the sheep–is the pygmy goat. Despite his small size, he is in charge of all the animals. If he wants to eat first, he makes sure the other animals get out of the way. This little goat is in charge of all of the other animals.
Why would a goat a third of the size of all of the other animals be in charge? I know exactly why–because he believes he is the leader.
The other animals could easily intimidate this little pygmy goat with their size, but they stay away.
When I was in elementary school, there was a little guy who was very thin and smaller than the other kids. However, I remember this little kid was never afraid to fight larger kids. He would lash out and whack them in the face and do whatever he needed to do to win every fight. This kid was so thin and scrawny I think he ended up winning several sprinting and running awards by breaking various school records when he got older. He was really fast because he had hardly any weight to carry around.
How did this little kid become the leader and the feared one on the playground? He believed he was the leader.
If other kids would have fought as hard as he did, they would have won fights, but they didn’t.
What does this mean for your career? It means a tremendous amount and is among the most important lessons you will ever learn. You need to believe in what you can do, and that you can achieve whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Very few people believe in themselves and what they are capable of.
I want to be very clear with you that the problem of you becoming everything you want to be is your problem, and it’s all in your mind. You are preventing yourself from being the person you are capable of being due to all sorts of limiting beliefs that hold you back. If you believe you are capable of being something, you can do it. If you don’t believe you are capable, then you probably can’t do it. You are in charge of your mind. The power to be, do, and become who you want to be is all in your mind. You need to take control of your mind and become and be the person you want to become and be. It is as simple as that.
In my garage at home, I have what is called a “sensory deprivation tank.” Essentially, this tank is filled with salt water that I can go into and meditate. The entire tank is dark, and when I’m inside of it, I can’t hear anything. My body floats, and I can think through various issues I’m dealing with. People may think this is weird or strange, but I don’t care. All I know is that meditation is something that has benefited me, and I continually do things to help me become a better person. I don’t think I would have have been able to become who I am today without meditation. There is nothing more important to me, personally, than making sure I control limiting thoughts in my mind and this is why I go into this tank to meditate. I have been doing this for some time.
Everyone has an incredible number of limiting thoughts they contend with. There’s no doubt you do as well. I’m sure there are countless people out there who have said you are incapable of doing this or that and that you should only try this or that. You need to banish this sort of thinking from your mind. This sort of thinking doesn’t help you one bit. In fact, it’s precisely this sort of thinking that will keep you in a state where you never your potential for the rest of your life. That’s right. Limiting thinking will keep you in a state of not reaching your goals for the rest of your life.
Every few months, something unusual happens in my office. I will be sitting in my office and the receptionist will come in and announce:
“There is someone here to see you. They understand they don’t have an appointment, but they apparently believe it’s important that they speak with you.”
I will then send the secretary scurrying out to get more information and will find that the person sitting in the lobby is a job seeker who is coming to see me personally about getting a job in a law firm. This is something I’m sure happens in recruiting firms all over; however, every time this happens, I’m amazed by the power of the human spirit and the people who do this.
In several cases, the people sitting in the lobby waiting to speak with me have flown in from other parts of the United States. They are always impeccably dressed and have their little portfolios containing their résumés. In most cases, the people who do this don’t have very good qualifications. They haven’t gone to the right law schools, and they don’t have the pedigree that would allow them to get the best jobs. But they keep showing up because they believe in themselves.
These are my heroes and the people with the spirit to achieve. What is inside of them will lead them to great achievement.
One of the most unusual things I’ve seen in my life, in working with countless job seekers and others, is that so many people go into interviews and other situations expecting not to get the job. That’s right. They flat out expect to lose and not get the job when they go into an interview. People simply don’t believe they will get the job.
“What’s the use of trying?” many people tell me.
You need to banish that sort of thinking from your mind. You need to believe in yourself and that you will get the results you want in your life. This is the only way you are ever going to get the job you want or reach your full potential.
You can become whatever you want depending on your state of mind. You can reach as high as you want, as long as you are personally convinced you can achieve your goal. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you are incapable of certain results; belief in yourself is the only way to obtain your full potential.
Tagged: alpha pygmy goats, best jobs, career advice | a harrison barnes, get a job, job search blog, law firm, law professor, law school, lawfirm jobs, recruiting firms, russian attorneys, setting high expectations