What I’ve learnt — by Jennifer, aged 50 years and a third
Every day’s a school day, or so they say. So in the first of a series of interviews with Ledingham Chalmers colleagues about the life lessons that have made the biggest difference to them, we speak to chairman and partner Jennifer Young.
Don’t be intimidated by all those confident folks you see around you.
Keep in mind that the most driven are not always the ones making the most noise about what they do. Some in your working life may see that reticence as a lack of confidence or drive – but don’t fall into the trap of believing that yourself. Focus on what you do well. Be yourself. Above all else, treat others as you’d like to be treated.
Don’t try to be something you’re not.
I spent my first five years as a lawyer aspiring to look like something out of Dynasty (skirt suit, large shoulder pads, American tan tights) because that was what was expected (and, in fairness, it was the late 80s). It couldn’t have been further from my own personal choice. I promise.
At that time, women were generally not allowed to wear trousers in law offices. In fact, the first female advocate appearing in court wearing trousers made the front page of The Scotsman. How ludicrous does that sound 25 years on?
I accept that (in professional services in particular) there is still a “uniform”, but it’s far less rigid and far more willing to embrace personality than it ever was before. Don’t go mad in releasing your inner Bohemian, but find your style and live it.
Keep your sense of humour
Most of us work to live, not the other way round. A GSOH can get you through a bad day in the office or, in my case, a 500 page PFI contract with 25 appendices.
It is no urban myth that some lawyers have even been known to play word bingo when drafting contracts. No one will ever spot that the list of prohibited construction materials includes a crocodile – will they...?
Humour can be grounding, and often seen as a reflection of confidence – or, at least, can help mask any number of self doubts.
Life does get better as you get older – honest!
As someone who has always struggled with self confidence, it’s refreshing to find that getting older gives me the confidence to focus more on what matters. A great example for me is giving presentations. For years, I subscribed to the very corporate expectation and formula of using powerpoint to demonstrate I had a law degree.
With hindsight, the worst advice I was given during presentation skills training as a newly qualified lawyer was to stop smiling, be more serious, and stop waving my hands around. What it actually did was suppress any personality.
Over the years though, I have been lucky enough to have the benefit of more training, which empowered me to use story-telling, and to relax and let my hands do the talking.
I have gone from dreading any form of presentation to relishing it. That doesn’t mean I don’t still get nervous, but I worry less about what people think of my style, and try to focus on the message. I’ve also done all the really embarrassing things like trip on my way up to/away from a podium; lost my notes; suffered a powerpoint failure and even, on one occasion, forgotten my own name.
And I’ve survived, so it’s never as bad as it feels at the time.
Find your purpose
Because finding your purpose will make you better at what you do.
Perhaps even more importantly it will make you feel happier about what you do. Which can only be a good thing?
As I get older, my new found freedom to embrace my grumpy old woman has allowed me to voice strong opinions on a variety of topics — the correct way to hang up washing, or which way round the loo roll should hang (over, clearly), but also on more important things such as the merits of The Empire Strikes Back versus Rogue One.
But being a Star Wars geek is perhaps something I need to say less about as I get older.