Do Not Underestimate Your Own Power in Your Career

Written by Dena Lefkowitz for "The Legal Intelligencer," America's oldest daily journal for lawyers.

Do Not Underestimate Your Own Power in Your Career

Do Not Underestimate Your Own Power in Your Career

Do Not Underestimate Your Own Power in Your Career

What do you do when you need a little inspiration? A nudge to get you going? Reassurance that you can make it work? Affirmation that you are enough?

Arianna Huffington said at the 2012 Pennsylvania Conference for Women that “if anybody here thinks that maybe they are too small to be effective, all I have to say is that you have not spent a night in bed with a mosquito. Nobody is too small to be effective.” I was in the audience and have since listened to that speech several times, and each time, I find a new takeaway or something I had forgotten. She spoke about perseverance, imagination, redefining success, prioritizing self-care and reconnecting with our inner wisdom. She said that social media gives everyone a voice and exhorted the crowd to use it, and gave out her email address. Not only do many people underestimate their own power, we also become overwhelmed by the enormity of a problem and paralyzed to take action even though one step in the desired direction is an improvement and increases the chance of taking another.

“If anybody here thinks that maybe they are too small to be effective, all I have to say is that you have not spent a night in bed with a mosquito. Nobody is too small to be effective.”

That day, I added Huffington to my inspirational board of directors, a collection of individuals whose names, faces and quotes decorate my workspace and help keep me motivated. They range from Frank McCourt to Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan and Gloria Steinem. I don’t know them personally and have only the purity of the best things they did, wrote and said to help me discern possibilities and direct my energies. Resilience sometimes needs reinforcement, and I find it useful to collect inspiration for moments when things seem really difficult. It’s a practice I recommend to my clients. Who can you think of when you are stuck to just get a little movement going?

Harriet Tubman, whose image is slated to grace the $20 bill, personifies Huffington’s point. Standing at only five feet tall, according to biographer Catherine Clinton in her book, “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom,” Tubman was illiterate and overcame enslavement, back-breaking drudgery, repeated physical trauma, poverty—and more trials than can be listed here—to deliver thousands of slaves to freedom. She acted as a scout, spy and nurse during the Civil War and, afterward, made her own home a haven for the “forgotten and abandoned.” She was buried with military honors.

Pennsylvania played a role in the Underground Railroad as Tubman fled Maryland in 1849, traveling through Delaware to Philadelphia. “Tubman and other fugitives who sought asylum in Philadelphia were elated to reach their destination,” Clinton wrote. “The Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of the Abolition of Slavery, headquartered in Philadelphia, was one of the oldest and most ardent abolition societies.” Tubman’s role was so significant, her work so prodigious, that Clinton asked, “In a movement dominated by northern white males, how did a black southern female, once a former slave, become both an abductor for the Underground Railroad and a champion of the radical wing of the abolitionist crusade?” One reason is that she did not believe she was too small to be effective.

Clinton writes about Tubman’s great adaptability, a hallmark of successful people. “Within a year of her own escape, she was able to head into the new and strange streets of Baltimore, locate assistance, find a safe house and navigate the shoals to freedom.” She had great faith and determination to bring her family out of slavery and was devastated after risking everything to find that her own husband had replaced her with another woman while they were still married. “At first, ‘she thought she would go in and make all the trouble she could,'” Clinton wrote. “But realized ‘if he could do without her, she could do without him.'” She knew how to deal with setbacks and kept moving forward.

“In a movement dominated by northern white males, how did a black southern female, once a former slave, become both an abductor for the Underground Railroad and a champion of the radical wing of the abolitionist crusade?” One reason is that she did not believe she was too small to be effective.

Actions also do not need to be large in order to be effective, as in the case of Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, an 8-year-old resident of Flint, Michigan, where Flint’s water supply was switched and led to contaminated drinking water and a state of emergency was declared in January. Copeny wrote an old-fashioned letter to President Obama: “Hello my name is Mari Copeny and I’m 8 years old, I live in Flint, Michigan and I’m more commonly known around town as ‘Little Miss Flint.’ I am one of the children that is effected by this water, and I’ve been doing my best to march in protest and to speak out for all the kids that live here in Flint.” She let the president know she was traveling by bus to Washington, D.C., and asked to meet him, adding, “My mom said chances are you will be too busy with more important things, but there [are] a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift people’s spirits.” He wrote back—imagine being 8 years old and receiving a letter on White House stationery from the president of the United States.

According to The Los Angeles Times, “The White House announced President Obama’s decision to visit Flint, Michigan, by posting a letter he wrote to 8-year-old Flint resident Mari Copeny, known locally as ‘Little Miss Flint,’ who had asked to meet the president.” And she got to meet him. Pinching her on the cheek, the president said she was the reason he decided to come to Flint and “I’m gonna talk about you in my speech—all the good work you’re doing.” If Copeny assumed the president would be too busy or decided not to write the letter, she would have missed out on having her wish fulfilled. Are there calls or emails you are procrastinating on because you don’t want to bother someone? What do you have to lose by moving forward with them?

When you need motivation, I suggest actively looking for and regularly connecting with sources of it. Put their images and most powerful quotes where you can see them. They are signs to remind you who you are and aspire to be. Find people who lift you up rather than bring you down. Look for positivity. Incorporate social media and follow people with a positive mission or message and find posts that speak to your soul.

 


Reprinted with permission from the May 19, 2016 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2016 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, reprints@alm.com or visit www.almreprints.com

About the Author:

Dena Lefkowitz is a veteran attorney and certified professional coach who helps clients reinvigorate their careers, polish business development skills and rediscover their sense of purpose. A former board member of the International Coach Federation’s Philadelphia chapter, Lefkowitz has successfully coached a best-selling author, lawyers, and chief executives. Firms have also hired Lefkowitz, a former in-house counsel, to work directly with entry level lawyers to improve performance and increase their early contributions to the firm. She holds her BA and JD from Temple University and Temple University School of Law.

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