During tough times, or when we are under a lot of stress, we all lean on mantras or aphorisms to keep ourselves going. One of my favorites is “fake it till you make it.” Statements such as those are meant to remind us of our values and bring us a sense of encouragement. When we feel less confident about something, we might tell ourselves to just ‘fake it till you make it.’
When we feel confident in ourselves, we are able to trust in our own abilities, qualities, and judgment. However, I did not have the least bit of that when I walked into my Trial Advocacy class the first week of the semester. A lot of thoughts overcame me as I learned about the different students who I was going to be partnering with this semester. Most of them were perfectly comfortable with public speaking, were naturals at it, or even were part of a mock trial team. I thought that I would never be able to compare to them. In an age of social media, it can be difficult not to compare ourselves with other people. However, as I started to learn more about the pre-trial motions, opening statements, and the direct and cross examinations – I was able to discover more about myself and the cause of all my anxiety.
I discovered that the cause of all my anxiety was because I lacked confidence. I was always the person to stay invisible in the classroom and never liked to volunteer because I was afraid. I was afraid to mess up no matter how much I prepared myself. But I’ve come to learn that being afraid and thinking only of how I would mess up would only be setting myself up for failure. I’ve also come to realize that it’s okay to make mistakes because that is what this class is for – to learn from our mistakes and become better. And there are always methods to boost our self-confidence levels because only in that way can we perfect what we set out to do.
The first time I did an opening statement, I prepared the best I could in advance of having to present. However, I felt as if the more I understood and practiced what I wanted to talk about, the more I got off track. I took the time to understand my topic but when I finally got up to do my opening statement, it was nothing like I had imagined. I was only able to remember portions of what I wanted to say and had to continuously refer back to my notes that were sitting on the table next to me. I had practiced it numerous times out loud and even in my head, but while I was standing up there with everyone’s attention focused on me, I felt out of place and scared. It was all because I lacked confidence.
Words of affirmation and positive feedback can go a long way in being able to help one build confidence. Although I felt as if I completely botched my opening statement, my professor, Jared Hatcliffe, felt otherwise. When I finished my opening statement, he told me that I have to trust myself because he knew I prepared for this for several days and that he believed in me. I knew my topic and what I wanted to relay and that is what I needed to tell myself. However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to overcome my fear and lack of confidence overnight. I needed to believe in myself and trust in the expert (Professor Hatcliffe) that I can and will be able to do well.
I broke down my goals into small steps to prepare in order to make the challenge less intimidating. The first step I wanted to overcome was to be able to not look at my notes or anything other than the jury while I am presenting. The next class session we had, we were asked to practice direct and cross examinations with a topic of our choosing. At this time, I instilled in myself that I knew the topic the best and I knew that Professor Hatcliffe also trusted that I did. The table next to me was completely blank. There were no notes and no laptop that I could rely on as my crutch. Because of this, I was able to play the witness without any mishaps and also do a direct examination of the witness without any notes. Professor Hatcliffe commented that I clearly seemed more comfortable this time around.
Practice Makes Perfect
As we develop new skills in Trial Advocacy, we often jump into experiences that we are not entirely ready for and need to “fake.” But “faking it” in this context simply means “winging it” as you are using skills outside of your comfort zone. And often times, to get over having to constantly wing things, we turn to practice.
Although I practiced hard for that opening statement, it still didn’t turn out the way I expected but that is because it was only the second class where we had to present; I certainly lacked the confidence to be standing up in front of people. However, as I grew more comfortable with my audience, I learned that it is possible to learn something or develop a new skill if you practice enough. You want to be able to have the self-awareness to identify where you need to grow – me personally in confidence. In the end, it’s trust – trusting yourself and your support systems around you to help unlock your potential.