What is belonging? It's the deep, human need to feel accepted for who you are and connected to those around you.

We all want acceptance. We all want to feel wanted.

When it comes to law firms, we want to feel like we're an essential piece of the success of the firm.

But a lot of times, we exclude ourselves from the firm even though we 100% belong.

We preemptively reject the people in the firm, the firm itself, and ultimately, we reject ourselves and our expansiveness. We shut down instead of going all in.

The worst part about the deep desire to belong is that we may not even know that we're pulling away and secluding ourselves.

In this episode, you'll learn the signs that you're preemptively disconnecting with and rejecting those around you — specifically when it comes to law firms — and how to begin reconnecting.

Let's start with what it feels like when you don't think you belong.

You may feel small. Closed down. Maybe a little sad.

This is a subtle feeling in our bodies. Usually we're so used to pushing through our feelings and doing the work, we entirely ignore what's happening in our body But it's a treasure trove because it can tell you what's going on in your mind if you know the right questions to ask.

Because of that, I'm going to give you actions that you may do to try to push away the feelings when you think you don't belong.

– We use perfectionism to try to blot out the feeling of doubt that we belong. So you may notice yourself wanting to make a document perfect before turning it in.
– You want to prove yourself. So you may notice yourself taking on more work than you know you can handle reasonably.
– You stay later than other people at the office to show other people how hard you're working.
– You don’t speak up in meetings because you think that what you have to say won’t be helpful or will sound stupid.
– You don’t ask for assignments you want because you don’t think you’re going to get it.
– You think thoughts like the partners at the firm don't have your best interests at heart.
– You don't apply for the positions you want.

Any of these resonate with you?

If they do, I want you to know that you're normal.

Each one of us, at some point in our lives, has felt like we didn't belong.

Listening to this one podcast may not suddenly make you feel like you belong. That's usually not how it works. We usually need to first see what's happening in our lives and how the belief that we don't belong is impacting our life and us getting what we want.

We're going to talk about belonging in terms of race and gender in a moment, but I want to share a story with you first.

When I was 19 years old, I 100% felt that I didn't belong.

I'm pretty sure I felt that way my whole life.

And I was constantly trying to prove I belonged.

The way I chose to prove I belonged was being the smartest person in the room or popular in one way or the other.

I was a sophomore at UCLA, and I really felt like I didn't belong because my freshman year was horrible. I had an awful roommate experience, I didn't feel like I had a lot of friends, and I wanted to prove that I belonged. So I decided that the way to do this was to participate in Rush Week. I think I thought that if I was in a sorority that I would think I belonged. That's not the way it works. You actually have to feel like you belong before you can take actions that are consistent with that feeling of belonging. This is what I mean:

When I showed up for the first day of Rush Week, I had lots of thoughts that reinforced my belief that I didn't belong. I didn't have the mindset tools I have now to look at rushing objectively. I interpreted everything I saw through the lens of the belief that I didn't belong. Remember, thought are our brain's interpretation of what we observe.

My thoughts looked like, “I don't dress as nice as they do,” “I don't know anyone,” “These girls are prettier than I am,” “I wasn't a legacy,” “I'm not as sophisticated as these girls.”

And I interpreted interactions with the other girls through the lens of, “I don't belong.”

When I was talking to a girl at a sorority, I would honestly believe that they didn't really want to talk to me and that they were waiting to talk to someone else. I wasn't open with the girls because I thought I'd say the wrong thing. I felt horrible. None of the girls made me feel this way. I made myself feel horrible.

It's interesting to see how the brain collects evidence to support the belief we have about ourselves. It doesn't collect evidence to counter that belief. We have to do that consciously. That's what I do with my clients when we bump up against this belief in our work together. We tune into how they know they do belong. We'll talk more about that in a minute.

The impact of the thought I had that I didn't belong, was that I felt rejected, then all my actions were to preemptively reject them at every turn before they could reject me. I withdrew myself from the rush process even though I was on the list to return to several sororities b/c I was sure I'd be rejected eventually. Then I'd tell myself something like how I wasn't meant to be in a sorority anyway or how they're lame. My roommate was also rushing, and we talked trash about the process because we didn't have the mental tools to see what was really happening in our brains.

Years later I saw this pattern of believing that I didn't belong show up in other areas of my life too. If this is resonating with you, start to take note of where you may see this showing up for you.

Let's get back to where I see this show up in my clients' lives, and where it may be showing up for you within your firm.

Keep in mind, this is a limited list. There's no one circumstance we face that prompts us to think we don't belong. These are just a few examples of when you may think this thought without knowing it.

– when you look at a firm website, and all you see are pictures white white male faces looking back at you
– you see a lot of older faces in a firm
– you see a lot of younger faces in a firm
– when you don't see anyone who looks like you in a firm
– when you haven't been practicing law as long as other people in a firm
– when you don't have the same legal experience as other people in a firm
– when you didn't go to an Ivy League school but everyone else in the firm did

With that, I want to give you some strategies to begin stepping into the belief that you belong.

Every one of them requires that you get uncomfortable.

That's the nature of growth.

Every one of them also requires that you pay attention to what you're feeling and thinking. When you do, then you're more likely to take action in the way that you want to instead of the way you're in the habit of taking action. In other words, you'll behave more like you already belong instead of behaving like you don't want to belong.

See what I did there?

When you think the thought, “I don't belong,” it's a helpful reminder that you're probably acting like you don't want to belong. It's another way of saying that you're rejecting them, so they can't reject you.

Because our thoughts generate our feelings, and our feelings fuel our actions, I'm going to offer you some thoughts to practice. The goal here isn't to feel like sunshine and daisies. It's just to feel better than the feeling of rejected. Try these on.

Let's say your firm is having an activity like a golf tournament or a happy hour. Watch if your brain's immediate reaction is, “No, that sounds lame.” Maybe you ultimately decide not to go, that's okay, but ask yourself if you'd go if you had friends there and if you felt like you belonged. Chances are, you would. If so, ask yourself if going to this event would further your goal of connecting with people or if maybe it could possibly be fun. If you're willing to feel uncomfortable, I will offer that you go. I had a client who recently started a new position, and she was invited to one of the evening activities they held. She said she was tired and went home. She realized that she excluded herself from the group and deprived herself of getting to know the people she was working with, so the next time they had an activity, she stayed. She cultivated the thought that they wanted her there. They had actually invited her. I'm happy to report that she had a good time.

Next, notice when your brain wants to say that no one else understands. Maybe they don't, but it's not a helpful thought. They don't know you. They don't know your personal history as intimately as you do. And that's okay. I find it helpful to remind myself that it's not up to other people to make me feel like I belong. It's up to me to remind myself that I belong and to cultivate that sense of belonging.

When we don't look like the other people at a firm — whether it's our color, gender, ethnicity, physical abilities, and any other quality of our being that we identify with — it's easy to forget that.

It makes sense. No one else has the same life experiences that you do. You may be bringing a lifetime of feeling different into a dominantly white male experience in a lot of firms. If this resonates with you, there's two places where this may be showing up for you that I want to address.

One is applying for positions at firms, and the other is how you behave within the firm you're currently working in.

– applying for positions within firms
– The common thought I hear is, “I shouldn't apply” or “I don't know if I should apply.”
– Reason #1: The thought that “I'm not qualified.”
– Statistically, women apply to positions 20% less frequently than men when they don't check off every single box on a job application.
– According to LinkedIn research, female applicants are 16% MORE likely than men to get hired after applying for a job and 18% MORE likely than men to get hired for a stretch job. Let's sit with that for a moment. If you're talking yourself out of applying for a position because you don't think you have all the qualifications, know that you're actually MORE likely to get hired than if you had all the qualifications.
– Reason #2: The thought that “They don't look like me.”
– This may be true. There was this one social media marketer I was following, and I went to some of her events. Her staff was very white. But she knew it. She recognized that the women who were applying for her positions and the people being referred to her were white women who were mostly blonde. She made a half-joke about it at an event years ago, and she was making an investment in diversifying her staff. It takes time to do that, especially if the only people applying to predominantly white firms are white men because people of color or women tell themselves they don't belong and don't even apply. Instead of assuming they aren't for you, I'll offer to you that there are ways to find out what the intent of the firm partners is by asking questions. Do they value what you value? Does the firm offer inclusivity trainings? Are they investing in the long term growth of their firm and investing in people who look like you? What are their hiring strategies and are they looking into attract people who look like you? If they are, what are actions are they taking? If you like their answers, then you get to decide if you want to help them. They are making an invitation for you to join their firm. They want you there. You can remind yourself of that. If you're getting an invitation, then you belong. Here's the key: you'll only find out if that firm is right for you if you apply and go to an interview though.

– how you behave when you're already working within the firm
– Thought: “I'm not going to make partner.”/”I'm not going to get the promotion.”
– Thinking this way feels horrible. You feel disappointed and it might feel like you have a rock in your stomach. Whatever we believe easily, it's because we've practiced that thought a lot and we've practiced finding evidence of it just like I did in the sorority situation. If you don't think you're making partner, you'll find all the reasons why you're not going to make partner: “The partner didn't say hi in the elevator,” “That email from my boss had a weird tone,” “I don't think I'm a great writer,” “I'm not great at managing my time,” “I should be working harder.” Unless they say the words, “You're not making partner this round,” you're just making stuff up. Your brain is making interpretations. Why is this important to know? Because if you're not aware of this, then your behavior can impact your chance of making partner.
– You're not focused on showing your abilities. Here's how I've seen this show up with clients and attorneys I've worked with over the years:
– We stifle our creativity and tell ourselves we can’t make creative solutions to problems bc we are sure it’s going to be shot down.
– If you're leading teams you may back off leading because you have thoughts about what a senior partner may think about what you're doing.
– We hesitate to send an email that gives our opinions or suggestions on a project.
– We don't go the extra mile to help out because we don't think it'll make a difference.

Notice that all of these thought of not belonging are tied in with what you think someone else thinks about you. So you're more focussed on what others think than showing them what you're capable of. Showing them what you're capable of is what's going to influence what they think. We can't show that capacity unless we believe that we belong. Remind yourself that you belong because they hired you. You're still there. You're being assigned to lead teams. Look for all the evidence that you belong and keep reminding yourself of it.

You belong.

You’re in control of the experience you want to have.

If you want to develop a deep sense of belonging, so that you can feel comfortable in any room you walk into, book a call with me.

You can book at https://dinacataldo.com/strategysession

You already belong.

Now it's just a matter of getting your brain on board with that fact, so that it can help you create the life you want.

I can help you with that.

I hope you have a wonderful day, and I'll talk to you soon.