I spoke to a young lawyer the other day who hails from another country. I will call her Natalie. Natalie explained to me that where she comes from, the culture is such that self-promotion is frowned upon. In her country, people do not think much of braggarts and blowhards. They respect people who are humble.
For Natalie, part of the challenge of succeeding as a lawyer in Canada is learning how to combat her instincts and promote herself. She thinks that she alone is shy and has trouble ‘putting herself out there.’
I told Natalie the following story: Years ago my partner, George, to whom clients flocked, asked me to attend a wine and cheese event that he could not make. In downtown Toronto of all places. On a Friday night. In flipping February. In a snowstorm.
So I set off from my office in Mississauga at 4:30 pm in rush hour traffic and headed for the bright lights. The trip, which took 25 minutes on a good day, was an hour on that dark night. It was twenty minutes before I found parking, and a ten-minute walk to the venue.
By the time I arrived, the party was in full swing. There were a few hundred people eating, drinking, and feeling merry. So I got myself a drink and a plate of food and walked around looking to join a conversation. Although I did not have Natalie’s cultural background to use as an excuse, I knew absolutely nothing about how to break into conversations with strangers. After thirty minutes of walking around, and without talking to a single soul, I went home, thus proving that you do not have to be from somewhere else to be inexperienced and ill-equipped to sell yourself.
There is an epilogue to this story. Fifteen years later I went to a similar event, started speaking to a complete stranger who turned out to be the V.P. Finance for a huge corporation, followed up, and landed myself what then became my firm’s largest client.
And that is the point. You can learn this stuff. But here is the thing: if you start right away, instead of waiting fifteen years to get started, you will see results much faster.
And that is what I told Natalie. Understand that we live in a culture which values self-promotion (as long as it is done with a modicum of class.) Acknowledge that promoting yourself is necessary. Figure out where you are on the road to being able to confidently market yourself, why you are where you are, and what you need to do to improve. And get started. Now.