Guest Post: From Growing Up Poor to Working in Big Law

Growing Up Poor | CorporetteHow does your background — like growing up poor — affect your life in Big Law or other conservative jobs? After all, Big Law (and other Big jobs) can be interesting places, full of strange traditions, big personalities, and a lot of assumptions — that everyone knows what to wear yachting or for a golf scramble, for example. Today, I’m happy to welcome back Ruth Moore*, a lawyer turned actress (who’s currently a recurring character in a TV series) with some deep thoughts on how growing up poor affected her legal career. Ruth has guest posted before, with a Tales From the Wallet post about how to break free from golden handcuffs (and get used to paying tuition again). Welcome back, Ruth! – Kat.

This post came about because I was telling Kat about how I’d always been curious which of my Big Law colleagues had also grown up below the poverty line. I have this theory that there were certain habits and ways of thinking from growing up poor that stuck with me as a young adult, when I suddenly went up a couple of rungs on the socioeconomic ladder.

Some of those habits were sartorial. For example, even though I was earning a lot of money, I was still very cheap with myself, especially in the beginning. I distinctly remember buying a pair of jeans from H&M for $39.99 and thinking, “Wow, I’m buying forty-dollar jeans at full price, I really made it!” For work clothes, I splurged on two skirts and three shirts (deeply discounted) from a chain that represented, to me, the height of luxury: The United Colors of Benetton. Dry cleaning seemed too frivolous so I’d just wash them by hand. I wore my Aldo heels with the same pride with which my officemate wore her Louboutins. I didn’t get a professional haircut until my fourth year as a lawyer, opting to trim it myself instead. It’s kind of a miracle that no one reported me to “What Not to Wear.” (Pictured: Money, originally uploaded to Flickr by loopoboy 2.0.)

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Imposter Alert! How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome: How to Overcome It | CorporetteWhat are the best tips and tricks to overcome imposter syndrome, boost your confidence, and generally “fake it til you make it”? Reader C wonders:

I am very young for my position, and although I know full well I have the competencies for my job, I am also a bit socially awkward/insecure. When I am introduced as *My Title*, I recoil a little and get nervous about what people must be thinking to the point that I can’t concentrate or I get flustered. My rational side tells me I have gotten to where I am because I am a skilled and competent person, but I definitely suffer from blinding Imposter syndrome and general insecurity. I know my “young woman” appearance, and my nervous composure and speech in some situations ruins others’ perception of me, especially older colleagues that hold junior positions. How can I calm my nerves and appear more confident and competent?

Great question, C — like I’ve said many times before, I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome myself and think a lot of intelligent, overachieving chicks do — and we just talked about women’s low confidence yesterday.  We’ve talked about how to avoid acting young, and how to dress professionally without looking like you think you’re in charge, but not in a few years — and how to act more confident is a bit of a different ball of wax.  In terms of actual, practical tips for overcoming this: [Read more…]

How to Respond to Work-Related Praise

How to Take a Compliment Gracefully | CorporetteHow do you respond when someone praises your work — without sounding like an entitled braggart (and without undermining yourself)? Reader T has a great question about compliments at work.

My question for you is, how do you respond to a co-worker (sometimes a supervisor) telling you they’ve heard great comments/feedback about your work? I’m confused as to whether this is a compliment you simply say thank you to, or is there more we should add? (i.e. I appreciate the opportunity to learn) It’s not a direct compliment, yet somehow is one. I often feel the need to justify the passed-along compliment with an explanation, yet sometimes I inadvertently undermine my own efforts and achievements.

First, that absolutely is praise, so congrats to Reader T.  I’m curious to hear what the readers say about whether you can undermine yourself with your response to praise. For my own $.02 — particularly as someone with an overactive imposter syndrome — I’ve definitely been tempted to respond with things like, “It was a team effort!” or “___ really helped by supervising me,” or “I was really lucky to find the answer so quickly!”

Maybe it’s a facet of age or experience (or just writing and reading about this stuff), but I’m pretty sure that my more recent response to any work-related praise has been (and will be) more along the following lines: Thanks. I’m glad you’re hearing good things. It was a fun project and I’m happy to get started on a new one. All said with a smile but not necessarily exclamation points. I feel like these responses don’t undermine your work by attributing luck or someone else.  Maybe it’s just me, but none of these responses really smack of WHY YES I AM A GENIUS HOW NICE OF YOU TO NOTICE.

I’m curious, readers — do you inadvertently undermine your own efforts and achievements, either by being overly humble or letting your imposter complex take over?  Do you notice other people doing it?

Pictured: Thank You, originally uploaded to Flickr by HelloJenuine (also available for sale at Etsy).

How to Become a Leader

How Women Can Become Leaders | CorporetteReader S has a great question about how to grow her leadership skills as a young female executive…

I’m not sure if this has been discussed before, but I’m looking for recommendations–either from you or your readers–on some good leadership skills workshops/trainings/webinars. I’ve recently been promoted to the executive team at my company. While my initial reaction was excitement, I’m now starting to feel a bit out of place at times. The promotion was given to me as a “stretch” role, which the CEO defined as a bit of a leap of faith. He’s confident that I’ll be comfortable in the role and gain the skills necessary in short time, but ever the over-achiever, I want to quell my discomfort ASAP!

I’m finding myself acting a bit more assertive and, well, tough in the negative as opposed to assertive and confident. It’s a natural “defend my right to the role” mentality whenever I’m questioned on anything. But, I know signs of a true leader are to emit the entitlement to the role through leadership and confidence.

On top of all this, I’m somewhat young (35–the youngest member of the exec team) and am a mom to 2 children (4yo and 18mo). I’m wondering if there are any good leads or advice from working women in similar situations?

Huge congrats — this sounds like a great accomplishment, and I applaud you for trying to stretch yourself to get to the next level.  I think this is a great question, because it can be difficult to grow your leadership skills. Ultimately, I think Reader S needs to focus on a) what you think you’re doing well (so you can play to your strengths), b) what you think you need to work on (so you know where to focus your reading) and c) who to ask for feedback (and when) so that you have someone else giving you some feedback also. (Pictured: Follow the leader, originally uploaded to Flickr by jtu.) [Read more…]

Weekly Roundup

Liking these posts? Follow Corporette on Twitter — this is the edited version of what we’re reading! (We also Tweet if we hear about a good sale.)

  • The 2009 International Best Dressed List has arrived, from Vanity Fair.  We don’t know much about H.R.H. Princess Letizia of Asturias, but we love her white suit (pictured).
  • Ms. JD wonders if flex time will get you laid off.  Meanwhile, the WSJ’s Juggle reports that a recent study found that women underestimate their performance on the job three times as much as men.
  • Wow: we did not realize that J.Crew bought Loro Piana wool and cashmere.  The WSJ’s Christina Binkley examines the differences between a $1,750 sweater and a $298 sweater.
  • The NYT advises how to stay fit when eating is your job — perhaps worthwhile advice for the rest of us, too!
  • WiseBread counsels how to reset your sleep cycle in a single night.
  • Miss Manners opines on napkin etiquette.
  • Weekly Roundup

    Liking these posts? Follow Corporette on Twitter — this is the edited version of what we’re reading! (We also Tweet if we hear about a good sale.)

    - We’re kind of against this kind of analysis, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point you to WaPo’s critique of Sonia Sotomayor’s fashion choices, followed by Fashionista‘s and Jezebel’s critiques of the WaPo for not running similar stories about Alito or Roberts.

    – Fake it till you make it: The Simple Dollar advises on ten ways to improve your appearance of confidence.

    The Harvard Business Blog advises how to be super productive at work. (Hat tip to Lifehacker.)

    The Frugal Duchess breaks down Kiplinger‘s annoying slideshow on when to save money, on what.