When you look at many of the most successful people, one thing is clear: They get lots of people to believe in them. The ability of the most successful people to inspire believers drives further success because it instills them with confidence and a willingness to take risks and makes others invest in them and their products. Others talk about them positively and, ultimately, this drives them forward.
When people believe in us, anything is possible. If you have enough people believing in you and get successful enough, the inclination is that you need to run for President of the United States. People that get television shows where they highlight their leadership skills (Donald Trump, Mark Cuban) talk about, or run for President. Successful business people that run large companies (Bob Iger of Disney, Carla Fiona of HP) talk about or run for President. Even actors (Ronald Reagan) run for President and, if they cannot be President because they were born outside the United States, they run for governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger). There is a ton of confidence that comes from getting people to believe in you. The people who master this become the wealthiest and most successful in society. Business people can get people to invest in them and keep doing so. And what is a con man such as Bernie Madoff other than someone who gets lots of people to believe in them based on false promises of something that is not true?
And if you cannot get people to believe in you, then you will be in big trouble. School is an exercise in getting people to believe in you and reward you with good grades. Life is also an exercise in getting people to believe in you. People need friends, significant others, and more to believe in them in order not to be alone. We also need to have employers believe in us because if they do not, we do not get hired. Everywhere you turn, you find the importance of having others believe in us. Without this, we often become lost, unhappy, alone, and unsuccessful. What is a criminal, a hermit, a social outcast, an unemployed person, or a bum other than someone who does not have others believe in them? These are the people that society has, for whatever reason, cast away and passed judgment on that something is wrong with them.
When you look at a young puppy, nothing is more important to them than getting people to like them. With everything they can muster, a puppy is friendly to people around them and kisses, cuddles, and expresses unbridled enthusiasm at being around people and spending time with them. A puppy is always happy and wants to be liked, accepted, and taken care of more than anything. However, there is another side to this. Some puppies do not get the love they need and never find someone to take care of them. These dogs often have issues with behavior or training, and end up cast aside and never find people to love them. Such dogs can become permanently angry and upset. They never find this and are much different. People are like this too. If others reject them enough times, they act out and become angry and often end up in prisons, addicted to drugs, alcoholics, etc.
We all need others to believe in us, and, at its heart, life is an exercise in getting others to believe in us. Having others believe in us is one of the essential aspects that makes us successful. When we have this, we can succeed. When we do not, it holds us back. Others not believing in us is often a sign we are doing something wrong, or something in our environment is off, or sometimes it’s a sign that we are not trying hard enough.
When I was fourteen years old, a relatively prestigious private school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, did not invite me to return. My grandparents had sent me there in the fall and paid for it.
There was every reason the school should not have asked me again. My grades were weak, and I could not seem to get good ones. I even got poor grades in physical education. The school also did not like my behavior and considered me a troublemaker because I joked around in class, often undermined my teachers, made fun of excellent students, and could not pay attention. I was a liability, and my poor behavior, unwillingness to support the system I was in, and conscious effort to undermine the school made me someone the school needed to remove.
When we do not support our environments, the good ones expel us. Employers do this too. If you continuously think poorly of your law firm, dislike your job, or talk negatively about the people you work with, the law firm will get rid of you. Often, regardless of how hard your work or your qualifications, the law firm will eliminate you. People that get others to believe in them are most often the people that support their environments, and those who do not are the opposite.
There is a guy who worked for me a long time ago and came into my company with some of the best qualifications imaginable. He had worked in a few of the best law firms in the United States, had gone to Ivy League schools and had made millions of dollars when another company purchased his previous company. I brought him on as a "right-hand man" of sorts and someone I wanted to help me grow the company. Despite all appearances, he did not do well. He never believed in the work that he was doing, and the people he worked with could tell. When he would go to conferences with the company, he would spend all of his time with other people outside of the company.
He did not work out and had many jobs after that because he did not fit in elsewhere. He may have gotten lucky early in life; however, he could never get others to believe in him because he never believed in them. He had this attitude that he had millions of dollars in the bank and was better than any of the jobs he ended up getting. Regardless of your qualifications, if you cannot get others to believe in you and keep believing in you, the odds of your success are slim. This lesson is essential for success.
The school did not like me and recommended that my parents send me to a school for kids who were not doing well and needed special academic attention. None of this made much sense at all. When I was younger, I had always tested in the high 90th percentile on national tests, gotten the best grades in my classes, and been very achievement minded. However, here I was, at the end of my eighth-grade year, considered probably the worst kid in my class and not doing well at all.
Most of the kids in the school were from wealthy backgrounds and stable families—and I was not from a prosperous family. My parents could send me there, primarily through the generosity of my grandparents. My mother was having lots of substance abuse issues, and my parents did not want their children to grow up in that environment.
I also felt isolated because of other things. The fact that I was living with my mother, who had lots of substance abuse problems, made me want to act out and contributed to my inability to concentrate and fit in. While she would get drunk most nights of the week, she would also have parties at our small house that would often make it difficult for me to sleep. It was not something I could talk about with kids at school or even my father. This situation made me feel very isolated and also was a cause of my frustration at school.
Being a lousy student, kicked out of school, and feeling economically isolated meant that the world around me came down with a lot of disapproval. I could do nothing right. As a young child, I realized that being in the position I was in was likely to lead nowhere good—no college, no good job, and a wasted life. People who did not believe in me were all around me, and they all seemed to disapprove of who I was and where I was going. This group included parents, teachers, parents of my friends, and the world at large.
It is difficult when you do not have anyone in your corner. When no one believes in you, and the only feedback you are getting from the world is negative, you feel very isolated and alone. Everything you do only seems to reinforce the negativity the world sees in you.
For example, I noticed in school that no matter how hard I studied, I would still receive bad grades. By the Spring Semester of my Eighth-grade year, I studied very hard—but my results were the same. One week one of my teachers was out, and we had a substitute who knew nothing about me. She administered a test, and I got the highest grade in the class. It made no sense, and when the regular teacher returned, she accused me of cheating.
On another occasion, we went on a field trip as a school, and someone stole something out of a classmate’s purse. The school went straight to me and accused me of taking it. I denied it, and they called my parents into the school. They accused me of stealing and suspended me. Someone saw me in the area where the girl's purse had been; however, there were several other people in that space at the same time, and they accused me because of my economic circumstances—not because they had proof. I almost could not graduate because they accused me of doing something I did not do. Later, in the summer, I found out another kid in my class had told someone else he stole it; by then, it was too late.
If you do not have people defending you and seeing your best qualities, it can profoundly influence how you see yourself and your capabilities. If people address you with negativity and a lack of approval, this is self-reinforcing and not helpful either. Negative feedback is not the least bit valuable. You need positive feedback to become the person you want to be.
The recent push for diversity is fascinating on many levels. When we push people from the sidelines into the limelight and approve of them, we realize that they can be successful too. People from marginalized ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and more have just as much right to success in society as those who are not from these groups. However, for far too long, society has marginalized many groups and presumed they could not be successful or do well. Pushing for diversity has resulted in us not concluding these people are not fit for success.
There is something inside us—a drive and willingness to achieve and be the people we can be. We need to have a spirit inside of us that wants more and pushes us to become something more than we are right now. However, besides having this spirit, we need to have people around us who see what we are capable of, give us positive feedback, believe in us and want us to become more than we are right now. We need mentors and believers who realize and see the people we can become. We need something that pushes us to become something better, and this is often the support of those around us.
I would say that what happened to me in eighth grade was like a “breakdown”—or getting fired or losing a job. Flunking out of school and being in the position I was in made me feel incredibly isolated. It made me depressed, and as if I needed to rebuild myself and become something more. I needed to reach deep inside of myself and find something. I needed the help of something and someone higher than me. I needed to believe in myself. I had failed, and the best thing for me was a change in venue and to become someone different from who I was.
In ninth grade, I moved in with my father on the other side of town to a public school there. Nothing changed there. I still was a lousy student, could not concentrate, and had adopted the persona of being a bad kid that I had picked up when I was attending the private school. I had given up on myself and being a good student. The experience I had when I was living with my mother continued to depress me. I was now living with my father and his new wife and her daughter.
I was having issues studying, focusing, and applying myself. I made friends when I was at a new school that did not turn out well. One of these kids ended up in prison, and the other ended up a drug addict. I did not have the tools to improve myself or bring myself up. By the time I finished ninth grade, I had a 1.7-grade point average for the year, no real friends did not believe in myself, and had many other issues that made me appear destined not to do well. My private school, lousy home environment, and a negative self-image had shaped me in the most negative way possible.
For tenth grade, my father moved overseas to Thailand of all places. When I got to my new school, the same thing happened—I did poorly in school and still had a difficult time. I got very down on myself. I felt utterly alone and did not know what to do or how to improve. No matter what I did, I could not get good results from school, friendships, sports, or otherwise. It was very depressing. I was living with my stepmother and stepsister because my father left often, and they did not seem to believe in me either. All I got from them was negative feedback and a belief that there was something wrong with me.
Out of desperation and with no one around me interested in helping me, I started reading inspirational books at night, praying, and trying to figure out what I needed to do to be a better person. I ran for student council, although I hardly knew anyone at the school. I studied for several hours each night to get good grades. When I ran for the student council, a person from the United States traveled and gave a one-week class to everyone running about leadership and being a good citizen. This class was a blessing. The course was excellent, and I learned an awful lot. By raising my hand and trying to be a better person and putting myself out there, things changed.
I had been an outstanding soccer player when much younger, and I tried out for the Varsity soccer team—which was challenging to make because there were so many Europeans in the school that took soccer exceptionally seriously. I was the last person to make the team, but making this was a real achievement. Somehow I won the student council election and received the third most votes in my entire class. My grades improved rapidly. I threw myself into being the best person I could be.
When I committed to being a better person, teachers and others started appearing in my life that recognized my desire to improve and rewarded it. Math had, at one time, been very difficult for me, but a good algebra teacher started encouraging me, recognized my desire to improve, and helped me. The same thing happened with a history teacher, English and science teacher. My science teacher told me I was good enough in science to be a doctor maybe and was the one who made me the last student to make the varsity soccer team that year. I think I made the varsity soccer team not because I was the best player, but because I put the most effort into practice—I ran harder and tried harder than most anyone. He recognized my drive and desire and rewarded me for it.
I even started dating a girl in the school who was a professional model and all over magazine covers in Thailand and never showed interest in anyone in the school before me. I think the reason she gravitated towards me is that she saw I had a desire to get better and spirit within me, pushing me this way. Had I not realized this and brought this out in myself, I never would have been with her. You need to have this spirit and something within you driving you to become and be a better person. You have no choice, and the more you have this, the better off you will be. People around you will recognize this greatness.
In law firms, the people that make partner and succeed as partners, are often not the smartest but the ones who bill the most hours and show the most commitment. People recognize their heart and drive and desire and reward them for it. People want to help those who help themselves.
While this may not seem like much, it was to me. I was alone in my efforts to improve myself at first. I did not have a lot of support from parents or others. I needed to find inspiration outside of myself and pick myself up to do something meaningful and significant with my life.
I naturally gravitated towards legal placement and teaching others how to advance their legal career. I wanted to show people they are not alone in their discomfort, that they can be someone better and different, and that all is not hopeless.
When I finished my tenth-grade year, I returned to Michigan, and the best private school in the state accepted me. Because my grades were so bad during my freshman year of high school, this school said that this year should just be a “wash” and that they would only show my tenth-grade transcript from Bangkok to colleges and make it look like it was my ninth grade year. At the new school, very competitive and smart kids surrounded me.
I soon took a class with and found a mentor who had gone to Yale for college and had a Ph.D. He quickly took me under his wing and told me I could go to a high college like Harvard and would be successful. He inspired me and believed in me. He kept filling my head with what was possible and believed in me. He gave me both positive and negative feedback but stuck with me and filled my head with what was possible. Having someone behind you can make a huge difference. If people believe in you and support you, you are profoundly better off than if you do not have this.
The other hugely important thing about mentors is that they can see the error in your thinking, behavior, and action and point you in the correct direction when you make mistakes. The mistakes that people make are often just because of making bad decisions and thinking about things incorrectly. If you can realize the mistakes you are about to make (or are making) while you are making them, you will not only often avoid making those mistakes but wind up in a much better place.
Most of the most successful people out there have mentors and others who have helped them with their decisions and also recognized the good in them. The desire for a mentor and a mentor's willingness to help us is often also contingent on their ability to understand a passion and drive within us to get better. They see that we are trying and doing everything we can to be a better person and latch on to this.
When my mentor appeared in high school, he did not appear because I told myself I wanted a mentor. He came because he saw that investing in me was worth his time and effort, and he could help. I worked harder than anyone in his English class, contributed, respected him, and appreciated his efforts to teach us. When my mentors in the previous school appeared, it was the same thing: I respect them and believe in them too. They saw that I was trying to be a better person, and investing in me was worth their time. I had an energy that I had to direct in the correct ways. My energy was being misdirected and needed direction.
People who fail at my company—like the guy who came with amazing qualifications—failed because they did not believe in the work people at the company were doing. They did not build others around them up and, instead, made them feel bad by not supporting them and what they were doing. Their mind was somewhere else.
I have written before about the importance of mentors and people who believe in you. I feel strongly about this because it's easy to lose focus without a mentor. If the people surrounding us view us negatively and see our faults instead of the good we are capable of, it makes a huge difference.
Looking back on my failed relationships, most of these failures had to do with either not believing in someone or that person not believing in me. Some people see us through rose-colored glasses (and vice versa) and those who do not.
If someone loses respect for us and starts seeing the negatives in us, it can take us down, deflate us, and make us feel bad about ourselves. If someone sees only the bad in us—or sees more bad than good—this also collapses us and makes us feel bad about ourselves. This attitude negatively affects our self-talk.
We need to be around and expose ourselves to people who see the good in us and not the bad. If someone sees the best in us, this motivates us to improve and work harder. If someone just sees the negative in us, it makes us feel bad about ourselves and demotivates us. We need positive feedback to do well.
Reading self-help literature, studying religion, talking to therapists, applying yourself in work, searching out mentors, pushing yourself to be better, and disciplining yourself are signs of someone trying to get better. When we do what we can to get better and be better people, when we enroll in coaching programs, read articles like this, study what other successful people do, and ask questions of others, we are also trying to get better. When we expose ourselves to people who we know can help us, like when we join groups that expose us to other successful people, we are trying to get better.
When I work with candidates as BCG Attorney Search, I intentionally do everything I can to push them to be better and realize their full potential.
- I hire and train all of our legal placement professionals, so the candidates get better and receive help from the right people.
- I hire legal placement professionals that are themselves placeable and marketable to almost any law firm so these candidates will improve.
- I hire people capable of believing in others because they are confident in themselves and know who they are.
- I only represent candidates who seem to have a real desire to get better and a history of improvement and good stories.
- I message my candidates about looking at more markets, looking at more jobs and send them articles pushing them to get better.
- I try to provide direct and forthright advice about the market to my candidates so they will improve and get better.
I urge the people who work for me to distribute job information to candidates weekly, strengthen their resumes, get to know their candidates personally, send them a variety of firms, write good cover letters and continually improve.
In short, I want people to have the mentors and receive the advice I would have if I were in the same situation most people seeking legal jobs are in: Needing a mentor, needing guidance, and needing help.
There are two constants I believe are essential at BCG Attorney Search because of my background.
First, when I was young, I did not have any mentors. I wanted to get better and experienced a lot of rejection and difficulties in the world. I felt pushed away and also controlled by people who did not see the best in me. I was failing for many reasons.
Many attorneys experience a lot of rejection. You may be in a firm that is bad for you because people there do not see the best in you. It may be because the firm is a bad fit for you culturally, or it is not a great firm overall.
The private school I got kicked out of was not supportive, probably because there were teachers and a culture that could not bring out the best in people and instead saw the bad in everyone. In the private school I graduated from, probably 70% of the kids there went to the top 25 colleges. I the private school I got kicked out of, that number was probably closer to 15%. There was something about the atmosphere, teachers, and students at the better school that brought out the best in people and was a better fit for me.
At BCG Attorney Search, I want people to experience an atmosphere where they can thrive. I was in a lousy atmosphere when I had issues and failed. A different atmosphere ended up bringing out the best in me. Having people who saw the best in me and did not see me through ugly glasses helped. It also helped that I had access to information (leadership classes, religious material) that showed me there was a better way and brought out the best in me. I did a lot of this alone without encouragement from parents, and it required me to be introspective.
Second, I love giving people a ton of options. I feel that people need the ability to move geographically or have many places they can work in the same city or market. This mobility is important to me because relocation or switching to a different type of law firm is often essential for people. I make sure all the candidates in our database receive text messages, emails, and so forth about new and different markets. I also make sure they approve firms we send them and that we do whatever we can to find the best options for them. This extra effort is helpful because one market may be a good fit for someone, while another may not.
BCG Attorney Search typically has at least five people researching openings, contacting firms, and trying to find places for people to apply for every recruiter in the firm. No one works harder than us to find opportunities, firms, and places to send candidates. We take it extremely seriously and what we do works. Most of our recruiters can place more candidates in a few months than most recruiters place in a year. We give people more options, so more people find the right home.
When I was applying to colleges, I did not give myself a ton of options. I looked at a few schools, which made me feel unwelcome before I ever got there and made me feel bad about myself. Then, I found a school where I felt very comfortable, and I knew it would bring out the best in me. When I got to this school, my instincts proved correct. The same thing that happened with schools when I was younger happened again. Had I gone to the wrong school, I might have had the same negative experience
My personal experience is one reason we tell attorneys who come to BCG Attorney Search about a lot of firms and markets and push them to look at a lot of options. You should consider more than just the largest firms in the largest markets. You need to find your home, a place where people believe in you. Finding a supportive environment is crucial on so many levels. Sometimes this may mean switching markets altogether.
When I got out of law school, I clerked for a far-right conservative Republican federal district judge in a small town over a post office in Michigan. This job was not a good fit. I did not understand the logic being used to reach decisions (the logic being that large corporations and the government are just about always right), and they did not appreciate the things about me I felt were worthwhile. I did not like how big corporations, people with money and power, and the government always won. I felt like an outsider, like I had when I was younger, and I felt excluded by the people with money and power who surrounded me.
Instead of working for the judge for two years as they had hired me to do, I only worked for one. The judge’s hostility to my difficulty with his 100% pro-corporate and government decisions made me like a harmful virus in his midst. I was in the wrong environment. My entire career was in peril because the judge and I parted ways in June of that year, and I did not have a job lined up.
I initially planned on working in New York, but that market was not the best fit for me. It seemed too hectic, impersonal, and competitive. There were undoubtedly places that were good fits for me there, I am sure; however, the firm where I had been a summer associate expected me to return, and I was not a fan of this place. As luck would have it, several years later, this firm went out of business.
I also did not want to work in Detroit. I felt like my past followed me too much there. It reminded me of my failures. The market seemed too small and limiting. I felt like there were not enough people like myself—or, at least, I did not know how to find them.
I applied to law firms in Los Angeles on a whim and interviewed with several firms that were terrible fits, but a few that were perfect fits. I spoke with large law firms, small firms, and everything in between. The firm I liked most was Quinn Emanuel, and it was only 45 attorneys. It felt like such a good fit. It now is over 1000 attorneys. Back then, it only had one other office that housed one attorney in a strip mall in Palm Springs. Today it has offices all over the world. This firm was a pleasant atmosphere for me at the time compared to everything else available. I felt comfortable with the people there. I was happy there for a time because I made the right choice.
There were also things I did not like about this law firm—and I realized I needed something different. In reality, though, I probably should have stayed. I left because I just did not want to be an attorney (or a part of me was afraid of committing to it.) A clerkship fired me, a school I attended "fired" me, and I did not want to be in a place where I was too vulnerable. During my time there, I saw people lose their jobs and not become a partner for reasons I thought were unjust, and it made me feel like I could one day suffer the same fate. I did not want to.
I should have been able to understand why it was good for me and the things that were the best about this firm instead of the things that were not. I did not yet understand myself and what was important to me in my career. I needed something different from a law firm and to be in control of my destiny. Being in a law firm left me with the feeling that I was not in control over my future and left a part of me feeling separated from this.
Throughout my career in the legal placement business, I have emphasized and always believed that looking for a position was an essential exercise in self-discovery. I have concluded that people need information about themselves to succeed. I have always felt that it was important for people to understand the reasons they are having issues in their positions and the reasons they are not. I have believed that looking at more markets is essential, and being pushed to look at different employers is vital. I think having someone listen to us and look out for us is crucial.
I would never have looked at where I went to college, the University of Chicago, had someone close to me who was mentoring me pushed me to do so instead of other schools where I did not feel like I fit in. Sometimes, others must motivate you to look at different places.
I applied to Quinn Emanuel by accident—at the time, I did not apply to smaller firms like this and only contacted larger law firms. I was lucky to have found them.
When I applied to the judge who I ended up working with, I did not have a solid understanding of political parties or politics. Had I understood that I was not a far-right Republican, I likely would have realized this would not have worked out well.
We need to discover ourselves when we are doing a job search, which often requires help from others. It is not just a job search where this occurs, however. It is also from our mentors, legal career coaches (if we have one), the people we surround ourselves with, our ability to be open to criticism, and more.
Something that happens to a lot of attorneys when they wind up in a law firm is they discover they are in a very intimidating environment. Most often, these environments do not bring out the best in them. Instead, these environments make them feel bad about themselves as if something is wrong with them, and they do not belong there. They are unhappy and do not always know why.
They then often find legal recruiters, and these recruiters show them the same large firms in the same cities, and they end up right back where they started and unhappy. They believe their only option is going in-house, a change in the practice setting, or more. Most times, the solution is often a different type of law firm, or even working in a different city. Some attorneys belong in New York who is not there, and there are attorneys in New York who belong in smaller markets who are not there either.
Most people we encounter in our careers when we are seeking help are out for their self-interest. Most recruiters care only about their self-interest and will often push us where we should not go. Many career counselors only care about their self-interest. Most law firms and other legal hiring organizations only care about their self-interest.
Therefore, you need to fill yourself with the right information, look out for yourself, and do whatever you can to become the best person you can be. You need mentors and people who will push you to be a better person. These people will fill you with information, approve of you for trying to get better, and advise you on the right way to go. When you have this and take this seriously, your life will never be the same.
Whether it is a company that cares about you or a person, there are often very few opportunities we have in our lives to receive guidance that can help us make life-changing and significant decisions. I want interactions with our recruiters and company to result in an opportunity for self-transformation when appropriate.
Different companies have different core values. One of our core values is to push you to look at more markets and various types of firms. Another is to encourage you to read and understand the information we have available that can help you improve your career and become a better person. We pledge to help you find happiness practicing law inside of a law firm. We promise to tell you the good, bad, and ugly facts about the legal market. We also explain the potential obstacles you may face.
The world does not always want the truth. I am controversial, but I tell it like it is in the legal profession. It is something that often upsets people and makes good news—but I speak the truth because I care.
Something I have learned in two decades of legal placement is everyone has good in them, and the right environment can bring out personal success. Most attorneys out there have many options that are the right fit for them, but they need a push to explore those options. The issues I faced in my successes and failures in both life and my career have molded BCG Attorney Search. I want you to learn from my mistakes and make the best decisions for you based on my successes and failures.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. His most recent contribution to the legal community is Outplacement Attorney Resources (OAR.com), which directly teaches attorneys and law students the best ways to find legal jobs. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.