I will never forget the first time someone criticized my writing and told me to rethink my career choices. It devastated me to the point that it almost destroyed me and my passion for writing.
During my first semester of law school, our legal writing professor told us we needed to meet with her one-on-one to discuss our research memo. It was supposed to give the feel of an associate meeting with the partner at a law firm in a one-on-one session to discuss the parameters of their legal position in a case. I opened the envelope and my 5-page memo was marked up and down with red ink and a score of a check minus (which by the way, was the lowest possible score one could receive). I couldn’t get past the amount of red ink or the low score.
I sat down in her office with a meek demeanor and sunk further into the chair as she spoke to me.
“Your memo missed the ball completely. I am saying this very candidly because I believe it’s important to be honest. I don’t think law school is for you. Your legal writing is poor. You don’t really think or write like a lawyer. You know, it’s not too late to leave the school and get part of your tuition back.”
I was 22 years old and full of so many hopes and dreams of being a trial attorney. In that one moment, everything crumbled around me. I locked myself in my bedroom of my apartment for hours and drowned myself in a pool of tears.
My heart felt as though it had been shattered into a million pieces. I never had someone tell me that I couldn’t be something or someone I wanted to be. That conversation destroyed me for awhile. It crushed my ego, hurt my feelings beyond resolve, and it haunted me. I felt worthless. I beat myself up for weeks and rehashed her words to me over and over again.
The next semester, I took a subsequent research and writing class and heard the complete opposite. This professor sat with me one-on-one and said: “I see your talent, but we just need to tweak the way you lay out your argument in your legal writing. I think you could possibly write the strongest appellate brief in the class.” And, so it began. Determination overcame any negative thoughts that entered my mind.
It turned out for me that I earned the second highest score in my legal writing class and an invitation to join the law school’s moot court team. I ultimately turned it down to focus on being a research assistant to my criminal law professor. But, what I learned from the two different semesters is that the delivery of a message can impact us greatly. It can make us or possibly break us, if we allow it.
You see, we put limits on ourselves through our thoughts, and then we limit the actions we take. We underestimate our greatness or that we can achieve something greater than we ever thought possible. Had I listened to my first legal writing professor, I would have succumbed to my own personal defeat, quit law school, and enrolled in a creative writing program at NYU (by the way, that was a dream of mine for many years). My life would have panned out so differently.
I took my professor’s defeating thoughts with me when I ran the New York City Marathon in 2011. In that situation, my limiting belief was that I was not a true runner. I limited myself to the belief that I was overweight, slow as molasses compared to most marathon runners, and I had no athletic prowess. When the darkness of my thoughts began to overcome me in the toughest parts of the race at around mile 22, I remembered how only I had the power to limit myself. I wanted to give in to the pain, the fatigue, the legs that felt like they were stuck in quicksand. The negative self-talk that I put myself through in that first semester of law school was overcome by refusing to succumb to defeat or quitting what I wanted to achieve. For me, the marathon was about pushing myself beyond the limits in my mind and my body. I crossed that finish line and became limitless. Soon everything in my life that followed also became limitless.
If someone tries to tell you that you can’t be what you want to be, shut down their ideas and statements by proving that only you have the power to choose and define your limits. Remember, only you have that infinite power.
Originally published at medium.com