Ms. Pre-JD: Learning the Value of Authenticity in 2017

After reading the application requirements for the 2018 Writers-in-Residence program, I was reminded of career advice I received this past Summer that permanently changed my path:

“You have to be really good at what you do and you have to look for opportunities to expand what you do.”

A simple answer from Esta Stecher, in response to someone asking the million-dollar question: “How can we become as successful as you have been? Any tips?” The answer was so simple that you could hear the eye-rolls from people around me, as they remarked on how obvious the advice was.

For me, though, the truth underlying the statement overwhelmed its obviousness. There is no magic advice to becoming successful. And, more importantly to me at the time, there is no magic personality to becoming successful. A good part of my time last Spring was spent agonizing over comparisons with other people, wondering whether their path was more prone to success than mine. In truth, that time spent trying to ‘become extroverted’ or struggling to ‘network like a natural’ was better spent doing what I do best and expressing my talents, in the way that I know how, to the people that matter and in the places that matter. Essentially, being good at what I do and looking for ways to expand what I do.

The simplicity of her statement made me step back and reconsider my approach to success. And, looking at the paths of many well-regarded people in the legal field, it’s easy to see that there are multiple paths and meanings to success. The question, “How can we become as successful as you have been?”, was laden with assumptions. Namely, that Esta Stecher’s path to success could be exactly replicated to produce people of the same pay-grade and regard. Obviously, that isn’t true. She used her own intuition to push her unique talents to the people and in the places appropriate for her at that time and in those situations. I don’t necessarily possess those talents or that intuition, and the people and places in my life will be different.

Since then, my goals have shifted. I’m more focused on using my intuition and optimizing my talents (along with hard-work). I’m looking to have conversations with people who I connect with and aiming to expand my work in ways that I am interested in, even if that means discomfort sometimes. Often, authenticity is used as a buzzword. But 2017 has taught me that authentic interest, talent, and connection have no replacement. So, focus on the path and the challenges that optimize your ability to express this authenticity. It may seem like the path of least resistance…probably because it is. When you are enjoying your path, it doesn’t feel quite so painful.

And with that, I close out Ms. Pre-JD for 2017. As always, share your comments below.

Thank you all for weathering this year with me, and for reading my degree-less musings. I wish you all a fabulous holiday season, and the ability to connect with your brand of success in the new year.


Nikki Datta is a junior at Columbia University in the City of New York. She serves as Executive Editor of the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and is currently an intern at the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY). She is also the founder and President of Columbia University Women in Law and Politics (cuwilp.weebly.com). Connect with Nikki at: www.linkedin.com/in/nikkidatta

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