Keynote speech given by Judge Jenelle Wipper on May 12, 2017 at the Asian American Youth Leadership Conference (AAYLC).
Inhale Confidence, Exhale Doubt
I have no idea what to say to you. I have nothing to say. Ok, have a great conference. Bye. Just kidding but not really. Why the heck am I wasting your time? Well, my point is as simple as this….
I was sitting right there - where you are now! I remember being in the audience, listening to many speakers - giving experienced intel on how to succeed. But honestly… I can’t remember what they said. I can barely remember any of it. I do remember that some of them were better at it then others. Some kept my attention, some were funny, some were very engaging & some not so much. The bottom line is…. That intel, that information, may work for some - but not everyone. You all have to find your path in life, and most likely that path will be different than everybody else’s.
For me: I cannot tell you how many times that I was instructed to do something a certain way - and boy, I would desperately try to do it that way, just couldn’t. Didn’t fit, didn’t work for me - and all it did was make me feel like a failure. At times I felt down, like there was something wrong with me, like I wasn’t good enough. Of course some of it was because I still needed to figure out who I was, what I really wanted, and how to “do me.” And how to have the confidence to “do me.” And that, right there is what I’d like to talk about today! The Theme of my presentation: Inhale Confidence, Exhale Doubt.
Why Inhale Confidence/ Exhale Doubt? Before a trial, as jurors were brought into the courtroom I would feel my heart start to race. Nerves starting to get the best of me, and I would think I’m not ready, I’m going to bomb and then I would tell myself STOP …. I would slowly breath in, and slowly breath out. After a few reps of this I would feel like I was prepared and strong. I was Inhaling confidence/exhaling doubt.
During my time with you, I’ll be describing to you, issues like:
• The Imposter Syndrome – and how it may affect you. I will also share how I’ve experienced personally this syndrome and how I’ve learned to deal with it.
• I’ll also be showing you why the legal field should be viewed differently and why your role in this shift is so important.
What is the “Imposter syndrome” The Imposter syndrome is where one feels that they cannot accept their accomplishments and there’s a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” They can’t internalize they’re successes, so they have a feeling of incompetence.
QUOTE: Maya Angelou- author, poet and civil rights leader who spoke at President Clinton’s inauguration.
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
If she feels this way, it’s no wonder the rest of us can feel this was as well.
Termed in 1978 by a couple of clinical psychologists, it can cause anxiety, stress, low self-confidence, depression, shame, self-doubt…
Worldwide, it has an impact on approximately 70% of the population. Of that 70%, the majority being women & minorities. So, if you have ever felt that you are “not good enough;” that somehow ALL that you have achieved was a “fluke;” that at some point you’ll be “found-out” and they’ll discover that you’re a fraud. You are NOT ALONE! And, it’s NOT TRUE!
I can remember graduating high school and starting college at Oregon State. Corvallis and OSU – compared to where I grew up, OSU was huge! My freshman year was really tough. I was a fish out of water. Other students seeming not to know what to make of me, or my slight Hawaiian accent, quickly putting me in the category of “other” but with time and perseverance I was able to pick-up steam during the years to follow. I got involved in student govt. and ultimately became student body VP. I never could quite believe that my success was legitimate. I felt like I was just lucky… Or that I was the token Asian/female in the group. There was NO WAY – it was because I did something right. I was convinced that AT ANY SECOND if I wasn’t perfect; or say the right thing; act the right way; etc… I would be “found-out” and everything would disappear.
Going to law school produced the same doubts as college. I went to Willamette law school (in Salem). On top of the fears that I had in college I also had to deal with the fact that I was competing with the crème of the academic crop in terms of students.
Towards the end of my first year, I accepted a law clerk position at the Oregon Department of Justice. This was a very coveted position, which many law students wanted. Another student called me out and said the only reason I got the job was because I was a minority. Of course she didn’t say it to my face- just behind my back and to other students. If this happened today, she probably would have posted it on Facebook or tweeted it. Hearing this gave me a combination of being scared out of my mind (is this true?) and being really really angry. I decided then and there to prove it her and me that she was wrong.
As Jeremy Lin, the NBA basketball player says: “You have to find a way to turn that negative energy into something positive that motivates you.”
Fast forward to today. Now, I’ve been a judge- for 6 years. Here I am handling all kinds of complex cases, multi-million dollar lawsuits I hear murder and robbery cases, and I’m involved in educating other judges. This past February when I was asked to be a panelist with other successful Filipinas in San Francisco. My first thought is What Would I have to contribute? Then I meet my other panelist and I as I’m sitting there during the panel I keep thinking OMG “who am I/what have I done compared to these women?” After our panel a couple of the other panelist came up to me and said that’s how they were feeling about me!!!!
Today- even though I still deal with thoughts and feelings of imposter syndrome I know they are just that--Thoughts and feelings and not reality.
FOCUS ON PROVIDING VALUE. Genuinely try to help someone else. GO-OUT and do something that truly Helps somebody! This gives you empowerment; gives you confidence. (when working as trial lawyer helping victims- talking to members of the community)
DON’T GLORIFY FAILURE – move-on! Most failures are blown out of proportion in your head. The best basketball players miss most of the shots they take. The best traders lose money on most trades. The best football teams inevitably lose. Losing is just part of the game. If you just MOVE-ON, you’ll see that you’re a real contender – not a fake. Everyone has doubts, the best gift you can give the world is to JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD! regardless of the doubts—because it gives everyone else the permission to move forward as well.
Develop a support group of colleagues & friends – some may be the friends you meet here today.
Have a trusted mentor, or partner that you can voice your concerns with
Celebrate and share your achievements
Accept compliments – don’t dismiss as luck
My last area I want to talk to you about is Law. I often get asked how did I become a lawyer or judge, I’m not really sure when the dream actually took hold, but as a child I thought I would be a Rock star… until I realized I couldn’t sing, and anyone who knows me knows I can’t do math to save my life. As a five year old, when my brother couldn’t fully speak yet, I remember the sense of responsibility of being the one to translate his baby talk to my parents and being the one to give him a voice. I remember always having to take up the other side of an argument with my mother. I remember my high school history teacher encouraging me to take up a career in the law --so I guess those were the roots of my career.
The Legal System – it is an incredible mechanism and an important part of the checks and balances system. However - it is not as diverse as it should be, and this can weaken people’s opinion of it. The fact is: is the legal system is for everyone, in all groups, neighborhoods, and communities.
Because the legal system touches all aspects of our life- it is important that the numbers of API lawyers and judges increase.
If our goal is to develop the next generation of leaders from our community then you should be concerned about the low number of API lawyers. We must do our part to increase the numbers to at least mirror the percentage of our population.
The population of Oregon is about 4 million. Of that 4M, over 200,000 are Asian or Pacific Islander. (6%).
There’s about 15,000 lawyers in Oregon -- only 400 of ‘em are Asian/Pacific Islander. (2.6%).
So as you can see, we’re not representing our population. We should be at 6% - or at least closer than 2.6!!!!
Our community suffers because of that disparity – and the legal field is a foundation for many very-important roles. Take for example that... Many political leaders are drawn from the legal field. To have APIs in key leadership positions in government - we would need to have more APIs in the legal system. So… if we’re to RISE-UP and serve the people in our circles and foster growth of the API community these numbers are not acceptable and we must strive to do better.
So why are so few API’s in the legal field? Well.. We have all seen the stereotypical lawyer on TV and movies. Frankly, we may have met that person. The stereotypical lawyer is male, white, either old or slick and is loud, aggressive, interested in money and winning at all cost. It’s no wonder that this is NOT a path people steer you toward. Combine this with our cultural norms/traditions – which value a completely different set of traits in one’s profession. IT IS IMPORTANT to change the perception of what is a lawyer. This alone might help advance the attractiveness of the profession.
What is a lawyer?
A spokesperson for those who cannot speak for themselves
A translator- literally and figuratively
A family member who has passed away
Someone who doesn’t speak the language
Someone who translates the facts/law of clients or one side to the opposing side, to the jury or a judge.
Who better to serve as this person, in this role than someone who can understand, empathize and has experience living between multiple cultures and ways of life. Who is better than you..? Nobody!
I’ve mentioned before I questioned my abilities as a lawyer and judge. Part of that was because I didn’t look like the typical lawyer or judge that I saw all around me and that I wasn’t yet comfortable within my own skin….
The key significance here is, that our society is a visual society – we have to see it to believe it! And there’s two sides to this… 1) our role models need to be visual role models! and 2) “others” need to see us (our community) filling those roles, only then will it be perceived as a norm.
Justice Sotomayor also said:
“When a young person… grows up without living examples of what she may aspire to become … her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration: his or her existence is confirmation…(that) “yes, someone like me can do this”.
Youlee example. I didn’t think I would succeed as a lawyer in law school until I saw an example of an Asian American lawyer. (Youlee) As soon as I saw her, before she even said a word I was instantly reassured.
I have seen this come full circle when I have seen Asian jurors, lawyers, or witnesses come into my courtroom and have that same look across their face.
Others need to see it to accept it. If enough examples of Asian, Pacific Islanders are seen in the role of lawyer, judge and they cover all ranges of personality & norms then it will be understood to be acceptable and the way it is.
As our next generation of leaders I challenge you to shift the way the legal world is viewed, and shift the way our community views the legal world. Now more than ever the need for diversity in the law and government is critical. I urge you to Rise to the challenge, and consider a career in law & government.
You will learn today many other tools for Accomplishing your goals personally and as a member of our community - For Reaching, Inspiring, Enduring and Striving. Never forget that you and your path in life is unique and important wherever it takes you. Learn to Identify the Imposter syndrome for what it is, consider law and government as a career. And whenever you feel like you can’t take that next step… take a moment and simple Inhale confidence and Exhale Doubt. Thank you.