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The Singapore Law Gazette

Climbing Out of the Comfort Zone

“There is no comfort in the growth zone and no growth in the comfort zone.”
— Unknown

It is indeed no secret that the practice of law is a lifelong marathon, not a sprint.

It is no secret either that clinging to these words of wisdom in the course of one’s practice can be challenging, given long work hours, deadlines, and (often times) mismatched expectations. I think many can relate to heightened frustrations and anxiety as a junior practitioner, dread, and the feeling of losing sight of the end goal.

Much has been said (and will continue to be said) about some practical steps that we, as junior lawyers, can take at the workplace to ease the demands of this marathon. Whether its seeking assistance through one of Law Society’s various practitioner-support channels, requesting regular feedback on work and maintaining open communication channels with superiors in your law firm or simply unwinding with a group of trusted peers over dinner on Fridays – it is important to remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how bleak things are.

I shall not add to the list and expound the myriad ways of surviving the early years of practice. Rather – I thought I would add some colour to the quote at the beginning of this article in relation to my personal experience with another practice of mine outside of the realms of law and oddly enough, how that practice continues to profoundly impact my legal journey.

Those who have known me for a long time can attest to the fact that I am quite possibly one of the last individuals they had in mind taking up martial arts (yes!) and (surprise!) loving the journey. I first stepped onto the mats about a year ago and am avidly training in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai (Thai Boxing). These two forms of martial arts are night and day in comparison to the other. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an art based on the concept of grappling and ground fighting using certain techniques that control the opponent for him/her to submit. Muay Thai, also known as the Art of Eight Limbs, as the name suggests, is a combative sport that uses stand-up striking and clinching techniques against the opponent.

I took classes for these out of pure curiosity at the start. Being an action movie buff (think “IP Man” and “Enter the Dragon”), I have always been fascinated by the mechanics of martial arts behind the stunt work and impressed at the skill and dedication to the craft that these professionals have honed in their lifetime. I was undoubtedly nervous and walked in for my first class (feeling very intimidated, might I add) thinking that I would likely not return. I was sorely mistaken as I walked out dripping in sweat, happy tears, and a newfound sense of empowerment. These classes represent more than just picking up the skill of martial arts. It represents a disciplined way of life, builds grit and character, which in turn, encourages personal, emotional, and professional development.

As a young lawyer, I think it would be helpful to share some of the main lessons that I have taken away from my training sessions. I hope these issues resonate with some of you and will provide useful guidance in your career progression.

1. Overcoming Self-doubt

Having been victim to this (as I think some you may be too), I think it goes beyond just plain worry or anxiety. This means that there is a constant nagging internalised fear of not being good enough and that accusatory voice in your head labelling you as the one incompetent person in an industry full of pros. Imagine Jiminy Cricket as the worst cheerleader ever right before an important meeting or hearing. It is that repeated thought cycle of feeling out of depth, doubting that you are good enough, diligent, or resilient enough to excel.

I think this is not something that we can wish away overnight or even after a few years in practice. Having said that, making the effort to recognise your strengths in an unrelated field such as in martial arts (or in any other discipline for that matter) may just do the trick. In working my way through (often) gruelling training sessions with groups of like-minded strangers, I find that I do not have the luxury of time to doubt myself in executing moves. The moment’s hesitation in grappling literally is the difference between submitting an opponent and being submitted myself. There is also the mental strength gained in class to push your body past predetermined limits. Take shadow boxing for instance. The clumsiness and awkwardness may fall away with time and practice, but the drive and confidence gained from witnessing my progress and growth has undoubtedly carried over to my work and daily life.

2. Mentors

It takes years, even a lifetime to master martial arts, a lot like the mastery of law. As you know, skill development is a constant work in progress. The process can be made easier I think by surrounding yourself with good mentors, be it your boss, directors in your firm, someone senior that you respect in practice or even someone unrelated to the profession altogether. Having someone in your corner who has been there, done that before, means having an advice outlet and learning from their mistakes. Not to suggest that you should breeze through your practice riding on backs of these past lessons – I am a strong believer in making your own (reasonable!) mistakes and growing from them. The Professors in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krus in Muay Thai embody this given that their own teachers and masters have taught them everything they know. Similarly, I think that navigating your practice with someone you respect, and trust can go great lengths to your personal progression and career development.

3. Embracing the Journey

I think this is by far the most important for me. As a young lawyer, it is often tempting to be in a rush to progress to reach your professional goals, whether it is a promotion to senior associate, partner, or otherwise. It is not uncommon to compare yourself against your peers, in terms of salary and benefits, and benchmark your own abilities against theirs. What martial arts has taught me, frankly, is patience. And understanding that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Compared to other systems of martial arts for example, it takes a minimum of 10 years for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students to earn the highest rank, a black belt. Even then, these black belts do not profess to know everything, and constantly take time to learn from those around them. That is no exaggeration; there are easily thousands of variations of techniques to learn and master, and years of consistent training are required for black belts to execute them correctly as second nature. Of course, resting on your laurels and being comfortable with what you have achieved so far should not be the way to go either. Putting in the work to progress is. I realise that every step of the journey (i.e. the long hours and mistakes) matters as much as the destination, whatever that may be, and that the most important thing is to keep moving forward and becoming one per cent better each day no matter how tough things get.

This brings me back to the beginning – the symbiotic relationship between growth and comfort zones. I think that this is crucial to expanding our horizons. I started this journey a short a while ago and have not looked back since. The confidence and skill in learning how to trust my judgment, instincts and abilities, and humility to accept that I do not have it all figured out is invaluable.

I encourage you to try an activity that you never thought in a million years you would; I dare promise that you will not be disappointed.

Member, Young Lawyers Committee
The Law Society of Singapore