You are a Giant to Someone

The next time you face a challenge, one that makes you feel vulnerable, I encourage you to choose to take it on. Because people are in the gallery watching you, and to them, you are a giant.

GUy Tustin

Guy Tustin
The University of Tennessee College of Law
Class of 2021

Marshall Ganz, an expert in leadership at Harvard University, tells us that a good story has three things: challenges, choices, and outcomes.[1]  I’d like to tell you a story with all three.  

In the fall of 2018, my first semester of 1L, the College of Law hosted the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in the Kirby Matherne Courtroom.  The gallery was filled to the brim with the eager eyes and ears of future advocates, hanging on the words and gestures of the bench.  As each attorney stood and walked to the podium to present their argument, I remember thinking “These folks are giants.”  Not the literal kind, but in my eyes these attorneys were elites.  They were the type of people that faced challenges and carried themselves with confidence, which to me made them giants.  The crème de la crème, the best of the best, the … you get the picture.  I only hoped to be in their shoes one day. 

Fast-forward two years, I wrap up an incredible semester as a student attorney in the Advocacy Clinic and am privileged to be offered a clerkship over the summer.  My task is to manage the cases until they are transferred to new student attorneys in the fall.  Professor Radice (or Joy, as we call her in clinic) assigns me a case in the Tennessee Court of Appeals.  At the time we had a Motion to Dismiss pending and the opposing party was unrepresented. No big deal; just work the file, keep in touch with the Court of Appeals, and watch the docket.  Easy, right?  Wrong.  

Challenge: Suddenly, in a flurry of file stamps, the opposing party retains counsel and the court gives new counsel leave to file a response to our Motion to Dismiss.  The next thing I know, the court has docketed an oral argument for July 21, 2020.  This means that oral argument in the Tennessee Court of Appeals would take place over the summer.  This means that oral argument in the Tennessee Court of Appeals would be presented … by me?  I was hesitant because the thought of myself standing at the podium, with my client’s future resting in my words, made me feel vulnerable.

At this point, I was confronted with choices—choices that would determine the next few weeks of my summer and possibly my life.  Brené Brown, an expert in the area of courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, says that “vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.  Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”[2]  I chose to be vulnerable.  I chose to challenge myself and argue for my client in front of the Court of Appeals just like the giants I watched as a 1L.  Joy and I started prepping immediately.  Quickly, we had three moot courts scheduled with law professors as judges and a detailed preparation outline set with rigid deadlines.  Our first moot was rough.  I found myself whispering the responses, “I don’t know the answer to that question” or “I’m just going to move on.”  But, the mooters weren’t trying to trick me, they were trying to help me. Professors Barton, Vojdik, White, and Lehberger offered invaluable feedback on what I did well—and what I could improve.  Professor Jewell offered advice on constructing my arguments in a nuanced manner.  The whole time I chose to listen, I chose to take notes, and I chose to apply their critiques like my life depended on it. But, most importantly, I chose not to take the critique personally. 

Joy remained confident throughout the whole process and by the end of my third moot I began to share that confidence.  Mid fist-bump, Joy said candidly, “you’re going to do great, if I didn’t believe that I would be presenting the argument myself.”  I believed her.  

Outcomes: On Tuesday July 21, 2020, I stood at the podium and argued in front of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, like a giant.  When it was all over Joy and I listened to a voicemail from Professor Penny White, “Nailed it. Nailed it. Naiiiilled it,” and she was right, a few short weeks later we found out that our client had received a favorable outcome.  We won!

We all have challenges.  When we are confronting those challenges, we make choices that lead to outcomes.  The next time you face a challenge, one that makes you feel vulnerable, I encourage you to choose to take it on.  Because people are in the gallery watching you, and to them, you are a giant. 

[1] Marshall Ganz. 2009. What Is Public Narrative: Self, Us & Now (Public Narrative Worksheet). Working Paper.

[2] BROWN, B. (2017). Rising Strong How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Random House Inc.

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