Publish date: 17 June 2021
Rachel Last with client

Last month I was shortlisted as a finalist in the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards for 2021 in the Wellness Advocate Category. These awards recognise young rising stars within the legal industry aged 30 and under who excel in their chosen field, displaying key leadership qualities such as dedication, professionalism and eagerness to grow both themselves and their firm.

Instantly, I thought it must be a mistake … and the fear set in that I may not be good enough for such a prestigious award. After all, I work for a boutique law firm (the best in the country I might add!) but I would be coming up against those representing large national firms.

“I’m not doing anything worthy or ground-breaking,” I thought to myself. And “the work I’ve done in promoting mental health and wellbeing in the legal industry is small fry compared to others,” I heard myself say.

I was then even more shocked to discover that there were only three finalists in the Wellness Advocate category Australia-wide. Of course, I instantly looked up my competition, reading about the truly incredible things they have each done in their sphere. Again, more self-doubt kicked in as I felt they were each more-than-worthy candidates.

Clearly fear is not something we desire. It conjures up real feelings of self-doubt, worry and can lead to stress in our bodies. You also don’t hear from too many writers suggesting that fear can be a good thing.

Until now.

In the month leading up to the awards ceremony, which was held in Sydney on 11 June 2021, I felt a slow change occurring in my mindset. The reality of being a finalist began to sink in and I felt a tad of pride grip me. Where I had initially doubted that I was even worthy of being a finalist, I slowly began to believe that perhaps I had a chance of winning. One in three, I thought, were pretty good odds. The walls that I had built up around myself to protect from vulnerability, disappointment and criticism, all slowly began to fall away, brick by brick. My confidence levels began to skyrocket. I had hope. I felt worthy.

I have always been a strong advocate for mental health and wellbeing, particularly in the legal profession. I refuse to not talk about the elephant in the room just because it might make some people uncomfortable – the more we talk about it, the easier the conversations become and the greater opportunity we have to provide support to our peers and our clients … and find solutions.

Being a finalist was also a great opportunity to recognise my team here at Travis Schultz & Partners. Together we are a team of compensation lawyers with compassion, focused on delivering a truly personalised service. The recognition of being a finalist shines a light on our contribution to the compensation law space and reinforces the strength of our service and dedication to real and authentic connections within our community and engaging with our clients.

The awards ceremony was held last Friday night. I was unable to attend in person as I was away taking part in a strategic planning workshop with my colleagues. I was anxious and oh-so nervous. I knew my category was being announced at a certain time and I became more and more jittery as that time drew near. Suddenly the message came through and my breath caught in my throat. This was it!

I lost.

I was so disappointed and a bit embarrassed. Here I was, in front of all my colleagues whom I admire a great deal, and I had just lost. I felt silly for ever thinking I stood a chance of winning. I began wrestling with thoughts of self-doubt. I did a poor job of ‘holding it together’, excused myself from the group the first chance I was given and retreated to solitude so that I could process the loss.

That night, I received a text message from the managing partner of our firm, Travis, that said:

“Congrats on making it as a finalist. We are so proud of your achievements. It’s just the start – a platform for you to build on as you grow a profile as an advocate in the space and as a genuine change agent. Well done on this first step in what will undoubtedly be a long journey.”

Wow, Travis has no idea (until now J) what his words of encouragement meant to me.

A few days later, a colleague sent me an email checking in and encouraging me to nurture myself. Her words inspired me to write this blog, to be vulnerable and to share this very humbling experience. She said that it’s okay to feel disappointed. She reminded me to give myself permission to be imperfect. She said I must offer myself support and care and be tender with my heart. She said to notice all that I am already doing so, so well and delight in that. And lastly, she said to remind myself of my worth, over and over, until I believe it. So, I’m trying!

Her words reminded me that it is okay to be tender. I do not have to harden myself. I am allowed to experience emotions. But most of all: I am allowed to be imperfect, and that’s okay. We tend to be our own toughest critics in this industry and that means sometimes, in the hard times, we need a gentle reminder of all that we are doing well. A small piece of encouragement from a friend can be very inspiring. I may not have won this award, but I am worthy and I’m still incredibly passionate about making a difference to the lives of others in the mental wellness space.

It’s heartening to reflect and recognise what I have learnt from this experience. It’s a timely reminder also that we shouldn’t let the fear of failure limit us from putting ourselves out there and having a go. Fear can become your friend if we follow it back to its source. Clearly, I was clinging to the thought of losing this award as being a reflection of my abilities and the fear of failure rattled me.

So, what have I learnt? Experiencing adversity is the perfect time to turn the situation into an opportunity to learn and grow and if I could be so bold, allow fear to become your friend. More importantly, it is a stark reminder for me of how brave our clients are when they first make contact. It takes huge strength to conjure up enough courage to take the first step towards seeking compensation and being prepared to have patience to follow a process and to stick out the journey. Majority have been to hell and back and don’t feel like they deserve or have the energy to fight for their rights. Their courage reminds me of my purpose.

It’s our job to provide them with solid support and show them a pathway to the social justice they deserve, help them to dissolve their fears during this time of uncertainty and anxiety, and guide them through a process that can help them find hope again for their future.

I would like to pass on my heart-felt congratulations to all the other awards finalists who experienced a loss this time around – I hope these words help you in the same way they helped me. AND I would also like to pass on my sincere congratulations to all the 30 under 30 winners – particularly Lauren Kelindeman from Legalite – you absolutely deserve this win and I feel humbled to have been a finalist in your category!

“Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death”

Earl Wilson

Rachel Last
Associate Lawyer
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