Volume 9, Issue 4
It was the middle of December. My eyes blinked open suddenly. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. A single question raced through my head. “Am I fitting in?”
My preoccupation with ‘fitting in’ began at a firm-organised ‘clerkship, practise-group information-roundtable-seminar’. The trophy grads had been wheeled out – a mighty display of well-roundedness, passion and personality. The HR team, each of them with a bizarre job title*, carefully stage-managed the event from start to finish. The message was made abundantly clear: if you don’t fit well with us, we don’t want to know you.
At the networking drinks afterwards, I slipped so very casually into a group of fellow penultimates circling a graduate. I smoothly picked up a glass of red from a waiter and listened to the interesting, firm-related conversation that ensued. I engaged in appropriate banter. Things were going swimmingly.
The graduate, having been sucked dry of information, moved onto the next awaiting gaggle. A debrief ensued between Networking Man and Networking Woman (the anti-heroes of the clerkship process). I listened intently, hoping for glean wisdom from their networking prowess.
Networking Woman stated: “I’m only drinking white wine because it won’t stain my teeth”, flashing her pearly whites to be adored by all.
Networking Man replied: “Avoid the arancini balls – you don’t want to have garlic breath”, breathing minty smugness onto each of us doe-eyed onlookers.
In my hands was a glass of red wine and a greasy napkin that had only minutes earlier protected my hands from a burning ball of rice and garlic. I looked around, surrounded by white-wine drinkers. Behind a nearby crowd, I noticed the waiter carrying the arancini balls. Eyeing me off to see if I was ready for another career-ending, garlic bomb. Everybody else was obviously shunning him, why wasn’t I?!
With my breath a lost cause, I discarded the red, along with my rationality, and picked up a white.
Fitting into the firm by embracing uniformity was the new way. Cleansing myself of any difference became priority #1.
On my second day of the clerkship, I was invited to grab a takeaway coffee with the team. How very normal! The problem was that I had literally just purchased a coffee. My mind raced, assuming it would be the height of offense to have had a coffee already. It went like this:
Senior Associate walks past my desk, asking whether I needed a coffee. I surreptitiously placed the cup in my desk drawer, removing the evidence, and notified him of the life or death level of importance that I get a caffeinated beverage in me,** and off we went. After this successful skirmish, all I had to deal with were the audible effects the two coffees were having on my digestive system. All in the name of fitting in!
Having transformed into the corporate automaton that would make me a desirable hire, I devised a recipe to determine the appropriate times to laugh.
Sounds ridiculous, I hear you think? But how would you know how much to laugh and at what volume when a partner says something funny? My solution: laugh… but always a millisecond behind everybody else to measure team enthusiasm. Respond accordingly.
As I walked around on my final day to say my goodbyes, my supervisor beckoned me into her office. As we shook hands, she pulled me closer and she whispered: “One of us.”
Embracing Uniformity is a third year JD Student
* Development & Culture Consultant and Talent Growth Manager
** Hindsight has made me worry I may have come across a little too strong. Fuck you, hindsight.
Also in this week’s issue of De Minimis: