The number one piece of career advice I’ve received? “Can’t hurt, might help.”
“Can’t hurt, might help.” That’s what the partner I was working with said to me when I was a year or so into my big law career. The context? I can’t quite recall. But insert your situation of choice, and I promise you, those four words can work wonders.
Deceptively simple, “can’t hurt, might help” has the extraordinary ability to silence the naysayers that live in my mind. You know the ones – they tell you you’re not smart enough or that the question you want to ask is stupid. And they get louder and more deafening right when you have a potentially great idea or work up the courage to take a chance on yourself.
“Can’t hurt, might help” deescalates the doubt and panic ignited by the peanut gallery of your mind. It helps you realize that the worst-case scenario of taking a chance is learning something new and moving on with your day.
Here’s how it works in practice – Let’s say you’re meeting with a senior attorney about a new assignment, and as he’s telling you the facts of the case, you realize there’s a standing issue at play. You could quietly take notes and wait for him to tell you what he believes the relevant issues are. Or you could think to yourself, hey I really do think there’s a standing issue so I’ll pipe up because “can’t hurt, might help.” Now let’s say you choose the latter, and guess what? You’re right, and the senior attorney is super impressed with your issue-spotting skills. But let’s say there isn’t a standing issue… even then, you’ve just shown that you’re thinking critically about potential issues and engaged in the matter at hand. And you’ll learn what the senior attorney believes the issues are and why, which undoubtedly will be a helpful teaching moment.
There are so many other ways in which “can’t hurt, might help” can show up in your day-to-day practice. Maybe you’re a young litigator who has yet to take a deposition. It “can’t hurt” and “might help” to ask to observe one. Or perhaps you’re interested in serving on your firm’s hiring committee but no one has asked you to. It “can’t hurt” and “might help” to ask how you can get involved. In both examples, the worst-case scenario is being told no. But even then, you’ve indicated your interest and enthusiasm so the next time an opportunity to attend a deposition or join the hiring committee arises, you’ll be top of mind.
“Can’t hurt, might help” is the number one piece of career (and really, life) advice I’ve received, and I challenge you to try it out for yourself the next time you feel a twinge of self-doubt. After all – can’t hurt, might help.