Learning From Our Anger

Finding greater happiness in your practice and in your life is not about painting over the ugly parts of life with prettier colors.

You cannot simply “thought swap” your way to happiness.

However, when you know and understand that all the results you are creating in your life are anchored in your thoughts, you start to see the utility in viewing aspects of your life from a different perspective.

For instance, I had a free consult with a midlevel associate attorney who was stuck in anger. She explained to me that she had been discriminated against at her firm–her male cohorts were being paid more than her despite equivalent hours billed.

Unfortunately, this experience is not all uncommon in the corporate law firm environment. Recent studies have revealed that women at law firms earn less than their male counterparts even when they work longer hours and have more experience.

None of us want to be part of that statistic and I can certainly relate to the inclination to cast aspersions upon any perceived pay discrepancy.

As part of my work with this particular client, we first examined the facts of the situation. What did she know to be true about the situation?

Separating the facts from your opinions and perceptions is always the first required step whenever you are spinning in some negative emotion. Know what parts of your story are self-created drama and what parts of factual.

Force yourself to look at the facts and separate out the drama.

If you are going to take authentic action, you must have a clear picture of the facts. You cannot succeed in any action when you are operating from your own drama.

The Facts: A male associate told my client he was paid $10,000 more than her and that he billed 300 hours less than her.

The Drama: I am being discriminated against. This is unfair. I will never be treated fairly. I don’t trust the management. No one has my back. He doesn’t deserve to make more than me. There’s no point in working hard if I won’t get fairly compensated for it. I don’t want to do this anymore.

The sheer amount of drama outweighed the facts by a landslide. There wasn’t much that had actually happened. There seemed to be a lot of holes in the facts. Lots of opportunities for exploration.

Before we give any weight to the drama, we have to decide whether the facts WARRANT the dramatics.

Do you have the full story? Have you done your diligence? Are you settling for victimhood?

Once we examined the facts of the situation, we examined the thoughts behind all that anger.

Typically, when I have a client present with hot boiling rage and indignation, what I find is that the anger is a cover for some underlying hurt. It’s simply easier to be angry at someone else than it is to feel sad or disappointed; to own those negative emotions and examine the associated thoughts. When you are angry, it is directed at someone else or something else. Something outside of you made you a victim and you are just defending yourself.

There is no self-exploration to be done in anger. Anger is easy. It feels worthy.

For this particular client, it was easier to be angry at the firm for mistreating her than explore how painful it was for her to be treated unfairly. To come all this way and work so hard for her law degree only to find that she would be mistreated by her employer because of her gender. She was shocked and saddened by this possibility and it de-valued her perception of the legal industry. She had glossed over these hurt feelings and jumped right into anger.

When we ignore our negative emotions and bury them under anger, we ignore what is really going on. We deny ourselves our own truth. Without experiencing those negative emotions and those associated thoughts, we can never shift away from anger to something more productive.

We will never shift the landscape of corporate law firms from a place of anger. To make lasting change, we must find a better way to approach our experiences. This does not mean making them prettier.

What it requires of us is to see each perceived slight as an opportunity to bridge the gap. To have honest and courageous conversations. To speak our truth. You can only access that clarity and takes those actions if you remove the anger, allow the hurt and disappointment, and start developing a different strategy.

As women in corporate law firms, there will be experiences that you are not going to want to “feel good” about.

There will be events and circumstances that will challenge you and wake you up to some ugly realities. Don’t reach for anger right away; allow yourself to be hurt and disappointed. Take a good look at these events and find a way to use them as a stepping stone on this journey. To create lasting change.

Need support? Sign up for one of my free mini-sessions–I offer three each week. Sign up before they are gone!

Don’t allow anger to run the course of your career. No lasting social change ever came on the back of anger. We have to find another way.

Horrible Bosses

Whether you are a practicing attorney or engaged in another profession, horrible bosses are a thing.

Why is it that we have such a hard time working with certain people?

What role do we play in this interpersonal tug-of-war?

I had a free mini-session earlier this week and my client was telling me that her boss often comes into her office unannounced and loudly explains to her what she has done wrong. He leaves her door open during these sessions so that her secretary, the associate next door, and anyone walking the hall can listen as he surmises her short-comings. These exchanges always left her mortified and angry and she wanted his behavior to stop.

Our challenges with other humans are usually founded upon some faulty beliefs:

There are basic principles and standards of how people should treat each other.

People don’t often act like they are supposed to.

Both of these lines of thinking are problematic. Both of these notions will cause you pain and suffering in your personal relationships.

How are people “supposed” to act?

Exactly as they do.

That is the nature of free will. That is every human’s right. When we tell ourselves people are supposed to act differently than they do, we are fighting against reality.

When you resist reality and argue that people should be different, you will lose (but only 100% of the time!).

There is no upside in thinking that others should act any differently than they do. Let it go. The way they act is exactly how they are supposed to act. Whatever they are saying and doing is not within your purview to judge or control. Just let it be.

The only thing you can control is how you decide to show up and respond to it.

For every relationship, many of us carry unspoken “manuals” about how the other person should act. The manual for our bosses states that they should be professional and collected. Sensitive to your needs and willing to guide your development and growth. They are not supposed to berate you or embarrass you.

They are not supposed to be horrible.

We believe that if they would just act how we want them to act, we would be happier and feel better about ourselves. That is a complete lost cause. That means that the only way we can feel more confident and secure with our practice is if the other person changes.

What are the odds of that working for you?!

We can’t control others. We’ve all tried at one time or other and discovered the impossibility of that task. So if we can’t control other humans and if other people dictate how we feel, we are all screwed.

We get to control how we receive the actions and words of our bosses. We get to decide what their actions mean about ourselves as attorneys and professionals.

When you spend all your energy ranting about how the other person “should” act and all the things they are doing wrong, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to decide how you want to show up in the that moment or what you want to think about their actions.

You are too busy being a victim of their actions.

Take your power back. Make CONSCIOUS decisions about what you want to think about that person and their actions. Be aware of how you interpret those actions to mean something negative about yourself.

There will always be “difficult people” in our lives but these people are not difficult because of how they “make us feel.”

They are difficult because they challenge us to examine our thoughts about ourselves and our judgments of others. That, my friends, is the real work of this life.

They are difficult because they challenge us to evolve.

Stop trying to change people and instead focus on evolving yourself. That, after all, is the only thing you can control (but only 100% of the time).

Practicing law is HARD. You will have more people who will challenge you than people who will build you up. Start learning how to deal today.

Stop letting them have the power over your happiness. Life is too damn short.


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I “Should” Help, I’m an Attorney

The delightfully irritating word “should.”

Should is such a worthless word. The word “should” only matters when we are talking about something factual, provable, demonstrable. My coffee pot should turn on when I plug it in. My email should transmit when I click send. The light should turn on when I flip the switch.

“Should” makes sense in this scenario because these things are designed to operate in a certain way. There’s a manual that supports your conclusion that these machines are supposed to act in a certain way. You bought them for a very specific purpose, to perform a very clear task. We know what this thing is supposed to do: it is widely understood and accepted.

That usage has no translation to human beings. There is no manual, there is no widely understood and accepted understanding of how we are supposed to act.

You can argue religious mores and social norms all you like; they are not universally held or agreed upon.

But yet here we are, constantly telling ourselves what we “should” be doing. How we are supposed to act.

As a practicing lawyer, I often find myself in situations where people that I love want me to help them sort out their legal struggles. (For background, my specialty is in ERISA, taxes, DOL/IRS funsies.) In all honesty, my utility in helping family and friends with their legal issues is fairly limited. File a lawsuit? No thanks, my secretary knows more about that than I do (she also supports a busy litigator).  It’s difficult for non-lawyers to appreciate that lawyers, like doctors, have their own unique specialties. Just as you would not ask a gynecologist to opine on your ear ache, asking an ERISA attorney to advise you on your divorce is ill-advised (for all parties).

But yet, so many of my clients struggle with saying no.

They have a hard time admitting that they don’t know all aspects of the law. They have a hard time saying “no” to their loved ones who want support for their legal challenges. They know enough to be dangerous and can probably “figure it out.”

So many of my clients back themselves into a corner, agreeing to do things that they don’t REALLY want to do, things that they shouldn’t do, things that ask them to color outside the lines. They agree to do it because they feel like they “should” help as much as they can. But then as they settle into the work, they are fuming. How could they have asked me to do this? How rude of them to expect that I have time for this? They should be paying someone to do this (not me!).

Instead of being honest with the people in our lives, we mislead them and mischaracterize our interest in helping. In other words, we lie to them and then we get angry for having to do the work. We pretend like these other people forced us into this predicament. Why? Because we SHOULD help.

What would it be like to have an honest and authentic conversation with these people instead of lying to them? What would it be like to believe

I can help them to the best of my ability without taking on this project for them. I can support from the sidelines.

This goes for all areas of our lives where we struggle to say NO to those we love.

We want them to love us, admire us, believe in us.

We are so willing to trade our own truth for the possibility of them thinking about us in a certain way. This is really very simple manipulation! But here’s the truth, you can’t control what they think of you. So it’s a totally FUTILE manipulation attempt.

What’s more, you can decide what you want to make it mean when you say “no.” You can choose to believe that you are letting them down and that you SHOULD help them. Or you can choose to believe that loving them and  being honest with them is your greatest contribution.

You can support your loved ones and not agree to do things you don’t want to do.

Seek authenticity and honesty in all your relationships. It is okay to say “No” when you want to say no.

You don’t need a good reason for it and you don’t need to explain yourself. There is no manual you must follow, you get to do whatever you want because you are a human. Period.

What is the upside of doing that thing you didn’t want to do? How much fun is it to fume about the project every step of the way and beat yourself up for saying yes? How is that serving the relationship?

As lawyers, we have a lot of experience and knowledge that we can offer those around us. With that ability comes the need to set clear boundaries and honor yourself by learning when to say no.

Invest in your relationships and invest in your own integrity. Your relationships will thrive because of it.

Having a challenging relationship? Need help saying no? I’m free if you are.


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No, It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Many of my clients are well-respected attorneys, educated, and successful. They seemingly have it all but they are constantly grappling with the question

Is this sustainable?

Do I want to live like this forever?

They dream of a practice with better culture, fewer hours, a place that is more women-friendly, family-friendly. A place where the co-workers and clients act like civilized humans rather than tantrum-y children and junior high bullies.

Early on, many of us realize that working 70 hours/week does not create a happy life, no matter the paycheck. It is not exactly the life you dreamt of. We hate that having a family is often seen as a detriment to our career. We struggle with the notion that our personal lives must be planned taking consideration where we want our career to go. We stew and we ponder:

How can I make practicing law more live-able?

For many women, these thoughts eventually get drowned out by the rest of life. They continue their precarious balance, never truly happy or comfortable with the life they have chosen but willing to just keep going. They are good at it. They know that life. It is familiar. And it pays well. Leave it alone. Some weeks it’s okay, some weeks it’s hard to get out of bed. So be it.

We are not wired to voice our needs or ask for something better.

Our brains are designed to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and maintain efficiency. This means that whenever we begin to wonder and question why things can’t be different, what can I do to make this work for me? We are forcing our brain to take a pit stop and examine these matters. Our brains promptly remind us that

We make plenty of money.

We are well-respected.

This is just how it is.

You aren’t going to change it.

Don’t rock the boat.

Don’t be a trouble maker.

Your brain reminds you why those worries and thoughts and dreams aren’t important. Your brain wants you back on the hamster wheel, running the same routine we are so good at. This is your brain playing it safe. Keeping you in the cave. The very notion of rocking the boat triggers two of your biological responses–stay safe and be efficient. Don’t challenge authority and keep doing what you know. Stick to the plan, kiddo.

When we decide to do something new or scary, our brain’s survival mechanisms kick in.

While we may be saying to ourselves, I’m going to start leaving the office at 4:30 everyday, our brains start screaming

RETREAT! Stay with the herd! Don’t challenge the norms! Don’t rock the boat! You’re going to get in trouble. They will cut your pay. The Board will hear about it. You’re going to have to explain this!

I recently had a mini-session with an attorney and her big dream was to start her own firm. In response to her ambition, her brain was telling her

You can’t do this. You haven’t practiced long enough. No one will hire me. You won’t figure it out.

Those thoughts were her brain’s version of “Retreat! Stay in the cave.” None of those thoughts were true. None of them were factual. They were optional sentences her freaked out brain was offering her.

This is normal. This is biology.

This does not mean you are doing it wrong. In fact ,when you experience fear or anxiety while you are taking action toward your dream, you can rest assured you are doing it right. That discomfort is proof that you are forcing your brain to run a new pattern–no more of this lemming crap, forge your own path. No more of the old thoughts and routines.

This is not how is has to be. You can stimulate change and ask for what you want.

If you want to start leaving a 4:30 every day. Ask for it. If you want to be allowed to run your own cases. Ask for it. If you want to take the big deposition on your own. Ask for it.

It’s going to be awkward. It’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to force you to use muscles you haven’t used before. Decide what you need to do to grow your practice, to develop, to make your life more manageable and start thinking

How can I make this work for me? How can I ask the firm to support me in making this sustainable for me? What do I need to do to develop?

What is the alternative?

Waiting for someone to read your mind and offer you exactly what you want and need? When do you suppose that will happen? Why are you giving them all the control?

If there was a way for me to teach you how to get law firms to give us what we need, I would teach it to you but it doesn’t exist.

You are going to have to find your own voice.

If you have a big goal and your brain is not freaking out, your goal isn’t big enough. If you aren’t uncomfortable as you are building your practice and making your dreams a reality, you are not trying hard enough. You are not dreaming big enough. You are just a hamster on a wheel with a brain that is content in the cave.

Change is supposed to be hard. Change requires you to do things and think things you never have before. It requires you to evolve. It requires you to become a different version of yourself.

Are you choosing to be stuck?

Are you choosing a life of comfort and familiarity?

What is that costing you?

Is this what you want your story to be?

We must set big goals to grow. Doing this will make us uncomfortable. It will trigger our biological responses to run away. Anticipate that resistance and do it anyway. It doesn’t “have to be this way.” Let’s shake it up a bit.

Life is whatever you choose to make it.

What are you choosing? Do you like your reasons?


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Perfectionism

AKA the most common way we hold ourselves back.

I recently had a mini-session where my client was telling me that she needed an entire day to complete one of the tasks on her action plan. When I challenged her to constrain herself and do it in half the time, we discovered that her reasoning for this conclusion was it would take an entire day to “do it right” and to make sure that it was “perfect.”

We do this all the time. We convince ourselves that we must complete something to perfection before we can move on to the next step.

We can’t ask for a raise until we are able to conduct our work with perfection. We aren’t going to offer to speak at a conference until we have a full mastery of the underlying material. We don’t want to take that expert deposition until we have done simpler depositions perfectly.

We carry around this faulty belief that there is no sense in doing something unless you can do it flawlessly.

Can you imagine where we would be if everyone followed that logic?! If everyone was afraid massively fail on the way to success?

Consider Thomas Edison and his endeavors to create artificial light: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

The real motivation behind this perfectionism is the avoidance of failure.

If we believe we can’t act until we can do it perfectly, then we don’t have to do anything until we know we can do it without failure. We don’t have to face any criticism of our imperfections until we have a foolproof plan to avoid criticism. We can spend our entire lives building up to those perfect skills and never getting there: we never take any risks so we never fail.

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

Perfectionism is a way to stay stuck. To convince yourself that your efforts are noble. You simply want to do it right and you can’t move forward until you do that. It seems valid. It seems reasonable. But this is simply fear masquerading in a more “honorable” outfit. The fear of failure, dressed as perfectionism.

Perfectionism is for scared people.

The truth is that you don’t want to face any criticism.

It’s easier to tell yourself you are only going to do it if you can “do it right” than it is to be honest with yourself and admit that you don’t want to experience failure or criticism. Most people avoid criticism because they have a practiced habit of endorsing the criticism. They agree with the criticism and interpret the feedback to mean that they are a failure.

When you allow criticism to mean that you can’t do it, of course you are going to try and avoid criticism!

Enter the myth of perfectionism to distract you from what’s really going on.

Don’t jump teams and join your critics by default. Don’t let failures mean anything about you. Don’t let the words of critics hold you back. Criticism from others has more to do with the other person than with you!

You can decide to receive criticism however you want. Consider allowing it to mean that you are learning and always improving (because you are a human and “to err is HUMAN”).

If you committed to doing everything 80% and moving on, how different would your life be? How much more could you accomplish?

People may criticize your B+ work. People may NOT criticize your B+ work. You won’t know until you stop trying to manufacture A+ work before putting anything out there. You can always go back and make something better but you won’t know what is “better” until you start trying and learning.

Besides, just because you conclude something is perfect, doesn’t mean no one will criticize it. Spinning on things until they are perfect, does not “save” you from criticism.

That is a lie you are telling yourself to keep you safe. To keep you stuck.

Don’t convince yourself that perfect is something to strive for. It’s all subjective.

Don’t allow the myth of perfection to keep you stuck.

Success only comes from trying and failing repeatedly. Not from sitting on the sidelines theorizing about how to best do something.

Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. ― Kim Collins

Get out there are start failing. You can’t learn how to handle critics if you never do anything noteworthy.

Think your perfectionism is serving you? Let’s see what’s really going on. What are you afraid of?

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Impostor Syndrome #LawyerLife

Many of my clients come to me suffering from “impostor syndrome.” They believe they don’t belong in their world. They aren’t “one of them,” they will never “fit in.” Underneath these beliefs are the worries too: “I just don’t have what it takes…they have something I don’t.”

There is something about being surrounded by intelligent and talented humans that sends us right back to junior high. Feeling like we don’t fit in and not wanting to be found out in our discomfort.

For many of my female clients, it’s even worse when they are also struggling with their own physical insecurities. Not only do they start to fee like an impostor but they start to see everyone around them as some sort of a Stepford Lawyer. Everyone else is the total package, Elle Woods with the brain of RBG.

When you compare yourself to others, it sets you up for the great cop out.

Believing that others have “it” and we don’t, that we aren’t one of them, justifies our Grand Exit.

Those beliefs allow us to give up on ourselves. To quit before we even try. They completely set you up for failure.

If it were true that you either have “it” or you don’t or you’re one of them or you’re not, then OF COURSE, it would be perfectly logical and justifiable to quit. It wouldn’t make sense to continue. If we were playing monopoly and you didn’t have a board piece, there would be no sense in playing the game. It would make perfect sense to sit it out.

But these are not facts! There is no magical “it”!

There is no biological predisposition for success.

These are things you are choosing to believe. And you are choosing them because they justify your lack of trying. It’s easier to believe you don’t have “it” than to force yourself to keep trying and failing until you succeed.

These beliefs justify failing before you start.

When we believe we just don’t have it, we’re not one of them, it is our brain’s way of keeping us safe and protecting us.

Your brain is wired to keep you safe. In the cave. Away from things that might hurt you (lions, tigers, and judge-y lawyers, oh my!). Your primitive brain does not want you to try new things or put yourself out there. It wants you safe on the couch, hands full of Doritos, guzzling wine, high on dopamine. It wants you to commit to believing you aren’t one of them so you can get your ass back on the couch where the scariest thing you will encounter are re-runs of the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Lawyers come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, educational levels, pedigree, etc. We need lawyers of all kinds because humans are not cookie cutter.

Some clients do not want an Elle Woods-RBG hybrid. They want someone who reminds them of their daughter, their trusted friend, someone they can relate to, someone they deem trustworthy or “normal”.

When you tell yourself, “I’m not one of them,” you are setting your brain on a mission to prove that thought true. It sets your mind on a collision course with everything you have ever done wrong and every area you have ever come up short. It will prove to you, without a doubt, that you my love, do not belong. You gave your brain an assignment (“I don’t belong”) and it’s going to get to work demonstrating the truth of that thought.

Buying into those beliefs blocks your innate ability to see it any other way.

If you commit to opening up to the opposite truth, imagine what your brain could show you. If you can consider “I am learning and struggling just like everyone else…we all have our challenges…perfection is an impossibility…they all went through the same things I’m going through,” imagine what your brain would show you to prove those thoughts.

How would your life change if you carried those possibilities with you?

Instead of fleeing from these people around us who seem to have it all together, what would it be like to engage them, learn from them, be inspired by them? I promise you, the closer you get to those Stepford humans, the less Stepford and more plain human they will become.

Stop putting others on a pedestal.

Stop making yourself less than. You are giving up on yourself so that you don’t have to run the race. That, my friend, is not a pattern you want to become skilled at. That is the recipe for a life un-lived, a life without discomfort.

Impostor syndrome is not a thing. Let me prove it to you.

Non-Billables: The Key to Success

Taking “time out” to make yourself and your career a priority…?

Nonbillable work?

Hard pass.

Many of my clients are resistant to making themselves a priority. Time is money. I get it.

I also get that you have the choice of just “doing” your practice or “investing” in your practice. One will take you much farther than the other but it will first require some priority shifting.

I recently heard an analogy that really drove this home for me. Imagine you have 100 miles to travel and you are on a bike and your are chugging along, doing great, you’ve found you’re rhythm. You got this you tell yourself. You feel strong and you don’t want to stop and get off the bike because you are making great time and you don’t want to burst your momentum. You just are focused on pedaling, pedaling, pedaling. But because you are so focused on keeping moving, you don’t notice that you have you car keys in your pocket and you could simply stop, take out the keys, hop in the car, and be there in a fraction of the time. So you just keeping moving.

You will probably get there eventually but it’s going to take a lot longer.

That is how so many of us live our days. We have hours to bill, projects to complete, things to do. We don’t want to stop and employ any planning tools for our week. We don’t want to take 2 hours to fully engage in a CLE or webinar that could teach us something that would be a benefit to our clients. We don’t want to take the 3 hours to review that new legislation that could impact our clients.

We rebel against the things that aren’t “paying the bill.” We resist taking actions that don’t correlate directly to some emergent need.

What is really happening is that we are not making ourselves a priority. We are not making our development and success a priority. Those things are too amorphous. We can’t wrap our arms around them. We can’t put them on a client bill and get paid for them. So we don’t do them. We choose to stay on the bike and just keep pedaling.

If you stop and ask yourself what you will gain from that CLE or from taking the time to plan and prioritize your week — what is the answer?

Will that webinar teach you something you can employ with future clients? Will that CLE make you a better attorney? Will 2 hours reading that negotiations book make you more effective for future clients? Will planning and prioritizing your week make you more efficient for your clients? Will planning your week save you time and save your clients money? Will you be a better attorney because of what these “non-priority” items can give you?

Logically, we can all buy into why these non-billable tasks are good for our practice and good for our clients. Part of the problem is that we have a hard time letting go of the billables for an hour or two so that we can redirect our focus. We spin in thoughts like

If I don’t get my billables in this month, I’m going to get into trouble.

What if I miss an important email?

I need to answer that phone call.

I can’t check out for an hour in the middle of the day.

I have more important things to do.

Are any of those facts? Do you know with certainty what will happen if you devote an hour each week to plan and priorities your time? Why do you need to respond to that email right now? What happens if you wait an hour to respond?

Be honest with yourself–none of these are facts. They are choices. They are things you are choosing to make a priority: random emails, missed phone calls, constant availability.

I recently had one of my free mini-session clients work through these very same questions. We were able to help see the fault in this thinking. We created some buy-in and excitement for creating a better practice and becoming a better attorney. She left the session excited about growing her skills and appreciating how much those skills would help her clients.

What happens when you go to an in-person CLE or when you get stuck on a conference call for a hour? Do you respond to those emails immediately? Do you answer every knock at your door? Why is it any different when you are instead taking time to invest in yourself?

Does it make you a better, more skilled attorney to jump into all those emails at 8am? Imagine how much you could grow or develop if you committed to making yourself and your development your first priority each day. Take that webinar, go to the CLE, read the strategy books, follow legislative developments.

Go on offense with your career instead of always being on defense.

We create all this drama around why we can’t take an hour to develop ourselves. We believe all these crazy thoughts about how the world will fall if we spend time on non-billable development. We convince ourselves that we need to stay on the bike and we ignore that there is a better way to get there. Another way to create efficiency and success. But it will require you to take a pit stop here and there and make yourself a priority.

In order to become a skilled and successful attorney you have to invest in yourself as well as your clients. If not, your clients’ needs will grow and you will stay stagnant. You are limiting yourself by not investing in yourself.

Get off the damn bike.

“Had a Long Day” and Treating Yourself

We all have our thing that we turn to when we’ve had a long day–cookies, Doritos, wine, chocolate cake, ice cream, beer. It’s that little reward we give ourselves for a job well done. I’ve had a long day, I deserve to treat myself

I recently had a mini-session with an attorney who wanted to work through her over-eating tendencies. As part of the process we examined the circumstances that led to her overeating. Most days when she comes home, she changes clothes, cooks dinner, does the dishes, and picks up around the house. Finally around 8:30pm she sits down on her couch and turns on her favorite Bravo show from her DVR with a handful of cookies. At that point in the day, her predominant thought is That was a long day. I’m so ready to relax.

Habits are based upon patterns in our lives. We have certain cues that set us up for the pattern.

Over-eating is pattern that is predominantly driven by environmental patterns (e.g., sitting down alone at the end of the day and watching television) and thought patterns (Today was a rough day, I just want to relax).

Once you identify the pattern and the cues, you can get to work developing alternative habits and patterns. But before we can do that, we must determine why the pattern exists:

What “reward” are those cookies offering you.?

Sugary foods and alcohol provide our brains with a quick dopamine hit. When we engage in our pattern–sitting on the couch, turning on the tv–our brain gets excited because it knows a hit is coming. It is craving the hit not only because of our pattern but because the hit offers a reward.

The reward is dopamine. At these times during our days, my clients are feeling tired and worn out. Secretly, they are often a little sad. They are swimming in thoughts like I wish I had more time to do the things I enjoy or I really don’t want to go back to work tomorrow. Those thoughts feel terrible. Why feel terrible when we can bury that gross feeling with a rush of dopamine?

Now we add the thought, I’m worn out, it’s been a long day, I deserve a break and we create a recipe (a pattern) for disaster.

Rather than experience the emotions that come at the end of a long day when there is nothing left to do, we push away from it and bury it with a flood of dopamine from a sugary treat or alcohol.

Why do we do that? What is so terrible about experiencing the fatigue and those feelings at the end of the day?

When we avoid our emotions in this way and bury them with the rush we get from external things, we are trading our long-term happiness for momentary relief.

Ultimately, my client wanted to stop over-eating and she wanted to lose weight. That was going to require her to change this habit of buffering negative emotions.

At the end of a long and stressful day, we often experience a wide array of emotions. Some of us experience a bit of sadness or dread as we realize This is my life. This is how every day is going to be for the next 30 years. How can I maintain this pace forever? I don’t want to do this anymore.

Those thoughts feel terrible and they are posing some important questions that bear examination. That examination will never come if we spend our nights avoiding a true examination of our lives. In order to build a better and happier life for ourselves, we must be willing to examine those negative thoughts and to do so we must be willing to examine those negative emotions.

At the end of a “long day” what if we just experienced whatever came up?

What if we were willing to examine those feelings and accept them as part of the 50-50? Instead of burying them with a dopamine rush, we just sat with them and let them pass through our bodies?

Part of they reason my client was over-eating was because she was trying to cover up some negative emotions. First, we identified what those emotions were and what thoughts were causing them. Then we developed strategies to just accept those emotions as a part of life and perfectly normal. From there, she no longer needed to buffer because there was nothing to fix. Nothing had gone wrong.

She was just a human, having a human experience.

When you open up to the awareness that our lives are 50-50 and that negative emotion does not need to be “fixed” or covered up, you can start to shift away from your over-eating habits. You can develop new habits that accept what you are feeling.

The next time you find yourself saying I’ve had a long day, ask yourself

So what?

What kind of a “pass” are you giving yourself because you are feeling something negative? How are those choices impacting your life?

Ready to start some new habits? Get started today.

Photo by Adrienn from Pexels

Your Legal Career: Having Your Own Back

When trying to make a big decision, so many of my clients get stuck in the quagmire of indulgent emotions.

Indulgent emotions are those emotions that seem really important. They feel like we should pay attention to them. They suck us into their black hole and keep us from moving forward.

They are indulgent because we linger and stay with those emotions for far too long; we allow those emotions to take over and before we know it, we have been out of the game for weeks. We’ve been “busy” worrying.

Worry, overwhelm, boredom, confusion, and indecision are all indulgent emotions — dream killers.

I had a client who was feeling “stuck” because she couldn’t decide what kind of malpractice insurance she wanted to buy for her new firm. Naturally, she was arguing all the options, seeming to wait until absolute clarity would sweep in and bless her decision.

Decision lightning!

(It doesn’t exist!)

Failing to make decisions keeps us stuck. It allows us to spin in this world where there is only one right answer and we need to make sure we figure it out.

If we don’t get it right a whole parade of horribles will march through our homes and destroy everything; all will be lost.

What if you just made a decision and had your own back?

One decision is not going to make or break your legal career. We have to ditch the drama we build up around these decisions and stop making them so monumental.

If we don’t like our decision later on, we can regroup, make a different decision and grow from the experience. Is that such a big deal?

You won’t lose all your clients if you have to rebrand in three years.

The sky won’t fall if you decide maybe you don’t want to be at that firm.

There are no perfect choices.

At some point you have to recognize that indulging in worry and indecision is keeping you stuck–if you want to move forward, you simply have to make a decision.

What if you just decided not to believe that there was only one right answer?

Maybe all the roads lead to the same place?

Isn’t that a better place to be mentally than imagining you there are two roads–one leads to sudden death and one leads to rivers of gold?! That is what you are doing when you indulge in worry, fear, doubt, indecision. You are believing that one option is perfect and one option will destroy you. The pressure you are putting on that one small decision! How terrible that must feel.

Skip the drama around the decision. Make a choice and move forward. That’s the first step.

The second step is having your own damn back.

If you decide to change your mind in the future, commit to having your own back.

This means that if your choice doesn’t pan out the way you wanted it to, you aren’t going to indulge in GUILT (another indulgent emotion). You aren’t going to wade through your past….shoulda, coulda, woulda-ing yourself to death.

Have your own back. Be a good partner to yourself.

You have no idea how those other options would have panned out. Don’t use this an opportunity to soothsay. Don’t pretend that you “knew” this wasn’t going to work out and start berating yourself.

Part of the reason we avoid making decisions is because of how terrible we are to ourselves when a decision doesn’t work out how we imagined.

We beat ourselves up, we judge our past actions, we rewrite history to make ourselves feel even worse.

If you can commit to making a decision and having your own back no matter how it plays out, what is there to be afraid of?

Don’t allow indulgent emotions to side-track your dreams and keep you stuck. Be a good partner to yourself. Honor your ability to make a decision and be kind to yourself as you make the journey.

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Feeling Less Than?

Becoming a lawyer is a huge accomplishment in itself. As female attorneys, we join the ranks of all those women who fought so hard to become a valued part of this profession — after all, we have only been doing this since 1923 when women were finally allowed to be admitted to the bar.

We’ve come a long way, baby, so why is it that we often struggle recognizing our own value?

It’s easy to overlook your value in the legal world – it’s like being in junior high and everyone seems to be smarter, prettier, wealthier, and just generally BETTER than you.

So many of your colleagues will be well-traveled, highly educated at the best schools and private universities, they’re wealthy, well-dressed, well-spoken and have loads more experience than you do. When you spend your day thinking about your colleagues that way and admiring their accomplishments, eventually those “observations” of others turn inward to self-judgment. 

When we find ourselves feeling less than and comparing ourselves to those around us we must stop and recalibrate lest we run ourselves into a nervous breakdown.

Re-calibrating means, sorting our the facts from our nasty little thoughts. Are they really better educated than you? All law schools have those at the top and those at the bottom. Just because someone went to a “better” law school than you, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are smarter or better than you.

Those are just stories you are telling yourself in your head.

Being a great attorney is so much more than the fancy degree. We all know lawyers from the greatest law schools in the nation who were terrible with people, get lost in the details, or were terrible public speakers. We all have our assets — don’t overvalue the degree and ignore the rest.

Of course they will have more experience than you!

Aside from your cohort group, nearly everyone else at the firm will have more experience than you. The secretaries and paralegals will know more about practicing law than you. Do not turn this simple fact into something negative. Do not go down the spiral of shoulds — I should have gotten a better internship last summer, I should have taken the corporate tax class, I should have done moot court, blah, blah, blah, get over it.

These are all ways to deflect what is really going on — you are thinking that they are better than you and you are jealous of their experiences. That’s it. Nothing magical here.

Very human nature-y of you.

Recognize those thoughts and emotions and instead consider how fortunate you are to be surrounded by their experience and knowledge so that you can learn from the best. You are on the same team. Do not forget that.

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And then my favorite little cherry on top,

So FREAKING what?

So what?! So what if they are better dressed and look the part more than you do in your discount store suit and knockoff purse? Who cares? Why do you care?

Force yourself to ask why these little differences matter. What are you making it mean?

Then force yourself to really look at the positive aspects of your life. If you are going to beat yourself up, at least give equal air time to an examination of your positive attributes.

You did graduate law school, after all. Did you even stop to consider how that might be someone else’s dream? And you are living it.

Don’t take someone else’s dream for granted.

As I’ve said, there is no right way to “do” life; neither one of you are doing it wrong.

The problem is simply that you are focusing on what you perceive to be the negative aspects of where you are and how you are experiencing life and you aren’t giving yourself space to examine why your approach to life is perfect for you.

Give yourself room to acknowledge and recognize that you are doing it right FOR YOURSELF. No one else. And they are doing it right for themselves. Period.

Everything else is just useless noise. 

The reason it is so essential to ask yourself “so what” about all these nasty little comparisons you have crafted is because it forces you to really examine why you are subscribing to those thoughts. It forces you to ask — are those criticisms or observations serving you?

Sure, you might believe they are true and some of them might be based in facts (her purse IS a designer purse and yours is from Target) but how is that observation serving you? What are you gaining from carrying around that thought. What type of other lovely thoughts emerge from that one? My guess is those self-criticisms are simply spawning more loveliness in your head.

Why would you ever choose to start that chain reaction?

If it is not serving you, let it go. Even if it’s factual, who cares? Why bother dwelling on it? It’s making you feel terrible and it’s not getting you anywhere.

Release it and move on.

There is so much to learn from your legal practice and so many ways to grow. Do not sidestep that growth by treating yourself as “different” from your colleagues. Embrace your unique value, take an inventory of your accomplishments, and do not get caught up in the comparison game.

Use that energy to better your career rather than belittle it.