Do You Have “It”?

I was recently coaching a new client and I was explaining to her why I do this work. For those of you who have not heard this rambling, let me summarize. When I was at my first, nationwide law firm out of law school, the shine eventually wore off. I was working all the time, struggling to find balance, and I became incredibly unhappy. At the time, I didn’t have the tools that I have now and I didn’t understand how to “fix” my situation. So I left. I cracked open the exit door just a few inches and I was quickly drawn out by another opportunity. I was hired by a rival firm to build a practice group from the ground up.

At that time in my life, I was roughly 29 years old. I had been practicing for about four(ish) years. I had a solid foundation and I knew enough to be dangerous but to start a whole practice group–pure silliness. What kind of maniacs would take that risk on me?! Despite it all, I sold them on the idea and I gratefully leapt from the arms of one task-master to another.

As I settled in and started to take an inventory of everything that went along with “running” a practice, I realized that I was going to need some support. I already felt myself bristling at the tired mentalities and structures that I disliked at my last firm and I could tell that many of the challenges I had run away from at my last firm would be waiting for me in this new place. So I hired a coach–a female attorney who had successfully built her own firm. I wanted someone who got it. I wanted someone who understood the subtext, the struggles, and the environment without my having to explain it.

(If you are interested in that kind of support, grab a free session now.)

In working with her, I was able to see and deconstruct many of the patterns that were following me into my new firm. I was able to shift into a different mentality — a space of confidence and unwavering belief that I COULD do it. That I did have what it takes. We worked through the imposter syndrome that many of us carry with us especially those of us that didn’t come from professional, college-educated homes.

Working with my coach, I was able to build a practice that was bursting at the seams within one year. Within one year, I had so much work and garnered the confidence and trust of so many large and demanding companies that I was drowning in billable hours. We hired two partners from opposing firms to come and join me…partners that were 20 and 30 years my senior and had been practicing for many years to great success without the oversight and wisdom offered by this 30-something little girl. So naturally, with that change, came all sorts of new challenges.

During that time, I was traveling all over the country selling our services to clients. Every day, my calendar was jammed with breakfasts, lunches, and happy hours where I was selling and schmoozing without end. I was asked to teach at a business school and then to also teach at a law school and I was constantly presenting at one conference or another.

My practice was thriving and I had done what I set out to do. I loved every minute of it.

The last time I related this story to a client, she asked me whether I thought my success was attributable to skills I had developed or whether I just had “it.” “Do you really think that is something I can do? I just don’t think I’m the type,” she explained.

This, people, is why I do this. There is nothing magical about my success.

“I am nothing special, of this I am sure.” – Nicholas Sparks

The only reason people aren’t going out and creating the life of their dreams is that they believe they can’t do it. Because they, like this client, allow themselves to consider that there is some innate “it” and you either have it or you don’t.

Let’s level set here. I am an introvert and I do not love to speak publicly. Prior to joining that firm, I hadn’t spoken publicly since COLLEGE. At my prior firm, I wrote the speeches, I prepped the slides but I was the silent partner — speaking was never permitted for associates. I was good at my job but I was not (and am not) any kind of a legal prodigy. Aside from leading bar crawls during my sorority days, I had never “led” anyone other than a secretary and a paralegal. I had no idea how to set budgets or project income, how to “sell” legal services, how to talk to partners who weren’t pulling their weight, and the idea of presenting my business plan to a Boardroom full of men made me sick to my stomach.

If there was some special “it” that made this stuff easy, I didn’t receive that gift.

I created my success because I INVESTED in myself. I put in the work. I allowed my coach to push me to do things that made me very uncomfortable. I got really good at uncomfortable conversations, I got really practiced at humility, and I learned how to “sell” myself authentically. Does it come easily now? No. It still doesn’t. But I have done it so many times despite the discomfort, I understand now that’s just part of the process for me.

I came to understand that in order to create a different career for myself, I had to do things differently. I had to take time to actually work on myself and that meant I had to get comfortable spending my hard-earned money on the fluffy stuff. I had to invest my money differently. I needed to acknowledge that, in order to create a different future, I was going to have to completely revamp my approach to practicing and that meant getting a coach on my team.

She pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do; things I WOULDN’T have done but for my respect and commitment to her. She helped me to see things about myself that were holding me back and she helped me to find my voice in a world where many of us just put our heads down and “accept” the legal profession with all its warts.

I wanted to share this with you today because I want to dispel this notion that we can’t all have the lives of our dreams. There is no magical “it.” You have what it takes and we have to stop considering that we aren’t enough. Instead, I implore you to consider —

What if you are wrong — what if you have EXACTLY what it takes?

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.


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The Power of IDK

I was sitting in a meeting earlier this year listening to a particularly charismatic CEO address all the officers of a Fortune 500 company. At the end of the presentation, he opened the session up to questions from the officers. As questions poured in, I realized that I was sitting next to a particularly challenging question asker (yes, that’s a word. I know, I was surprised too).

My neighbor was hurling intense and challenging questions at the CEO from the back of the room and, at times, interrupting the speaker to add additional questions. Finally, the individual asked a particularly difficult question and the CEO responded, “You know, that’s a good question and I don’t know the answer to that.”

Period. He did not offer to follow-up. He did not offer to take on additional work to flush out the answer. He did not apologize. He gave an honest answer. We moved on.

I instantly l liked him more than I had 30 seconds ago. In my life at corporate law firms I cannot recall any instance where the leadership used the phrase “I don’t know.”

When I was leading a practice, one of the biggest red flags for me was when someone I was working with would refuse to simply say “I don’t know.” In my past, I have worked with seasoned attorneys who, rather than say IDK, would tap dance around the issue offering all sorts of manufactured legal support. At first, I trusted their commentary and ran off on a fool’s errand trying to find the support for what they were telling me. Eventually, I realized that they didn’t know the answer and were just manufacturing legal guidance.

It’s one thing to theorize and say you are theorizing, it’s another thing to answer a question with authority and references to legal support when you have no idea what you are talking about. Within the team, it became a running joke. We all knew when she was going out of her way to avoid saying IDK and we all expressed our irritation for all the time and energy we spent trying to find support for what she was saying. In the end, no one trusted her judgment and we stopped asking her opinion. All because she refused to say those three little words.

Why do people refuse to acknowledge when they don’t know something?

Because they are trying to manipulate you.

Hear me out. When someone is deliberately avoiding those words, it is because they want you to believe that they know. They want you to believe they are knowledgeable in all things. They want you to trust their judgment and their opinions. The common theme here is this:

They want you to think about them in a certain way.

If that is not manipulation, I don’t know what is. Now, I am not saying that these people are intentionally being manipulative. I actually believe that the manipulative element of these interactions is simply a byproduct of a larger issue. That issue is their own damn mind.

When people are afraid to own that they don’t, in fact, know everything, they are making “I don’t know” mean something negative about themselves. Often times, when people say, “I don’t know.” Their brain erupts with thoughts of shortcomings:

I should know this. I’m an idiot for not knowing that. How could I not know that?! What is wrong with me? This person is going to think I’m dumb. If I don’ t know this, they are going to think I’m not good at my job.

They make not knowing, mean something horrible and negative about themselves. So rather than have those thoughts and think those feelings, they run in the opposite direction and throw a bunch of BS at the problem. The net results are this…

When asked a question, a person thinks, I should know the answer to this; if I say “I don’t know” they will think I don’t know what I’m talking about. So, the person offers all sorts of answers and sends the other person on a hopeless quest. The end result is that the original inquirer eventually concludes: They have no idea what they are talking about.

The net result is the exact result the person was trying to avoid!! It’s pure futility!

As practice group chair, one of the things I always told young attorneys was this: If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Don’t waste my time and yours trying to act like you do. I will find out and I will trust you less thereafter.

Honesty builds trust and helps relationship flourish. Do not make the same mistake my past partner made. In the end, she lost a lot of credibility and isolated herself. Being able to recognize that you don’t know something demonstrates confidence. How do you get there? Try on these thoughts:

No one expects me to know everything.

I can be humble and honest and admit when I have more to learn.

It’s okay if I don’t know everything; I am always learning.

I value honesty in my working relationships.

I am not perfect or all-knowing.

I am willing to admit when I don’t know something.

Those thoughts are going to get you so much farther than thinking:

I’m an idiot if I don’t know the answer to this.

I should have researched that!

How could I not have checked that?!

They are going to think I am dumb if I say I don’t know.

The next time you catch yourself trying to avoid saying, I don’t know, try on one of these thoughts and see how different honesty feels.

Thought work is powerful work. It is simple but it’s not easy. Coach with me and learn how to better manage your thoughts for greater success in your life and your career.

Finding Your Purpose

So many of my clients come to me telling me that they are confused. They feel lost. They don’t know what they are supposed to do with their life. They come to me looking for answers and my response is always the same: I offer them a mirror.

We have been taught from a young age that our purpose is the same as our job. What’s the most common thing people ask children?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

As if these kids are supposed to have any idea. What’s more, there is a tremendous amount of pressure and judgment that accompanies that question. If the child says “I want to be a lawyer,” people automatically think wow, the parents must be doing something right, good for them. If the child says, “I want to be a trash collector,” the parents cringe and the audience tries to keep their faces neutral while they smugly think good luck with that one, big dreams there, kiddo, my kid wants to be a doctor, etc. So convoluted.

Your purpose often times has nothing to do with your day-to-day job.

Your purpose should be what gets you out of bed everyday. Your job should be what pay the bills so that you can have time to enjoy your purpose. Sometimes those two things merge but only when they merge organically: when the purpose is pursued with honesty and love. Trying to force your purpose to pay the bills is a good way to ruin that joy your purpose used to give you. Enjoy those things that light you up and see where the path takes you. Don’t contaminate it by trying to make it something it doesn’t have to be (e.g., a formal profession).

This then begs the question, how do you find that purpose? Your purpose is what makes you tick. What makes your heart sing. That is not something anyone else can find for you — hence, the mirror.

When my clients are unsure about their purpose, I offer them an experiment. Years ago, I was struggling with life inside the machine that is a corporate law firm and I just couldn’t put my finger on the problem. I didn’t hate my job but I didn’t love my job. I was feeling blah about the whole thing and I couldn’t figure out why. I was completely unmotivated, just going through the motions.

So, for one month, at the end of every day, I would spend 5 minutes thinking about my day and writing down the things that made me happy that day and the things that got my blood boiling. After doing this for one month, I realized that the things I loved the most about my days were the moments that I was able to spend connecting with the young associates — talking to them about their challenges, their goals, their development. I relished the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with them, to learn about them and their struggles, to offer them support and gentle guidance. That lead to a larger evaluation of myself. I realized that this fit into my disdain for small talk. I hate it and I’m terrible at it. The way I see it, is that if we aren’t going to talk about something deep and meaningful, I would rather not talk at all. Let’s not chit chat about work and the weather. Let’s talk about what moves you, what excites you. So naturally, I love those people who overshare within the first 5 seconds of a conversation. Those people who put it all out there right away for public examination, the good, the bad, the ugly, the inappropriate. I LOVE skipping right over the pleasantries and diving right into real life and getting our hands dirty. I LOVE having deep and meaningful conversations with perfect strangers about their struggles and challenges.

You can see how this realization lead me to where I am today. That woke me up. I realized that those true connections and partnerships were the only part of my job that I was truly loving. So, I switched jobs to enjoy a steadier and less all-consuming career so that I could make space for my purpose. This purpose. I realized what moved me and I made room for it. I have never looked back.

So here’s your challenge . . . For one month, spend 5 minutes every day thinking about what you liked about your day. Were there parts of your day where you felt alive? Where you were excited about something? What parts of your day sapped your energy and left you feeling drained?

Only you can find that for yourself but you won’t find it outside of yourself. Do the work. Spend time within yourself. You will be amazed at what you discover.

Need help finding your path and taking that next step? Sign up for a free coaching session with me and let’s see what we can do together.

Want More. Fail More

Want more. There is no question mark in the title of this post. This is less a question and more a directive to you: Want more for yourself. Want more for your life.  

If I had a magic wand and told you that I could give you the career of your dreams, would you be interested? What if I told you I would give it to you only if you first promised to fail 10 times trying to do it on your own? Big fails. EPIC fails. All I ask of you is that you try to figure it out on your own 10 times, and fail 10 times. After those 10 tries, it’s yours. Fail ten times and I will waive my magic wand and I will make it so. Would you do that?  

Of course you would. The problem is that we are truly faced with this very offer every single day of our lives and very few of us take the challenge. We are too afraid to fail. We are too caught up in our reptilian brain that says “welp, I hate my boss and I don’t LOVE my job but it pays the bills and life is secure under this cozy little comfort blanket. I am not going to rock the boat, things are fine; this is what it means to be a grown-up.”

Are things fine?

Are you going to be satisfied when you are 80 years old and you look back at that job and that life that were just fine?! What if you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow and had only one year left to live? Would you keep playing it safe and being fine.  

Fine is such a blasé, gross word. There are so many beautiful words in our vocabulary. If “fine” truly sums up your present state, rest assured, my friend, you are far from fine. I refuse to believe that we were meant to live a life that is “fine.” I believe we were meant to live a life that is exciting and full of highs and lows and all the colors of the rainbow.  We aren’t meant to live in the doldrums.

I want you to live with the old lady version of yourself on your shoulder urging you on, saying, “let’s make this happen, lady, I’m not getting any younger!” 

Years ago I found myself in the middle of a violent and abusive relationship. Drifting through life pretending I was fine despite my deep depression and dark thoughts. You know what finally snapped me out it? What really made me wake up and decide I wasn’t going to live like that anymore? I could not reconcile the person I had become with the person I dreamt of becoming. I looked in the mirror and realized that my 5-year-old self would be disappointed in the woman I had become. Ouch. It broke my heart how far I had strayed from my true north. I wanted more for myself and I had set my little 5-year old heart on a bright future. A future that I was presently squandering. 

I want you to have that wake up moment too. I want you to see the big picture, step out of the race, breathe, and own your space in this world.

What do you want your story to be? What kind of tales do you want to create for your old lady self to recite to her friends in the retirement home over a cup of tea?   What kind of legacy do you want to leave?   Don’t disappoint yourself by living out of tune with your purpose. You never know what news is waiting for you tomorrow.   How do you find that purpose? Coach with me and let’s find out.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. Henry Ford.