Trouble Being Still?

As women and as attorneys we are really good at executing. We multitask, we take on more than we should, we always say yes and we are often uncomfortable saying no. Admittedly there is a part of us that thrives in the chaos of practicing law. The unexpected will happen. Things will fall apart. Every best-laid plan will implode. From a biological perspective, this calls us to spend most of our waking moments living from our primitive brains. We’re always in fight or flight. Putting out fires. Running from one drama to the next. And we are really good at it. We have flexed the chaos muscle for so long that sometimes I find my clients have forgotten how to simply

be.

still.

Once we decided that we wanted to be attorneys, the journey was not that difficult. There’s a list. There are instructions. There is a long checklist of things that must be accomplished and done in order for this dream to take place. Once we get our first job, the instructions become even simpler. Say yes to all the work that comes to you. Do a good job. Don’t make waves. Just keep executing and don’t ask questions. So we spend even more years continuing to live in this fight or flight mode where we just move from one challenge to the next. Inevitably, we come to a crossroads where we catch our breath for a moment and start to wonder

what’s next?

Many attorneys come to me for coaching support because they don’t know what to do next. They are overwhelmed with the possibilities for their life and they want to know how to figure out where to focus their energies now that they have come so far. Having a law degree affords us many opportunities as to what we can do with our life. We can go down the partnership track…. counsel track….teaching at a law school….go in-house….go into business…..start our own firm…. When we start looking at all the options available to us it can easily become overwhelming.

But when we find ourselves stressing about where are we “supposed to” go next, the more important question we can be asking ourselves is

Is there anything wrong with just being where we are without having a plan for what’s next?

I recently found myself in a coaching session with a woman who was overwhelmed with the possibilities for her life and the decisions that needed to be made at some point in the future. In the future. Not now. There was nothing pressing. Despite this fact, she was incredibly overwhelmed and uncomfortable with not knowing what her long-term plan looked like. After exploring various possibilities and trying to get a sense of what resonated most closely with her, I finally asked her what if nothing is wrong here?

At that moment everything seemed to click for her and she realized that this need to have a plan and this desire to know the end result was creating a tremendous amount of discomfort for her. She had spent her entire life and her entire career living in fight or flight mode getting things done and now that she had found some space to breathe, she was uncomfortable just being where she was. No pressing decisions. Nothing urgent that needed to be done. Just a regular job. No family matters to attend to. No drama. No chaos. The calm following the storm of chaos that had comprised the early years of her career was causing her a tremendous amount of anxiety. She was uncomfortable just being in this space and not having a plan. In that quiet space, her brain wasn’t accustomed to being still, instead, it kept telling her that something wasn’t right, it needed a plan…she should be doing something more.

All those shoulds are indicative of how we value ourselves. Those shoulds come from our historical patterns where achievements and checking things off the list meant that we were doing well. It meant that we were good enough and that we were successful.

But when the list runs out and the goals have been achieved, we are left in this open space where we have to reexamine our worthiness.

In that space and on those plateaus where our brain starts telling us all the things we should be doing, it reveals a need for us to reexamine our worthiness and where we place our value. It is not a time to create a new goal and a new plan and something else to strive for. There will come a day where you will run out of plans you will run out of checklists and you will only be left with yourself. Those plateaus and spaces between the items on our checklists afford us the opportunity to work on that relationship because ultimately, that is truly the only relationship that matters. Those spaces force us to stop running and take a look in the mirror and that can be terrifying.

(Sound familiar? Grab a free session now and get support during your times of plateau.)

When our brains are used to living in panicked, fight or flight mode, it can be difficult to understand WHO we are if we are not busy accomplishing. It can be difficult to recognize our value if we aren’t busy checking things off a list. What’s more, for many of us it’s been so long since we’ve had the opportunity to explore that aloneness. To really consider our relationship with ourselves. We have lost sight of that relationship and so when we have reached this summit and find ourselves alone with no one other than ourselves, we panic. We feel like we have to develop some other goal and something else to strive for so that we don’t have to sit here in this stillness and take a long hard look at who we really are when we’re not focused outwardly. It’s easier to have something to be striving toward; it’s harder to do the work on yourself. It’s harder to challenge that voice that’s telling you that you should be doing more you and that you should be wanting more.

That’s the beauty of coming to these plateaus.

That’s the beauty of the stillness.

It reminds us that we’re not a long list of things to do. We are not achievements and we are not defined by our long-term plans. Where are so much more than that and once our current plan reaches that plateau rather than jumping into a new plan I urge you…no, I implore you to take that time to be with yourself and learn how to be still. At the end of the day when the race is over the only person standing next to you will be yourself. Those plateaus afford us the opportunity to rekindle that relationship and learn how to see our innate worthiness, without all the fluff.

Sometimes it’s okay to just be where you are.

If you find yourself uncomfortable taking an hour to relax on the couch or uneasy that you don’t know whether or not you want to make a partner it’s an opportunity to ask yourself

What is wrong with just being where I’m at? What is it about this place that makes me so uncomfortable? What judgments am I lobbying at myself when I am not frantically achieving and checking things off my list?

That my friends is truly where the work begins.

The Career or the Family?

I can’t have a family and practice law.

This type of thinking is common for many women seeking their place in the legal industry. We are often surrounded by women who seemingly sacrifice everything to find success. They either choose not to have children or family for the sake of climbing the ladder or they have the kids and family but they trade their health and well-being–they never sleep and perpetually seem to be running a race against themselves.

Work and family: despite everything we see suggesting that these things are mutually exclusive, there is a significant fault with this thinking.

It is rare in this life that things will be truly mutually exclusive. We live in a world where dichotomies seemingly flourish, if we only look hard enough to see them. But when we subscribe to ‘either or’ thinking, we foreclose any solution to the dichotomy that might be truly our own. With ‘either or’ thinking, the only thing we will see are more reasons why it won’t work.

Our brains must be given some direction. Without adequate supervision and instruction, our brains are like children running down the stairs with knives — no one will come out of this unscathed. What this means is that, in every moment, of every day, we are giving our brain direction and instruction with our thoughts. From there, our brains will whir to action ferreting out evidence to support the thoughts and beliefs we offer it (hello, confirmation bias). So when we offer our brain thoughts of mutual exclusivity, our brain will not seek any evidence to the contrary.

Our brains are not designed to argue with our beliefs. That is a skill we must develop on our own. The first step is recognizing the beliefs that you are choosing are just thoughts–they are not facts but we are treating them as if they were.

When we subscribe to “either or” thinking, as if it were the holy grail of truths, we foreclose any innate ability we may have to merge the dichotomous elements. We overlook any creative solutions to the exclusivity and we don’t invest any energy developing creative alternatives.

If we truly believed that we could have a full professional life and a home life and if we actively invested in that belief, we would be much more willing to explore ways to make it work. We would be much more invested in drawing boundaries that would give us both. Instead, when we subscribe to dichotomous thinking, we set ourselves up to fail; we buy into the notion that one of those commitments will have to suffer for the other. What’s more, that thinking allows us to ACCEPT those sacrifices as part of the invariable truth. That truth being: you can’t have both.

Says who?

Investment in that type of thinking is only hurting us. When we allow ourselves to believe that we can only have one or the other, we stunt the development of the legal profession. Imagine where women would be today if our predecessors stopped challenging dichotomous beliefs!

One of the reasons this type of thinking often wins out is because it’s easy. It’s a very clear rule establishing choices that must be made. It confirms that anyone who tries to have both is only setting themselves up for failure because they are violating the rule. This ignores the underlying truth that sometimes getting the life that you want requires you to do the hard thing. Sometimes, challenging established beliefs requires more from you than simply accepting the limiting rules. So when we start to challenge those norms and feel that struggle, we give up and we release our will to the power of the belief.

But what if that struggle was the whole point?

What if just beyond that struggle and a whole host of difficult conversations and boundaries, you could find a way to live a life that flies in the face of the old rules?

We don’t have to believe that you must make a choice between family and a career. It can be done but it will certainly require more from you and it will most certainly require you to do more than simply buy into a belief. In order to deconstruct outdated thinking, we are going to have to invest in some difficult conversations and boundaries. We are going to have to re-examine how we envision our lives and our practices. We are going to step out of the black and white (victim, villain) thinking and start crafting solutions that actually work for us.

Besides, what’s the alternative?

Challenging systematic beliefs we hold about ourselves and our careers is at the core of what I do with my clients. When we believe we don’t have any other options, we stop growing and we stop challenging the status quo. We become the victim to a faceless machine. That is the death knell for our success in the legal profession. Start paving a different path, marked by an honest investment in your true wants and needs. Let’s re-chart your course — what do you have to lose?


Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash

Over-Apologizers Anonymous

“Apologizing when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.” — Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, Medicine Revived

I believe that all relationships should be two-sided. A push and pull, yin and yang, ebb and flow: balanced. When we over apologize, we take ownership for things that are not our own. The relationship becomes one-sided, where one person is always in the right and the other is always in the wrong.

What types of relationships fit into that dynamic?

Victim/villain comes to mind…

However you want to characterize it, over apologizing leaves no room for evolution by either party. The victim hones her skills at subservience, silence, and carrying burdens that are not her own. The villain hones her skills at skirting responsibility, blaming others and excuse-making. Both parties lose the opportunity to hone their voice and self-confidence, to develop the skills that accompany a healthy relationship: trust, partnership, humility, honesty, and respect.

Over apologizing is often the easy route. It’s easier to take on all the blame than it is to stand up for yourself. It’s easier to believe that it was all your fault than to examine the things you did right. This victim mentality is pervasive and can seep into all aspects of your life if left unchecked.

So why do we over apologize?

As I mentioned above, the primary reason we do it is that it’s easier. It is the path of least resistance. We don’t want to do the hard thing and speak our truth. We don’t want to make waves. We are biologically programmed to avoid conflict after all!

Therein lies the second reason that we do this: we don’t want the other person to think poorly of us. We don’t want to be seen as a muckraker, argumentative, or god-forbid a human with feelings. Buried deeper within this rationale is that we are trying to control how the other person thinks of us. We want them to like us. We want them to think we are a team player. We have thick skin. We don’t make trouble.

To be clear: We. Are. Being. Manipulative.

Changing what we think, feel, say, and do because we want something to think about us in a certain way is absolutely manipulation in its noblest form.

So not only are we not being authentic by hiding our truth, we are often showing up in a manner than is inconsistent with our values and character. When considered in this light, over apologizing becomes a bit more distasteful.

Further, when we wrongly apologize, we are taking ownership for something. We are implying that there was something overlooked. Something we could have and should have gotten right the first time. Is that true? Could you have foreseen that the client was going to change their mind? That the contractor was going to cancel last minute after you made your husband come home from work for the appointment? Before you consider uttering the words “I’m sorry,” first get clear on what your role was in the “problem.” If there is no clear failure on your behalf — stop talking.

We mustn’t allow ourselves to take ownership for things that are not our own. Rather, we must strive to share the experiences than should be SHARED between all parties. Recognize the discomfort of the situation for all parties but do not apologize for it, as if you created it. Acknowledge that things didn’t go as well as they could have but don’t pretend that the circumstances were masterminded by you and therefore you must apologize.

Sometimes things go wrong. That is life. Unless you are some secret deity, stop taking ownership for it.

Instead of apologizing, try on these options:

Good catch, I hadn’t considered that angle.

Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

Thanks for starting the meeting when my appointment ran long.

Is now a good time to chat? (Instead of “Sorry to bother you…”)

A few things I am taking away from this experience are….

This must be really frustrating for you too.

I can understand why you might be angry about this.

I would like to add… (Instead of “I’m sorry but…”)

Wow, this is really frustrating.

I appreciate your perspective, but I don’t understand why…

Whoops!

Use I’m sorry only if you have truly done something wrong that falls squarely on your shoulders.

And, most importantly, only use it when you really mean it. “I’m sorry” should be a phrase that, when it comes out of your mouth, others appreciate it and know it is genuine because it is not something you throw around lightly.

Chronic over apologizer? If the above concepts make you uncomfortable, grab a free session and start trimming “I’m sorry” out of your standard vocabulary.


Photo by Laura Seaman on Unsplash

Normalcy and Money

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the word “normal.” What is normal? Why do we care? Who decides what is normal?

One of the most challenging things I bump into as a coach are clients who vehemently subscribe to beliefs about what is normal and what is not normal. They have so many strong beliefs about how things are supposed to be—whether it’s their partners, their jobs, or their homes.

Spouses are supposed to be responsible with their finances.

It’s normal to want a bigger house.

It’s normal to want to get married and have kids.

So who says what’s normal? More importantly, why do we care?

In thinking through this question, I went down the black hole that is The Google. It doesn’t take much digging to find all sorts of odd practices that were once considered “normal” that would now be considered bizarre or even illegal!

Have you ever caught yourself saying:

It’s weird that she doesn’t wear makeup.

It’s normal to want to make more money.

I make good money so I should drive a nicer car.

It’s normal to buy an expensive purse if I want to.

It’s normal to buy Starbucks every day.

It’s weird to ride your bike to work.

It’s weird when a woman doesn’t want to get married or have kids.

It’s normal to want a fancy engagement ring.

Have you ever asked yourself whether those thoughts are true?

One of the biggest challenges I see young attorneys face is how to handle their money once they land that first big job. So often I see them go out and buy an expensive car, huge house, or new wardrobe. Why? Because that was normal. That’s what you do when you get your first big job.

BUT WHY?!

Not only do we have these thoughts we aren’t questioning but we then go on to tell ourselves that it is “normal” so that we don’t need to question them. This is such a brain gimmick! There is no such thing as normal! You should always question your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Why? So that you can like your reasons for the things you think, say, or do—so you can show up as an authentic human and not a robot!

Why does it matter that others think we are successful? Why does it matter that your purse cost $1,000? Why are those things important to you? Do you like your reasons?

People can spend their money however they choose but if people are not examining the underlying reasons for their spending, they are sleeping with the enemy. Shopping and spending money can be a buffer in the same way that overeating and overdrinking are. People splurge on things because they are looking for that momentary happiness—that endorphin rush that they get. They are spending money to try and make themselves feel better.

Feel better from what?

That is the true work. What feelings and thoughts are they trying to bury? When we tell ourselves that these types of activities are “normal” we are rationalizing our actions and trying to legitimize the buffer. We all know that once that high wears off from that splurge, you end up right back in the same place you started with those feelings you were trying to avoid. If you don’t confront those thoughts and feelings head-on, you will get really good at buffering and really terrible at emotional adulthood.

So, I ask you:

What are you doing in your life because you consider it “normal”?

Do you like your reasons?

As a coach I support my clients to uncover the hidden thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that are preventing them from achieving their best life. We confront those feelings and discard the buffers and get to work on the real issues underneath it all. Give it a try, I’d be delighted to see what we can accomplish together!

Compensation and Ostriches. An Homage to Year-End

With the year-end coming up, our calendars are filled with year-end tasks and planning for next year. When I was a partner at a law firm, this time of year brought with it not only business planning and budgeting for my practice group but also planning and budgeting for me personally. This was the time of year that everyone started whispering and hosting hushed conversations behind closed doors. The topic?

Compensation.

Partnership compensation and “points” and associate compensation, raises, and bonuses (oh my!).

While some years it was an exciting and happy time for me, in other years, it was fraught with frustration and anger, particularly after I made partner. As a partner, year-end meant the dreaded year-end partnership meeting where we would analyze our performance over the prior fiscal year, scrutinize our practice group projections, and learn about compensation structure for the next year. As a partner, I knew exactly how much my counterparts were receiving in compensation and I could see how many hours they billed the prior year. Whenever the performance and compensation charts were projected on the screen, the room would become hushed, faces carefully guarded and reactions withheld.

Everyone was making mental notes and judgments.

I hated those meetings. I told myself that I hated them because of the way they “made me feel.”

I once talked to a well-seasoned partner about the meetings and my frustrations with compensation—So and so doesn’t really bill that many hours, it’s all inflated….so and so gets additional points every year but does nothing to earn it…she only gets a raise every year because she brown noses to all the right people—and he told me that he stopped going to those meetings or reviewing the compensation sheets altogether. He told me that it wasn’t worth the mental anguish and frustration and it was better not to know.

Now there’s an idea. The good ‘ole ostrich approach.

Instead of anguish at year-end, I could opt of the whole charade in favor of blissful ignorance.  I could skip the meeting, burn the compensation sheet, and avoid weeks of stewing and mental judo. I could just keep moving forward, unmolested by irritation! Ta daaaa!

But I just couldn’t do it.

While I can certainly understand the sentiment Out of sight, out of mind, it just didn’t resonate with me, as a woman and significant minority in my role at the firm, to not know how I was being treated in comparison to others. What kind of advocate could I be if I wasn’t looking at the facts? As my coach had always told me: 

Look, See, Tell the Truth, Take Authentic Action. 

If I wasn’t looking and telling the truth about the circumstances, how could I take authentic action in my career?

So, I started examining my discomfort with those meetings and the thoughts driving those feelings.

It boiled down to all sorts of nasty thoughts that created feelings of anger and resentment—This isn’t fair…women will never be equally valued…no one values the work I am doing here…I’m not one of them so I don’t matter. All of those thoughts hammered my brain for weeks after those meetings. It wasn’t the meetings making me feel terrible, it was my thoughts about those meetings.

Once I made that connection, I was able to change my thoughts and shift how I was showing up. Instead of simmering in anger and resentment, I started to think—

This is a huge opportunity for me to be a voice for women…this is my chance to be honest and have difficult conversations with the Board…I can learn so much from this opportunity to ask for what I want and to be honest, no matter how difficult. 

Rather than stewing in the indulgent emotions of bitterness and resentment, I chose to look at the facts and take action. Sitting in my feelings of anger and resentment were getting me nowhere. They were making me withdraw from work, lash out, and spew bitterness to anyone who would listen. Those feelings were indulgent for me. They felt appropriate. They felt important. But they weren’t moving me forward. That was the problem. Instead, I told myself I could be angry and bitter for a few days and then I had to get to work managing my mind and shifting to thoughts that created authentic actions.

I’m not saying that when someone is feeling under compensated or mistreated, they should put on a happy face and “think positively” about it. What I am saying is that, often times, when we face challenges at work, we choose to wallow in indulgent emotions (bitterness, resentment, anger, jealousy) that don’t move us forward. We get stuck because we believe we are being wronged. We sit in those emotions because they feel so true. I’m not saying it is okay to be under compensated or mistreated. Rather, what is wrong is basking in those feelings for the sake of being a victim and indulging in those emotions so we don’t have to move forward.

After shifting my thoughts about the situation to ones that made me feel strong and confident, I was able to have the discussions that really mattered. I came into those discussions feeling confident in myself and I left the anger and resentment at the door. By shifting my thinking, I was able to show up in a more authentic and productive manner. I didn’t explode, I didn’t scream and yell or pull all sorts of dramatics. I used the situation as an opportunity to grow, an experience with a different kind of bravery and vulnerability.

I asked for the compensation that I wanted, and I spoke my truth.

I am a better person simply for having that difficult conversation.

As year-end meetings come upon us and we encounter year-end reviews or compensation discussions, be aware of your thinking and how it is making you feel. If you are upset or unhappy, allow yourself to feel upset and unhappy but don’t camp out there—don’t indulge in those feelings. Consider other ways to think about the situation. How is this situation pushing you to grow? Consider how you would handle the situation in the ‘perfect world’ and slip into that persona. Find thoughts that allow you to wear that persona for a day—what would you be thinking? What would you be feeling?

I can guarantee you the thoughts that are going to carry you forward are NOT the ones that cause you to feel angry and bitter.

If you are stuck in bitterness and resentment about your work or your compensation, I promise you that those feeling are never going to spur you into the types of actions that will get you the results you want. If I told you that road would never lead you to success, why would you choose to keep driving?

Coach with me and learn how your brain may be what is holding you back from taking authentic action and moving out of indulgent emotions.