Saying “No”

Logically, most of us know that we should be saying “no” far more than we are. Most us want more time, more balance, and more space. We know that saying “no” is an obvious step in the direction of those goals. But why is saying “no” so hard and so painful? What is it about setting that boundary that makes us cringe?

When we operate from our prefrontal cortex (the grown-up part of our brain that’s good at planning, strategizing, and anticipating challenges) it’s easy for us to see where change needs to happen. It’s easy for us to identify areas of our life where a new boundary would be helpful. We can look at our To Do List and the tasks that we take on and easily come up with things that we could take off our plates. Logically, this all makes sense but executing is where the battleground begins.

Once we’ve started something we have a hard time backing out. Once we’ve developed a pattern of saying “yes” we struggle to develop a new pattern. Even if we know intellectually that a new pattern will benefit everyone in the long run.

When we know that we need more “no” in our life, the only way we are going to get there is if we can deconstruct the rationale that got us to the place of overloaded to begin with. The next time someone asks you to take on an additional project or to sit on an extra board or help them through a problem, whatever it may be, we must pause in those moments and ask ourselves what rationale is driving us to accept these requests. It likely sounds something like this:

I should help

It’s the right thing to do (meaning, if I say “no” I’m not being a good person)

I don’t want to disappoint anyone

If I don’t say “yes” there will be a negative consequence (I won’t get anymore clients, I will lose out on work, people won’t trust me, people won’t like me, etc.)

All of these thoughts are incredibly persuasive in the moment. All of these thoughts are also rooted in fear. We worry that if we don’t help, others will judge us. We worry that others will think we’re not a good person or we’re not a team player. We worry that something bad will happen if we don’t follow through on all of these requests.


Sound familiar? Setting boundaries and time management is a huge part of my work with my clients. If you want to change the way you respond to requests and manage your time, grab a free consult and let’s get to work. You deserve better!


Those fear-based thoughts spring from our fight or flight brain that wants us to continue our usual routine of saying “yes” and chasing the endorphins of people pleasing. When we consider saying “no” and deviating from this pattern, our survival brain goes on the defensive. It starts offering to us all the reasons why this new approach will be catastrophic for our lives and our reputations. Knowing this, we must look at all of those fear-based thoughts and challenge them (using our prefrontal cortex).

I should help.

What does that even mean?! How do you know when you should help?! Who decides? Would everyone agree with that?

When we tell ourselves that we “should” help we often get ourselves into scenarios where we’re overloaded and we do a poor job in the end. In fact, it would be more of a service to the person making the request if we actually didn’t help because it’s possible they would find someone with more capacity who could do a better job. In other words, when you find your brain telling you that you should help the exact opposite is typically true: you should not help. Back away! Let them find someone else who will be more engaged and more available for the task.

It’s the right thing to do.

Again, says who?! What does that even? Is it right to help people when you don’t really want to? Isn’t that just dishonesty in a prettier outfit? Besides, when it comes to the “right thing” to do, shouldn’t your wants, needs, and sanity be the primary driver of those decisions?!

I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

The only way we disappoint people is when we overcommit ourselves, overextend ourselves, and do not show up in the manner that the requestor knows we can provide. When we say “yes” even though we mean “no,” we set ourselves on a clear path to likely disappoint not only the requester but other people who have similar requests already sitting on our plates.

Similarly, when we tell ourselves something bad will happen if we don’t say “yes,” it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are likely to take on something that we don’t have capacity for and we do a bad job and create a negative consequence simply by doing a bad job and not being able to show up as our best selves. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

All of these thoughts are red flags that we are setting ourselves up to create the exact opposite result than what we’re wanting. More failure, disappointment, and chaos await us when we allow those thoughts to drive our actions.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be persuaded by these thoughts, we must remain rooted and grounded in our commitment to ourselves, our balance, and our happiness. We must reconnect with our prefrontal cortex that knows we already have enough on our plate, we’re already overextended, and some things just have to start coming off the list. Allow our prefrontal cortex to make those decisions ahead of time and go into the day knowing that any new request will be met with a simple “no”.

That is power.

That is having your own back.

That is putting yourself in a position to show up as your best self every time and ensuring that when people rely on you, you will have the time and energy to rise up and meet those expectations because you’re caring for yourself first.


Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

Finding Your Voice

Have you ever found yourself fantasizing about that conversation you want to have with your boss (or partner, or client, or staff)? The REAL conversation you want to have? The one where you are completely honest and say all those things you have only whispered under your breath?

As attorneys, we are hired to advocate and be the knowledge voices of our clients–why do we struggle to advocate for ourselves?

During our lives…

We learn to walk.

We learn to ride bicycles.

We learn to cook for ourselves.

We learn how to navigate new cities.

Our lives contain so many examples of how we have overcome failure to learn new things. Babies fall repeatedly as they learn how to walk. We all had a few bumps and bruises as we learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. I conducted numerous pathetic and indigestible kitchen experiments whilst learning how to cook like my mom. I nearly died the first time I drove in a big city.

When I was in high school, I moved to the state capital to work as a page in the House of Representatives. It was the first time I had lived on my own and the first time I had to learn how to navigate a big city. I remember the first few times I made a wrong turn onto downtown one way streets. Where I came from, we didn’t have one way streets! We barely even had stoplights! I wasn’t used to paying attention to those things and I quickly learned all the new rules that come with inner city driving. I didn’t give up and decide living in the city wasn’t for me. I just did it. I kept trying and learning and not letting the fear about dying in a fiery car crash keep me stuck.

But isn’t everything else in life the same way?

I often find that my clients want to stand up for themselves and advocate for what they want–better balance, more flexibility, different work, a different supervisor, etc. They struggle to work up the courage to show up and ask for what they want because it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s because they’ve had bad experiences in the past where their honest requests were met with criticism. Whatever the case may be, they struggle with the discomfort of not being good at using their voice in an authentic and vulnerable way.

What we fail to see is that we are not going to be “good” at using our voices right out of the gate.

We are going to make some wrong turns and have some experiences that might feel like driving into oncoming traffic. But that doesn’t mean we have failed. It simply means we are learning something new.

Today, commit to using your voice in a way that is authentic to you–ask for what you want, say what you mean, say “no” when you want to.

It’s not going to feel good.

You’re going to be uncomfortable.

With practice, it will get easier.

Allow yourself opportunities to learn and fine tune that skill so that in the future, when it really matters, you won’t hesitate because it will be as natural as riding a bike (or navigating one way streets).

One of the things I do with my clients is develop a plan and strategize around asking for what they want. We experiment and practice with different methods until we find an approach that works best for them. If you struggle to say “no” or ask for what you really want, invest in developing that talent. Work with me and start living in your voice (schedule a free consultation now and reconnect with your voice and your power).


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Harassed by Father Time?

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a session or worked with a client that was not seemingly persecuted by Father Time. Many of us believe that we don’t have enough time, that we’re running out of time, or that there is simply too much to do. How much of this is fixable? In a recent session I had with a friend, I was surprised at the answer to that question.

Disclaimer: I do not share details of my coaching sessions without explicit consent from my clients and any personal information has been altered to protect their lovely identities.

In this particular session, my friend Claire explained how she is working on a new side-gig she is really passionate about. Her excitement for the project was evident and she explains that if she could, she would spend every waking hour on this endeavor. The problem? Claire is a full-time WFH attorney. Every day, Claire balances her passion project with the demands of her job. In addition, Claire is in the process of moving and has all the lovely tasks that come with that experience. She also has a boyfriend and a 3-year-old child. As I asked Claire to rate different aspects of her life on a scale of 1 to 10 it became clear to me that her dissatisfaction in various areas of her life all came back to one glaring issue: she believed didn’t have enough time and she believed the only solution was to quit her FT job.

She explained that any time she was frustrated at work or wishing that she was spending time on her passion project instead of sitting in conference calls and CLEs (can I get an amen?), her mind immediately responded:

You should just quit. This is too much. You don’t have enough time to do it all.

In the moment, those kinds of black and white thoughts are incredibly persuasive. They elicit such strong visceral reactions from us and strong feelings of hopelessness that it’s difficult to believe that they are not legitimate. However, surprisingly, sometimes those thoughts are simply just thoughts and there is no factual basis behind them.

Before we started exploring options for leaving her full-time position, I wanted to get clear on the facts.  I asked Claire to help me understand how she was spending her time. As we walked through a typical week, we got really clear on how much time she was spending on her side project, her grown-up job, acting as a mother and a partner, and moving.

At the end, it became clear to both of us that Claire was, in fact, getting it all done rather seamlessly. In addition, she rated her physical, emotional, and relationship health at 8, 9 and 10, respectively. Other areas of her life that she rated poorly, she reasoned was because she didn’t have enough time for them (e.g. she wanted more time with friends and more time for her passion project). However, as we explored her day-to-day activities, we realized that on most nights she wraps up by 6:00 PM, she gets to the gym three times a week, spends time with her boyfriend and her daughter every evening and over lunch breaks, and she was getting plenty of sleep.

So what was really the problem?

The problem was that she truly believed that she did not have enough time and she blamed that on her current job. As we worked through the session, we started to see that maybe those thoughts didn’t have a lot of factual support. Rather, we realized that by allowing her brain to demonize her job and marinate in thoughts of time scarcity, she was making herself miserable. In fact, at the end of our session she observed: I’m getting it all done I just don’t like the way that it feels.

Of course not! It feels terrible to believe that you don’t have enough time and you have to quit your job in order to make it all work. That is a frightening and stressful conclusion to carry around all day long. Rather, when Claire sat with the realization that she is getting it all done and is doing a good job, she was able to move out of the frustration cloud and start making different decisions about her days.

When you stop dragging hopelessness around with you all day long, you have a lot more energy to do all the other things you *think* you don’t have enough time for.

Claire realized that she was not going to be able to spend every day, all day working on her passion project while maintaining another full-time job but she also realized that she didn’t really want that. She didn’t want to quit her full time job and the faulty belief that she *needed* to in order to “have enough time” was freaking her out. Rather than living in her truth (I am a FT attorney with a side gig), she was choosing to live in a black and white world where her full-time job was the source of all of her woes: she had to do the passion project or the job but not both. Suddenly, she realized that if she snapped out of the funk and stopped ragging on her job every day, she just might find the emotional space to improve the other areas of her life that she felt were lacking.

How often have we chosen to believe that we can’t get it all done, that we’re failing, and that we just don’t have enough time?

How many times in your life have you taken the time to honestly explore the validity of those thoughts?

While there may certainly be times in our lives when priorities conflict and choices must be made, so many of us rush to believe we don’t have time, we can’t make it work, something has to give. That kind of either or thinking is terrifying and we often accept it automatically and without question. As Claire discovered, that kind of patterning not only makes you feel miserable but it can detract from the reality that you are in fact handling it all like a boss.

So what’s the answer to this time quagmire? Brutal honesty. Brutal honesty about where your time goes, what you want, and what you are capable of.


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Being Authentic

When I was in private practice, I had a client that called me all the time. Constantly. He would call to talk through new ideas. He would call every time he wondered about some new aspect of the project. He called to vent. He called just to chat. He called when he was frustrated with his team and other times he called to let me know how happy he was how things were going. It was constant. How I showed up in that relationship changed everything about how I set boundaries in my relationships, personally and professionally.

I got in the habit of ignoring most of his calls unless I had the time or was in a good space to chat with him. I would often send him brief follow-up emails —

Saw I missed your call, I’m tied up for most of the day but if you send me a note, I can get back to you between meetings.

Which is really code for: If you’re calling just to chat, I’m busy. If you’re calling for legal support, I’m available. Even when I ignored his calls, I was irritated and distracted afterwards — Why does he DO THAT?! I’m not his buddy, I’m his lawyer!! (But dealing with the peccadillos of other humans is another challenge I had to sort out later on. Another story for another time.)

I didn’t ignore his calls and incessant messaging because I didn’t like him, it was because the calls were unnecessary and inefficient. They interrupted whatever else I was working on and they didn’t further our primary goal which was to GET THE JOB DONE. Usually, he was just calling to vent or talk through something. He liked to work through things verbally. As an introvert, I do not. I believed strongly that by screening his calls, I was allowing myself the opportunity to do a better job than I would if I allowed myself to be constantly interrupted.

After a while, I started to feel guilty about constantly putting him off. My brain was badgering me: He is going to get upset with you…He is going to think you don’t care…He is going to complain about your service…He’s going to say you are always unavailable.

One day, I gave in to those nagging thoughts.

He called me. I declined the call. Then he IM’d me about 5 minutes prior to my next meeting: Give me a call when you have a second. I decide to call him. No, rather, I concluded that I should call him. So, I called him. I called him because I believed that I should and I was irritated about it. When he answered, I instantly regretted it. I was not engaged; I was defensive, abrupt, and annoyed. It was evident. After the call, I felt terrible. I was everything that I was trying not to be in that relationship!

After thinking through the exchange, I realized that acting from “should” never yields me the results that I want. Forcing myself to do things when I’m not in the right mindset, when I’m feeling rushed, or when I’m acting from a negative emotion, never drives me to act in a way that I’m proud of.

Instead, I choose to believe that no one is going to fire me for being busy and I can ask people to interact with me in a way that is most effective and efficient for me (boundaries, anyone?). People might not like this approach and people might get frustrated but I am committed to being available in a manner that allows me to show up at my best and I would rather have people frustrated with my communication approach than be frustrated with me for being a jerk.

I choose to believe that I never have to answer a call if I don’t want to.

I choose to act when I want to and not because I believe I HAVE to.

I choose not to concede my schedule and my time to anyone other than myself.

Feel like your days are at the mercy of someone else? Schedule a free consult and get support to set (and execute) better boundaries.

I anticipated the possibility that he might be put off by this approach so I scheduled regular, brief check-in meetings that provided him an opportunity to talk about whatever was moving him that day and I could anticipate that interruption. After the project concluded, the client raved to everyone in the company and at my firm about our partnership. That’s how it is supposed to work, he told everyone. Not because I was at his beck and call 24/7 but because I put in the work to show up as my best in that relationship despite my discomfort and nagging worries.

It’s not about pushing people away. It’s about honoring yourself and your needs.

It’s about being committed enough to the relationship to be honest in the moment — no, I don’t want to talk right now — so that you can show up as your best in that relationship. It’s about being so committed to the relationship that you are willing to do something unpopular. In the end, it’s about being willing to be your authentic self in all of your relationships and letting go of any other notion of how you are “supposed” to act in relationships.

In sum, when we show up authentically, relationships flourish.


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Boundaries

Most of the attorneys that I work with do not believe that it is possible for them to create happiness within their current environment. They come to me unhappy and overworked. They believe that the only way things are going to get better is if the firm finally changes. Or if they leave. Part of the work that I do with my clients is helping them to start setting boundaries and flexing their “no” muscle.

Saying, “No, ” is always an option available to us to make more time for ourselves. To make time for the things that actually matter to us. So that we can find some space and happiness. We know, logically, that if we want more time, more balance, and more peace, boundaries are part of the deal but we are reluctant to flex those muscles because we fear the consequences.

There is a difference between not knowing how to resolve a problem and being afraid to implement solutions you know exist.

When my clients consider the possibility of not responding to an email at 8:30pm on a Wednesday night, it doesn’t seem like a real option. Their brains tell them that those kinds of boundaries will get them fired, demoted, judged, and “into trouble.”

Possibly.

We set boundaries because we know what is good for us; that doesn’t mean others are going to like it.

But let’s explore that. My clients that are learning to set boundaries and say “no” continue to meet their hourly obligations to the extent those obligations are clear. They continue to do good work, often times even better work. They continue to be a team player. And with these changes their attitude and energy change dramatically as well. Is it reasonable to believe that a firm is going to fire someone performing in this manner simply because they are not willing to be a doormat, on call 24/7? It’s possible. But it’s also possible that the firm will swallow that pill even though they don’t like it.

If this resonates with you, grab a free session and commit today to start living differently.

Furthermore, when we tell ourselves that setting these boundaries, pushing back and saying “no” is going to cause us to get fired, I don’t believe that result differs from the alternative. I work with attorneys all day long, every day. Attorneys who are burnt out and unhappy. Attorneys who have implemented the rage quit or attorneys who are tap dancing on the edge of it. What I submit is this:

If we continue the path that we have historically been on, where we ignore our boundaries and forget how to say “no,” the ultimate result is that we leave. We leave burnt out, unhappy, and disillusioned, believing that practicing law is just not right for us. That path may take several years to trek but ultimately the lack of boundaries ends with a sad exit.

In contrast, we can choose a path where we speak our truth. We’re honest about our availability, we set clear boundaries and make time for what’s really important to us. If that path were to result in us being terminated, we must also ask:

Is that so much worse than the alternative?

How long do you think you could flex those “no” muscles, set boundaries, stand up for yourself, and make more time for what’s really important to you before the firm steps in and decides that they no longer want to employ you? Six months? A year? What would that time be like for you? To have more time, more balance, to have the ability to workout and spend time with your family instead of constantly feeling on the edge and on call. Wouldn’t that six months or one year of balance and peace serve you in a much better manner than those years of burnt out frustration?

The ending is the same most certainly but the person at the end of either of those journeys is absolutely not the same person. And the sacrifices each of them would make during those journeys could not be more different. The choice is yours. What do you have to lose?


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Are You Living in Fight or Flight?

For many of us, when we are practicing and things get hairy, we unknowingly slip into survival mode and our days are spent living in fight or flight. We lose touch with our rational thinking and have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. We are convinced that there are no solutions available to us and we just want to keep our heads above water. We are surrounded by a negative cloud and we tend to believe the worst case scenario is waiting for us around any corner.

We can’t ask for what we want because everyone will judge us.

They will pull work from us if we complain.

They will say we’re not partner material.

They will fire us.

It will never change.

There’s no point speaking up.

They’re never going to let me lighten my workload.

That’s just the way it is.

There is no fixing it.

While all of this thinking could certainly be true, when we are living in fight or flight mode, flitting from project to project just trying to make it through the day, we start to believe that all of those statements are factual. We start to believe that those are the only truths available to us.

When we are living in fight or flight, our brain operates from negativity bias.

It sees everything on the horizon as an animal that is ready to kill us and it sees any deviation from the norm as a high risk. For these reasons, it becomes very difficult for us to realize that all of those statements, while they could be true, the opposite could also be true. It becomes very difficult for us to see that we are only looking at one possible outcome.

This is why so many of us just. keep. going. hoping that someday it will change.

We forget that we cannot tell the future and that while the worst case scenario could certainly happen, the best case scenario is also equally possible. When we are in the middle of a crisis at work feeling overwhelmed and overloaded, it is very difficult to generate any feelings other than resignation and hopelessness. It’s no wonder it feels like an impossible task to make changes or to ask for what we want.

Our brain is not wired to look for positive potential outcomes when it is fighting to survive!

When we find ourselves overwhelmed by negativity and overcome by the challenges before us, the only thing we can do is watch our survival brain at work. Watch our brain convince us that the worst case scenario is the only possible outcome and recognize that our brain is not offering us any other alternatives but to just keep going. This awareness can be all it takes to raise us out of the negativity overwhelm back to a neutral state where we can make clear-headed and unbiased decisions. We have to recognize what our brain is doing and realize that what it is offering to us is only 1/2 of the possibilities before us.


Many of my clients put in the work to shift out of panicked, fight or flight practicing to create a strategic path toward balance and clarity. If you want to stop drinking from the fire hose and take back your own agency, join us. This work changes everything.


Once we start seeing that there is, in fact, more than one potential outcome, and more than one path forward, we take back our power. From that space we can start to see and evaluate clearly the options ahead of us. At the same time we move out of victim mentality and stop believing that everything is happening to us and recognize our own power in the moment. We can choose to believe that things just might work out, that we can use our voice, live authentically and just maybe everything will be okay.

(Because drinking from the firehouse day in and day out never ends well for anyone. )


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Painful Honesty

Today, the behavior of a small child completely rocked my world.

My girlfriend texted our friend group this morning to talk about an issue going on with her daughter. Her daughter was on the bus home from school and the bus driver and another child were apparently in a Russian standoff with the boy refusing to sit down and the bus driver refusing to drive until he did so. As the minutes drug on, my friend’s lovely and slight little girl, asked the boy if he would please sit down because she wanted to get home. And then he turned to her and punched her in the face. By the time, my friend’s beautiful little girl got home, she was in tears and told her mom what had happened all the while insisting that her mom not do anything about it because she didn’t want to get into trouble.

My friend was reaching out to us for our thoughts on what she should do. While we were all in agreement that something must be done, we were in agreement for a variety of different reasons. One of us wanted to know about the school’s rules and policies for this type of behavior. Was there some type of structure in place to track and monitor this type of behavior like a 3 strike rule, for instance, that would ultimately remove this child from the bus (or school) if the behavior continued? Another of us suggested a meeting with the principal to ensure that the child was removed from the bus. For me, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in the life of this child that he would physically assault another, much smaller child, and go to such lengths for something so minimal? What kind of a disservice would it be to the child if this wasn’t reported. Maybe this was a cry for help? Even if not, it seems that this is something that would warrant additional follow-up and concern for that child–was he simply repeating what he sees at home?

As I thought about my friend’s daughter and her pleas to let it go and not make a big fuss over it, I felt myself relating to that sentiment in so many ways. Why is it that we often ignore the wrongdoings of others because we don’t want to “get into trouble”? Or because we don’t want to make it a big deal? How many times have we allowed someone to take advantage of us without telling them that is how we feel? Or watched someone act cruelly to another without saying something? To be clear, I don’t believe that saying something is likely going to “change” the offensive actor, in fact, I think that is highly unlikely. But what kind of message does it send to the victim when we don’t act? When we don’t say anything?

Could our willingness to call out bad actors inspire the victims to act, to leave, to stand up for themselves?

Could our willingness to call out abuse when we see it, communicate to the victim that it doesn’t have to be this way? Could it affirm for them that it’s not okay and there are strangers who might care more for you than that person?

What an amazing opportunity to teach a child that, yes, speaking up is scary and yes, the world isn’t perfect and it might make things worse or harder for you by being honest. But your honesty, your truth and your respect for yourself and identifying what is okay and not okay, THAT is gold.

Honoring your truth and your experience and calling out bad actors even when it might cause you some discomfort or fear is what this life is all about.

Trusting your value and using your voice to establish your boundaries is a lesson most of us spend our lives trying to learn. What kind of a world would we have if children started learning these lessons right away? What impact would that have on the bullying epidemic? What kind of future leaders would we have if everyone learned from a young age to call out inequities and seek justice, whatever the cost?

What type of world we would have if we as adults were able to channel that power and voice our objections to racism, sexism, and cruelty that we encounter every day?!

When I was engrossed in an abusive marriage, I was meeting with one of my close friends and sharing some of my struggles with her. She looked me right in the eyes and baldly said, “You need to divorce him.” She didn’t try to soften it. She didn’t explain. She was unwilling to pretend it was going to get better. She didn’t lie to me and tell me she trusted him or believed in my safety. She risked our friendship to tell me the truth. The truth that I need to hear. I felt seen and my struggles felt validated. That was a huge turning point for me in deciding to leave and I will forever be grateful to her for her honesty.

Insidious things are a part of our world because we let them be a part of our world.

We. Let. Them. Exist.

That is a choice we make every day, several times a day, every day of our lives. Today I am inspired by the lesson my friend is imparting upon her little girl. Today I will strive to be the best and most honest version of myself. I will speak up when I see things that are hurtful or cruel. I will speak up, not because I want to change anyone but because I want to be an example to others of what is possible in this world. And what is possible is a world where people support and love one another, including those we don’t even know and will not sit by and passively watch as others are harmed and taken advantage.

If you see something say something.


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Being Treated Differently

Humans will be humans. They will make terrible mistakes and bad choices. And sometimes, even “good” people make bad choices about the things that they say or choose to believe. These thoughts are often unconscious. Habitual, automatic thinking.

These automatic, programmed thoughts and ideas don’t make them a bad person it just means that they have bad thoughts that they haven’t examined through the lens of implicit bias….the jokes that people make or that people laugh at, the automatic judgments they make about others without questioning those judgments. The reason this matters is because those small actions, those unconscious reactions, and judgments are what are keeping so many segments of our society from moving forward. It’s not necessarily explicit hatred of another group but it is implicit bias masquerading in a prettier outfit.

Most of us have our own experiences being treated differently. I remember a few years ago, I was attending an early morning meeting where I was the only woman. As background, I have two white Shiba Inu pups and anyone who knows anything about dogs knows that a person who owns more than one Shiba Inu is a masochist. A masochist who loves having dog hair all over every article of clothing they have as well as in their icebox, refrigerator, underwear drawers, deli meat, and attics. I ALWAYS have dog hair on me.

On this particular day, I was wearing a long black pencil skirt. As I approached the breakfast bar to grab some coffee and a bagel, I felt a presence close behind me. Then I heard an older gentleman speaking in a low, private voice right into my ear, I think your dogs left you a present on your skirt this morning. Embarrassed and confused, I turned to look and saw that my backside was covered in the white hair of my beloved pups. As I thanked him and turned to leave the room to redress the situation he smiled and said you have no idea how much I wanted to wipe that off for you. You just have to let an old man have his fantasies.

WTF

I was immediately floored by his comment but I told myself He’s harmless. He’s a goofy old man who doesn’t think before he speaks…I was so shocked and startled and I wasn’t sure how to respond but I knew I didn’t want to make a scene at 7:00 o’clock in the morning in a room full of men.

After the meeting wrapped up, I went back to my office and tried to put the strange encounter out of my mind when I heard a knock at my door. I looked up and found the same old gentleman standing sheepishly in my doorway and waiting for me to notice him standing there awkwardly.   This time he was apologetic and thanked me for not getting upside with him, “just an old man,” and the “stupid things” that he says. He begged me to tell him if I was upset by what he had said. I brushed it off, told him it wasn’t a big deal, and we moved forward with the relationship and our days.

At the time, I found myself confirming that, if someone else had made the same comment, someone that I thought intended to be suggestive or probing, I would have reacted very differently. I was so focused on the individual and my knowledge that he didn’t mean anything by it….he was a kind and goofy old man with no malice. But why did that matter?

Through this work, I now realize that my response is part of a larger problem. I was focusing on the intent driving the individual to act that way, allowing space for his ignorance. People’s actions are just as important as their intentions. This gentleman did not intend to sexually harass me but the fact of the matter is, his conditioned thoughts and his words went there. He was thinking of me and my presence in a way that was not acceptable or safe. Even if he wasn’t seeking anything out of line, his words communicated to me that as a woman, I will always, in part, be seen as a sexual object. By brushing it off and not acknowledging the problem with his words, I was trading his discomfort for my own. To avoid making him feel uncomfortable by calling out his actions, I swallowed the pill and felt uncomfortable enough for both of us.

I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable but it was okay for me to be uncomfortable.

Why? Because my predominant thought was “Let’s not make this a big deal….I don’t want you to think I’m overly sensitive or can’t take a joke.”

But the truth was, it was a big deal. The fact that I can still recall that moment so vividly and point to it as one of the many moments when I knew I did not belong is significant.

Those thoughts did not serve me at the time and they are not serving any of us today. Anyone who acts or speaks in a way that indicates you are not an equal in the workplace is a problem. It is not acceptable to stifle our concerns in favor of not making waves.

Instead of retreating in fear of confrontation and drama, I could have made better decisions and clung to better thoughts.

I want to feel angry when I feel like I am being discriminated against. I do not want to feel like “It’s okay.” I want to be open to the discomfort that comes with taking a stand and speaking my peace. These are essential emotions. I don’t want to feel good about these circumstances. I don’t want to pretend to be okay to avoid these negative feelings.

In those moments, I want to believe: This is an opportunity for me to be honest and develop my relationship with this human. I am not a victim, I am simply shining a light on the situation.

I am not trading my truth for your comfort.

The fear-based, glossing-it-over approach is not working. What does work is looking at people’s actions and challenging those actions where you see them. Rather than focusing on the person’s intent and formulating thoughts from there, shift your focus to the larger goal. I can address this and be honest with this person about what I think about what they’ve said or done. Demeaning words and actions, even ones that lack explicit malice, are indicative of tired thinking that begs to be challenged. If we keep condoning the actions and focusing only on the intentions, we sacrifice diversity of thought. We sacrifice honesty in our relationships.

In my experience, none of the people I have worked with were intentionally sexist/racist/homophobic. However, in my experience, many of those colleagues made sexist/racist/homophobic comments. They did not harbor hate but they did harbor ignorance and unacknowledged bias.

As humans in this world, we all have a role to play in fostering the evolution of thought. While that might mean we have to place ourselves in uncomfortable situations and call out actions that we know are not mal-intended. Unless we’re honest with people about how their words or actions impact our abilities to show up, to stand up, to speak up, we will never make the progress that our world so desperately needs.

Having trouble finding the words to speak your truth? Don’t make the same mistakes I made. Develop the tools to stand up for yourself and those around you. Coach with me and let’s make this journey together.

We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers. The proof that one truly believes is in action – Bayard Rustin

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

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

Toxic Work Environments

This morning, I was thinking of some of the more challenging experiences in my legal career. A few of my favorite little gems from myself and my clients:

Put your big girl panties on and figure it out (a first year associate trying to ask questions to the assigning partner).

You are just sour you didn’t get appointed to the Board (regarding being underpaid in comparison to male counterparts).

Sometimes people say the wrong things to the wrong people (from a managing partner a female attorney who just raised a sexual harassment complaint).

If you were [a male partner] I would fire you for this (after questioning why a male co-worker was getting paid nearly twice what she was making).

The practice of law is challenging and, for better or worse, the practice of law usually requires interactions with some very *challenging* humans.

Part of my work is helping women get to a place of self-examination–thinking on purpose and recognizing how those thoughts impact the results we create in our life. That work typically requires a hard conversation with one’s self about whether a thought is serving you.

I hate my body becomes I’m learning to love my body.

My boss is a jerk becomes I have a boss.

I hate working at this firm becomes I have a job at a firm.

Those subtle shifts have tremendous impact how we feel, how we show up, and ultimately on our reality.

But what about circumstances that you don’t want to feel good about?

What about that day you are sitting in that office having the most difficult conversation of your life, challenging leadership for an explanation why your male counterpart gets paid so much more than you and instead of listening to you, he threatens to fire you for raising the issue?

That, dear readers, is not a situation any of us would want to feel good about.

When we encounter these types of challenges, we don’t want to shift to a better thought. In truth, sometimes these experiences feel more like an out of body experience. We slip out of our bodies to watch these dumpster fires from a distance.

After these experiences, we don’t want to have flowery thoughts about it. We want to be angry. We want to feel indignant. We want to truly own the experience of being treated unfairly. To being ignored and belittled. Treated like a child.

Where do you go from there?

For any experience in our life, we have the power to decide:

How do I want to feel about this? What do I want to think about this?

We have choices to make.

What would my future self tell me to do? How would she tell me to show up?

While we truly believe that we have been belittled and treated unfairly, it is not productive to set up camp with those thoughts. It didn’t matter whether it’s true. Those thoughts created a spiral of unproductive anger, bitterness, and resentment.

Those feelings drive off on indignant rants and whining, complaining, and passive aggression. Those thoughts truly drive us to act like a bratty child throwing a tantrum.

You must challenge your angry thoughts and examine the impact each one has one you — how you feel, how you act from that space and the result that it gets you. Find one that sparks progress instead of combustion.

You have to find a thought that propels you to that vision you want for yourself.

In these situations, my clients want to show up strong and confident. They want to be truthful and unbiased and not cover up the experience.

They don’t want to spew hatred about their firms or their leadership; they want to shine the light. They want to be cool, calm, collected and HONEST.

A mantra we often discuss in our sessions is: This is my truth and this is what happened to me and I am not going to hide or sugarcoat it for anyone.

For most of us, those thoughts create confident, honesty, and strength. It makes us feel like a champion for women. When I have applied that mantra to some of my less than rosy experiences of my career, that thought made me feel a little bitter and indignant but not in a way that made me want to burn it all down. In a way that wanted me to open up about it.

Most of us ultimately walk way from toxic work environments. We do not transform them. We do not change their mindset. The firms rarely see any err in their ways.

So many of us have experiences like those above and we take it. We put our heads down and keep trucking. If we stop to ask ourselves – how do I want to feel about this? How do I want to show up in this moment? In 10 years, how will I wish I had shown up?

It’s easier to take the lumps as they come and just keep going.

It’s part of the job.

It’s just the way it is.

I will never change them.

Those thoughts keep us stuck in a world where things like this keep happening. Those thoughts are safe. They allow you to avoid the difficult conversation.

What would it be like if we all chose to speak our truth and be honest about our experiences? No matter what the cost. Would we be farther along than we are?

Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for. — Marian Wright Edelman

If you are angry with what you are seeing in your work environment, how about some FREE support? Reserve one of my three weekly mini-sessions before they are all gone!


Photo by Александр Македонский from Pexels