Fear

I’m afraid of what my life will be like if I stay but I’m too afraid to leave.

It’s surprising how often I hear this during my sessions with attorneys. Logically, they know that long-term big law life is not for them. They know that they don’t want to be a slave to billable hours forever and they do not see anyone above them who has a lifestyle they want to emulate. They have all sorts of concrete, realistic reasons why they don’t want to stay where they are. But it is rare that I encounter a client who is “ready” to leave.

Why do they stay? The answers usually some of the following:

I don’t know enough yet

There is so much more I need to learn

People will judge me

What if it’s worse somewhere else?

Within that head space are the fears that if they leave, no one will hire them because they don’t “know enough” or that they won’t be able to get a job because they left “too early” in their career as well as the fear that everyone at the firm will judge them as someone who couldn’t hack it or wasn’t a good fit anyway. Lastly, the most important fear of them all–what if it’s a mistake to leave and it’s just worse elsewhere?!

So they stay. They stay and they hate it.

They stay and they are bitter and conflicted about it. They stay and they hate the fact that they don’t know where they want to be in five years.

When you make the decision to head to law school the long pursuit lays itself out before you. So many steps become very clear. You take the LSAT, research law schools, prepare applications, go through the motions of law school, apply to write for journals, do on campus interviewing, get a good summer associate position, and on and on it goes. Then you land the job and 2 years into it, you come up for air and wonder what you are supposed to do next.

It is jarring! Understandably, so! You have just spent close to a decade learning and taking all the right steps and now those steps are exhausted and you haven’t given any thought to the next series of steps.

At this point, the majority of my clients have concluded that they don’t want to make partner but that is the extent of it. Should they go in-house, go to a smaller firm, start their own firm, leave law for good? The possibilities of what can be done with a law degree are endless.

The possibilities of what can be done with your life are also endless.

There is no right or wrong answer.

One of the biggest mistakes I see my clients making is that they wait for clarity to come to them. They continue to go through the motions hoping that some day the path will become clear. Maybe they will get a call from a headhunter with the perfect opportunity for them. Maybe they will get fired! Maybe they will wake up one day and LOVE their job. So they wait. They make good money, they don’t hate everything about their job, so they just stick it out. That type of passivity is why so many people stay in jobs they hate forever.

It’s easier to just wait for something to “feel right” than it is to take control and start making things happen.

The only way to truly get clarity about what you want in life is to start taking ownership for your path and experimenting with what you want. We can’t wait for the opportunities to come to us. We can’t wait for the firm or some partner to dictate our future. We have to take our power back.

First, we have to get clear about what we want for ourselves. What are your goals at your firm? What are the things that you still want to learn or think that you need to learn? There will always be more things to learn, that is simply the human experience. Stop allowing yourself to believe that there is some attainable point at which you will “know enough” and be ready to move on. It’s an empty, shifting target that is rooted in fear.

You will never know it all and no matter what you do next, there will be things you don’t know. 

So instead of allowing for this unattainable point of omniscience, set clear goals that are important to you. Recognize that we are overachievers and have a tendency to want to do all the things and cut your list of items down to three actionable goals. Don’t let yourself create a “learning” ball and chain that keeps you stuck forever. Pick three things that will force you to grow and provide you will valuable skills and focus your energies there.

If you can’t think of three concrete things you want to learn from your current work experience, you are in the wrong place. (Psst, it’s time for a change.)

Second, start taking action on these goals. What will you have to do to make them a reality? This step will likely require you to have some discussions with your partners or your supervisors about the type of work you like or the things you want to accomplish. This alone will force you to flex some new muscles.

Asking for what you want and being clear about your vision for yourself is a lifelong skill. Start practicing now.

No one knows who you will be or what you will want to do with your life once you attain those goals. That is the point. The point is to challenge yourself to grow and develop. Law firms are businesses and so are you. Use every experience as an opportunity to grow the value and worth of your business. The firm is certainly using you for its purposes, start using it for your own. Decide what you want to get out of the experience and make it happen.

The last part of this process is just recognizing that your primitive brain is going to try its best to keep you safe. We are biologically programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So when we shake up our lives, start asking for what we want, or consider leaving the comfort of our current job, our brains lose it. Our brain goes into protection mode and starts offering all sorts of reasons why we can’t do that–you don’t know enough, you’re not ready, people will judge you, etc. Sound familiar?

Just because your brain offers you those thoughts, it doesn’t mean they are true. It doesn’t mean they are a message from the universe to stay where you are. It is biological pre-dispositioning.

As you evaluate where you want to be in life, KNOW that your brain is going to try and talk you out of it. Know that you are going to have doubts and fears. That is normal! The question is, are you going to allow that mind chatter to keep you stuck or are you going to do the hard thing and evolve? The choice is yours.

Unclear about your next move? Get some free support by signing up for a free coaching session. Sometimes all we need an unbiased perspective to see things more clearly.


Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

Getting Clarity

In today’s hectic world and in our chaotic practices, it can be easy to get swept up in the action of it all. When we lose ourselves to the momentum of our lives, we often overlook the most important question we need to focus our energies: what do you want?

Starting a legal career is much like a mad dash toward a finish line. We spend years working and stretching and pushing to get there. But when we finally get there, we don’t stop. We just keep running. We don’t even realize we are doing it. We just keep going without asking: what’s next?

In order to truly own our power, we must, in every aspect of our lives, pause and allow ourselves to set our course — where are we going?

It’s jarring to wake up one day and realize that we don’t know what we want next. We have gotten so good at following the orders provided to us. We received a recipe for becoming an attorney and we executed. We have long forgotten how to sharpen our tools of agency. We have become disconnected from ourselves and our wants! We crossed that finish line and we just kept going without considering where we wanted to run to next.

It has been far too long since we stopped and asked–where to after this?

No one wants to run a race without knowing where they are going. We set a destination, plan a course, and run until we get there. When we go grocery shopping, we have a list based upon what we want to prepare. We don’t hop in our cars and just start driving aimlessly unless we are running away from something — are you running away from something by aimlessly allowing your career and life to run on autopilot without a destination?

Why is it that in the most important aspects of our lives, we fail to set a course? We don’t try to see the bigger picture. We are running without a destination.

There is only one rule:

When asking yourself what you want and where you are going, don’t allow yourself to be confused. There are no right answers in life. There is no secret path you need to discover to find your way to happiness. When we indulge in confusion, we implicitly believe there is a right or wrong answer. That confusion keeps us stuck until we can know with certainty what’s next. It keeps us running blindly–why stop running if we’re confused about where to go next?

The name of the game is growing, evolving and challenging yourself to become the best version of yourself. You are not going to evolve or challenge yourself when you are operating automatically.

Identify your why — why are you in that relationship? Why do you stay in that job? Where does your current experience fit into your overall plan?

Nothing has to be set in stone and you can change your answers any time you want. The point is that we need to give ourselves some direction. Why? Because to do otherwise is to allow other people, events, and circumstances to run your life.

Failure to identify where you want to go next places your life at the feet of those around you — your boss, your spouse, your kids, your partner. When we don’t set our own course, others WILL step in and fill that void for us.

Do you really want them to determine where you are going?

Your free will and ability to make your life anything you want it to be is the greatest gift you have been given; don’t squander it by floating in the breeze. You are better than that. You are in the driver’s seat.

Every day, reconnect with your whys and wants. Get clear on what you want from life so that you can set your sights on your true north. To do it any other way is to surrender all of your power.

When I work with new clients, the first thing we do is set that intention–what do they want? What is their dream? From there, we start taking massive action to making that dream reality. Work with me and start creating your life from a place of intention.


Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

Goal-ing

One of the things I find so interesting about professional degrees, like a law degree, is that it often represents the end of our goal-making activities. Whether you ended up seeking an advance degree by chance or chased that goal since the 7th grade, once the degree is confirmed, we simply stop making other goals as a part of our natural state.

I often think back to my time in college leading up to law school. I never found myself wondering if law school as the “right choice” or ruminating about whether it would “all work out”. I never stressed about whether I might not be a good lawyer or whether I might not actually like being a lawyer. I just decided that was what I was going to do and I did it. It was very simple. It was not clouded by a self-judgment and forecasting. It was on my list of goals and I was going to do it.

Years ago, when I started this foray into the self-help realm, I realized that I no longer had any concrete goals that were motivating me every day. I was just doing the job. I wasn’t thinking about the next step, I was just on cruise control. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become a partner. I didn’t really give it much thought. I just knew that I stayed around long enough, did a good job, and didn’t get fired, it would work itself out. At no point did I ever seek out partnership and work at it in the same way I worked at law school.

It fascinated me and I started asking all my friends. What are your goals? What’s on your list right now? They looked at me like I was having a mid-life crisis. Not even one of them described any type of a concrete, personal goal they were actively working toward.

So I started to wonder: Are goals important? Should I have some goal I am working toward?

My conclusion was an emphatic Yes, we all need something we are striving toward. Here’s why.

First, as a preliminary matter, I must stress that setting goals and establishing dreams should never come from a place of lack or judgment for your present state. If all you think about is I need to lose weight, I need to lose weight, I need to lose weight, the energy you are sending to the universe and instilling in your life is the energy of judgment and criticism of your body. If, instead you think, I am thankful to have a functioning body, the energy you are going to bring to a goal of losing weight is going to be one of gratitude and thankfulness. That line of thinking and those types of feelings are going to propel you down a road of success toward your dream. Thoughts of negativity and body shame are only going to make it easier to keep hating your body and treating your body terribly. Those conditions are no conducive to effective weight loss.

So, as a rule, if you are going to go about setting goals for yourself you must do so from a positive space and give thanks for all of the blessings you currently have in your life. Recognize all the prior goals you may have achieved already (buying a home, graduating college, getting married, having kids, paying off a credit card, etc.) and come from a place of thanks before you start this process.

The reason so many of my clients hate goal-setting is because they use those goals as a reminder of all the things they don’t like about their life. They don’t come to goal-setting from a place of look at all the things I have to be thankful for and that I have accomplished, what more can I do to challenge myself and grow even more? Without that mindset, goal-setting can be a very sobering and upsetting experience. It is a reminder of all the things you want and still don’t have. That is not productive.

Second, goals are important because of the trajectory that comes with them. The goal itself is not the point, the experience is the point. Setting and achieving a goal is not going to provide lasting happiness. Many of my clients believe that once they achieve a certain goal, they will be happier. They will be less stressed. There is always some anticipated emotion associated with the goal. The problem with this approach is that nothing external can or ever will provide happiness or peace. That can only come from within.

So why pursue a goal if it’s not going to make you happier? Because we are not put on this earth to run on auto-pilot. We are here to learn and grow and develop. To become the best possible versions of ourselves. In setting a goal and having something to work toward, it forces us to step out of the pattern and routine of our lives. That will cause a whole host of negative thoughts and emotions to come up—I don’t know how, I don’t have time, I can’t do something like that, I’m not smart enough for that, this isn’t going to be worth it, etc. This is where the magic is. In working toward that goal, you will be forced to work through and confront negative thoughts and emotions. You will be challenged to disagree with those thoughts and take steps to prove to yourself that you can do.

Once you start working through those thoughts and emotions and move forward in the face of adversity, that is where you start to grow. It’s easy to stay remain where you are and not make waves in your life. But is that really what you think life is all about?

I believe we are all here to be brave; to have the courage to explore, learn, fail, and GROW. That is why goals are important. Goals are simply the period at the end of a growth story.

If you are not setting goals that bring up negative thoughts and emotions, you are simply not goal-ing big enough to force that growth. Get uncomfortable!

One of the things I love doing the most is supporting others toward their goals. Struggling to set some goals of your own? Let me help you.

My current goals: write a book, learn Spanish, master a two-tiered scratch lemon cake.

What’s yours?

Commitment

I once had a friend who was complaining that she needs to eat healthier and whenever she gets home she’s tired and doesn’t have anything to cook so she just orders in. I asked her Why don’t you plan and prep your meals in advance so you can get out of this cycle of exhausted panic and ordering in? You can plan to have something healthy on hand and ready to cook instead of just deciding to order in and going down this rabbit hole every day? Her response? Because when it comes down to it, I know I won’t want to eat that. I will feel like having something else.

This logic is one of the most time-sucking, goal-derailing theories my clients subscribe to. And let’s be honest, we have all been guilty of it — I don’t FEEL like doing XYZ even though I said I would. I used to avoid planning my outfits for the week because I wanted room for creative liberties – because, what if I don’t feel like wearing a skirt that day?! So, instead I would waste 20 minutes every morning laboring through my closet and the I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR AGONY before rushing out of my house in a sweaty, flustered, and grouchy tornado.

Forget that. Years later, I have gotten wise to my propensity to wear approximately 5% of the clothes I own. Why? Because those are the clothes I most often feel like wearing. So, two years ago, I decided that I will get rid of one thing every single day. Whether that is the extra can opener or those strappy pink sandals that I never wear, every day something has to find a new family. With respect to my clothes, this means that on Sunday, I take about five minutes to pull five work outfits and hang them in my closet. That’s it. Either those clothes get worn that week or they go. I either like them enough to wear them no matter what or they find a new home. This has been magically freeing (but more about that later). I have stopped allowing myself bask in fashion creativity. I force myself to be decisive and no longer give energy to what I feel like wearing. What does that even mean?!

Anywho, the point is, we don’t like to make decisions ahead of time because we want to allow ourselves to make decisions in the heat of the moment, guided by our feelings. The problem is that our feelings are fleeting and our feelings are often driven by our primitive brains. Our primitive brains want to keep us happy, safe, comfortable and warm. The primitive brain will seek safety and pleasure while avoiding resistance. That brain is NOT the brain that will help you climb a mountain or do anything that scares you. That brain is not a cheerleader for healthy choices or difficult workouts. That brain wants the dopamine hit from chocolate cake and takeout Chinese on the couch. That brain cannot be allowed to make any decisions, unless you are running from a tiger, naturally.

Instead, we must make plans ahead of time from our prefrontal cortex – the part of our brain associated rational thinking, cognitive behavior, and decision making. This is the brain that says go to the gym, do not face dive into the box of red velvet cupcakes. Unfortunately, this brain is like your silent partner whose solid advice is often drowned out by the rantings of a lunatic toddler (i.e., your reptilian brain). You have to allow your prefrontal cortex to make decisions ahead of time, when your toddler brain isn’t participating because toddlers don’t care about planning. Once those decisions are made, you have to stick with them. This is where the real work comes in.

Most of us would not deliberately stand up a friend at Happy Hour or bail on your friend for that 5am Zumba class at the last minute so she is left to suffer alone. But we don’t hold ourselves in that same regard. When it comes to commitment to ourselves, we are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad friends. We ghost ourselves on the regular. We make plans and then we skip them. We promise ourselves we will go to the gym and then we hit snooze instead. In those instances, we are letting our warm and cozy, reptilian brain run the show. We refuse to trust the earlier judgment of our prefrontal cortex. We refuse to honor those commitments and will expend all sorts of energy rationalizing our flakiness.

Stop. Doing. That.

Make decisions in advance and commit to yourself that you will do it. Make a meal plan for the week and stick to it. Decide which days of the week, you will have a glass of wine and honor it. Set benchmarks and tasks in furtherance of a larger goal and freaking do them! My clients ask me all the time, How do you accomplish so much? How do you have time for all of that? Here’s the secret: you just do it. There is a reason that Nike’s slogan is Just Do It. Anyone who has done anything hard knows that the only trick is to simply DO IT. There is no magical formula for motivation or progress. You make a commitment to yourself and you honor yourself. It’s time to start treating yourself as well as you treat your friends and the commitments you make to them.

Here’s the icing on the cake. So many of my clients want to feel inspired and motivated to achieve their goals. They don’t act because they are waiting to be moved and inspired. Sorry, people, motivation and inspiration are not synonymous with lightening. They don’t just suddenly appear. They are created by action. Action creates momentum, which creates inspiration and motivation on repeat. How to you take action? Honor your commitments to yourself.

It all starts with learning to make commitment to ourselves and respecting ourselves enough to show up for ourselves. If you can master that skill, you can do anything.

If you are interested in a practical tool to help you organize your life and start sticking to your commitments, sign up to get my free tool for Finding More Time.

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