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

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Blame

“Doodah made me do it.”

When I was a little girl, my brother had an imaginary friend named Doodah. Every time he would get into trouble for putting spiders down my shirt, he would insist that Doodah made him do it. Nothing was his fault when Doodah was around!

Not all of us had imaginary friends when we were kids but, like all other kids, we were never quick to take the blame for our actions.

We’ve all seen those kids in the airport. There you are waiting for your bags to plop off the carousel and while you wait, you watch two kids, worn out from travelling, annoying the goodness out of their harried parents and each other. Then, inevitably, one of those kids will haul off and smack the other one. Hard. While seemingly no one is watching.

Naturally, this results in an avalanche of tears and lots of drama punctuated by the aggressor-child insisting they “didn’t do anything”, indignant at the accusation. Such a comical and common display of our basic human instincts.

As adults, we like to tell ourselves that we have grown out of that propensity. Most of us would never outright deny doing something that we clearly did or that could easily be proven – hello, there are cameras EVERYWHERE!

But just because our logic-reasoning skills have improved and we know that it’s not prudent to lie about things that are likely memorialized on camera, it doesn’t mean we have gotten any better at accepting the results of our actions.

In fact, most of us have just gotten really good at dressing our blame up in prettier clothing: victim clothing.

Years ago, I found myself working in an environment where I did not fit in. I was one of very few women working in a role other than secretary. I was working in an environment where I felt completely isolated. I looked around and saw that the vast majority of my co-workers and nearly all of the organization’s leadership consisted white men from the same colleges and grad schools, even from the largely the same high schools. Most of them practiced the same religion if not the same parish. Most of them were in the same political party and most of them grew up in the same city. Lastly, the majority of them had the same family structure –  2-3 kids with a stay-at-home wife, even where those kids no longer lived at home.

Being alone on an island certainly takes its toll and while every organization comes with its own unique challenges, I quickly started to feel like there was no way I could be successful in that space. They will never take me seriously…they will never understand me or my life…I will always be different and they will always see me as a token: something to be regarded and retained but not taken seriously…My brain was filled with angry pronouncements about my workplace, its leaders, and my co-workers.   

I believed all of those thoughts and I carried them around with me every day. Every time I told myself that my complaints were disregarded, every time I thought my comments were bowled over, every time I felt I was interrupted more than the men, I clung to those thoughts – you will never take me seriously because I’m a woman….you can’t comprehend a woman with a brain and an opinion…you will never treat me like a peer because you don’t believe I am your equal. 

Over time, I found myself having screaming matches with them in my head. If I saw a member of the leadership team in the hall, you could bet I was yelling at them in my head, telling them they were sexist and old school and on and on and ON…Every challenge I encountered in that place was cast in a veil of sexism and anger. It was exhausting.

Now look, I am not saying that any of these thoughts couldn’t have been true. Maybe some of those guys were sexist. Maybe they lacked the skills and experience to treat me as an equal. Maybe it never would change. I don’t know and it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because I realized that I could not control them. I could not change them. I could not make them into the kind of men I would respect. They were grown adults who were entitled to act and treat me in any way that they chose. I realized that the only thing I could control was myself and my thoughts and at that point my thoughts were making me miserable. I trudged through each day unhappy, grouchy, unsatisfied and disappointed. It was a terrible way to practice.

I started working through my thoughts and endeavored to re-cast the situation. I had to let go of my anger that these people were falling short of my expectations for good leadership. I started focusing on the fact that my angry thoughts about the situation were making me angry and bitter. No one was negatively affected by my diatribes but me. Eventually I left. To put it more accurately, I RAN out of that place as fast as I could.

Later when I would think back to that time in my life I would find myself bubbling with anger. I blamed them and judged them for my leaving. I blamed them for my unhappiness. If only they had been willing to act in accordance with their values. . . if only they were capable of accepting their short-comings . . . if only they weren’t so freaking insistent upon taking care of their own…if only they were willing to accept different points of view as valuable… I had nothing good to say and every time it came up in conversation or I thought about it, I would find myself fuming with rage and indignation.

That’s when I realized that I was making myself a victim. I knew who the villain was – and so did everyone who made the mistake of asking me about my prior employer! That made me the victim. Yikes. I never thought of myself as a victim or a blamer and the realization stung.

As I thought about it more, I realized that I was blaming the male partners and leadership for all my unhappiness there. I was blaming them for me leaving. I got to work picking through those thoughts and one stuck out in particular: I will never be successful here because I am not one of them. I believed that down to my core. But then I started to probe it. Was that true? Were there really no women there that were successful? Nope. My thought wasn’t entirely factual.

There were women there who had found some form of success and happiness. They worked a lot more than I did. They made less waves. They were willing to “go along to get along.” They worked hard and didn’t make time for indignation – it’s not that they didn’t see it; they just didn’t spend energy on it. That’s when it clicked for me. I was wrong. I could have been successful there and I could have become one of them. I chose not to. I chose not to make those same sacrifices and I chose to use my voice. I chose to leave in honor of my principles and values. They didn’t force me to leave. They weren’t the villain and I wasn’t the victim. I made a choice to leave. I didn’t have to make that choice and no one forced me to do it.

Now when I think about my time with that organization, I am filled with pride and sadness instead of anger and indignation. I am proud that I clung to my values and I am sad that women are still fighting to be treated fairly and equally. I’m no longer villainizing their failures – that is for them to sort out. I made a choice that was all my own and I was not a victim to some faceless villain.

Could I have stayed there and found happiness? Sure. It would have required a lot more time working through those thoughts. I could have found a way to be happy. But here’s the thing. I didn’t WANT to feel good about what I seeing and experiencing. I did not WANT to be okay with that environment. That was also my choice. I chose to be unhappy during my time there. Life is not meant to be 100% happiness all the time. My experience at that organization was my time for struggle, challenges, growth and sadness. That, my friends, is how life works and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheers!


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Toxic Beliefs

There are going to be people in your life who are going to challenge you. As an attorney, I can fully buy into the idea of toxic work environments and all the challenges that go along with them. But today, I want to back up the conversation one step and examine what it means for someone or some place to be “toxic”? What I have found is that this idea of “toxicity” is filled with more drama than fact.

Typically, when we identify something or someone as toxic, we are the only ones who show up ugly and toxic.

I focus my coaching on recognizing our own innate power to create our reality and our own happiness. My clients will tell you that I have helped them see the role they are playing in their own struggles. However, as a reiki master, I can also agree that our lives are filled with energy–our energy and the energy of those around us. When we characterize an environment or a person as “toxic” there is so much work to be done on that conclusion. Through coaching, I help my clients more closely examine that conclusion and challenge it BUT we are not doing that today.

Today, I want to allow space for this concept of toxic people and toxic environments. I want to go along with the idea that people and things can be toxic and ask:

When we characterize a person or an environment as toxic, what is the impact that has on YOU?

Our brains are not capable of processing all the information at our disposal in every moment. Rather, we give our brains direction and focus with our thoughts. We tell our brains where to focus its energy and our brain will buzz along compiling evidence to support that thought-directive. Evidence from both our past and present experience.

This is critical awareness because when we believe that someone or something is toxic, we become the victim of our own confirmation bias. Our brain is only going to gather data to support that directive and it is going to disregard data to the contrary. We essentially put on information blinders.

We all like to believe that we are open-minded and willing to see things from someone else’s point of view. But it is not possible to be open-minded when we are running around with these types of beliefs in our minds. It is not possible for us to see the opposing evidence when we allow ourselves to draw these types of conclusions!

A belief, any belief, will inevitably overlook contradictory facts and opposing evidence.

Furthermore, when we characterize those around us as toxic, this can be a subconscious green light to show up like a total asshole. Our negative characterization of the other person will impact how we show up and, let’s be honest, it’s not often our best. We see these toxic people as not worth the energy to be polite or kind to: we give ourselves a pass to show up as so much less than our best.

This robs us of the opportunity to grow. “Toxic” people are your perfect opportunity to show up as your best self. You don’t have to be affected by what they say or do. Practice disconnecting your emotions and thoughts from their actions. Practice allowing other people to be whomever they want to be — it only has to affect you if you let it. It only affects you if you allow their actions to shift your own energy.

It’s easy to label people or circumstances as toxic. The hard work comes from honing our ability to show up as the best version of ourselves. There will always be difficult people — practice dealing with them and stop practicing running away from them.

When you find yourself challenged with a “difficult” person or situation, be cautious not to place a negative label on it. That label will cloud your judgment and prevent you from being the open-minded person you strive to be. You will be blinded by your own confirmation bias and you inhibit your ability to show up as the best version of yourself.

So what do you do when you find yourself pulling your hair out and frustrated about a person or situation? Get curious. Stop investing and participating in the drama and become an observer. Watch the scenario as if it were  a movie — a movie staring you and your boss the chauvinist!  Whatever it takes, make efforts to disconnect from the drama and your judgments. Examine the experience from outside of yourself. Ask yourself what the situation has to teach you. Get curious about why people act the way that they do and try to foster some compassion. Be open to seeing the good in the other person — what might they be struggling with?

It’s hard work but no one ever said that being the best version of yourself would  be easy. Look around at the people in your life you have labeled negatively and start using them as your greatest teachers. How much better would your life be if you could transform those relationships? Get started transforming those relationships today.


“It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

The Demands of Legal Practice

One of the struggles with being a lawyer, coaching lawyers is that I get it. I can 1,000% relate to the struggles and challenges female attorneys face. I know the pains of receiving emergent emails as you’re about to walk out the door to a funeral, the helpless fatigue and mild depression that sets in on your 10th straight day of working 14-hour days. I’ve been there.

The challenge then, for me, is to remain impartial and offer my clients the opportunity to examine their reality through a different lens. As difficult as it is for me not to get into the drama pool with my clients, my goal is to offer a space where we can reasonably and rationally address the challenges of practicing law and strategize how to stay afloat.

My experience as any attorney has made me intimately familiar with certain “truths” about the practice of law that we are all better off simply accepting:

It will be demanding.

There will be long days.

You will have to make sacrifices.

While I work with my clients to explore different ways of thinking about their practice, a positive outlook cannot insulate us from these truths. Rather than trying to put lipstick on this pig, we work to anticipate these inevitable challenges.

First, we stop fighting these realities.

There are certain aspects of practicing law that simply come with the territory. Litigators and deal lawyers will be at the mercy of the life cycle of the deal or the case. There isn’t much you can do to change many of those deadlines. Non-transactional lawyers will have different marketing expectations and will have to juggle 20 different clients on any given day. That is just part of the deal.

In the same way, we would not sign up to lifeguard and complain about having to wear a bathing suit all day long, we cannot waste energy fighting with certain realities about the legal practice. It’s futile and it is making us miserable.

Second, we have to understand our “why”.

Why are you doing this? Why did you sign up to have your weekends and schedule sabotaged by the demands of the job? Are you trying to develop the skills to land an in-house job, are you trying to make partner, are you wanting to pay off your student loans?

If you are you going to survive the challenges of a legal practice, you must gain some clarity as to why you are choosing to stay.

Because, after all, you are making a choice. The job is not happening to you. You are choosing to invite the above challenges into your life. You are not a victim.

In order to move past our tendency to mourn for the life that we lost or yearn for the life that we want, we have to focus on our WHY. Why do you stay? Why do you do it?

Instead of carrying the mental and emotional weight that comes when we agonize over the realities of legal practice, we can shift that energy to getting through it. Our justification for staying allows us to make that shift. Once we know why we are doing it, we can dispense with the lamentations and weather the storm.

For many of my clients, once they realize and connect with their WHY, they can start seeing the job as simply a season in their life.

It’s the same principle we employ when we lift weights or train for a marathon. It’s painful and it’s grueling and it requires sacrifices but we do it because we see the ultimate goal and we are committed to it. We have a compelling reason for our suffering. Your legal practice is no different.

It’s supposed to be hard and challenging.

That is what you signed up for. But for many of my clients, partnership, and lifetime commitment to billable hours is not their desired result; it’s simply a means to an end. It’s a season in life that has an expiration date. It will not last forever. That is the head space that will keep you on track and allow you to use the experience as it was intended in your life.

Stop fighting with reality and start taking ownership for your choice to stay. I know it’s frustrating and challenging and sometimes soul-sucking but you choose to be there. Focus on what this experience will GET you.

It’s just a season in your life. It will pass.

If you are treading water in your practice and feeling overwhelmed and tired, set up a  time to chat (for free) and let’s get to work reconnecting with your WHY so you can get back to it.


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Living Authentically

As women in the legal industry, we have the unfortunate “opportunity” to be treated differently. Sexually suggestive comments, demeaning remarks about women in general, getting mistaken for a secretary, being compensated unfairly, just to name a few. One recent study concluded that sexual harassment in the legal industry is at epidemic proportions. Sadly, I have never met a woman in the legal industry who has not experienced some of these challenges.

Yet, despite our ability to clearly articulate ourselves and zealously defend others, so many of my clients and colleagues shy away from defending themselves.

Why is that? 

Many of my clients relate stories to me about their work environment that remind me of my experiences in an abusive relationship. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our work relationships are not all that much different than controlling and toxic romantic relationships.

What is also similar about the two is that in both instances, we have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, and re-write our story but many of us decline to do so.

If you are living in a work environment that you believe is “toxic”, now is the time to take back your agency. Erase the victim mindset and start taking control of your life. This will likely require you to have some uncomfortable conversations, it might require boundaries, and it most certainly will require you to start re-thinking your life.

We cannot overcome challenging relationships if we believe the relationship is happening to us and we just have to accept it.

When it comes to unhealthy romantic relationships, we are often quick to judge those women who stay too long or “put up with” too much. But how is staying in an abusive and toxic working environment any different?

Whether it is our personal life or our professional life, we have the power to make choices.

We get to decide what is acceptable for us. We get to decide whether to stay in the relationship or not. If you believe that your boss treats you poorly or you feel taken advantage of, silence in that aspect of your life is akin to tacit approval of such mistreatment in your personal life. So why is it that we are so quick to accept things professionally that we would never accept personally?

Because we are wed to faulty beliefs:

This is just the way it is

I can’t change it, why make a fuss?

I have to take it, he gives me all my work

If I say something, they will think I’m being emotional or a complainer

These thoughts are riddled with problems.

First, they are neither true nor factual. They are simply opinions. Opinions that form the basis for resignation and silence. We treat them as absolute facts but they are not. They are things we have chosen to believe.

Second, those beliefs justify our willingness to accept treatment that is not consistent with who we are. We end up pretending to be someone we are not, accepting things we are not actually okay with. We end up lying to all those around us; giving them a false impression of what’s important to us.

Third, you are sacrificing your values and dignity in an attempt to control how others think of you.

I’m not going to say anything because I don’t want to be seen as a complainer.

You are being silent because you are trying to manipulate how others see and think of you. This never works. What I often see happening is that eventually the façade becomes too heavy to bear and women abruptly quit their jobs with little to no explanation given. The firms are either shocked or completely confused by the result and any opportunity for positive change and honesty is eclipsed.

Make a commitment to be authentic in all or your relationships.

If we continue to believe that the legal environment is “just not for us”, we will continue to drop out of the fight without putting on our boxing gloves. If you believe you have been mistreated or you believe that there is room for improvement in your working relationships, commit to having those uncomfortable conversations. You never know, you might foster change for the next generation of women in your position.

Promise yourself that when and if you leave your firm there will be no confusion about your rationale for leaving.

There will be no confusion because you will have voiced your concerns and thoughts openly and honestly during your tenure. The reasons for your departure will have all been clearly laid out for them already.

When we are silent about our struggles in the legal industry we handicap ourselves and we allow bad behavior to continue.

Find your voice and start living authentically, it’s so much more fun than the alternative.

Not sure how to have those difficult conversations? Get some free support today. The silence isn’t worth it.


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