Trouble Being Still?

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

be.

still.

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

what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the beauty of coming to these plateaus.

That’s the beauty of the stillness.

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

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

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

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

That my friends is truly where the work begins.

The Mistake Spiral

The most common thing I see among associate attorneys is the fear of making mistakes.

As attorneys, we can become so paranoid about making a mistake that we put a tremendous about of pressure on ourselves. Our minds are filled with nonstop nasty chatter:

Don’t make another mistake

You have to get this right

This has to be perfect this time

You can’t miss anything this time

They all think you are an idiot

Maybe you shouldn’t have become a lawyer

You don’t have what it takes

Not only are you frustrated over the last mistake but now all that noise makes it even more difficult to focus and do a good job.

As a partner, I always knew when an associate was spinning in this fear. They were taking longer to do everything. They were agonizing over the smallest details. The result of all their mental berating was that they usually ended up missing the big picture and billing a ton of time in the process. What’s more, those associates rarely reached out for help before they got too deep. It was incredibility frustrating.

When you spin in self-doubt, self-judgment and pressure to do everything perfectly, you are demonstrating to those around you that you have some doubts about your ability to do it right. When you allow one mistake to send you into a tailspin, it makes it difficult for those around you to have confidence that you believe in your abilities; that you can handle feedback or that you can operate under pressure.

What’s more, that self-doubt spiral convinces you that you can’t reach out and ask questions for fear that it will affirm to others that you DON’T know what you are doing. You end up going down rabbit holes and over-analyzing the wrong details. Ultimately, everyone’s time is wasted and the project drags on.

How’s that working out for your work relationships or your confidence?

It is a never-ending death spiral of self-fulfilling prophecies.

What’s so interesting to me is that below the surface of all these thoughts and pressure is the belief that this path was easier for everyone else. That others didn’t struggle as much as you are.

Why are you choosing to believe that your struggles are special?

Why are you allowing your growth and development to be a sign that you are broken?

Consider the possibility that those around you similarly struggled. You don’t know that they didn’t yet you are CHOOSING to believe that is the case.

At this point in your career, I think we can ALL agree that law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. Your legal education was no different than anyone else’s. All attorneys wander the morass and confusion fog for YEARS before it clicks. You are not special in this regard!

The root of all those self-doubts and mistake spirals is the ultimate fear of failure. Below each overworked project and overly analyzed email is the fear of what it means when you make a mistake. And further, what it means if you keep making mistakes:

You can’t hack it.

You weren’t meant to be an attorney.

You made a mistake.

You shouldn’t be here.

That sneaky little worry is bubbling below the surface of all of those self conscious acts. You are afraid that those mistakes, when taken in total, are an indication that you can’t do this. From there, you build up these crazy expectations of perfection and try to think clearly and rationally from a place of frenzied panic and tremendous pressure.

It’s no wonder you keep making mistakes! How the hell are you supposed to do a good job when all you are thinking about is how you aren’t doing a good job? It’s madness!

Perfectionism is for scared people.

Repeat that phrase. Live it. Breathe it. Believe it.

When you try to mold yourself into some perfect “out-of-the-box” ready to perform, legal wizard you are setting yourself up for failure.

Law school does not prepare you to practice law. Welcome to the first phase of your life where there are no clear guidelines, metrics are fuzzy, and you have to just start trusting that you are doing it right.

Stop beating yourself up for signing up for the “on site” education that is the practice of law. That is how it works. Allow yourself to experience the process of learning on the job just like every associate attorney on the planet.

One small mistake does not mean that you are not cut out to be a lawyer. Do not let that mistake stoke the fires of fear and propel you into a frenzy.

You are a human. You will mess up.

Welcome to the party.

You want to do a good job and you want to improve and that is commendable. But first, you must do a good job for yourself. Honor the process of on-the-job development. Recognize that you don’t know it all and THAT IS OKAY. No one does.

Second, ditch your ridiculous expectations for yourself and get to work learning how to trust yourself and your judgment despite some bumps in the road.

Besides, what’s the alternative?

Where is all this worrying and fear getting you? What does it hurt to loosen up a bit and just keep rolling with the punches and using each mistake as a learning opportunity? An opportunity to honor yourself, have your own back, and learn.

The only thing you are learning when you continually run the cycle of negative self-talk is how to treat yourself terribly.

There isn’t room for much more and there certainly isn’t room left for growth. Recognize where your current patterns are leading you and decide if that is what you want. The choice is yours.

I help my clients get more confidence, roll with the punches, and have some compassion for themselves. Sound like something your practice is missing? Get some free support now and see what we can do together.


Photo by Axel Vandenhirtz from Pexels

Sunday Mourning Blues

We’ve all been there….You enjoy a blissful, care-free Saturday. Your email was silent (or ignored). No surprise projects, no random client demand. You relaxed and enjoyed a mental break from work.

Then it’s Sunday morning and the dread sets in. It’s like Monday is a looming gauntlet, like a watery grave for a stubborn cat–don’t you dare make me get in there, GDI!

Many of my clients lose the majority of their Sundays to that Monday morning dread. “Sunday mourning.”

They spin in negative thoughts and mental sparring matches with their co-workers and clients. They imagine the worst case scenarios–

I swear to god if Associate Suck-Up stops into my office to brag about how he billed 20 hours this weekend, I am going to explode.

When Monday does come around, they are mentally exhausted and wound tightly, just waiting for an opportunity to prove their fears true and blow up on some unassuming victim.

Practicing law is no walk in the park, admittedly, but this Sunday torture is not helping the situation.

Is it useful to imagine the worst case scenario?

Is it helpful to anticipate a dumpster fire?

How is that benefiting you?

What impact is that having on your happiness, never mind your weekend?

What it’s like to sacrifice half of every weekend to your own mental torture?

It is nearly impossible to rationally examine any situation when you are overcome with negative emotions. Instead of thoughtfully examining our choices, we act with knee-jerk reactions from fear, overwhelm, or anger.

Our Sunday mourning feels so justified. We have all sorts of reasons why we feel anxious and depressed. The problem is that we can’t make a real assessment of any situation when we are frayed at both ends.

It’s certainly possible that your Sunday mourning routine is indicative of a need for a career change. BUT what is more likely is that you could change your career and find yourself swimming in the same Sunday Mourning pond.

When we find our brains overrun with negative thoughts about our careers, those thoughts are rarely isolated to that one circumstance.

They are often part of a larger belief system that will follow you no matter where you go or what you do.

I want to enjoy what I do for a living.

I just want to be happy in my job.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

Thoughts like those will creep into other aspects of your life later on. The belief that your job and your life “should” be a certain way. You should be happy. Your career should be easier. The fact that you “don’t want” to do your job anymore matters. (It doesn’t!) Not wanting to do something is simply a thought. That thought will sidetrack anything you do. It is not helpful. Not wanting to do something does not mean there is a glitch in the matrix.

It likely means you are doing something hard.

Something that forces you to grow.

When you give credence to that thought “I don’t want to do this” you are allowing yourself to use the easy button. To avoid the growth. You are allowing your brain to become really skilled at NOT doing hard things.

None of these thoughts are good reasons to quit a job. They are thoughts you are choosing to believe. They are thoughts that open an escape hatch–an easy out. Cleaning up those thoughts will allow you to truly experience your job, unclouded by these judgments and burdensome beliefs. Then you can decide whether you want to do something else with your life.

Before you make any monumental decisions while in the despair of Sunday mourning, I challenge you to examine the thoughts and beliefs creating your misery. Those thoughts will go with you no matter what you are doing for a living.

“Where ever you go, there you are.”

You are really good at thinking those thoughts and you will keep thinking them even if you change the scenery.

What is it costing you? Have you allowed those thoughts to sabotage you over and over again?

This is the meat of my work with most of my clients. Many of them carry toxic thoughts and beliefs about how their lives “should” be. Thoughts that cause them tremendous pain and cost them their happiness. Working through those thoughts provides them with the peace and space to truly move on and transform their lives.

Want a reprieve? Try it out for free today.


Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels

What Other People Think About You

How do you describe your practice to others? When you are at a mixer and someone asks what you do, is there a momentary hesitation about promoting your skills? Why is that?

I recently worked with a client who was hesitant to promote her new practice group. She had a marketing plan but wasn’t executing. She had marketing materials but she wasn’t distributing them. Why?

During our session, we discovered that she was afraid that people who received her marketing materials would judge her. That they wouldn’t like her. That they would think she wasn’t qualified.

We’ve all been there. That junior high fear of not being liked. We never seem to shake it!

The opposite side of that coin is the closely held belief that it’s important for other people to like you. It’s important not to be judged by others.

That belief keeps so many of us like my client paralyzed.

It is not possible to go through this life and have every human you encounter like you. Test this theory. Think of someone you think is unimpeachable. Run some Google searches to seek out their critics. You will be amazed. (I conducted this experiment with Mother Teresa. Yep, she had her haters too.)

You will always have people in your life who are going to judge you.

Get over it.

Move on.

When you cling to the belief that it’s important for other people to enjoy your lovely persona and appreciate everything you have to offer, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Every single person in your life is going to have a different notion of how you are supposed to act, what you are supposed to say,  and how you are supposed to spend your time. Those expectations will conflict. There is no way to meet everyone’s expectations of you.

Pleasing everyone is an impossibility; yet we secretly hope that everyone will like us.

The real question is my favorite: SO WHAT? So what if people don’t like you?

The “so what” in this story is really what is at the heart of this matter. When you ask yourself these questions, what you will likely discover is that it’s related to some thought about your worthiness.

We believe that if people don’t like you or if people judge you, it must be because something is wrong with you. It’s confirmation that you are doing it wrong.

There is part of you that wants to agree with them — they are right in their judgment and you are a failure.

When you place your worthiness in the hands of other people and the whims of their likes and dislikes, you are signing up for a course in misery. Why would you give those people all the power? I’m sure there are people in your life that you don’t really like and you don’t really trust but you are allowing their sentiment about you to dictate whether you believe there is something wrong with you.

Do you really want to give them all that power?

Or anyone for that matter?!

Besides, what does it even mean that “there’s something wrong” with you?

Who decides?

How do we know?

Who decides what is “right” about you?

You are subscribing to some undefinable standard and allowing other humans to decide whether you are worthy.

Those thoughts are not serving you. They keep you playing small.

When you transition your perspective to a belief that the only person who decides your worthiness is you, it becomes so much easier to start taking action.

Rip the worthiness metric out of the hands of your haters.

You are enough. Just as you are. How someone else perceives you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

You can’t control the humans; you have to stop living your life in a manner where you are trying to manipulate their thoughts about you.

You will not be everyone’s cup of tea. And. That. Is. Okay. That is how it works. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.

In this life, people will judge you and criticize you. You always have a choice as to what you make that mean about yourself and your values. Stop making their words mean something negative about your abilities or value. That approach is never going to serve you or your career.

Your beliefs about yourself will either help you build the career of your dreams or they will help you crash and burn.

The choice is yours.

As part of my 6-week programs, I dedicate time specifically to the beliefs we carry about ourselves and how they impact our actions. Curious? Sign up for a free 45-minute session now before they are gone.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash