For my 38th birthday, I decided to write a more personal post. While I spend my days (and nights and weekends) talking, teaching, and marketing, I myself am the heart of this business. And I think it is important to share the human side of my business so I chose to make a list of principles or concepts that I have learned so far in my short life, and I let my daughters each add one in as well. The three of us sat in my bedroom and went over the whole list, with me explaining why I felt each item was important in language they could understand. We had a fun, smile-filled chat, and I possibly gained more wisdom and insight from what they had to say than I did in making my own list.
Stacey’s (and daughters’) Tips for Life and Business:
Tip One: Every interaction with another person has potential value
Each person we come across in our lives has the potential to add value to our existence or we to theirs, should we handle the interaction appropriately. Whether family member, professional acquaintance, employee, or fellow elevator passenger, life presents us with countless opportunities to engage with others. Choose to be the person that smiles and offers to help hold the door for someone whose arms are full. Choose to be the sister that calls everyday to check on a sick sibling. The value we gain in our interpersonal interactions is often the ability to give of ourselves to others, and that ability is beautiful and rewarding in itself.
Lawyer life translation – You better grab business cards from people in your professional stratosphere and connect with everyone on LinkedIn, because you never know which person you meet will wind up making or breaking your career.
Tip Two: Extremes don’t work and are often wrong
I have spent a decent portion of my life living at severe ends of various spectrums, whether it has been dieting, religious practices, or even following a band around the world. I have learned from overly immersing myself in relationships and in life choices that really overdoing it on any choice isn’t going to work. If you want to be healthy, do so, but also eat a cookie or some French fries every now and then to stay balanced. If you want to make a lot of money in your career, work hard and be dedicated to your craft, but do not forget work-life balance and the inestimable value of a personal life and a family.
Lawyer life translation – Find your work-life balance. Schedule time for yourself. Keep your body and mind healthy.
Tip Three: Spend time being grateful
In today’s world of instant gratification and digital access to everything, we race through life largely indifferent to and unaware of important items that we should be grateful for every second of every day. There is a prayer I like that (in butchered summary) takes one through all of the seemingly simple things we can thank God for each day, including items such as thank you for not making me a slave, thank you for giving me sight, thank you for giving me strength when I am weary. If we take a few minutes each day to be grateful for the ability to walk, talk, see, hear, touch, love, and breathe, we will be humbly aware of how important these gifts are and that can shift our perspective when it comes to the everyday annoyances like a slow car driving in front of you or a child making a mess on the living room table.
Lawyer life translation – Never forget who helped you get where you are in your professional career. If your parents paid for law school, if your first law firm boss taught you basic litigation skills, if you learned legal ethics from a professional mentor – thank them. Remain forever grateful for every chance someone took on you, every opportunity you were given, and never forget the steps along your career journey.
Tip Four: Take steps to silence your inner critic
I do believe that in our lives we are each our own worst enemy, but also our greatest potential champion. If you listen for the voice of doubt, the inner monologue that says things like “you can’t do that” or “you will never be good enough,” we can tell it to hush. We can tell our minds to take it easy on our hearts and souls – that we are doing our best with good intentions and pure hearts, but that we are not perfect. If we were perfect, what would be the point of our journey after all? So tell your negative inner monologue to can it.
Lawyer life translation – Stop second-guessing yourself. Stop telling yourself you are not a good brief writer, don’t take great depositions, won’t ever make partner, don’t bring in enough business. The negative self-talk gets us nowhere. Empower yourself by focusing on your successes and set attainable goals to conquer what you are still working on.
Tip Five: Live abroad
I do not think I would have an appropriate understanding of the world had I not lived in another country. I am not talking about backpacking Europe after college or going on a three-week cruise. I mean packing up your life and moving it and yourself to another country.
Lawyer life translation – Don’t stay at one law firm forever. Try more than one practice area and try more than one work environment. Don’t be afraid to leave your professional comfort zone or to start your own law firm – you will learn more than you could ever have imagined.
Tip Six: Make peace with your enemies
My mom has all sorts of lovely southern colloquialisms for this concept, including “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” The stress we expend on negative feelings toward others is stress we need not bear. Each person is on his or her own journey and generally how another behaves has really nothing to do with you, but with his or her own life experiences and current stress. Try to ignore others’ negativity and hurtfulness and either treat them kindly or remove them from your life. If you know of people you once cared for who are now uncomfortably far away, call them, text them, email them, Facebook message them. Even if you feel you did nothing wrong, say you are sorry for the situation and make peace. Life is too short for anger, hatred, petty fights, cruelty, and jealousy.
Lawyer life translation – If you get into it with opposing counsel, into a fee fight with a referral lawyer, scream at a judge, lose your cool with an evasive deponent – stop and check yourself. Remind yourself that the people on every side of each legal issue you encounter are just that – people. Don’t let the adversarial nature of what we do as lawyers seep into your entire persona. Stay kind, stay human, stay you.
Tip Seven: Learn to manage your finances well
Do not just keep your checking account over a certain amount and think you have your finances under control. Do not rack up credit card debt on multiple credit cards because you believe you must have things that are beyond your means. Keep track of all expenditures, assign categories, look at your overall expenditures (both personally and professionally) and take an inventory of your life. If 75% of your personal life money is being spent on dining out, stop it. Pick one night a week to eat out and save the remainder of that money for your retirement, your daughter’s wedding, a rainy day fund, plastic surgery, something special. Only a truly honest and comprehensive overview of your financial decision-making will allow you to thoroughly audit your lifestyle and life choices, as our spending habits reveal a lot about us.
Lawyer life translation – Don’t forget that your law firm is a moneymaking venture, a business that must be run well financially, or else you will not be in a position to serve those in need of your legal services.
Tip Eight: Different and unique are not only memorable but beautiful
When we are growing up, even if we are confident, we want to conform. Most children have a natural tendency to want to dress like their friends, wear their hair in a similar style to a favorite television actor, and use the local slang of their classmates and peers. It is often way too late in life that we realize that conformity is boring, does not distinguish us from the herd, and does not help us rise above and succeed. Being different in appearance, in hobbies, in manner of speech, in sexual preference, is what makes us each special, unique and beautiful. Look for the differences in others and notice their beauty. Notice the mole on someone’s face that was put in that exact spot in that precise color only on their face while their little body was being formed in their mother’s womb. Marvel at the accent of the lovely, smiling young man who picks up your car at the dealership to drive it back to be serviced. Feel privileged to live in a country and a world where each year our differences are seen more and more for what they truly are – our strengths.
Lawyer life translation – Using your law degree in an alternative career can be the highest and best use of that education for you. Not using your law degree may be the best choice for you. Remaining a briefing attorney to a judge well past your initial year, working for a non-profit, serving your country as a JAG – whatever less common path you take professionally, know it is the right one for you and be proud of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you “aren’t really a lawyer anymore” if you don’t spend time hanging out at the courthouse. You earned your degree and your license and even if you don’t practice law the way some people think you should, you are awesome anyway.
Tip Nine: Education and affluence do not dictate intelligence or success
When you fill out applications or forms that ask for personal information, education is often one of the items to be completed. I glance past completed high school, some college, college degree, and so on. I reach the upper level of post-graduate degree and gleefully check off the little box. I got a law degree. But honestly, so what? I do not believe that my college degree or law degree make me smarter than anyone else. I may have superior grammar and spelling skills from receiving a formal education but you will likely not see me winning a Nobel Prize, finding cures for diseases, inventing groundbreaking technology, or painting fabulous artwork. Do not let a piece of paper (or lack thereof) tell you that you are too good or not good enough. While education does open many doors, it also leaves many with a false sense of entitlement and superiority. Be grateful for your education but don’t wear it like an armband to show you are better than those who were not fortunate enough to have your life experiences or chose an alternate lifestyle.
Lawyer life translation – Never, ever think that just because you went to law school that you are smarter, better, or more important than your law firm’s support staff. Many lawyers are in fact behind the skill level of their paralegals. The staff of a law firm make the business operate successfully. Appreciate them and their work, making sure to let each one know you could not do it without them – because you can’t.
Ayala (age 6)’s Tip: If you get into a fight, say nice things to each other and give each other a hug
We often forget that even the biggest and seemingly most dramatic disagreement can be worked through. Sometimes if we just stop fighting long enough to say something nice or give a handshake or hug to another person, the negativity will end. Let it end. No one really wins an argument.
Lawyer life translation – Clients get upset with their lawyers, lawyers get upset with other lawyers, lawyers get upset with judges and court staff, and law firm staff get irritated with clients. Make sure to remind yourself that just like you, the other side of your anger, fear, or loathing is also just a person who has a family and a life, and should be treated with dignity and respect.
Rina (age 8)’s Tip: Think before you speak
Growing up I had a tendency to pop off when I got angry, felt threatened, or was hurt. It is easy to assume that I was a tough cookie, but underneath that rough exterior, like most kids, I was often hurt by the words and actions of others. If we all stopped to think and sound out in our heads the words we are using to convey a thought or message, even writing them down to gauge their impact first, we could avoid much misunderstanding and a lot of unnecessary heartache. One of the greatest mentors I’ve ever had told me early on in my career, “Sit on it for 24 hours. Be still, say nothing, just wait.” Still to this day, you will hear me tell myself and others to be still and wait at least 24-48 hours before responding to an inciting communication or before making an urgent big life decision.
Lawyer life translation – The instant nature of chat or messaging applications and email makes us feel like we should give a quick snarky reply, but knee-jerk responses often show our hand too soon and do not help our clients or our cases.
We’ll return to our regularly scheduled hard-hitting legal marketing and law firm technology topics next week! But I would love to hear your own tips and lessons … for both business and life. Please share with me in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, G+, email or even a phone call!