Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: The Upward Spiral— Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing

My brother quit the law this week. Just hung it up. The sad thing is that he was one of the greatest trial lawyers I ever met. His clients loved him. They knew he would fight for them. The juries loved him. He really knew how to captivate a courtroom. Of course, it was—and still is—impossible to win an argument with him, a trait that often affected the quality of his relationships.

He was one of the few lawyers who knew the intricacy of every rule of evidence and could effectively use them like a Samurai wields a sword. My brother really knew how to get that “not guilty” verdict. He could really sell it to them.

Yes, he was passionate about the law and believed in it. When we were growing up, he watched shows like Perry Mason and Matlock. He took it personally when someone’s rights were being violated. He was something of a crusader. He fought his battles (mostly) in the courtroom and he usually won. But his victories came at a great personal cost. He was stressed out, miserable and tired of fighting. And he’s not alone. Lawyers leave the profession at almost the same rate they enter it.

A large percentage of lawyers are unhappy with one-third indicating they would leave the profession if they could. Their contrary, pessimistic and bombastic style (and that of other lawyers), long hours, and lack of control over their lives are physically and mentally damaging to them and their families. Always having to be right. Always having to win. Always having to do a battle of words and case law with your opponents will wear you down. Is it any wonder that the rate of alcoholism and depression among lawyers is 3.6 times that of the general population? Or that the rate of suicide and divorce among lawyers is higher than in almost any other profession?

And yet law schools continue to churn out lawyers. In fact, in less than one month, I myself am going to teach my first class of pre-law students at Florida Institute of Technology as Professor of Introduction to Law. I’m supposed to teach them what law is, what lawyers do, and how they interact with the rest of our society. I’m supposed to get them excited about the law. And, though there is plenty to get excited about, won’t I also have to tell them about the challenges lawyers face? What can I tell them that won’t send them screaming for the classroom door or have them contemplate pre-med instead?  What can I tell them so that when they DO become lawyers, they won’t suffer the same fate as my brother and thousands of burned-out lawyers like him?

I think I might have found an answer in a book by Harvey Hyman, J.D., a lawyer who—after practicing plaintiff’s personal injury law for 25 years--was hospitalized for major depression with suicidal thoughts twice in 2007, but came back from the brink and into a more satisfying law practice. His book, The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing (Lawyers’ Wellbeing, Inc., 2010) is a must read for any lawyer or would-be lawyer. Because if we are going to preserve the integrity of the legal profession, we need to start teaching lawyers to take better care of themselves. We also have to make inroads into civilizing the current adversarial and dehumanizing legal culture.

In his book, and on his website dedicated to the wellbeing of lawyers (see www.lawyerswellbeing.com), Mr. Hyman addresses head on the causes of misery for lawyers, such as the paucity of civility in the profession, the wide-spread use of destructive anger as a weapon, materialism, isolation, loneliness, negativity, formalism and the chronic stress that permeates the typical legal practice.  Mr. Hyman not only identifies problems with lawyers and the legal profession; he is also forthcoming with solutions such as having lawyers reevaluate the effectiveness of anger and the compulsion to constantly be in control. In Part II of his book, Mr. Hyman describes in detail how lawyers can create a lifetime of well-being in both their personal and professional lives, through such means as the use and practice of communication without violence, meditation, positive thinking, improving personal and professional relationships, and eating and exercising for optimal mental health.

I love the way Mr. Hyman writes. As I read his book, I found myself underlining and circling almost every other line in his book and making notes such as “so true” and “brilliant” in the margins. Even more often I made stars next to nuggets of wisdom such as “It’s crucial to recognize our responsibility for what we say” and “Try being empathic. It won’t make you less of a lawyer, and it will make you more of a human being.” I even found myself quoting him in my status updates on Facebook.  It is fascinating to me how a man can go to hell and back and talk about it in such an illuminating, honest and engaging way.

His arguments on the importance of well-being are most persuasive. It makes sense to me when he says that “Wellbeing is more important than the things our society most prizes, such as material wealth, fame and longevity of years,” which includes “genuine career satisfaction from the ethical pursuit of personally meaningful work; rich societal connectedness…that give one’s life a larger meaning than the pleasure of consumption.”  He points out the distorted thinking and oversized egos of many lawyers and their confusion of what “zealous representation” is actually supposed to mean.

He has done extensive research and presents the material in an understandable way. Mr. Hyman intends for his book to help lawyers see and treat other people—and that includes clients and other lawyers—as human beings.  What he wants is for lawyers to thrive in every area of their lives. If more lawyers are willing to listen and to implement Mr. Hyman’s strategies, I believe they would be on the road to doing just that.

As for my brother, although I hadn’t given him a copy of Mr. Hyman’s book, the last time I checked he was off spending quality time with his wife and kids and trying to find happiness as a non-lawyer. I wish him well as a recovering attorney.

Now if only we can help more lawyers find happiness inside the legal profession. After all, there are rights out there that need to be protected.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Home for the Holidays

It was our first holiday season as a married couple and we were living in Washington, D.C.  I was eager to fly out of Ronald Reagan National Airport to get home in time to see Santa Claus atop the Indialantic fire engine as I had every Christmas Eve since I could remember. It was the Eve of Christmas Eve 1998. And it was snowing.

My husband and I endured delay after delay as they de-iced the plane yet again. Finally seated on our flight and ready to go at ten o’clock at night, we heard the fateful words of our pilot:

“Sorry, Folks, the flight is canceled. Please deplane, collect your luggage and call the airline in the morning about rescheduling.”

At this point two people on the plane started sobbing hysterically:  The over-tired five-year-old seated behind us and me.

With his inconsolable bride wailing non-stop, my dauntless husband retrieved our bags, hailed us a cab back to our Arlington Courthouse apartment, loaded up our Honda Accord and started driving us through sleet and snow in the middle of the night to Florida.

Somewhere in southern North Carolina or northern South Carolina we stopped to rest for what was left of the night at the only motel off I-95 that wasn’t full. When we awoke the next morning we found our vehicle iced shut.  We opened the lock remotely and started the car to get it warmed up for the half hour it took us to consume our free continental breakfast and check out. 

At around 5pm Christmas Eve, we cheered at the sign indicating our entrance into Brevard County. We made it to my parents’ house where the smell of baking homemade apple crumb and pumpkin cream cheese pies welcomed us. We were just in time to hear Santa coming down Riverside Drive.  I jumped up and down and waved from my parents’ driveway as Santa and his crew threw candy to us from atop of the siren-blaring, holiday-light-bedecked fire truck. There were tears of joy in my eyes.

It was great to be home for the holidays.

We’ve since moved home to Indialantic, in part so we would never have to make the trek down and then back up I-95 ever again. You would think that the thought of the holidays would continue to delight me. Not necessarily so. I’ve heard it said that we don’t really become adults until we have children of our own. That certainly seems true this time of year. Now, my perspective is a little more like: 

“AAACK, I’m not ready! We can’t spend all that money! I can’t stand to have one more toy junk up the house or the floor of my car. Not one more toy that is destined in ten months or less to find its way to the bargain pile at a neighborhood garage sale. Hand write, address and mail dozens of heartfelt holiday cards? Not happening. Bake an assortment of traditional pies? Fogettabout it. Can’t we have something healthier please? And just when are the kids going back to school? I can’t get any work done without a schedule. They seem to be watching entirely too much T.V.”

How could a woman so nostalgic for her childhood holiday memories turn into a veritable Grinch twelve years and two school-aged children later? To summon up some holiday cheer this year, I turned to the wise little people in the back of the minivan on the drive to Indialantic Elementary:

What do you think about the holidays, Kids?

“AWESOME!” said my son.
“Yeah, AWESOME,” my daughter concurred.
“What’s so awesome about them?” I queried.
“Well, we get to open lots of presents.”
“Is that what it’s all about?”
“No. It’s also fun to stay home, play games with the family, eat special foods like turkey and latkes. We get to drive around and see all of the holiday lights, especially that light fest in Wickham Park. Can we do that again this year?”
“Of course,” I said getting a little excited myself, “I guess it is fun to have that break from school and activities and have a chance to really hang out together, isn’t it?”
“Yeah!” they chorused.
“I guess we don’t get to do enough of that during the rest of the year, do we?”
“You’re right, Kids. The holidays are awesome. You know what Mommy likes? Mommy likes it when Santa Claus comes by on the fire truck on Christmas Eve. Did I ever tell you about the time Daddy and I were on a plane to Florida and we almost missed seeing Santa Claus...”

What we need is to savor these special times with our families. We need to focus on the fact that each holiday gives us a unique opportunity to make sweet and magical memories for us and our families to cherish, look back on, and laugh about. It's a time to spend quality time together, slow down and remember to love each other. We share this love with special foods, rituals, and traditions that even include giving each other little (or big) tokens of our love for each other. This time of year, we are reminded to be a little more gentle, a little more tender and to think of others. 

So I've decided not to be a Grinch or a Hum Bug this holiday season. I'm going to forget about the stress and the mess and just enjoy being home with my family. Better yet, I'm going to try to hold on to this feeling all year long and I'm going to do what I can to make amazing memories for my children. I want to make the holiday season something so cherished that my adult children would be willing to drive through a snow storm just to get back home.

That is my special holiday wish. So peace on earth, good will towards all and bless us every single one.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I Accepted the Opportunity to Represent the Space Coast in the Mrs. Florida Pageant

When I first got the email I just deleted it. I didn't even ponder it, just sent it to the trash bin. When my girlfriend asked if I had gotten it, I decided it would be rude not to take another look. So I did.
The email was a request for applicants to the Mrs. Florida-America Pageant.
Let me tell you about my experience with pageants. When I was seventeen years old, I actually participated in a preliminary Junior Miss Pageant with some other local high school girls. But as much as this gawky valedictorian wanted to be considered pretty, I walked away instead with the scholastic achievement award for having the highest GPA among the contestants. I took it as a sign that I wasn't cut out for the whole beauty thing and hung up my tiara. After getting in early decision to the University of Virginia (Wa-Hoo-Wa!), I went off to study, travel and later graduate Harvard Law School. I married the perfect guy, have the most amazing children, live in the greatest little beachside community near almost all my family and do work every day that I really love. I even get paid for it.
What else could a girl want? I already have it all. Asking for anything else would just be plain greedy.
But I still get all wistful when I see those girls in the Miss America pageant. I mean, on the one hand, how cool would that be? On the other hand, what about all that pressure? What are we telling girls? They have to be perfect? They have to be beautiful, accomplished and amazingly fit? They have to set out to save the world while looking flawless in high heels and a swimsuit? The feminist in me was somewhat dismayed. The little girl in me wanted to talk about creating world peace one family and one community at a time while wearing an evening gown. A really sparkly one.
Conflicted about what to do, I decided to get my kids' perspective. My 9 year old daughter's reaction was to jump up and down and ask if she got to wear a back-stage pass. My 7 year old son asked if it would make us famous. Both assured me they would help me pick out what to wear.
My Mother said, "Absolutely!" My brother and sister-in-law said, "You HAVE to do this!" My Father was cautious, not sure what this would mean, then decided I should go for it.
I started to think that maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea. That it could be a fun adventure for the whole family. But, there was just one more person whose opinion really mattered here.
After all, this is the Mrs. America pageant for a reason.
I just knew that my husband--the most reasonable and solid guy ever--would think my participating in the Mrs. Florida-America pageant was completely ridiculous. I just knew he would be concerned about my being taken seriously as a lawyer if I did this. I just knew he would say that we didn't have time for such nonsense, that I was already too overcommitted with too many causes, boards and activities. I was convinced that he would tell me not to do any such thing. I was terrified to even bring it up. I kept it to myself for about three days, then finally summoned up my courage and said,
"I've been recruited to participate in the Mrs. Florida-America Pageant. It is the married woman's version of the Miss America Pageant. They looked at my website and thought my practice of peaceful divorce would make a great platform. The pageant is February 4th and 5th in Kissimmee at the Westgate Resort. There's no talent portion but I do have to wear a swimsuit. They said I could be Mrs. Space Coast."
Without missing a beat, he said, "That sounds really exciting."
"Well, OK then. I think you'll have to escort me on stage or something."
"OK, great."
So there it was. Nobody left to stop me but me.
It's not that I think I could win this thing. I mean, there will be younger and prettier and shall we say "physically fitter" ladies on that stage. But I've started eating more salad at dinner and stopped eating cupcakes for breakfast. I've started being more committed to my exercise routine and regained incentive to take better care of myself. I've actually started to walk taller and be more mindful of my posture.
I've decided this is a chance to be a role model, talk about the causes important to me and to promote my beloved Space Coast, where I was born and raised and now raise my own family. 
Therefore I'm accepting this opportunity to be a candidate for Mrs. Florida. I'll do it for the fun and for the love of it. I'll do it for the little starry-eyed girl inside me who really does want world peace.
I'll do it for me, but not only for me.
In her book, A Course in Miracles, Marianne Williamson writes that "as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So as I hope to shine on February 4th and 5th, my wish is that it will inspire all the other 40-something minivan moms out there striving to balance work and family and muddle through each day to remember that what they are--and what they do--is beautiful. As Mrs. Space Coast, I seek to represent all of the unrecognized Mrs. Americas struggling to do their best to take care of themselves, their families, their homes, their jobs, their obligations whatever they may be. This one is for every single one of us, because as the popular song goes, "We are beautiful in every single way...we are all beautiful today." 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pursuing Peace On One Foot

I am 41 years old, thank you very much, and I must admit that at mid-life I have a few regrets. One is that when I was a kid I dropped out of Hebrew School and did not have my Bat Mitzvah at 13. Another is that I quit the piano. Still another that I never got to be a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. Well, some things we have control over and some things we don't. I may have missed the Mickey boat and perhaps I'll get back to the piano some day. For now, with my husband and children's encouragement, I am going back to get the religious school training I missed out on as a kid.

Better late than never. 

What I most love about seeking out my religious heritage at this point in my life is that I find it very validating and life-affirming.  Having already committed myself to a profession of peacemaking, it tickles me to now learn that peacemaking and "repairing the world" are purportedly some of G-d's greatest concepts. Since it is what I endeavor to do each day in my mediation and collaborative law practice, I think it is great how we are supposedly commanded in Psalm 34:15 that we should “seek peace and pursue it.” And where it says in the Bible that "happy (or blessed) are the peacemakers," I can attest that it is true. Helping people get along makes me so much happier than when my job was to fight cases and win at any cost. I feel very blessed indeed!

As with any school, there is homework. My religious school assignment for this week is to write a report about some readings from the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). There are some teachings in Leviticus that get me all revved up, such as the following:

1. "Do Not Stand By While Your Neighbor's Blood is Shed." Leviticus 19:16;

2. "Do Not Hate Your Brother in Your Heart." Leviticus 19:17;

3. "Do Not Take Revenge or Bear a Grudge Against a Member of Your People" Leviticus 19:18;

4. "You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself." Leviticus 19:18; and

5. "You Shall Love [the Stranger Who Resides Among You] as Yourself." Leviticus 19:34.

What I like about all of these teachings is that they get back to The Golden Rule. (Not whomever holds the gold gets to make the rules, but rather "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.")

It was Rabbi Hillel that was once challenged by a "heathen" to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The famous story goes that this person came before Hillel and told him he would only become a believer if Hillel could teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel is said to have taken the challenge, stood on one foot and replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it."

Good stuff.

Mediation is about helping other people by empowering them to solve their own problems in a peaceable way and get on with the living of their lives. It is also about getting people to help themselves and to help the very people they might have trouble getting along with. By the time people are ready to get divorced or file a law suit, chances are they have built up a lot of grudges and are having a difficult time letting go and "loving" the person they are fighting with as they love themselves. The concept of not hating your "brother" in your heart obliges us to deal openly and matter-of-factly with the person we are angry with. This is so anger does not fester, turn into hatred and grow. Anger and hatred cloud our thinking, making the task of dealing rationally and in everyone's best interest seem insurmountable. In mediation, we are able to address the angry feelings that may be festering. As we address them, we are able to resolve the issues that are keeping us from moving forward and getting closure. Apparently, there is an old Jewish proverb that goes, "Hatred makes a straight line crooked." We've also heard angry people express how they were seething with so much anger that they "couldn't see straight." When in the throes of these difficult feelings, it is a challenge to make the good choices that will keep us from saying or doing something we will regret later. However, it is worthwhile to make the good choices and, if it helps us, to re-read those teachings about brotherhood and loving others as yourself and whatnot. Yes, I think those old rabbis may have been on to something.

It may not be easy, but obviously, if we ourselves were to be the target of someone's rage, we would want for the angered person to treat us fairly, give us a chance to explain or apologize and correct our mistakes. Isn't this after all what all of these teachings have in common? What if you were the stranger in the strange land? What if you were the person who made the mistake? What if you were the neighbor who needed a hand? Or the spouse who needed to be forgiven?  What if it was you?

The Torah teaches that it is indeed you; that we are all one and G-d is one with us. You are your own brother, your own neighbor and, having been placed on this earth, a chip off the old holy block. If we are to believe that we are all made in the image of our creator, then if you hurt another person--be they family, friend, stranger or foe--you hurt yourself. So stop hurting yourself. Start loving yourself. You can even do it standing on one foot.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What Really Matters?

No matter how hard we may try to live a good life or do the right thing, sometimes bad things happen: We fail; we or people we love get sick, suffer or die; an accident happens; people disappoint us; our heart gets broken; we lose a job; get sued; lose a house; file bankruptcy; have to start over and on and on.

When the worst happens to us, what can we do? We can wallow, of course, really roll around in it and maybe we should...at least for a little bit. After all, if something bad happens to us, we have the right to responsibly be a complete mess for a while.  Some of the most helpful advice I ever got came from my father who said once during a time of turmoil for me, "Just remember to come back out from under the bed after about a week." 

Perhaps the most interesting thing about times of trouble is that they tend to make us focus on what really matters in life. When we lose all the trappings of prosperity we are reduced to just ourselves in the raw.  I always think about Jimmy Stewart's character in the classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life." George is threatened with the loss of everything when his scatter-brained but loveable Uncle Billy accidentally gives the week's Bailey Buiding & Loan deposit to the evil and conniving Mr. Potter, who takes full advantage of the situation. Believing Mr. Potter when he tells him that he's worth more dead than alive, George actually contemplates ending his life by jumping in the river. That's when George's guardian angel, Clarence, saves George by jumping in the river so George will save him instead. Clarence then shows George how everything he has done in his life has made a positive impact on his family, friends and community. He shows George that his life, however humble, has truly mattered.

When we get down pretty low it is easy to think that we are worth nothing. That's when we need to remember what really matters and what doesn't. So in honor of the double dip recession and the greatest unemployment since we can't remember when, I've made us all a list to help us keep things straight.  Here's what I came up with:
What Matters: 
What Doesn’t:
1. People.

2. Love.


3. Having good manners and treating others
with kindness and respect.
What mean people think, say or do.

4. Helping one another.
That you can’t save everyone, help everyone or do it all because every little bit still counts.

5. Doing your best and going for it!
That someone else may be better, younger, smarter, faster or richer than you. It just doesn't matter if you win or you lose.

6. Working together to solve a problem.
Who’s at fault or who’s to blame.

7. Taking responsibility for your life.
The millions of reasons why something isn’t your fault.

8. Friends and family.
People who don’t wish you well. As my grandfather used to toast, "Here's to those who wish us well, those who don't can go to...."

9. A life of purpose with meaningful work.
The Rat Race (because even if you win you’re still a rat).

10. Each moment, which is a gift.
The wouldas, shouldas and couldas: Forgetaboutit!

11. Making healthy and wise choices.
The so-called friends who drop you because you made the healthy choices instead of going along with the crowd.

12. Making peace with yourself and living
life to the fullest.
That you are only human and your life is less than perfect. We’re all a work in progress.

13. Accepting others as they are.
That you can't change or control others. Stop beating your head against the wall, it doesn’t work anyway.

14. Being authentic and true to yourself.
Being who you think you “should” be just to impress others.

15. Learning and growing without being afraid of looking stupid.
Making mistakes or slipping up sometimes. Don't take yourself too seriously. "Too perfect" people are annoying anyway.

16. Good health and taking care of yourself.
How much you make or how you compare to someone else.

17. Happiness and a good sense of humor. 
Laughter heals, the studies prove it.
The small, petty stuff that’s way too easy to get upset about or even that big stuff that you have no control over. 

18. Having a safe and healthy place to live.

How much bigger and fancier someone else’s home may be compared to yours.

19. Being a part of your community.
How inexperienced, young, old, or “unimportant” you think you are, because every single person can make a difference.

20. Gratitude and appreciation.
That things are less than perfect right now.

Maybe this list is either incomplete or too inclusive.  But it just doesn't matter, now does it? You know what does? The fact that despite whatever may be going on in your life, you are going to (eventually) be just fine. So surround yourself with the people you care about. Laugh with them. Be grateful for them. Pay attention to them. Know that this too will pass and you will again have peace in your heart. Because you matter. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

An Alphabetical Inventory of Words for a Happier Life (an ABC Back-to-School Blog)

Throughout my life I have felt drawn towards the study of happiness, balance, wellness, gratitude and peace. Not long ago, I was going through some papers my mother had saved from when I was in the second grade. I saw how my little 7-year-old self could one day grow up to have a business called "Peaceful Beach." For example, there was a letter to Santa that went something like, "Dear Santa, thank you for all that you do for the little children in the world," as well as an ambivalent note to a "Julia L." that attempted to end the relationship but keep the lines of communication open, something like, "You are mean to me and treat me bad and so I can not be your friend anymore. Love, Brooke."

As my children return to school tomorrow and start the 1st and 4th grades, it makes sense to me to organize my thoughts on having a happier life in an elementary way. So I have decided to list all of the concepts I feel contribute to having happiness alphabetically. Maybe some day I'll flesh them out into a real book but for now I have my happiness list. I've found that my children enjoy helping me come up with ideas for a happier life for each letter of the alphabet. Here is what we have come up with so far for the ABC's of a Happy Life (Some letters were easier than others):

A is for Acceptance, Awareness, Awe, Altruism, Authenticity, Accomplishment, Action, Appreciation, Art.

B is for Balance, Brotherhood, Beauty, Breathing, Blessings, Being.

C is for Charity, Confidence, Congeniality, Compassion, Curiosity, Cuddling, Coffee, Comedy, Comfort, Companionship, Courtesy, Civility, Complete work/Completing tasks, Courage, Creativity.

D is for Dancing, Dedication, Desiderata, Devotion, Dignity, Direction, Discovery, Dreaming, Doing.

E is for Embrace, Excitement for life, Exercise, Expression, Employment, Engagement, Exhaling.

F is for Family, Fearlessness, Friends, Fun, Fantasy, Freedom, Fellowship, Flow, Free will, Forgiveness.

G is for Generosity, GIving, Glee, Gratitude, Gardening, Godliness, Goodfellowship, Growth, Grace.

H is for Happy thoughts, Harmony, Heart at Peace, Healing, Honesty, Helping others, Hearing, Hugs.

I is for Inquisitiveness, Individuality, Interest in others, Involvement, Inviting, Introspection.

J is for Joyfulness, Journaling, Joie de vivre, Judiciousness, Juvenescence.

K is for Kindred Spirits, Kinship, Kindness, Knowledge, Kisses.

L is for Love, Laughter, Lightness of Being, Listening, Learning,

Loving-Kindness, Letting Go.

M is for Meditation, Mindfulness, Ministry, Music, Making Merry, Mirth, Mitzvahs, Morale.

N is for Neighborliness, Niceness, New experiences, Nonviolence, Novelty, Nutrition.

O is for Optimism, Others, Open-heartedness, Open-mindedness.

P is for Passion, Playfulness, Presentness, Peacefulness, Pampering Yourself, Pets, Poetry, People, Positivity, Purposefulness.

Q is for Quiet Time, Quixotism, Quest, Questioning, Quaintness.

R is for Relaxation, Reading, Reflection, Rejoicing, Rejuvenation, Reaching out, Responsibility, Respect.

S is for Service, Self (Self-Esteem, Self-Respect, Self-Confidence) & Selflessness, Singing, Smiling, Spirituality, Surrender, Study.

T is for Tact, Talent, Taste, Talking, Tea, Teaching, Tenderheartedness, Theatre, Theology, Therapy, Thinking, Thoughtfulness, Tolerance, Touch, Tranquility, Treasuring, Travel, Truce, Trust.

U is for being Unabashed, Unafraid, Unassuming, User-friendliness.

V is for Valuing, Validating, Virtues and Vices, Visualization, Vitality, Vision, Voyaging, Voicing and Vocalization.

W is for Wellbeing, Wonderment, Writing, Worldview, Worthiness, Worship, Worthwhile endeavors, Wisdom, Wholeheartedness, Whistling, Whimsy, Welcoming, Warmheartedness, Walking and Wandering.

X is for Xanadu (def.: an idyllic, beautiful place).

Y is for You, Yin and Yang, Yuletide, Youthful attitude, Yoga, Yumminess.

Z is for Zen, Zest for life, Zydeco music

(if you have ever heard Zydeco music, you know what I mean).

Obviously this is not a complete list and many of the words I used on my list are up for debate, I'm sure. Feel free to add your own. Words have different meanings for different people. They are personal and we all have those words that speak to us in our darkest hours and bring light to our lives when we need them most. If any words on this list are helpful to you, my hope is that you will say them to yourself in your time of need. Feel free to start your own list of words that make you happy, or remind you to be so or to suggest words to the one I have here. There is no right or wrong word. Only you know what resonates for you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Finding Purpose in Your Practice (for Lawyers)

Finding Purpose in Your Practice

Today I changed my intake sheet. I just had to do it. My practice is constantly evolving. Although I am a practicing member of the Florida Bar, I most enjoy working as a certified family mediator with pre-suit pro se couples. I've already eschewed the practice of litigation. I've already declared myself a conscientious objector to the war of divorce. Haven't I already gone far enough away from the traditional practice of law? Well, I'll tell you...

I learn so much from my clients. The other day I realized that some of them as a couple really don't want this divorce, they just don't think they have any options. Maybe they went to couples therapy and they felt it didn't work. Sometimes when a couple comes in for a divorce, after talking things over at our first meeting, they decide that what they really want is to work on saving their marriage. So, I decided to make room in my practice for people who want to explore the possibility of staying together.

Oftentimes a couple is just stressed out and thinks that divorce is the only answer. Many times it is.  But, sometimes it's not.  Sometimes the issues a couple struggles with--such as money and child rearing matters--are not going to go away just because they get divorced. Oftentimes, divorce just exacerbates an already dire situation. 

So what does this mean? We need to remain flexible and be creative about who we are and what we do. We need to keep checking in with ourselves to make sure we are truly doing the life's work we think we are doing.  A little over a decade ago, I went through training at an online "university" called Coach University to be trained as an executive life coach.  I truly loved coaching and I found myself applying coaching concepts to my personal and professional life daily. But somehow the business of being a lawyer--first in a big-city large corporate law firm and later as a sole practitioner in a small town--took over my identity.

Finally, in 2008, I was able to break away from the traditional practice of law and identify myself as a mediator and self-proclaimed "peacemaking lawyer." This was definitely a move in the right direction for me and for the types of clients I wanted to serve. Taking it a step further, I have now fully embraced being a coach--both for distressed couples and for individuals seeking a better life--and it is like coming home. Although I had started calling myself a "divorce coach" earlier this year, I added "marriage coaching" for those clients who aren't sure if divorce is right for them and want to first try making informal agreements--not for divorce--but for getting along better in their marriage. 

So now on my intake sheet, potential clients can tell me that they have come in for either (a) Mediation/Divorce Coaching, (b) Mediation/Marriage Coaching or (c) Collaborative, Cooperative or Uncontested Divorce. I have also added a "Divorce Readiness" Section for both husband and wife so that I can find out from each spouse on a scale of 1 to 10--with 1 being "I don't want this divorce at all" and 10 being "I am absolutely positive that divorce is the answer"--how much they each are ready to proceed with divorce.  For those times that both spouses circle low numbers, we can discuss the option of marriage coaching, putting the divorce mediation/divorce coaching on the back burner and working--at least for a short period--towards a stronger, healthier marriage. If it doesn't work out, we can always go back to the marital settlement agreement and parenting plan. And if divorce does happen...we still have a kinder, gentler way. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not a therapist. What I am is a person who believes in the positive and empowering people to do what is truly right for them. Furthermore, it is easier to succeed at doing what you love than doing what you hate. I am really good at motivating and inspiring people and helping them see the possibilities where they thought that all was lost.  That is what I now do in my practice. I love what I do and I love my clients. I have actually found happiness and purpose with a law degree.

Now, this is my example of how I've changed my practice to better suit my own vision of myself. Enough about me. Let's talk about you: 

My challenge to you is to think about what it is that you love to do and to analyze the choices you have made for you life. Are you happy in your practice? Do you have the kind of time you want and need to be healthy? Do you have the amount of balance in your life that makes sense for you? Are you using all of your gifts and talents in your practice? Are you finding meaning and purpose in your work? Are you answering your call?  I submit that if you are smart enough to have made it through law school and to have passed the bar, then you are capable enough to find more happiness for yourself in your practice. Don't be afraid to go down that path less traveled and pave a new way of doing things that fits with your vision of yourself and who you want to be.  You might try working with an executive coach or joining a program that specializes in helping lawyers unlock their potential for happiness and success. I've recently met a Florida attorney, Sonia Gallagher, JD, who is an executive life coachspecializing in helping lawyers with her company, Time for Life, LLC. Ms. Gallagher has created a Success Roundtable Program for Lawyers (see www.timeforlifenow.com) to help them be more happy and successful in their careers. I know there are others out there worth exploring as well.

What's the bottom line? There are many legal professionals out there actually enjoying what they do. If you are not one of them, you have the power to change that.