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 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 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.