Friday, November 11, 2011

A Season of Thankfulness

Tis the season to count our blessings, although being thankful is arguably something we should practice year round. I find that there is nothing quite like making a list of all I am thankful for to cheer me and create a feeling of peace. I want to pass this on to my children. In fact, it's only Veterans Day and my children had already started rumbling about what they want to get under the tree. So I told them that before I would entertain any discussion of their Chanukah/Christmas list, they would have to sit down and make a Gratitude List of at least 100 things for which they were thankful.

And they did. Actually, they had a pretty good time of it and found it was a relatively easy exercise once they got started. After my 8 year old son read me his list (of 102!) I asked him how he felt about the assignment. He replied that it had been a good exercise for both his head and his hand, and that it surprisingly didn't hurt either body part.

Try it. Once you get going, you'll find it is quite easy to realize all that you are thankful for. The list will inevitably include members of your family, fond friends, favorite foods, places and things, shelter, clothing and physical and mental health. Freedom. Feet. Eyes. Trees. The ocean. And on and on.

Now, let's kick it up a notch and try to be thankful for a few things we might not normally think of. This isn't quite as easy, but here's the start of a slightly unconventional thank you list, which might be useful whenever life seems less than perfect:

1. I am thankful for laundry. There is perhaps no greater household drudgery than doing the laundry, however, if I have laundry to do, it means I and my family have clothes to wear and that we had the opportunity to both acquire and to wear them.

2. I am thankful for taxes. Let's face it, nobody wants to pay them and yet we need services like police and fire, roads and schools. If I have a tax bill, it means I earned an income, which is more than some millions of unemployed Americans can say.

3. I am thankful for all the times my heart was broken. Oh yes, I suffered such heartbreak back in the day. But if I had married any of those guys, I would never have met and married my awesome husband. He was definitely worth the wait.

4. I am thankful for the times as a child that I felt awkward, shy and picked on. As an adult it has given me great empathy for others. I try to make an effort to reach out in most social situations. I like that about myself.

5. I am thankful for those really really bad times. While I hope they never come back, they have led me to appreciate all that life has to offer and have showed me that whatever the circumstances, whatever the loss, I have everything I need right here and life will go on.

6. I am thankful for when my children wake me up in the middle of the night or cry, whine, complain to, argue with or pester me. Although I prefer our more polite conversations and words of affection, when they are not their best selves with me, I know that my children are living, thinking human beings who are not afraid to communicate with me and that they feel safe expressing to me their needs and wants.

7. I am thankful for all the people in my life who have challenged me, pushed me, given me grief or made my life miserable. For as much as I love and appreciate the people who have caressed and coddled me and built me up, I've probably learned my greatest lessons and improved the most from my critics and my detractors. (Although I'm still going to choose to hang out with the people who are nice to me and limit my exposure to toxic or negative people, I'm not crazy).

8. I am thankful for all the times I have fallen down both literally and figuratively, for as wonderfully thrilling as my successes have been, it is the times that I have had to get back up and brush off my dignity and pride that I have truly learned to be a champion.

Of course, we would rather only have good things happen to us and to only know peace and prosperity. I sure do hope we all get some more of that in life. But let's face it, not so good stuff is going to happen too. Laundry and taxes are a fact of life. People die, get ill or hurt or in trouble. At times we will all experience a little hunger, thirst, cold, setback or heartbreak.

But if we can learn to be somehow thankful for whatever comes, we will hopefully be able to find our happiness regardless of the season.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fueling the Spark

Kevin Houchin, Esq. wants lawyers and law students to succeed in their personal and professional lives. He has written two books, both entitled Fuel the Spark. One is aimed at law students, and subtitled,  5 Guiding Values for Success in Law School & Beyond (2009, Kevin E. Houchin, Esq.). The other is aimed at lawyers and subtitled,  5 Guiding Values for  Success in Law & Life (2009, Kevin E. Houchin, Esq.).  Both books are short and aimed at getting those either entering or already entrenched in the legal profession to consider their values and to apply them to their lives so that they can be happier, healthier and more successful in their law practice.  He also wants them to have more fun.

What's not to like?

Mr. Houchin (an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer you can learn more about at would like these books to be required law school reading, and I don't blame him. I have encountered innumerable legal practitioners who started having existential crises the moment they graduated law school.  I myself started feeling when I left law school and entered Corporate America that I was no longer the interesting person I used to be, the person I liked before I became a lawyer.  It has personally taken years of struggle and honest reflection to build a happy, balanced life for myself.

As Mr. Houchin recognizes, I am not alone.  His answer is to highlight 5 guiding values and work up short programs and exercises to help the law student and legal practitioner contemplate and come home to his or herself, or at least remember who they are so they don't stray too far from themselves in the first place.  He writes with enthusiasm, brevity and wit, which is much appreciated by the reader. Without digression he illuminates his 5 core values (keys to success) which are to (1) Accept responsibility for one's life; (2) Show up; (3) Pay 100% attention; (4) Have many irons in the fire; and (5) Give back (Stewardship).

As I teach an Introduction to Law class at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, I have come close to answering Mr. Houchin's dream by making his books recommended (but not required) reading and spending one day of class time discussing the principles contained therein with my students. I have even gifted one of his books to a very grateful friend who had just been accepted into law school and would give a copy as a graduation present to any law student I truly cared about.

As for my Introduction to Law class, Fuel the Spark makes for an interesting and thought-provoking discussion with students. It is important to encourage students to think about what values really matter to them. I have even had students indicate that the values highlighted by Mr. Houchin are not the only relevant values and that they might prefer to choose the values they felt mattered most to them rather than the values prescribed by someone else.

All the better.

Fuel the Spark encouraged my students to consider their own values. I loved that they were inspired to begin thinking about qualities that matter to them in life. After all, isn't getting students to analyze and think for themselves what education is all about? And unlike some other disciplines, law is not about "solving for X," but rather identifying and evaluating different perspectives and articulating them in understandable, compelling and persuasive ways.  Not only do the Fuel the Spark books get students to think about their own values, they beseech them to formulate how they will make a positive impact in the world utilizing their strengths and talents.

A worthy exercise for anyone, I submit.

The Fuel the Spark aimed at lawyers also makes for an excellent continuing legal education seminar in ethics and professional responsibility. I would certainly utilize it for any law student or lawyer that came to me for coaching and mentoring.

So I give kudos to Kevin Houchin for creating these straight-forward and easy reads for lawyers and law students. I hope he realizes his dream of having one or the other become required law school reading as I would like to see a more self-actualized and less stressed-out bar.