How to reclaim the control you think you have lost as a lawyer

I was answering a question on Quora yesterday and I saw a heartbreaking essay that an anonymous member wrote about how he or she hated being an attorney.

Beginning at 6.30a each day, the writer detailed minute by minute, hour by hour, the tasks he or she had to complete along with the anxiety, stress, boredom and sheer hopelessness he or she felt until collapsing into bed at 2am.

What struck me was how out of control this person felt.

The writer’s day was controlled by the client, the senior partner and deadline after deadline.

But there was one area I saw where he or she had an opportunity to reclaim a very important sense of control.

That’s what I talk about in today’s video (below):



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Why trying to avoid making a mistake can be our biggest one

This week I want to focus on something that prevents so many of us from leaving the law … and that is the fear of making a mistake.

A mistake is traditionally defined as an action or judgment that is wrong or misguided.

We do or think of something, and if it isn’t successful, or not validated by others, or doesn’t make enough money, ugh, we made a mistake.

The fear of a mistake is what prevents us from taking any steps to leave the law and positively change our life.

It’s what causes the paralysis that makes us remain unhappy attorneys.

Warren Buffett’s mistakes

But Warren Buffett surfaces a different definition of mistake.

When asked “What is the biggest mistake you have made?” the greatest investor of all time said that some of his biggest mistakes were the times he decided to not act at all.

While sitting on the sidelines has its merits at times, my interpretation of his comments is these are the times his soul told him to make an investment or to reach out and connect with someone or to try something,

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Happy new year in September?

Yesterday evening kicked off the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. It is also considered the birthday of the universe, the anniversary of the day Adam and Eve were created.

It actually means “Head of the Year.” And just as the head controls the body, many view the actions we repent, forgive and plan beginning on Rosh Hashanah as having a tremendous impact on us for the rest of the year. It’s a solemn, introspective time.

It definitely is not your bang-up, let’s party Gregorian December 31/January 1 New Years celebration.

So I’ve always had two “new years” growing up.

And then it got me thinking of other cultures’ new years in the world.

The Hindi new year is in March. The Chinese new year moves between January and February. The Islamic new year varies by Gregorian year.

My own personal new year

And then I started thinking of my own new year. Not my birthday. Rather, the day I officially left the law. June 16, 2004. I gave a month’s notice for my in-house counsel job.

I left a job that was well respected and fine and not horrible …

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You have a choice to make

I have learned recently that there are two types of emotions in the world:

Love or fear.

Love or fear.

Everything else is a sub-element.

Love is confidence and support and collaboration and love. It is worthiness and desire and faith. It is connection and abundance and pure and helpful and value. It is backbone and morality and heartfelt and determined and giving. It is growth and daring.

Fear is the anxiety and the confusion. And frustration and lack. It is depression and corrupt and rotten. It is misaligned and worry and suspicion and insecurity and unworthiness and playing small and concern. It is stunted.

Both emotions play integral parts in defining who we are and the decisions we make.

We fully know we are acting out of love when we realize that we are not acting out of fear.

But it’s fear that keeps you dragging yourself into your attorney job you can’t stand. It’s fear that results in your stress, in your 60+ hour workweeks, in your addictions to numb the pain.

We unhappy attorneys produce these fears ourselves

It’s a fear that we are not worthy of success.

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The Golden Handcuffs, the Guilt, and the Reluctant Prince

I was speaking recently with a reader who is interested in the Leave Law Behind coaching. She works in BigLaw. She makes a lot of money. Is respected by her friends and family.

But she is dying to get out.

She almost never sees her family. She almost never has a weekend without work. She almost never feels appreciation from her clients.

But a major obstacle in her way to leaving the law is the guilt she feels complaining about such a high paying job. She has all the creature comforts. On top of that, she was raised in a solidly middle class family where money was often a topic of mild anxiety and worry.

She asks, How can I complain about a job that makes me so much money? How can I stare my parents and family in the face and say I don’t like my job when I make so much money? How can I complain when I have a job that so many other people would die to have?

She says, I should realize I’m lucky to have this job. I should appreciate this job more so.

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Why being a lawyer just doesn’t feel right

My daughter is a big fan of the Peanuts cartoons. She shared one strip with me. She said that reading it made her think of the lawyers we help to leave the law.

Charlie Brown and his sister Sally are waiting at the school bus stop one morning, lunch bags in hand. Sally looks at the cars driving by and asks “Who are all those people driving by in those cars?”

Charlie Brown says “Those are people going to work.”

“Work?” Sally says

Charlie Brown explains “They used to wait for the school bus, like we’re doing … Now they have to go to work every day for the rest of their lives”

Sally says: “Good grief! Whose idea was that?”

Right, whose idea was that?

So many of us did what seems like everything “right” in your life. We did everything we were supposed to do.

We got the grades. We made (or tried very hard to make) our parents proud. We pursued safety and security and avoided the unknown and risk.

We applied to, got accepted by and graduated law school.

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This is how we thrive and grow and succeed

I made a typo in a blog post a few years back, and a number of readers noticed it. They took the time to email me and point out the error I made. It bummed me out that whole day, and as you can tell, I have not forgotten about it …

I may have left the law, but I still battle with the lawyer’s perfectionism. I still bristle sometimes at “constructive” criticism. I still have areas of me that want to be perfect from the outset. I still don’t want to fail.

And the advice many “experts” or motivational speakers give on how to handle failure often isn’t that helpful: embrace failure, failure is the first step to success, you only know what you want from failing, and on and on.

Sure, make sense. But it’s still general, nebulous advice that can be difficult to get our arms around.

And this advice doesn’t lessen the blow at all. Failing hurts. It’s hard to be comfortable with. We lawyers instinctively want to avoid it.


Two kinds of failure

But recently, the value of failure became more clear to me.

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How to leave the law in 5 seconds

I remember asking a client who successfully got an informational interview lined up with a tech CEO how he was able to call the busy CEO and get to talk to him and get time on his calendar.

“I called him” was my client’s response.

He just did it. He called the CEO.

He didn’t let his fear or anxiety or risk of embarrassment make him hesitate or back away from the task at hand.

He acted.


The Five-Second Rule

It reminds of a great TedX talk from Mel Robbins, CNN correspondent, life coach, motivational speaker and law school grad. In it, she expands on her popular Five-Second Rule.

The Rule says that anytime you have an idea that seems like a sure thing, act to advance it within five seconds. Don’t hem and haw, don’t hesitate, don’t not-act.

Act within 5 seconds. Make the call. Raise your hand. Click the button. Write down the idea.

Something. Do something within 5 seconds of the idea, but just don’t do nothing. Because science has proven that if you don’t act within 5 seconds,

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Would you jump out of a plane to salvage the rest of your life?

I watched a video recently of actor Will Smith speaking about his first sky diving trip.

He talked about how he only agreed to go sky diving after being forced into it over dinner and drinks with a group of friends. They all wanted to go, he didn’t want to be the only one not to go, so he said he was in. Peer pressure even works on famous celebrities.

But he was very afraid of jumping out of the plane.

He was too afraid to sleep. He was too afraid to eat.

The fear was a feeling caused by his belief that jumping out of the plane was going to put him in danger. It was going to cause him pain. Or loss or death or whatever else bad …

The fear of course only grew as he entered the plane. As they climbed to 14,000 feet. As the door opened. As the wind rushed in. As he stood at the edge of doorway.

And then he was pushed.

And as he dropped out of the plane … he said it was the most exhilarating experience he has ever had.

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How to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to leaving the law

In this week’s video, I touch on how to overcome one of the biggest obstacles we face in trying to leave the law.

I faced it in 2004 when I left the law for good.

And I speak weekly with so many of us who still face it.

The fear and anxiety it causes can stop us in our tracks.

Fortunately, there is a way around it.

Hope you enjoy the video.

Are you serious about leaving the law?

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