3 ways I co-opt fear to use to my advantage


Lately, I’ve been working through how to deal with fear.

In our lives as people in general, and as attorneys in particular, we face a lot of fears.

Some we share with most everyone else (fear of physical pain, of losing a loved one, of trying new things, of falling into depression, of loneliness, of embarrassment).

Others are more specific to us as attorneys (fear of making a typo on a brief, of making a mistake in front of a judge, of being incorrect on the legal precedent, of getting turned down as partner, of being sued for malpractice, of not being able to make our law school loan payments).

And we have many, many fears when it comes to leaving the law (we’re afraid we won’t be able to convince someone else to hire us, we’re afraid to tell our firm we actually want to leave, we’re afraid we won’t be able to say we’re really a lawyer anymore, we’re afraid it won’t be easy, we’re afraid we will be ridiculed and doubted).

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A break


On Sunday mornings, I play basketball with a group of 10 to 20 guys at the neighborhood park. They say the tradition goes back over 30 years. And the rules haven’t changed much in that time: 4 on 4 half court, first team to hit 24 points wins, must win by two baskets, no three pointers, side of the backboard is in play, last game goes to 32.

We usually play four to five games over the course of two hours. The pace is fast, the guys are competitive but nice, and sun usually breaks through the morning clouds soon after we begin.

This past week, I played pretty well. I made some real good turn around jumpers, got two steals, I was active on the boards and had a nice pass after a pick and roll.

But of course being the perfectionist-obsessive-compulsive that I am, as I walked home after our last game, all I could focus on was what I didn’t do well: the missed (easy) 12 footer, the layup I clanged off the rim because I thought it would otherwise be blocked, the fumbled pass I made that resulted in a turn over,

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The third step in leaving the law behind: Hone the informational interview

To leave law behind, you need to meet with people.  Other people are the best way to find out what we want to do with our life, and then help us find the resources to get there.

Of course this sounds obvious, but to leave law behind, we will need to branch out in ways we likely can’t conceive of now.  We need to be open and honest with our tight circle about our goals and needs and aspirations, so those that care about us can begin to brainstorm and network for us.  We need to plan to have coffees and “informational interviews” with at least 8 to 10 new professionals, lawyers, business people, sales people, engineering folks, local politicians and other contacts each month in order to build a valuable support web of like-minded people.  We need to be confident and not desperate to find a job.  We need to gather information and make an informed decision.  It will take a while (6, 9, 12, 18, 24 months) and won’t happen overnight . . but we have the time.  Build it organically and correctly and the opportunities will come into clear view.

Before we get into the details of how to execute on this plan,

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The value of nothing going right

Sometimes things just don’t go well.  Sometimes you’re in a funk.  Things don’t click.  Things don’t gel.  Nothing turns out right.  Things are off.  Sometimes it’s so hard to just practice the daily requirements of the law that you can’t even think about the courage required to leave it.

The anxiety about money rears its ugly head.  The insecurity about your life plan comes back in full force.  Everyone around you is doing better than you are.  You can’t shake that miserable cold.

Two things to remember.  First, the funk will go away.  You will (still) be able to buy nice things.  You will satisfy your ego.  You will celebrate the success of others.  You will stop coughing.

Second, and more importantly, this funk is necessary.  It’s necessary to be smacked around, challenged, called out, reduced.  It’s a threshold moment in the movie we call your life.  It’s your performance during these challenging times that endear you to your ticket paying audience.

It is enlightening to judge your character based on how you handle yourself during these times.  It also provides nice clips for a trailer . . .

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Beginning in 1862, the various Homestead Acts provided Americans with new opportunities to own, settle, farm, cultivate and populate what was then a wide open, unclaimed American frontier (Native American interests notwithstanding, of course).  The young country was looking for ways to grow and spread.  There was (literally) a lot of room out there and a lot of opportunity (and risk) for self-starters, dreamers and businesspeople to carve out new lives, new opportunities, new satisfactions and new ways to make money.

The Internet, the online world, the networked globe we now live in, is also wide open and fairly unclaimed.  Even though the number of websites, apps, solutions and platforms has grown exponentially over the years, the Internet is still in its nascent stage, with plenty of room . . . for you, me and all of those little morsels of ideas we may be toying with.

This Homestead analogy comes from Dan Abrams, TV correspondent, legal commentator and online entrepreneur. I like how he put it in a recent New York Times article:

“I like the feeling that I’m on the right side of history.  I think the Internet is comparable to the Homestead Act: Here’s a parcel of land,

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Your life as a movie

When you envision your life as a movie, with you the hero or heroine and main star and an audience of ticket payers watching your every step and listening to your every line, you allow yourself the freedom to enjoy every minute of your life, and find the courage to perform feats most people wouldn’t.

Stuck in traffic?  The audience is watching you look cool with your elbow hanging out the window listening to tunes.

In the middle of a stressful settlement meeting?  The audience is rooting for you and on the edge of its seat to see how you will perform.

Hesitant to make a dramatic life choice?  You’d better make that courageous move (in love, work or otherwise) . . . or they might just get bored and walk out.

Imagine yourself as the main star of the movie that is your life and use the pressure, anxiety and confidence that comes with it to accomplish amazing things.

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