You’ve eaten the last of the roast beast. The decorations are down, your bags are unpacked and everything in your life is pretty much back in its place. The noise of the year-end has died down, and now there’s silence. And a return to those ruminations of how the personal and professional You will be new and improved in this New Year.
From doing this—to not doing that, each one of us thinks at least a little about how a fresh start might inspire … a fresh start. For the legal professional (or any professional for that matter), a reflection of what was, what is and what could be shapes professional desires for the coming year. The cast of characters is well-known: more money, a better title, a new job, a promotion, more business, making partner, becoming a general counsel—all rank among the top goals for those in the proverbial rat race. Fine goals indeed, but nothing new or enlightening for today’s legal professional.
So what is? How can we think of career goals this year using a different perspective and diverse focus that will enlighten us in some way? The key is to turn our flashlights inward. So much of our career goals are outward facing, but the ability to achieve any professional goal goes beyond that mere first step. It is one’s personal character and qualities that play the most significant role in career success … and happiness. And so it is the goals for our own personal development that influence the career highs we will achieve.
It is in this spirit, that this year’s Lawyer Whisperer 2018 Career Goal Guide will focus a bit more on the slightly unconventional … the Self:
Darwin’s theory of evolution asserted the concept of survival of the fittest (I think this also extends to personal and professional satisfaction for human beings). There can be no greater applicability of this concept to today’s legal profession. With change at warp speed, those who continue to learn, grow, understand … and adapt personally and professionally will be happier, will persevere and succeed. Those who don’t will struggle. So how can one “evolve” this New Year? Be intellectually curious. Develop at least one new substantive skill, educate yourself on your company/firm industry, business and state of affairs, learn the secrets to developing business, refine your communication skills through writing and presenting, read books, take up a new hobby, discover new resources to solve more problems, volunteer your time for a worthy cause, be a mentor to others and be mentored, complete a project that’s been on your plate for years, spend more time outdoors … and implement all the other goals in this article. While change is constant, the quality and character of an evolved individual will always offer a competitive advantage in life.
Loosen Your Grip.
We are living in a white-knuckle world where the desire to win is at an all time high. Social media, a rapidly changing profession, uncertainty, keeping up with the Joneses; and peer and family pressure all play major roles in holding on to outcomes too tightly, which inevitably result in some kind of failure. For years, I never understood this concept until I started playing golf. In golf, the tighter you grip the club and the harder you swing, the worse your result. It isn’t until you loosen your grip, relax … and detach from the outcome that you’ll hit the shot of your life. And so it goes for everything in life including one’s career. In 2018, practice the art of detachment. Loosen your grip on outcomes and see how it affects your game.
People of all shapes and sizes put on a façade in the professional world as an attempt to conform to norms and rules that they believe are required to compete and get ahead. They are not their genuine selves—and it shows. And in some little corner of the mind, there is disappointment in one’s self for making the compromise. While not necessarily career killing, the consequences of not being You take its toll and are ultimately unsustainable. So set a goal to bring more of the real you to interviews, meetings, work events and every other interaction. This doesn’t mean that you should pull out your magic tricks in the middle of an interview, but it does mean that your focus should be on being comfortable projecting who you are: your beliefs, values, convictions, personality and moods—as opposed to who you think you “should be” to impress. Some may need to back up a step and think more closely about what defines them. If that describes you, commit the time and effort to do it. Regardless, take inventory and create a small steps plan to be more authentic in your professional life and you will see more of the right results in 2018.
Don’t Put Up With Cr*p.
An abusive manager, snarky co-workers, rude clients, disrespectful friends and family, dishonesty, people who are undependable or anyone that’s taking advantage of or taking you for granted. Sometimes we have to put up with the crap that comes our way. But most of the time, we don’t. So in 2018, make it a goal to take action when you’re not being treated fairly and commit to saying “no” more often. The process doesn’t have to ignite World War III. With careful thought, preparation and practice, maintaining boundaries is easier than you think.
Be More Selfless.
Our society is plagued by a hyper focus on “me.” And with a legal profession in flux, lawyers are scrambling to get ahead with a “What’s in it for me?” mentality. But what many don’t get is that being considerate and doing things for the benefit of others is one of the best ways to help your own career. And no matter how finely tuned you are as a professional, there’s always room to raise your game. So how can you be more considerate? Respond to calls/emails, be on time for appointments, spend more care on your work, treat others with more respect, apologize, enforce boundaries, send thank yous, provide better service and be a team player. In addition, make a conscious effort to help others. Set a goal to help one professional in your network a week/month/quarter (you choose). Make an introduction, review a resume, provide a referral, lend an ear – whatever you can do to assist another. Not only will you feel good, being a more considerate professional will have a profound effect on your relationships and your career—and you’ll see a difference immediately.
Make 2018 the year of more mindful expression. This umbrella is a pretty big one and incorporates a few prongs: Avenues to express your knowledge, opinions and thoughts such as writing, giving presentations, organizing events/topics and themes for those events, getting involved in causes or efforts that you deem important and meaningful to you. Expression includes hobbies like art, cooking or athletic endeavors etc. It also embodies the art of communication with others: how to talk and interact with another person. The words chosen and tone that is used—and possessing the judgment … and courage of knowing when and how to communicate. So what will you do to express yourself in 2018? Ask more for what you want/need? Maintain boundaries in the workplace and at home? Lead a cause? Write a blog? Take up a new hobby to expand your mind? Join a book or film club? Learn to write? Effective expression and communication are the keys to successful relationships, increased career success and personal fulfillment. That is a fact. So determine how you’ll incorporate more of it in your life this New Year.
No good decision is made from fear. I repeat: No good decision is made from fear. I communicate this to everyone I counsel and I shout it from the mountain tops in my writings. And while this is an incredibly easy statement to make, it takes courage and a Herculean effort to overcome it—as fear is one of the most powerful emotions and drivers we have. In my years working with attorneys, I have encountered so many who have made terrible career decisions that stem from fear—with complicated consequences. So as the curtain opens on a new year, confront fear. Tackle it. Punch it in the nose. And go straight through it. You won’t succeed every time, but the more you do, the better you’ll feel and the more powerful you will become.
Regardless of your political affiliation or views on just about anything, it seems as though most everyone has a nerve or two that has been frayed over the past several months. Competing for clicks, news outlets are resorting to more outrageous stories and tag lines to pique our interest and eyeballs. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of these stories are negative, inflammatory and downright heartbreaking. And after digesting such stories, one is left in a worse state than when s/he started. How in the world are we supposed to put our best foot forward in the workplace if we are stressed out about everything terrible that is happening in the world? Stop. Reading. The. News. Or at the very least, minimize your exposure to it. Only read digestible publications once a day—and don’t read the headlines first thing in the morning. It sets a negative tone for the rest of your day and evening.
So many legal professionals are sleep-deprived. This state of being just kind of seems par for the course with the profession so not much attention is paid to it. (Did you know that Law is one of the top sleep-deprived professions in the world?) But it can compromise a career big time. So the importance of sleep cannot be understated—with thousands of articles detailing its health affects. People who have had a good night’s sleep think way more clearly, exercise better judgment, are more creative, have more energy, are more efficient, more optimistic, happier, better managers and project a more positive presence to everyone around them. It’s distinct and noticeable—and it makes a huge difference in the workplace. So get more sleep in 2018. If you can’t change your schedule every night, try two to three days/week. Also, commit to no electronics an hour before bedtime (or 30-45 minutes if you can’t muster it yet). If you are one of the rare few that has this area nailed, keep up the great work!
The new year is a time marker that nudges us to reflect on the past as well as our aspirations for the future. For lawyers, career success is often top priority and dominates the narrative for the year to come. And in order to reach those professional goals that will lift you higher, an inward focus and personal development is also required. I hope the suggested list above will be helpful in this effort and inspire you to become the person you aspire to be in this New Year.
Here’s to a happy … and healthy 2018!
Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.