Category Archives: personal accountabilty

Struggling With a Setback? Bounce Back!

Relax I'm just practicing my bouncing back skills

From the time I was a little girl I struggled with perfectionism.

I suppose it started as a result of the attention I got when I did something extraordinarily well.  “Wow, that is great! You are really something!”  Hearing those accolades gave me a higher sense of self worth.

I remember bringing home one of the few “B” grades I ever got in high school. “What? No straight A’s?” my father said in sarcastic jest; yet to me it was a devastating reminder that I had fallen short of the perfect 4.0 that semester.

Excelling and doing our best becomes perfectionism when the need to achieve becomes compulsive.  Over time, I realized doing things perfectly was my dysfunctional coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Everything became black and white; it was either perfect or not.   Because you can’t always be perfect I would become dissatisfied with myself and work harder, do more, over-function like a pro.

My wake up call came when I failed the bar exam the first time I took it, just out of law school.  That glaring imperfection, in public for all to see, caused me to feel shame and unworthiness.  Because I hadn’t really ever failed before I wasn’t’ sure how to handle it.

As lawyers, failure doesn’t sit well with us. If we lose a trial, or don’t prevail on an appeal, or are unhappy with our performance, we might agonize and rehash the circumstances for days on end.  For some of us such failure or imperfection can set us back and cause depression or worse.The anecdote to perfection is that we have to learn to fail, and most importantly to have resiliency, or the ability to bounce back.

Resiliency is a lost art in America. The failure to have healthy bounce back is becoming worse because many of us are raising our children, to get the trophy. In our quest for imparting self esteem we shower our children with indiscriminate praise and tell them that they are special, amazing, extraordinary and well, you know, perfect!

 A recent report from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence highlights the fact that today’s teens are unskilled at resiliency.  In fact, a 2013 survey of college students shows that more than half suffer from overwhelming anxiety and a third experience intense depression during the school year.  Business leaders are concerned this will adversely impact the United States’ ability to compete globally if those students are tomorrow’s leaders.   This report and others asks whether we might be emphasizing the wrong things in our kids. At what point do emotional management and non cognitive skills have to be as important as intelligence and being in accelerated academic classes?

Does resiliency seem to be a problem for you or your children? If so, how do you become resilient and teach your children do the same?

  1. When things don’t go your way, or you suffer disappointment, become aware of your emotions without letting them hijack you. You can’t escape strong emotional feelings but you can courageously face them.  Don’t push them away (that actually makes them stronger) but instead acknowledge that you are suffering. “I’m disappointed with my job performance review. Wow, it’s really painful to hear what my boss said about me. I have knots in my stomach right now.”

 

  1. Recognize that the feelings will pass if you don’t give them power. Replaying our victim stories and getting carried away with the drama will only keep you stuck. When the bad version of what happened comes into your head, switch instead to kindness, self care or nurturing of yourself. “I’m upset about that review of the article I wrote, I think I will take a hot soak in an Epsom salt tub and then read that book I have wanted to start reading.”  Self care can remove you from the intensity of the disappointment.

 

  1. Talk to yourself like a friend, or mentor. “You worked so hard on that proposal, I know you are disappointed it wasn’t accepted for the conference. But don’t give up!  You have an important message and there will be other opportunities.”  When we talk to ourselves it’s often the voice of our inner critic.  Recognize that voice, and switch to the inner mentor/friend.

 

  1. Recognize that others have had similar failures and disappointments, and have come back with strength. The bar association is full of lawyers who have contributed to a better society, after having  failed the bar exam the first time. Famous authors have drawers full of rejection letters. Actresses have been turned down for parts and gone on to win academy awards.  Nobody is perfect.  Reminding ourselves that we are not alone in our suffering helps us recover.

 

  1. Practice hope and optimism. There is such a thing as learned helplessness.  And the opposite is leaned optimism.  Positive psychology tools actually do work. Visualizing what you want and moving towards it, instead of lingering on what doesn’t work does have an impact. Counselors and life coaches are good resources to teach these skills.

 

  1. Take steps towards the positive path you have visualized. Staying stuck in quicksand and hiding under the covers only works temporarily. Taking one small step towards “digging out” is progress and leads to the next small step and so on.  Having accountability partners around you to encourage and support your efforts is helpful.

Often we are packing shame or disappointment and think that sharing with others is an embarassment  or even a burden. Chances are there are people in your circle who would be glad to help you bounce back if given the chance.  Staying in your own bubble of negativity and disappointment not only keeps you from having resilience, it can drag down the loved ones who have to live with you in your negative state.

Resilience isn’t easy. But it’s necessary to lead a full and productive life and becomes easier with practice. Since that bar failure over thirty years ago I have gone on to lead a productive and fulfilling life as a lawyer, with many triumphs and other disappointments along the way.  I found my life’s passion in serving as a mediator in legal disputes. I wonder what might have happened if I had let that defining moment defeat me.

And remember, nobody’s perfect.

 

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”- James 1:4

 

 

 

 

 

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When We Go High And They Go Low: What Happens To A Family?

ch-6-dove-and-serpant “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”-the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:16

I used to be a take-no- prisoners litigator leading families to the arena (court) to shed blood, exploiting every conflict I could to “win” the case. I lived this mindset in my own divorce, spending years in blame and unforgiveness. Both circumstances took a toll on my life and my soul.

Somehow I “woke up.”  I chose to  forgive the father of my children and myself.  I redesigned my law practice and became a peacemaker. I healed my life in mind, body and spirit and wrote a book encouraging other lawyers to do the same.

Now when clients come to my office we set goals for them and for their case.   Suffering from betrayal, loss of love and loneliness, clients suggest goals of blame, revenge, hurt and pain.   I redirect them, having a frank conversation with them about “the long game.”

The long game recognizes families are entwined for life, raising children post divorce.  EVERYTHING THEY DO IN THE DIVORCE  SETS A PATH FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.  As their lawyer, I  leave a legacy with my intervention. My client is either buoyed for dignity, forgiveness, respect and calmness or left to pick up the rubble of the destruction I leave behind.

Choices in the divorce must be suited for the long game.  We discuss future family gatherings with the children and grandchildren such as graduations, weddings, and funerals. We envision the cost of the choice to blame, emphasize petty differences, or disparage their co-parent.  Even if we have serious issues (substance abuse, domestic abuse, and other important issues that endanger children) we  proceed with transparency, integrity and dignity for all, while firmly and wisely protecting the children.  Clients insistent on “going low” are referred to another  lawyer.  As a result of this choice of practice, I sleep well and see lives transformed in my office every day.

In one case,  my sad client whose wife had filed for divorce joined me in  discussing the long game.(I represent equal numbers of men and women). He embraced the approach noting that he and the child’s mother were both good people and good parents. They’d both been there for  prenatal care, and child’s dental and medical appointments. They’d both transported child to daycare, shared day to day parenting responsibilities and effectively made many joint decisions.

I called the lawyer on the other side to discuss the case.

“What are the problems with my guy having shared care?” I asked him, beginning to negotiate settlement.

“Nothing” he assured me.  “My client is a first time anxious mom, wanting primary care. There is nothing wrong with your guy.”

We were optimistic about settlement when we went to mediation.

“They report nothing that would preclude shared parenting other than mom is anxious,” the mediator said in our private caucus, then adding “mom’s lawyer is strongly advocating against settlement.”

I wondered if the lawyer had abandoned seeking compromise and simply decided they would “earn their keep” by supporting mom’s anxiety based position. We were headed for temporary hearing.

In my jurisdiction temporary matters  are decided on sworn affidavits.  No testimony, no clients, and 10 minutes to plead the case across the desk to a judge with no court reporter. Affidavits  are exchanged a moment before walking in to see the judge making the process “trial by ambush.”

My client and I prepared affidavits that supported our request for shared custody with coparenting from two good parents.  My client’s parents signed affidavits supporting both parents and describing a future where the mother would continue to be welcome. We buyoed the long game.

“My wife asked me not to read the affidavits she and her lawyer prepared for the hearing until tomorrow and she is moving in with her parents over the weekend, ” my client stated as we met at the courthouse.

“Search your soul and tell me what you have forgotten until now;  what’s the worst thing she can say and be brutally honest,” I asked my client as my anxiety spiked.  No porn, no drugs, no mistress, no tax fraud, no domestic abuse.  My puzzled client came up empty.

Outside the courtroom I handed opposing counsel our affidavits. “No surprises. High integrity on what we’ve said all along. Two good parents, history of calm waters.”   My adversary shoved affidavits in my hand while looking down at his feet and shuffling towards the courtroom door.

Wife’s affidavit magnified every petty disagreement since the child’s conception describing my client as a “bully” giving wife emotional distress. Wife’s mother substantiated with an affidavit saying the same.  Wife’s father noticeably did not join in.

My client held back tears. “We took the high road and she attacked despite what they have said all along. I feel betrayed again.  I want a pound of flesh!  What good did it do me to be high integrity?”

I left my law clerk to calm the client while I went in to argue my 10 minutes.  The other attorney animatedly described  my client to the judge as a bully, oppressive, mean to his wife.  I calmly argued  the facts; pre-natal care, child’s doctors appointments, daycare pickup,  joint decisions. I  pointed out wife’s affidavit was “she saids” while our evidence proved differently.

The judge granted wife primary physical care minimizing dad’s contact.   “I will never trust her ever again, as long as I live,” my client said as we left the courthouse.

Thanking me for my work, my client said he had believed in the high road and the long game until he was blown up in battle. We agreed I’d transition him to a gladiator colleague equipped with depositions designed to embarrass his wife, highlight her after-discovered boyfriend (although fault is not relevant under the law), and engage in other aggressive tactics of war to win the final hearing.  War that cost thousands of dollars of the child’s college savings money.

For a moment I second guessed my strategy. Did I just get out-lawyered? Did  my adversary’s choice to lie about the case and hold back the evidence until the end make him the better lawyer?  That lawyer now holds a permanent spot  on my “untrustworthy” list where he’ll stay long after we both forget the two clients we represented that day.

When that moment passes  I ‘m grateful that I provided my client and his family a chance  for healing, dignity and respect.  I dream of difficult conversations  at the mediation that would have allowed for problem solving  without venomous affidavits and court intervention. I pray for the family involved and for my young opposing counsel who may not see the toll such situations leave on the world, on a family and on his own soul over time.

And I ask, who “won?”

 

 

 

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Living in Integrity

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”-Mark Twain

Success concept. Isolated on white

I have always tried to be a “good person.” When I’ve missed the mark an uncomfortable feeling comes up after, often lingering even after time has passed.

In tempting circumstances the inner alarm usually sounds just as I step off the cliff, leaving me a choice to abort the mission.: “I really shouldn’t do this, but……” When I don’t move forward it’s a choice. When I do move forward it’s a choice.

Reality television shows; public figures with no boundaries; children exposed to adult issues; venom spewing on Facebook; politicians who exploit power; and foul language being bantered about  appear to be the norm. This leaves those of us trying to “do good” and “be good” feeling like Martians.

How can those of us seeking to do the right thing support each other?

  1. Define what “doing good” means for us. As a lawyer and writer, words are my passion and I introduced powerful ones to my children at a young age. Before she started kindergarten, my daughter Danielle would report: “Mom, Courtney isn’t acting in integ-witty,” when tattling on her sister.

Integrity is a great catch-all word for the qualities of doing good. It means making good moral and ethical choices, acting with sound character, being honest and trustworthy, and most importantly being accountable when I’m outside of integrity. I’ve made my fair share of poor choices stepping squarely into a gray area and then shutting down the barometer that would help me navigate. But I’ve never stopped trying to “stay awake” to living and acting with integrity. Those of us in this fight must never stop trying.

  1. Live and speak about our values even if they are unpopular. I follow a mentor online and his blogs and podcasts highlight his high values without preaching. He also honors his wife of 30+ years and doesn’t minimize or joke about her, a breath of fresh air for this divorce lawyer. His posts are like an oasis even though I don’t ascribe to all of his philosophies. His insights help me refine my own moral code and support that I’m not alone in fighting the good fight.

After writing my book The Compassionate Lawyer, I began to publicly speak about some of the questionable practices of lawyers, challenging my profession to be more compassionate. I took barbs from some who thought I was a Pollyanna and not a “real lawyer” because of my views.

A small number would come up to me after the speeches to express support. They were largely miserable lawyers, living outside their value system because they felt that had to in order to practice law. Hearing that others were striving to be a different kind of lawyer, helped them reclaim their authenticity. As a result we have formed the first Compassionate Lawyer Society in the country at Drake University Law School. It’s a group whose mission is to educate, encourage and support fellow attorneys in the pursuit of justice through compassion and excellence.

  1. Use “the pause.” One of the most valuable life skills I’ve learned is to identify whether I am in a state of emotion or clear headedness when I am making decisions. When difficult choices come down the pike, if we are in emotion we are likely to make a poor choice. It’s not only negative emotion that fuels a poor choice it’s also strong positive emotion that has a similar effect. Both emotions filter or block our inner voice.

I’ve found by recognizing emotion and exercising “the pause,” I can reboot to my clear head and consciously making a choice with my value system on the radar. Pausing means to:

1) Stop and get an awareness (emotional or clear headed?)

2) Review the status of your body (tense? Rigid? Stressed?)

3) Breathe (the anecdote to many things in life!)

4) Open to the moment (consciously focus on the all the stimulus).

After pausing you’re better equipped to make a good choice, including deferring the decision to a later time.

  1. Find an accountability partner or partners.

I work with a coach who is a person of high integrity and characteristics I’d like to have myself. We have monthly meetings and every Friday I send him an “accountability e-mail.” In it I describe the things I am wrestling with and the steps I am taking to make good choices. I’m brutally honest and transparent. Knowing he is there to hold me accountable makes me consider choices more closely.

Reaching out to our supporters takes away the isolation and holds us accountable. I am mutually supportive with others in my circle, who are on a similar path and have texted them when I am on the precipice of doing something stupid. I serve as this accountability partner for other lawyers and law students who work with me as a coach.

In our legal practices it’s critical that lawyers encourage our clients to do the right thing and choose integrity every time. They look to us for wisdom and guidance. From a client email I received after a consultation with him on continuing to take the high road in his co-parenting relationship :

“ I really appreciate the “validation”….even when you know you’re taking the right course of action it can still be very difficult to do so. Hearing a “keep it up” sometimes is very helpful.”

  1. Exercise self compassion. Once we set our intention to live in integrity, it’s ineveitable that we will face circumstances where it’s easier to do the opposite. When we stumble instead of reminding ourselves of our imperfections and prior failures, we have to regroup and get back in the game. Some of my major integrity cracks have been my greatest teachers, energizing me even more towards the goal. Perseverance builds patience, character, and other byproducts of the good life.

By setting our sights on doing good, we create a tremendous momentum that empowers others to follow suit. There are abundant fruits from the lives of those living in integrity. Can you dream with me about the impact such an effort would have on the world?

It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

 Mahatma Gandhi

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