Category Archives: resiliency

FEED MY SHEEP: A Pandemic Tale

Being in quarantine is difficult for everyone, but it’s particularly difficult when you are a family lawyer doing it alone. You have nobody to decompress with or hug after long hours of working on stressful cases on a computer. If you decide to go off of social media because of the tone of the rhetoric there, and you don’t have cable tv, there is even more isolation.  Days are spent triaging highly anxious family law clients and nights are spent asking yourself weighty questions.

You read an article that says you will discover who your friends really are by the ones who reach out to say “are you ok?” and realize that while you think you have many friendships, if that is the criteria, only maybe one or two of those friendships are very deep. You rarely or don’t ever hear from “friends” and maybe only one asks if you are ok.  It seems like you are the one checking in on people but other than your children nobody is checking in on you.

Most of the people that are calling you want something. Your legal expertise, your help in filing for unemployment, your take on how they can survive the pandemic, your interpretation of a custody order in light of social distancing. All the people you’ve helped, guided, loved on and taken care of over the years are preoccupied.  They assume you are strong and must be ok.  Some who you reach out to texting “I hope you are safe and doing well” don’t even take time to respond.  You remember what you’ve done to help those people over the years and wonder what it is that made them so detached they couldn’t even take a quick moment to send back a thumbs-up emoticon.

At night with a dog sleeping at your feet and the “pink moon” glaring through the window you start asking yourself big questions.

What has my life been about up until now?

  If I catch the virus and die, what is my legacy? (After all, at age 62 I am in the “endangered species” category.)

 Who and what did I let drive my life in ways that were not, in retrospect, beneficial and may have even de-railed me?

 What did I miss along the way?

 IF I live through this how will I show up differently post-pandemic?

I started seeing a terrific new therapist before the virus hit, because I was so miserable in the practice of law. He helped me see that I’d been suffering for many, many years and for the first time (because he was a former attorney himself) someone “got” the suffering I’d been feeling for years.  We began to dissect it with the intention of figuring out what I would do with my “last act” of life and how, and if, the law would a part of it.

But then the pandemic hit.

Suddenly I am faced with having this weighty reflection front and center as I navigate 10 hour days of client matters every day while trying to pay attention to what is going on with the virus, whether I have to Clorox my groceries, and whether my 84 year old mother and 60 year old brother with advanced MS are safe in their homes. What was previously a stressful job now has become even more mentally taxing.  But what I know from previous life devastation is I have to somehow navigate staying present and awake for all there is to learn.

As I ponder the “suffering in the law” question amidst all of this, I’ve come to a clear realization. It isn’t the clients, even the most demanding ones, who cause the suffering.  They are actually the bright spot.  It’s the other lawyers. It’s the value system of the practice of law. It’s the idea that more money is made by lawyers the more parties are fighting and litigating.  It’s that it’s all about winning, including thinking it’s a big victory to take a child away from a parent or to get a vocational expert to say a lifetime stay at home parent should all of a sudden be making $50,000 and therefore minimizing the amount the other parent has to pay to support their children.  It’s mentally stressful hearing sad stories in a system of deadlines and rules of engagement that make people’s life traumas the source of ego gratifying wins and competitive gamesmanship. The idea of family justice seems so bizarre and illogical.

I’ve loved my clients and loved on them for over 35 years. I’ve sat with them for hours hearing their hearts, encouraging them to find their highest selves, helping them find new footing in the new normal of their lives during and after legal interventions. I’ve had many profound experiences sitting side by side with people who were bleeding emotionally and watching their lives fall apart. As I was helping them, my clients were my own spiritual guides as I found new pieces of myself in them, and new understanding of suffering and transformation.  I’ve sometimes floated home from the office whispering to myself about what a privilege and honor it is to do such important work for my clients.

But back to the suffering as a lawyer. After confiding  to mentors and confidantes I was encouraged by one mentor about 7 years ago to write about it, and to start sharing the message of change in my profession. This is where my path might have gotten off course (but as is always the case, that diversion brought me back home).  I proceeded to spend years writing and imploring lawyers to reclaim the beauty of our profession as a healing profession. I wrote “The Compassionate Lawyer” in 2014. I’ve been on the speaking circuit explaining to lawyers that they needed to do things differently. I’ve spoken with passion and a sense of urgency.

Most who have heard me figuratively patted me on the head and said, “Good little Kimmy.”  They’ve dismissed my message and just keep doing things the same way. Why would they change? It’s a good gig, even if studies show a large number of lawyers feel their line of work has adversely impacted their mental health. Plus, any sense of changing to be more collaborative, loving, compassionate and kind is largely viewed as a sense of weakness, frailty, not being a “real” lawyer. And it’s no secret you end up billing fewer hours for cooperation than for combat.

I’ve given speeches at the law schools imploring faculty to offer coursework on topics like collaboration and emotional intelligence  and to place emphasis on being a “whole person” above emphasis on things like class rank. That message has gone over with a thud. Those subjects aren’t on the bar exam after all and bar passage rate is one of the components of measurement by US News and World Reports.  Yes, legal education hasn’t changed in decades and now it is held hostage by a magazine that nobody reads.  So lawyers are continually turned out in the same competitive paradigm that is part of the dysfunction of the profession.  Some studies show that incoming law students change their whole world view. When they enter law school most do so to “help people.” During the three years, law students change their goals to wanting to be the exemplar student,  to complete law school with a high class ranking to ensure a shoe-in at a lucrative job in “Big Law” and to make a name for themselves.

At night with shutters open in the light of the beautiful pink moon, laying in my bed during the quarantine, I put my hands over my heart and comfort my wounded self. What in the world were you thinking when you took on this crusade?  What in the world made you think that you could be the champion of change?  And what now?

Trying to mentor young lawyers to practice in a new way, by approaching and recruiting those who I thought could share the vision, only added more suffering.  I realize that while I thought they shared my dream and mission, for most of them, that wasn’t it at all.  It was instead that my dream and passion for the cause was contagious to them. I got them excited because I was so excited. They weren’t really excited on their own.  When the money starts coming the vision gets lost because the old way is a good gig.  Frustration, heartache, kicking myself for the time invested, the giving, giving, giving of myself to those I thought would help multiply the change. Suffering from those fractured relationships in the law that hurt worse than other personal and family heartaches.

Also, in that pink moon a ray of light through the clouds illuminated another pandemic induced realization. In my crusade I’d lost something.  The connection with my clients. Yes, it’s always there to a degree but the “mission” became paramount to the delicacy of the client’s hearts. My own mind and heart have been split in two these past years.  I’m still “feeling with” the clients but doing so while a big part of my heart has been dedicated to my agenda of legal reform. The “movement”  has permeated a big part of my body, mind and spirit that only have finite resources.  The personal satisfaction of the  legal reform mission is much less gratifying than the profound joy the work with the clients  in the trenches has given me.  If anything, “the mission” has fed my ego and made me more driven to be “seen and heard” and stolen a big chunk of my humility, stillness and center.  And then last night, a bold ray of moonlight pierced through the clouds with such brightness it was startling, and a bible verse came to the forefront.  “Feed my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep” is what Jesus said to the disciples when they were trying to convince him how much they loved him, and he was telling them how to prove it.  (John 21:15-17) That verse, at that moment, answered one of my big questions.

How will I show up in the world post pandemic?

Before the onset, I had been focused on a legacy of being an instrument of change in the legal profession.  While I know I have been making a difference in the lives of my clients, I’ve thought that individual impact was “too small” of a mission. I remember a friend who had a business with an important message, and she shared that she’d been convinced she would “reach millions.” Somehow that went into my subconscious and I thought of all the good that could be done in the world by lawyers, sitting with the most vulnerable in our society, if my message of compassion in the law would reach millions.  A few sheep surely weren’t the same caliber of importance.

Laying alone in the middle of a pandemic brings clarity about how inconsequential you are in the scheme of things at the end of the day.  And yet there it was; “Feed my sheep.”

I go to the dog park this morning shortly after sunrise like I do every pandemic day. As usual, nobody is there that early but my dog and me, and this morning I’m thinking about “feed my sheep” and asking for more clarity of what it means.

As I pull into the parking lot, NPR is interviewing Andrea Bocelli who will sing day after tomorrow at a cathedral in Milan, where there will be no audience. He says that having no audience is beautiful because to him it is not a concert, it is a prayer.  The interviewer asks his wife if it will seem odd that he won’t be in front of a packed house and she says no. She tells of how at times, on Sundays, he does church with a few people who are very sick or dying. There may be only five people bedridden and Andrea Bocelli sings just for them. She tells that it is beautiful because they all view his singing as a prayer offering for the healing of the few people that are there.

I start to sob as he proceeds to sing Ave Maria, alone in my car in full pandemic loneliness as his music feeds me, and my dog licks the tears as they come down my cheeks.

I’ve realized that each intervention with each client I meet makes a monumental impact. It’s not just me impacting them, but them impacting me. Meeting someone on the path of suffering and helping them navigate that part of their journey, is the highest calling I have on my life.

There are politicians and special interest groups clamoring for healthcare reform, change in our government, big systemic changes like I was preaching. And those things are worthy, and necessary.   Yet there is also a nurse sitting with  one person dying of the virus who can’t be near family and would be alone without that one nurse.  That moment is a crucial transformative moment for both of them.  Calling someone in quarantine to check on them when they are suffering is a huge transformative moment for both people.  Sending a thumbs up emoticon during a pandemic to someone who is reaching out to ask how you are, can trigger a transformative reconciliation.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has dropped bombs on the law. Big Law is disintegrating before our eyes, with associates and staff being downsized all across the country. Lawyers who are client centric are surviving (and dare I say, thriving) during the transition and other firms of  billing machines are panicking.  Law schools have had to scramble to move to online instruction and now discussion of pass/fail grading, doing away with bar exams and equipping lawyers to be more client centric are part of the zoom discussion.

What will be left standing?

Of course, there is a part of me that wants to roll out my publications and say, “I told you so” and reinvigorate the crusade. This time in my mind’s eye I’m carrying a flag out front of the pack leading through the rubble of singed yellow legal pads on the ground to higher ground.  But what I know now, is if I do that, I will be lost again.  And my current round of suffering will be for naught.  You see, the practice of law has been dysfunctional for years and apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed it.  The change is taking care of itself through the path of COVID 19, which lawyers would call force majeure or “act of God.”  It’s not just the law that will change dramatically after this extraordinary phase of life.  It’s most every business, system, government.

But what about us as individuals? Will we change? And how will we show up post-pandemic?

For me, never again will I minimize a small word of encouragement, a hug with a suffering person, sharing the heart stories and sitting beside (or across the screen from) a client while we navigate their life through change. It may be a change caused by a legal intervention or, as happened this week,  a pandemic that makes them realize they want to learn skills to better communicate with their co-parent. Either way, I’ll be paying rapt attention to what is happening with the people I will serve.

I will go forward and embrace my new role, which is the role that I’ve had all along but took for granted.  But first, I’ll be watching the Andrea Bocelli Easter concert live streamed. And I’ll cry tears that contain many profound emotions while he sings as I sit alone in quarantine on Easter Sunday. Through his concert that’s really a prayer, I’ll proclaim once and for all that I am enough, if I simply choose to be the change I want to see in the law.

shallow focus photography of white sheep on green grass

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

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Finishing Well

I was asked to contribute a lesson for the book “50 Lessons for Women Lawyers-From Women Lawyers,” by Nora Riva Bergman, which is available soon on Amazon.  Here is my contribution:

In a few  months I’ll be 62 years old. Actress Jane Fonda recently announced she is in her “last act” and although I hopefully have many more years of life, the finish line in my life as a lawyer is more clearly in view.

I want to chart an intentional path for my last act, living mindfully and finishing strong. As I begin the process, I’m struck with paralysis. Where do I want to go? A good starting point might be to reflect on where I’ve been.

I was the youngest in my law school class of 1981, graduating at age 23 and entering full time law practice at age 24.  I’ve had many legal jobs: in-house counsel, associate at firms of varying sizes, solo practitioner and even senior partner at small law firms I’ve formed.  I’d gone to law school to “help people.”  I was a kind and compassionate problem solver, a good listener, and a lover of people from the time I was a little girl.

I launched from law school in one of the early waves of females deployed into the profession. Our role was clear; act like a man.  After all we’d been told that we were taking a spot rightfully belonging to a man with a family to support.

“Mr. Durant died right here at his desk,” I was told by an associate at my first law firm job as he pointed to an office with an empty desk. It was as though Mr. Durant was a warrior who died in battle saving the world.  I got the message.

I dove in as the only female in the firm’s litigation section, charting my course as a workaholic, billing hours like a trooper. I silenced my inner voice and went full speed ahead, learning to be tough. Law school and the lawyers mentoring me convinced me that compassion was a weakness and aggression was a strength.

In my private life I paired with a man also constrained by his job, traveling for business  five days a week. We married and had three children. What was wrong with me? I loved my babies but I was obsessed with being a lawyer.  I heard a new term called “work-life balance” so  I joined the part time work committee of the local bar association. The all -female committee soon disbanded with the summary finding that for women lawyers,”part time” meant shoving all your full -time work into fewer hours and getting paid less.

I navigated as best I could with no women mentors to guide me.  I’d race to little league baseball games, editing documents in the stands while waiting for my son to bat so I could wave and give a thumb’s up, and then race back to the office. I tried to be nurturing but I never took off my lawyer hat, often telling my children to “toughen up” instead of acquiescing to the sorrow of childhood bumps and bruises.   Nannies were enlisted to help assuage working mother guilt. I’d try to mother my children when I came home exhausted from the office.

My marriage began to deteriorate so I stopped practicing law and tried staying home. I was an outcast among the other mothers.  Their conversations were boring and their obsession with their children seemed unhealthy to me. I prepared spreadsheets for class cupcake volunteers and felt incompetent in my new role. I became depressed and like an addict who needed a fix, I yearned for the office.

At the same time, my lawyer father became ill at age 65 and came into my home for hospice care as he was dying. Towards the end he would hallucinate often saying he saw dead lawyer colleagues in the room.  I wondered why the lawyers would show up to him instead of cosmic visits from loving relatives or his golfing buddies.

My father died and I was divorced. Even though I wasn’t working I was “imputed” with the income of a lawyer in the divorce. After all wasn’t that who I was? I had to recreate myself and start making money quickly and the most logical step was to reclaim my lawyer-self.  When I went back to inhabit her skin, I noticed she was different. She was weary, having sustained a whirlwind of life, tragedy, and brokenness.

I set up a law practice focusing on family law and mediation. I’d experienced devastation similar to what my clients were facing. I encouraged clients to find healing, forgiveness and compassion and decided to claim those things for myself.  I still fought for client’s rights and equity, but I did it with dignity, calmness and compassion for all.

I felt more authentic as a person and a lawyer. I began to write. I transported my brother diagnosed at that time with cancer to his chemotherapy appointments. I watched the IV drip, drip, drip of the drug infusing him with life. The writing did the same for me. Each moment in the chair typing was life-giving, healing, rebuilding, and renewing myself.

I wrote and self-published “The Compassionate Lawyer” in 2014 and started speaking to lawyers about compassion in the practice. I mentored several lawyers and helped three women lawyers start their own firms.  I encouraged lawyers to be compassionate problem solvers and for women lawyers to realize we should celebrate our unique gifts and skills as women.

I continue to practice, write and teach about what I’ve discovered.  Earlier this week I saw a woman lawyer in her first few months of practice aggressively tell off a male lawyer on the phone and then hang up only to burst into tears. ”I’m such a wimp for crying!” she declared.

I told her that being tough and aggressive is uncomfortable for many women. We can do it, probably even more biting than men, but is it really who we are? The crying was undoubtedly from the adrenaline but it was also a warning sign of living outside her authenticity. It hurt to watch her minimize her body’s warning and I tried to tell her so, encouraging her to use compassion and dignity instead.   I’m guessing it fell on deaf ears as it would have to me at her age when I ‘d set out to “make my mark” as a lawyer. But at least she is getting a message I was never told.

In my last act, I see a woman enjoying life, available to her three children for long talks instead of saying “I’ll call you after this meeting.”  She is a compassionate, kind person to all she encounters. She practices law in an authentic way that is uniquely hers, until she decides it’s time to stop. That woman will die as far away from her desk as she can get.

From the moment she walked into the doors of law school her identity as “woman” and “lawyer” were permanently fused together. She’s learned many lessons as a woman lawyer. She will claim her journey without regret but with gratitude for the wisdom she’s gained.  And most importantly, she’ll  live out her last act with compassion for herself.

 

 

 

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For Such a Time as This

DanielleDoll

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11

 My daughter Danielle is a middle school teacher at a school in California where her students are largely refugees, and the student body speaks many languages and dialects. Danielle is so smack dab in the bullseye of her life purpose that I am grateful every day that she has the gift of doing what she is meant to do and that she figured it out at such a young age.
 As a baby, Danielle had a horrible case of colic that caused many sleepless nights for her father and me.
The only thing that helped when Danielle was sobbing with colic was when we took her favorite doll, a plush African American doll with colorful ribbons in her hair, and held the doll in front of her face. Danielle would stare at the doll and quiet down almost immediately. We called the doll “Melanie.”
Today she texted me photos from her classroom. She had taken a life long collection of toys (including an elaborate set of beanie babies with the TY tags on them) to her kids, and distributed them to the students, giving them extras to take home to their siblings. In one of the pictures my heart skipped a beat. There was a young girl holding Melanie and smiling brightly.
My first instinct was- how could she have given away one of her most precious dolls, one that she’s had for thirty years? I wanted to be supportive but with a tinge of sadness texted back “Is that Melanie?”
“Yes” she texted back, “and the young girl holding her and smiling is from Haiti where her home was destroyed and her mother died. She fell in love with Melanie and said she has never in her life owned a doll who looked like her.”
What I’ve come to realize is my daughter is my teacher too. Despite my having raised her in Scottsdale in a world of excess, she let go of attachments to “things” and gave away the toys and dolls she had saved “for such at time as this.”
I, on the other hand, still hold on to things that need to be given away or released, material and otherwise.
I am telling myself a story now about Danielle and Melanie thirty years ago. When she was a baby and unable to talk, Danielle looked mesmerized at Melanie and quieted because God was talking to her in secret places. He was telling her “I know the plans I have for you” and showing her a glimpse of her future, and her purpose.
I love you Danielle. And to Melanie I say goodbye, and Godspeed.  I’m praying for blessings for the new little girl who met you today, and who loves you. I hope that you are an instrument of  God’s special messages to her as well.
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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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