Tag Archives: wisdom

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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Give Me Rest

Businesswoman doing yoga“Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”- Matthew 11:28

I have always been a “good worker.”  My mother often bragged about how she loved to work, crediting her father as the role model of a strong work ethic.  My mother never rested, and neither did her father. Interestingly when they both retired they spent most of their time sitting in a chair,  not doing much of anything.

As I grew up, I also became a hard worker.  I was always accomplishing things, taking on projects, raising my hand to lead a task. As a lawyer, overwork is a badge of honor. Billing hours, staying late at the office and coming in on weekends often garners you a partnership. When I entered the practice in the 1980’s it was particularly important to work hard and show up often because  women were just starting to be accepted into the previously male dominated profession.

Where is the line between hard work, perseverance and being a “workaholic?” One source suggests that if you answer “often” or “always” to the following you might be in danger of being a workaholic:

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Unfortunately, after examining this list,  it’s clear I may struggle with  workaholism.

One of the anecdotes for overworking is rest.  Without it we can suffer burnout.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Rest may not come easy for those of us who are constantly working.  As lawyers even when we are “off the clock” we carry our client’s burdens in our heads, and we may be worrying about the next court deadline in the back of our mind. Even when we are with family, we may have our mind back at the office. We may not even know how to rest.

I love the Scripture verse at the top of the page. When God says “come to me” what might that look like for this weary lawyer?

I’ve noticed it doesn’t take a vast amount of time to make me feel refreshed. When I have even a bit of solitude (preferably with God, reading my bible, journaling prayers to him, or just taking a walk in nature talking to him ) I feel instantly restored. And the power of that rest endures for hours.  Even during the day at the office when I close my door and read a scripture or a page from a Christian devotional, the break restores me.

For those without a spiritual practice, even  taking short breaks away from the desk or computer throughout the day can bring relief. A friend of mine sets her computer at the office to go off every few hours as a reminder to just breathe, pause, look away from work and dream for a minute.

One of the best steps I have taken is to remove my work email from my phone, so I am not constantly being pulled back into work during leisure time. I set limits on times to return emails and while I thought it would be stressful to let go of constant connection it has actually been freeing.

I’ve also blocked time on my calendar for a lunch break every day, and also for time to write at a local coffee shop on Friday mornings.  It’s tempting to fill the time when I see it blocked off but the more I actually take the time the better I feel. Even if I don’t take the whole lunch break I know it is “downtime” without clients coming in or other expectations.I’ve also been experimenting with setting a firm stop time for work, no matter what.

Like all boundaries, the ones I am setting are easy to set but not easy to hold.  It takes real commitment, and it’s important to enlist the others in the office to help you stay accountable. I meet a friend for the Friday writing who also holds me accountable. My law partner is supportive of my goals to stop overwork and is quick to remind me it’s time to leave if I am lingering.

I’ve also found it helpful to take a Sabbath.   Many Christians feel that Sunday is the Sabbath but this is just our Western tradition because we go to church then.  Christians don’t go to church on Sunday because it’s the Sabbath, it’s because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and we are celebrating the resurrection.

The true Sabbath is Saturday, just as it was when Christ was alive. In the Jewish tradition the day begins at Sundown, so Friday night at sundown begins the Sabbath which then ends on Saturday at nightfall. The Jews still keep this tradition called “Shabbat.”

In Greek Orthodox tradition we have Vespers service on Saturday night just after sundown, as the beginning of the liturgical day.  It is my very favorite Orthodox service, and even now if I don’t attend Vespers I love going to Protestant church on Saturday night because I am in such a rhythm of beginning a day dedicated to God at sundown.  It makes me let down from the week, focus on God and relax, and I sleep like a baby.

There are many who would argue that to be “true” to the Bible and God’s commandment we have to honor the Sabbath on Saturday. I like to think that God doesn’t want us to be legalistic, particularly when we have taken the time to dedicate a Sabbath, and that he is just grateful to have our attention and to have us rest on any day we choose.

Taking these steps has helped me begin to pay attention to what I feel is an unhealthy pattern of prioritizing work. As I continue to explore this tendency I have self compassion,  remembering my overwork has been a coping mechanism in the past for me in some way. I want to choose a healthier  lifestyle and know that letting go of overwork, like all self improvement endeavors, is a journey.

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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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