Living fearlessly

Graduation is approaching, and I thought I’d share this excerpt from Michael Ignatieff‘s 2004 commencement speech to Whitman College graduates.  The theme will perhaps strike a chord with some of you.

My theme is living fearlessly in a fearful world. Living fearlessly is not the same thing as never being afraid. It’s good to be afraid occasionally. Fear is a great teacher. What’s not good is living in fear, allowing fear to dictate your choices, allowing fear to define who you are. Living fearlessly means standing up to fear, taking its measure, refusing to let it shape and define your life. Living fearlessly means taking risks, taking gambles, not playing it safe. It means refusing to take “no” for an answer when you are sure that the answer should have been “yes”. It means refusing to settle for less than what is your due, what is yours by right, what is yours by the sweat of your labor and your effort. To those of you who have had to struggle to get here, who sometimes doubted that you were going to get through, remember this: You have already come too far to settle for less than the best.

Why am I talking about fear at a moment like this? Because your adult life is really about to begin: jobs, professions, marriages, relationships, children, responsibilities, burdens, worries, and yes, fear. Fear that you are not good enough to make the grade. Fear that you haven’t got what it takes to carry the burden. Fear that you can’t meet the expectations of all those people watching you today as you step up and accept your degree.

Fight the fear. Remember, the most important thing about a life is that it is yours and nobody else’s. You cannot live a life for the sake of your family, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your children. A life without duty to these loved ones would not be a good life, but a life lived entirely to meet their expectations is not a good life. It is the ones who love us most who put the fear into us, who burden us with expectations and responsibilities we feel unable to meet. So we need to say, “This is our life, not yours, and we are going to do this our way.”

One of the greatest feelings in life is the conviction that you have lived the life you wanted to live – with the rough and the smooth, the good and the bad – but yours, shaped by your own choices, and not someone else’s. To do that, you have to conquer fear, get control of the expectations that drive your life, and decide what goals are truly yours to achieve.

While particularly appropriate for a commencement speech, isn’t this the challenge for each of us, everyday?  One of the guiding principles in the coaching I do is that no one will be satisfied unless the life they’re living will propel him toward his goals.  I’ve observed smart, talented people who sabotaged themselves (usually unknowingly) because they didn’t want to succeed on the path they were trying to pursue.  For example, I know of one woman who’s bright, articulate, savvy, thoughtful, friendly — all the good qualities that usually incline someone to interview well.  Following law school and a clerkship, she started interviewing at big firms.  She noticed that although every interview was pleasant, she shifted the topic of each interview away from practice and law-related subjects to politics, personal issues, and even her children.  She had perfectly nice interviews, but none that led to offers.  On examination, she realized that although she was “supposed” to go to a big firm (according to the path expected by her law school, her court colleagues, her judge, her family, and so on) she didn’t have any interest at all in doing that.  Instead, she really wanted to do public service work.  She had an interview following that revelation, nailed it, and has had a successful and satisfying career.

Am I saying that everyone who doesn’t interview well doesn’t really want the job? No, no, and no.  What I am saying is that when something is off in job search or performance, it’s wise to ask whether there’s a chance that unconscious self-protection is manifesting as self-sabotage.  And that could be equally true if the lawyer is interviewing public service agencies while really want to work in a large firm and earn scads of money.  Remember the 80’s show Family Ties?  (Have I just completely dated myself?)  Imagine Alex P. Keaton as a criminal defense lawyer, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

And in other news…

As I was typing this post, I saw a news story about MIT’s annual piano drop to mark that last day that students can drop classes.  (Here’s a photo from 2006 as proof that I’m not making this up!)  Has anyone heard of this?  I’d love to know the backstory.

And I’ll be flying back east today.  On Wednesday, I had an uneventful trip back down the mountain from Keystone to Denver after presenting on Facilitating a Successful Transition from Law Student to Lawyer.  (More on my short stay at the NALP conference in Monday’s post.)  When I stepped out of the conference center, I was stunned to see that a huge amount of the snow had melted, leaving bare trees and soggy grounds.  But the 22″ that had fallen at the height of the pass was still on the ground, and we passed a herd of maybe 15 elk right by the road, digging in the snow to find something to eat.  I so wish I’d had my camera!

I spent yesterday morning driving from Denver to Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming.  Couldn’t sleep, so I left Denver just past 6 AM (some vacation, right?) and was rewarded with sitings of herd after herd of antelope and mule-eared deer.  I would guess that I saw well over 100 animals, most very close to the road.  Because of the recent snow, I didn’t even try to get into the Snowy Range (west of Laramie), even though I would have loved to see St. Albans Chapel again, where I was married.

A couple of photos, just for the fun of it: part of the Snowy Range and looking through St. Albans.

Photo of Medicine Bow                                                           St Alban's close-up

Wednesday Grab Bag

Another pointer to some interesting goings-on…

1.  The 800-CEO-READ Blog has an interesting post about the necessity of praising twentysomething workers for absolutely everything, because parents, teachers, and so on have rewarded this generation with everything from verbal reminders to winner’s ribbons and gold stars, following on a similar (but unlinked) WSJ article published last weekend.  The post (and presumably the article) even quotes Bob Nelson, a “thank you consultant.”  (I’ll be filing that under jobs I never knew existed.)  The post (authored by a self-identified member of the praise generation) ends by requesting more than kudos:

So yes, we were raised on praise. Most of us benefited with self-esteem. That self-esteem gave us a backbone. That backbone helps us stand up for our ethics (which after such scandals as Enron and Worldcom, can’t be bad), question company policies and processes in a productive way, and use disappointments to better ourselves rather than take it personally.

We’re not asking for kudos and presents for every small success. Challenge us and congratulate us when we go above and beyond. As a fellow member from my generation and co-worker chimed in, “Take us seriously.” If we’re not doing well, tell us. Don’t hold us to anything less.

2.  Wondering how big firms retreat?  I thought the retreats I’d attended and heard about were rather plush, but I am agog at the description posted by Nancy on the But Slenderly… blog.  (I’ve been following her blog — she writes like a dream and has some great insights!)  Anyway, the description includes not just the standard drinking stories (which vary from firm retreat to firm retreat primarily only in details) but also this:

 In the past two days, I heard speeches by Lance Armstrong (inspiring and uh, kind of sexy); Bob Woodworth (fascinating, though a little smug); Cherie Booth Blair (as in Tony); Francis Fukuyama (who knew game theory was so interesting?); Terry McAuliff (Dems 2008, whoo!).  Stephen Colbert (via video) and JHud performed at night – girl has some pipes, holy moses.  There was one horrifying moment though when she walked out into the crowd with her mike in hand to find “back up singers” and as she stood next to my table, towering in high black stilettos and this sparkly sheen of fame, her eyes met mine and I thought I was going to have to make my way under the table to avoid the entire firm hearing my frog croak.  Luckily, my frantic head-shaking and horrified expression convinced her I was not her gal and she plucked another unsuspecting victim further down the table.  Bullet.  Dodged.

Ok, color me impressed.

3.  And finally, Bob Sutton reports that a New York lawyer has been disbarred “for being an asshole,” as detailed in the Village Voice.  The official reason for the disbarment is “obstructive and offensive behavior which did not involve fraud or deception.”  It’s staggering, and more than a little sad to me, that any lawyer would think the behavior that the Village Voice describes would be even colorably acceptable.

And a brief report on my Colorado adventure… Colorado had a winter storm today.  I’d planned to drive from Cheyenne (where I spent a couple of days) to Keystone, where the NALP meeting is being held.  But after I checked the weather and road conditions, I decided to drive to the Denver airport and take a shuttle over.  Good decision on my part!  The drive from the airport to Keystone should take about 90 minutes.  I know this not only from the shuttle schedule but also because I drove it on Sunday.  Today’s drive took 4 and a half hours.  The road was slushy and icy, the snow was blowing sideways with huge flakes, and 6 tractor trailers jack-knifed just before the Eisenhower Tunnel.  I met some nice people on the ride over (fortunate, since 10 of us were crammed into a van) and was enormously relieved when I arrived, safe and sound, at the resort.  If my crummy little disposable camera works, I’ll post pictures next week.  On the plus side, everything here looks like a winter fairyland!

Monday Grab bag

Travel week here: I’ll be speaking on Wednesday at the NALP annual conference, on Facilitating a Successful Transition from Student to Lawyer.

Since the conference is in Keystone, CO, I seized the opportunity to spend some time in Colorado and Wyoming over the weekend and into this week.  I flew into Denver (home of Stephanie West Allen, though unfortunately my schedule will preclude a visit this time) on Friday and won’t return til next Friday, when I’ll fly out again.  Though Denver is a lovely city, I love the smaller cities and, better yet, empty spaces.  Although the weather in Cheyenne today is overcast and drizzly, it’s a treat to be here.  We visited Boulder (where I spent a very snowy freshman year of college), Estes Park (home of the Stanley Hotel, where The Shining was set) and the Rocky Mountain National Park (where we saw literally hundreds of elk, as well as prairie dogs, coyote, and even a moose!), the Canyon Wine Cellars tasting room (featuring surprisingly good wine; we even bought several bottles and plan to return to the Grand Junction area with its 65+ wineries later this year), and Vail and environs over the weekend, in much better weather.  We were stunned to find that the slopes are still open in Vail, but I suspect that won’t last much longer.  Sadly, I forgot to bring a camera with me… But perhaps I’ll pick up one today.

All of this is to say that my posts will likely be short this week!  But there’s plenty of interest going on, so I’ll point you to some good posts and news stories elsewhere.

Eliminate clutter that can derail your professional success.  Suzanne Dupree Howe of the Counsel to Counsel blog links to a WSJ Career Journal article titled Decluttering Your Career.  It suggests removing “career clutter” that can pull you off the course of your day — or your career.  This clutter includes distractions from the pursuit of your career goals, conflicts, email overload, and social chit-chat at work.  I’d expand the list to include anything that drains your energy, including home tasks that are overwhelming (perhaps hiring a weekly housecleaning service?), physical clutter in the office or at home, and physical habits that don’t support you.

Living in the Moment: Executive coach Doug Constant has written a thought-provoking post on how we live our lives in the “dash” between birth and death.  The post is definitely a step outside what I ordinarily mention on this blog, but it’s well worth a read and some reflection.  Doug offers 5 principles and one law that will guide the reader toward truly living in the dash:

Principle 1: You are either living YOUR life or someone else’s.
Principle 2: The people that enter your life are the right people…  good and bad.
Principle 3: Whatever happens… happens.
Principle 4: Whatever happens is the right time.
Principle 5: When it’s over, it’s over.


The Law of Two Feet. Stated succinctly, if at anytime you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet. Go somewhere else. Do something useful. Live Your Dash. Stay in the moment and don’t get stuck in the moment.

Some of these ideas may be tough for Type A types, but there’s at least a grain of truth to each.  I admit that I’m not quite as zen as these principles would encourage me to be, but finding the ability to take a deep breath and let it all be ok is a helpful skill, particularly when tempered with the Law of Two Feet.

And now… I’m taking my two feet out to explore Cheyenne before the rain arrives.

Life at the Bar… Welcome to your game of Twister®!

Do you ever feel stressed?  Overwhelmed?  As if it’s impossible to meet all of the demands you’re facing at any given moment?  Although most of our society seems to have those feelings at least some of the time, anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant number of lawyers experience them frequently.  And perhaps it’s no surprise, given the pressures of practice and the urge that most of us have to maintain some kind of life outside the office.  And as we advance in seniority, the volume and complexity of our activities (professional and personal) are likely to intensify, not to decrease.

In thinking about all of the balls most lawyers have in the air at any given time, I came to a realization: being a lawyer is a lot like playing a game of Twister®!  Consider the “circles” a lawyer has to touch on a regular basis:

  • The client circle: delivering excellent and timely client service;
  • The team circle: coordinating with colleagues and staff who assist you (and whom you assist) in providing client service;
  • The administrative circle: billing, reviewing mail, and keeping up with all of the tasks around your office;
  • The business development circle: attending networking functions, writing articles, speaking, attending “social” functions with clients and potential clients;
  • The skills development circle: reading advance sheets, legal and business news articles, and blogs; staying abreast of what’s going on in your area(s) of practice;
  • The in-office social circle: chatting with colleagues and staff, which keeps you in the loop and creates the goodwill necessary to get things accomplished; and
  • The career advancement circle: making sure you’re advancing the way you want to in your career, which may include time spent with a mentor.

When you figure that a lawyer has to keep one hand on the client circle at all times (very often including time spent outside the office), one hand on the team circle most of the time, a foot on the administrative circle throughout the workday, and another foot sliding back and forth between the other circles, it’s no surprise that lawyers often feel frazzled and overstressed.

And don’t forget the personal game of Twister® going on in the background!  Those circles include:

  • The self-care circle: sleeping, exercising, eating, grooming, and so on;
  • The relationship circle(s): connecting with a spouse or significant other, dating, hanging out with friends, etc.;
  • The commuting circle: a twice-daily necessity for most of us;
  • The family circle: especially pressing for parents or children of aging parents;
  • The relaxation circle: vacations, reading, playing sports, or whatever refuels your batteries;
  • The housework circle: laundry, housecleaning, etc.;
  • The financial circle: paying bills, dealing with investments and taxes, researching and making financial decisions;
  • The spiritual circle: attending a house of worship, spending time in nature, inspirational reading, etc.; and
  • Many, many other circles depending on your interests.

Now, think about playing Twister®: if you’re in reasonably good shape, in a reasonably good mood, reasonably flexible, and playing with people you like and trust, it’s a lot of fun!  Sure, it’s physically challenging, and it can even be mentally challenging to figure out how to balance while moving from one circle to another.  Under the right circumstances, it’s a stretch (in the most literal sense) and it’s a good way to pass some time.

But imagine trying to play if you’re in a bad mood or feeling pessimistic.  Imagine what it would be like to resent the game or the person giving directions everytime you had to stretch out to another circle.  Or, worst of all, what if you didn’t even want to be playing Twister® and got yourself into the game just because you’d attended the party and everybody expected you not only to play, but also to be great at playing and to enjoy it?  And if, to add in some serious pressure, people were counting on you to manage every stretch and to maintain every pose flawlessly, with no complaint?  Yech.  Recipe for disaster.

I see two ways in which the practice-as-Twister® presents serious challenges to lawyers.  First, in the preparation for the game: wanting to play, being flexible, knowing the rules and the techniques, having the physical and mental strength to maintain some pretty uncomfortable poses for a time, and choosing to play with trustworthy and talented people.  And second, being forgiving enough to recognize that sometimes, it just isn’t possible to touch all of the circles required at the same time and checking to see how important each circle really is.  The preparation part is critical, but let’s focus on the second part for today.

Lawyers often feel they’re going to collapse as a result of trying to put enough time in each of the Twister® circles.  The balance becomes too difficult to maintain, because unlike a game, the practice of law deals with serious requirements… It isn’t just a red circle, it’s your client’s business (or life), or your own business, or the health/happiness/wellbeing of your family or yourself.  The stakes are high, and most of us intend to show up ideally to meet every demand.  And sometimes, that just isn’t possible.

Do you ever feel as if your mind and body are rarely occupying the same circle – worrying about home when you’re at work and worrying about work when you’re at home?  Do you wish that you had more time for important activities like planning your future, or more time for “selfish” pursuits like working out?  How often do you say out loud, or even just think to yourself, “Well, I’ll get around to it one of these days,” even though you know it never happens?

Too many lawyers feel trapped in their game, unable to satisfy all of the demands they face and yet unwilling to make a change.  Maybe you’ve been there, or maybe you’ve tried the common tactics – work harder at “time management” (but the cleverest systems fall by the wayside, crushed by the burden you’re shouldering), contract for the help you need (but no PR agent will make new business contacts like you can, and does your spouse really want a substitute partner?), or just cope with “reality” and recognize that life isn’t perfect (perhaps anesthetizing the voice that reminds you of all you want out of life with another glass of wine or a brownie, even though you know the voice won’t go away – and yet you fear that it might)…

It’s time for real change.

So push the “pause” button for a minute, and consider these questions.

What do you want?  Just for a minute, release the expectations that your partner, your parents, your children, your colleagues, your friends, or even society at large may have of you, and ask what you really want from your life.  What values do you want to express in the way you live?  If family is your top priority, how will you choose to honor that?  If work is at the head of your list, how does that square with your behavior?

What would your life look like if you honored your priorities?  What changes would you have to make?  And how would you go about making them?

When would you make the changes?

Whether you engage in career/life satisfaction reflection on your own or you work with a coach or some other assistance, these are the kinds of questions you’ll examine.  You’ll find your own answers — and they won’t be like anyone else’s.  The solutions to the traps in which lawyers can find themselves are as varied as the attorneys in practice.  With guided exploration, strategic approaches to overcoming the obstacles that face you, careful attention to designing an environment that support you in making the changes that you desire, and being held accountable for what you say you want to do, your success is almost guaranteed.  And you’ll find your own way to play Twister®… And find satisfaction in it.

Tag, I’m it: Gotta Get Goals

Stephanie West Allen has tagged me to participate in the Gotta Get Goals meme.  The idea is to share 5-10 over-the-top, fabulous goals that I will need to achieve to say I’ve reached my wildest dreams in life.  Now, that’s fun!

I’ve always kept goal lists in one form or another, simply because I think it’s critical to define what I want to accomplish as a first (and, often, continuing) step of my actions.  I’m sure many people have heard this analogy, but if I get in the car and just start driving without any aim, I may end up in Miami when I would have much preferred Calgary.  (There’s a place for exploration without direction too, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

One thing I’ve already learned as a result of this meme: some authors encourage goal-setters not to share their goals with others!  Stephanie cites a small $3 book called It Works, which sets out a 3-step process for reaching goals — the third step being not talking about the goals until there’s some objective evidence that you’re reaching them.  I’m not sure what I think about this one, having experienced terrific results in the past from goals that I discuss on a regular basis, and for purposes of this exercise, I will spell mine out.  And, I’ll put them in the form of an affirmation, which always helps me recognize that my goals are achievable.

1.  I am really, really healthy.  Suffice it to say that everytime I urge a client to add exercise, eating well, and sleeping enough into his life, I’m urging myself as well.  And I’m pleased to say I’m now working out three times a week on average, with associated weight loss, so this goal is well underway.  (So perhaps this isn’t a “wildest dream” category, but it’s certainly the bedrock for the wildest dreams.)

2.  I speak Italian.  It’s such a beautiful language, and I’ve always wanted to learn it.  My desire has been refueled by Elizabeth Gilbert’s delightful Eat, Pray, Love, which I’ve been reading recently.

3.  I have completed my mother’s book on woman suffrage in Wyoming.  After spending more than 20 years unearthing the details on how women got the vote in Wyoming in 1869 (some 50 years before national female suffrage), my mother prepared a manuscript exhaustively detailing the story.  She died before she finished it, and I’d like to pick up that torch.  It needs to be told.

4.  I enjoyed walking a marathon.  However, I have NO desire to run one.

5.  I’ve spent a vacation hillwalking in Scotland, followed by a retreat to Iona.  I’ll also continue my study of Scottish history, which fascinates me.

6.  I sustain an ideal balance between coaching and practice, and I have an entirely referral-based business on both sides.  I have a number of associated goals here, but no need to go into that detail!

7.  I have earned my ICF credentials.  Step 1 of this is a short-term goal, as I expect I’ll get my ACC credentials this summer.

I’ll stop there, since 7 is a ripe number.  I tag anyone who chooses to accept the challenge — and if you don’t have a blog, feel free to list your goals here as a comment.  Play along!

The role of wealth in life at the bar and in associate retention

Money is always an interesting topic, and wealth even more so.

I remember being in middle school and fantasizing with friends about being rich.  We imagined that if we could just make about $60,000, we’d be set.  (Of course, I’d venture to guess that all of our parents were earning at least double that at the time, but that just goes to show that I ran with a rather naive crowd back then.)  And indeed, I remember starting my clerkship and making just about $28,000 and the rush of pleasure when I topped out at $50,000-ish just before my clerkship ended.  Then I did some contract work and associated with a sole practitioner before I joined Jones Day in 1999, early enough to benefit from the salary hike that hit the fall.  Was I rich?  Not by the standards I held by that time, no.  But “rich” is a standard that tends to rise over time… And that’s why I’d prefer to focus on wealth.

Wealth, for me, refers not only to having enough money to live comfortably but also to having time to enjoy that money, family and friends with whom to enjoy it, and a sense of satisfaction in what I’ve accomplished and possibility in what lies ahead.  It’s a 36o-degree measurement of life that requires reflection on more than a bank account.

Wealth depends on one’s values, so it’s a rather individual measure of success.  For some, money may be the primary component of wealth, whereas others want to feel they’ve done good in the world, others want close relationships, others want to have fun, others want adventure, and so on and so on.  And most of us want some of all of the things I’ve listed, plus who-knows-what else.  Of course, this is not to say that money is bad, since money facilitates everything from shelter, food, and medical care to education to the pleasures of hobbies and travel.  But money, for most people, isn’t the be-all and end-all.

The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d
be worth if you lost all your money.

– Unknown

True?  Probably yes for some and no for others.  But it does raise an interesting question for reflection.

The point here is that rising salaries (accompanied by rising billable hour requirements) are not adequate in themselves for many lawyers.  The money comes at a cost.  If that cost is an unhappy spouse who feels neglected, a lawyer who values relationships will be conflicted, if not unhappy.  A lawyer who values travel is unlikely to be satisfied  if he has plenty of money in the bank but no time to spend it.  And a lawyer who values money as her top priority will have an incentive to jump from firm to firm to maximize her income, unless other benefits or desires outweigh that incentive.  Firms need to be mindful of the non-economic rewards in law and need to recognize that if their lawyers don’t experience those rewards in some way, they’re unlikely to be satisfied by high pay over the long term.

As with any other business, the challenge to be mastered in thriving at life at the bar is to minimize the costs and maximize the returns.  It’s critical to make a living and it’s important to consider what will make a particular job sufficiently satisfying.  What does wealth mean to you?  Are you meeting your needs in the areas that matter to you?  If not, what changes do you need to make?

By the way… What IS coaching?

I had an interesting conversation this weekend with a group of friends and colleagues about what I’m doing now.  Although I’m still practicing law part-time (with no desire to stop, honestly), coaching — and specifically, coaching lawyers — has taken the prize as my top pursuit.  So I’ve told these folks about the Georgetown University leadership coaching program that I’ve just completed, about the mix of telephone versus in-person clients, why I think coaching for lawyers is so beneficial and how I got into it, what I’ve observed in working with my clients, and so on.

And then, after we’d been talking for a while, one friend piped up and asked, “By the way… What exactly is coaching anyway?”

Ah.  Because I’ve become steeped in coaching, I forget.  Not everyone knows what coaching is.  I’ve had the same question from people who’ve contacted me after reading my blog, so I thought I’d share the answer here.

In coaching, I work with individuals (primarily but not exclusively lawyers and executive directors/CEOs of non-profit organizations) to create professional and personal change, to reach sustained excellent performance, and to do the work so that my client can self-correct and generate his or her own processes for change.

For instance, I work with lawyers who are in the first few years of their career to map out what professional path they’d like to follow and to identify the steps to get there.  I work with more senior lawyers who’d like to make a change in the path they’re on now.  I support people who are over-committed and over-stressed in finding a way to maintain (or develop) excellent performance by managing their energy and being fully present when they’re at home just as they’re fully present at work.  I help job-seekers with their resumes, cover letters, and interview skills, and I help them to identify the kind of position that would be most satisfying for them.

Some clients hire me to fix a performance problem, and some clients hire me because they want to fast-track their success.

When I coach, I ask questions that cut to the heart of the matter.  What do youwant — you, not your spouse or parents or colleagues or friends?  How do you want to go about getting it?  What’s standing in your way, and how can you work through the obstacles?  I may offer observations (did you notice that your voice quavered when you said XYZ?  What’s that about?) and suggestions for reflection and action.  Because I’ve been in practice and have learned something about being a lawyer, sometimes I’ll also put on my consultant’s hat and give direct advice, if that’s what the client wants, about how some action is likely to play out.

I am results-oriented, because I want my clients to identify what they want, to figure out how to get there, to do the work (both external and internal work), and to learn through the process.  Although there’s a lot of variation, I usually tells prospective clients to expect to work together for at least 3 months, because that’s about how long it takes to see changes, and I usually work with clients for 6 months to a year.  And sometimes clients will stop coaching for a while and then return.  It’s client-driven, because my top concern is to work in whatever way will best serve my client.

And I offer these parting thoughts from What an Executive Coach Can Do for You, reprinted from the Harvard Management Update:

“Coaching has evolved into the mainstream fast,” says Michael Goldberg, president of Building Blocks Consulting (Manalapan, New Jersey), whose clients include New York Life and MetLife. “This is because there is a great demand in the workplace for immediate results, and coaching can help provide that.” How? By providing feedback and guidance in real time, says Brian Underhill, a senior consultant at the Alliance for Strategic Leadership (Morgan Hill, California). “Coaching develops leaders in the context of their current jobs, without removing them from their day-to-day responsibilities.”

At an even more basic level, many executives simply benefit from receiving any feedback at all. “As individuals advance to the executive level, development feedback becomes increasingly important, more infrequent, and more unreliable,” notes Anna Maravelas, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based executive coach and founder of TheraRising. As a result, she says, “Many executives plateau in critical interpersonal and leadership skills.”

. . .

More specifically, the experts say, coaching can be particularly effective in times of change for an executive. That includes promotions, stretch assignments, and other new challenges. While you may be confident in your abilities to take on new tasks, you may feel that an independent sounding board would be beneficial in helping you achieve a new level of performance, especially if close confidants are now reporting to you. More so, you may recognize that succeeding in a new role requires skills that you have not needed to rely on in the past; a coach may help sharpen those skills, particularly when you need to do so on the fly.

But coaching is not just for tackling new assignments. It can also play an invigorating role. Coaches can help executives “develop new ways to attack old problems,” says Vicky Gordon, CEO of the Gordon Group coaching practice in Chicago. “When efforts to change yourself, your team, or your company have failed—you are frustrated or burned out—a coach can be the outside expert to help you get to the root cause and make fundamental changes.”

So, that’s what coaching is.

Too busy? What benefit does busy-ness bring?

There’s a nice article in last Friday’s New York Times titled Too Busy to Notice You’re Too Busy.  While I admit to a frisson of annoyance at the author’s introduction (she’s married, two children, working part-time, a volunteer, a regular exerciser, and a socializer who employs a housecleaner twice a month), it does seem to me that many people — lawyers especially — really enjoy being busy.

Busy is worn as a badge of honor, and (gender notwithstanding) being busy is often a macho statement of one’s value.  After all, if a lawyer is talented and dedicated, why would she ever not be busy?  And who wants to find out?

I wonder sometimes what’s lost of be-ing when one is so very busy do-ing.  What’s being ignored or unnoticed?  And at the end of the day, or the end of the life, is the “busy” worth it?

I’ve worked with a client to cut back on some of the busy.  Names and details are omitted to protect confidentiality, of course, but my client realized that even when he was at home with his wife, he wasn’t truly present.  He was checking email, making lists, fielding calls, and reading up.  His body was home, but he wasn’t.  Although he was busy and successful, he wasn’t enjoying his life because he felt unconnected, and he felt more and more drained by his work.  After some examination, he decided to set boundaries around his time.  He elected to block out time to be present with his family, to sleep and exercise enough to renew his energy, and to enforce the boundaries he’s set.  The result?  He is more focused at work, he accomplishes more, and he gets to enjoy some time to be.  He is reengaged.  He’s still busy, but his busy is the result of conscious and purposeful choice.

How about you?  Is there some aspect of your life or your practice that’s busy because busy looks good?  Would you prefer something different?  Or do you feel trapped, unhappy with the schedule you have but unable to see any way to change it?  Though it may not be easy to see, choice is always present.  Spend some time in possibility and ask, if you could make one change in your time, what would it be?

Wrap-up on The Ms. JD — Legally Female Conference, and “Work-Life Blending”

As I mentioned in a previous post, Ms. JD held a kick-off conference at Yale Law School last Saturday.  I wasn’t able to attend (sadly for me, I was literally elbow-deep in mulch, adding sweat equity to a rural Maryland property to be resold in about 3 years, for what I trust will be great profit) but I’ve scanned the web for write-ups from those who were fortunate enough to attend.

Susan Carter Liebel of Build A Solo Practice, LLC has posted a full summary of the conference (and promised more to come), while Lisa Solomon, the Legal Research & Writing Pro, offers an interesting review of a panel discussion of how women in the law can make use of technology.  Finally, the New Haven Independent covered the keynote speech by the Hon. Janet Bond Arterton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.  (The article begins by describing Judge Arterton’s shock at being addressed by male lawyers as “sir.”  The import of the anecdote rests in the fact that Judge Arterton was appointed to the bench in 1995, long after a female judge should have been a novelty — indeed, she was the 100th woman appointed to be a U.S. district judge.)

And don’t overlook the reading material offered by the panels, which is available on Ms. JD.

It looks like a terrific conference, and I wish I could have attended.  Something tells me there will be more to come, though.

On a related note… Work/life balance is often tagged as a woman’s issue or, more specifically, as an issue that pertains to new mothers in the years before they decide whether to “get back to work” or to “stay home with the kids.”  (PLEASE note the quotation marks around those limited and limiting phrases!)

But I take a stand for the proposition that it’s an issue that touches all of us, and so I was delighted to see Chuck Newton, of the Chuck Newton Rides the Third Wave blog, posting on “work-life blending.”  I like the idea that well-used technology may allow lawyers to blend work and personal time, though reality for many seems to be that technology allows work to bleed into personal time without boundaries.  How flexible are you willing to allow your work/life boundaries to be?