Beyond The Billable Hour™
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Days are scrolls: write on them only what you want remembered.
Bachya ibn Pakuda, 11th century
The most extraordinary holiday gift I received this year was a graphite drawing from our friend and neighbor, artist Michael Graham.
It depicts an elaborately carved Roman tomb with no inscription and is entitled, Tabula Rasa. I had admired the picture at a recent show of Michael's work and had tried to purchase it only to learn that someone had beaten me to it. Michael surprised us by drawing another just for my husband and myself.
Besides the sheer beauty of the image, what I love about the drawing is how it inspires me. Each time I look at it I am reminded that the slate of my day is blank. What I write on it today is up to me. I am not required to follow routines or unhelpful rules or the expectations of others. I can choose.
New Year's resolutions are easy to make and even easier to forget. But stopping daily to decide how we want to construct the day so that our activities align with our values and priorities is a ritual that has significantly more potential to enable us to create an intentional life of which we can feel proud.
Daily life is filled with automaticity traps. The alarm rings and we leap into the day, showering, reading email, making breakfasts and lunches, getting on conference calls. We try to slog our way through to-do lists, rebound from interruptions and address client crises. Often the only things that bracket time are the beginning and end of a trial or a deal. However, even if the outcome was favorable, what about the process?
Did you act like the kind of leader you'd like to be?Did you provide the mentoring you would have wanted to?Were you responsive to the important people in your life?Did you live up to your own standards as an attorney?Did you stand up for yourself and your team sufficiently?Did you allow stress to lead you to behave in ways you regret?
Many of the attorneys I've coached become aware that, rather than moving
toward what matters most to them, they instead became stuck moving
away from things they'd hoped to avoid: angry clients, irritable partners, fear of insufficient hours, anxiety about bringing in more work. When so much activity is spent avoiding some internal or external experience, life feels out of control. Other peoples agenda's supercede your priorities. You are driven by imagined events that take you away from the present, deplete your energy and cognitive focus and deprive you of personal power and presence. Not surprisingly, being impelled by avoidance makes whatever you're trying to prevent more likely to occur because it reduces your effectiveness.
My Tabula Rasa is my cue to consider what I want to be moving toward. It centers me in the present and helps me to be mindful and intentional about the day before me.
The Face in the Mirror
I recently coached a brilliant woman partner at an AmLaw 100 firm with a history of successful high-stakes transactions that had left a trail of associate bodies behind despite very satisfied clients. The biggest problem for Pam* wasn't that associates complained about her; it was that after the deal she'd look at herself in the mirror and feel disappointed in the person she saw. Normally a good-humored and extremely generous person, under the stress of the deal she became harsh, short-tempered, impatient and unkind. Believing there was no time for teaching during a deal, associates who failed to give her an initially great work product got no feedback and no second chances. Pam's perfectionism and fear of client disappointment left her working 24/7 since the only person she could trust to prevent disaster was herself.
Pam and I worked on a variety of approaches to help her accomplish her goal of living up to her values as a mentor. She made time for regular exercise. She practiced mindfulness. She learned to notice increments in her stress level and to take breaks. She experimented with providing feedback and seeing if associate performance improved. And she created a visual reminder of the Pam she wanted to be able to see in the mirror at the end of the deal. It was her "tabula rasa" - it served as a daily cue that whatever had happened the prior day, regardless of the pressures that might arise this day, she could choose how to react - and that both she and others would remember her choices.
Pam's next deal concluded as well as all of the others but she and her team experienced it quite differently from prior ones. One associate about whom she'd originally had concerns has become her top pick for new deals and he's delighted to be working with her. Most importantly, Pam discovered that she has the internal resources to be both the kind of attorney and the kind of human being she most values.
We all fall into automatic pilot; avoidance hooks everyone. But if you can find your own cue to help you intentionally write upon the scroll of each day what you most want remembered you're likely to be both more successful and satisfied.
Let Me Know If You'd Like a Helpful Tool
A tool that I often provide clients is a "Values Bulleye" that helps you clarify your most important values as well as the actions in which you'd engage in order to live them. You also examine how well your current actions align with your values so that you can regularly make course corrections. If you'd like a copy (created and shared by the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science) please email me. I'd be happy to send it to you.
* Client names and details are changed to protect confidentiality.
(c) 2016 Ellen Ostrow, PhD, PCC. All Rights Reserved.