When I first started practicing law, I was mortified by the way that many of the partners I worked for practiced. They were constantly fighting fires that they created – without any awareness that they had created them. This caused a lot of stress and made our work quite overwhelming. They often took work from people they didn’t like. And let me tell you: there’s nothing like working over the weekend or late nights for someone you don’t like. They often over-promised when completely unnecessary (it really isn’t necessary to promise something difficult can be done in 3 days when the client tells you up-front that it isn’t needed for 10). It seemed that many weren’t particularly happy in their work. I know that I wasn’t when I worked for these people. However, I learned a lot from them. I learned that I didn’t want to practice that way and that I wanted instead to design my practice around who I am (my needs, my values, and my priorities in life).
How? As a young lawyer, I sought out those partners who understood how to manage their clients and whose clients respected them as people – hence making work life a bit easier. And I tried to get as much work from them as I could. Don’t get me wrong, I had to work for those that made life difficult too. But I got as much work as I could from the partners who practiced in a way that most closely met my needs and values. And this made my life more manageable at the time. As I became more senior, I had control over how I managed my practice – and I did things my way.
I’ve learned over time that I enjoy my work a lot more if I work for people who I like and care about as people. And I ensure that they care about me as a person too – that they don’t just see me as someone who does some legal work for them. I’m picky about who my clients are. And trust me, it has made a huge difference. Connection is a huge value of mine – and I honor that value through the clients that I choose to work for. I truly connect with my clients as people, making it much easier (and more fun) to do my job. Additionally, feeling balanced in my life is a core need for me. I’ve found that clients who respect me as a person (and not just as a lawyer) are more likely to respect certain boundaries I’ve put into place. For example, they’re honest about what is truly an emergency and what isn’t and that I can take some time on. Thus, I’m better able to maintain some balance between my work and home life because my clients are respectful of me and my time.
The example above gives you an idea of how I’ve structured my life around my personal values and core needs. And I’ve done so with careful thought. All of this is what I mean when I say that you should own who you are. It’s about identifying your needs and values and being constantly aware of them – including when making decisions for yourself. In fact, I suggest that you ensure that you’re meeting your needs and honoring your values when making these decisions. This doesn’t mean that you must constantly think about each need and value you’ve identified as important to you. It’s more about having a general awareness of them – and allowing them to guide you in your decision-making.
The past two weeks you’ve (hopefully) gotten clear on how you’ve been defining yourself up until now and what your core needs and personal values really are. If you haven’t read those posts yet, please take a moment to read them and catch up (the first post is here and the second is here).
Now, it’s time to put it all together and start owning up to who you really are. How do you “own up” to who you are? Well, begin by asking yourself which values and needs aren’t being fully honored and why. And when you look at why, go deep. Be specific about (a) why a need or value isn’t being met or honored, (b) how that makes you feel (about both the outside world and yourself) and (c) how you behave when this need or value goes unmet. Then turn it around and ask yourself who you are when this need or value is fully honored and met. How do you feel and how do you behave then? This exercise will awaken you to the true repercussions in your life when you aren’t being fully you.
Once you’ve gone through this exercise, it’s time to start taking action. Identify how you’ll get your needs and values fully met and honored. What steps do you need to take? How do you ensure that your needs and values are permanently met and/or honored?
What I’m ultimately asking you to do is to be authentically you. That’s it. Although it’s a very simple concept, it isn’t necessarily easy and it won’t happen overnight. Sometimes it means that you must make changes to your life. Changes that seem scary and overwhelming. But remember, you get to determine what actions you take and your pace. It could mean that you make small changes at first that over time lead to bigger changes. In fact, I recommend you start slowly with some careful thought.
However, I’m going to warn you: going through the above exercise will make it more likely that you will begin to move forward and act. Once you’re aware of where you aren’t honoring yourself, it’s difficult to ignore. There’s something about deeply understanding who you are that awakens within you a desire to start effecting those changes that are necessary to be authentically you. Awareness leads to choice, which is what ultimately leads to real change. And I’ve got to tell you that living your life in a way that fully honors who you are is extremely fulfilling. Because you’re aligning your outward actions with your inner self – bringing out your true inner beauty.
Until next time…