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It's Time to Check Your Alignment
Issue # 32
"We have patience for everything but what is most important to us. We look at the life of our own most central imaginings and see it beckon. For the most part, we have not the courage to follow it, but we do not have the courage to leave it. We turn our face for a moment and tell ourselves we will be sure to get back to it. When we look again, ten years have passed and we wonder what in God's name happened to us.
We sabotage our creative possibilities because the world revealed by the imagination may not fit well with the life we have taken so much trouble to construct over the years. Faced with the pain of that distance, the distance between desire and reality, we turn just for a moment, and quickly busy ourselves. But then we must live with the consequences of turning away."
~David Whyte 
LOSING YOUR WAY IN THE BUSY-NESS
During a consultation at a law firm, two attorneys shared very poignant stories. While in the middle of significant projects, both had received news that their fathers were near death. One had informed both partners and clients that she needed to leave town. Years later she is still grateful that she arrived home in time to say goodbye to her father. The other lawyer made a different choice: she put her work first. To this day, she regrets that her father died before she had a chance to say her final farewell.
Not every story about the need for re-alignment is this dramatic. One attorney recently confided to me that she'd worked very hard to become partner at her firm. Now that she had brass ring in hand, she realized she had no idea why she was there or where she was headed. She'd planned only to work there long enough to pay down her law school debt. Then she got caught up in the partnership tournament. Ten years later, she'd logged in 2500 billable hours a year or more, and had sacrificed developing intimate relationships. She wasn't unhappy with her work. But she'd always been guided by the expectations of partners, and now, a partner herself, she had no internal compass to guide her. She saw her partnership as an opportunity to take on a leadership role in her firm, but wondered how she could lead others when she didn't feel as if she'd been leading herself.
It's easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of legal practice. And many women believe that working hard and staying "under the radar" is the path to success. But when your choices are directed by the goals and values of others - family, employers, society - you can realize you've climbed the ladder of success - but that it's leaning against the wrong wall.
IS IT TIME TO CHECK YOUR ALIGNMENT?
How do you know that it's time to check your alignment? You may feel like you're on a runaway train - that your life is out of control. Or, you may feel dissatisfied and wonder why you're doing what you are. Some people experience a sense of imbalance, of having lost their center, as if the things they believed in got lost somewhere along the way. Sometimes they hardly recognize themselves.
If you feel this way, you probably don't want to face it. The feelings are uncomfortable. You may also feel trapped and helpless to change the status quo.
But the fact is, you're not helpless. You have the wherewithal to take control of your career and your life and to determine its direction. In truth, everyone needs a course correction from time to time. Even those who had a clear vision and goals find themselves in changed situations requiring them to revise their plans.
If you need to check your alignment, whether it's to make your activities more congruent with your values, or to take control of your career and become self-directed, here are some steps you can take:
1. HAVE A POSITIVE FOCUS
First, focus on the positives. Write down the accomplishments for which you're proud. Consider the aspects of your life for which you're grateful. This makes it far easier to make a course correction than when you're focused on deficiencies.
2. DECIDE WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT
If you've written a vision statement, take it out for review. If not, then this is a perfect time to begin. Your vision is an expression of your values. It articulates your sense of purpose - what you hope to accomplish in your life. Clarifying your vision is the first step in becoming a leader. In organizations, leaders define the purpose of the organization - the reason it exists. Managers determine how best to accomplish the goals. You can't effectively manage your time, your career, or your life, without personal leadership.
3. KEEP YOUR VISION IN SIGHT
Now that you've identified what is deeply important to you, you'll want your decisions to be driven by these values. This means, you'll need to keep them in plain sight. Write your vision statement on an index card and laminate it. Put copies on your computer, on the dashboard of your car, and anywhere else you're likely to be considering options for action.
4. MATCH OR MISMATCH?
Examine how you're currently spending your time. How congruent is it with your values and vision? If you discover a mismatch, then creating alignment will take longer and may be more difficult than anticipated. Begin with the end in mind and consider what changes you'll need to make. Carefully plan actions, one small step at a time.
5. ASSESS THE CULTURE
Consider the culture of the organization in which you work. It's difficult to succeed in an environment whose values clash with your own - and it's certainly an uncomfortable way to spend your time. One option is to try to be a "tempered radical"  - to try to produce change over time using your loyalty to the organization as your leverage. An alternative is to look for a more compatible place to work.
6. REVIEW YOUR REPUTATION
Assess the reputation you've developed. If you're unsure, ask trusted colleagues for feedback. Knowing how you're perceived is crucial for your success. In general, people are slow to relinquish their first impressions, and lawyers tend to cling to their assumptions with particular determination. If you conclude that your organization views you in a way that's not aligned with who you are and how you want to be seen, it may be time for a change. Certainly, you could try to stay and change the impression you've created. But be aware of the magnitude of the challenge you're taking on.
7. DETERMINE YOUR LEARNING NEEDS
Determine the extent to which you're prepared to do the work you find meaningful and fulfilling. If there are skills or bodies of knowledge you need to acquire, make a plan for your professional development. Never rely on your organization to facilitate your professional growth. It's your responsibility to manage your career development. No one cares about this as much as you.
8. FIND THE RIGHT PLATFORM
Decide whether the organization in which you work provides the right platform for you to do the kind of work that gives you a sense of purpose. As self-sufficient as you may be, you still need resources and support. You have a career - a "calling" - to develop and protect. It's more important than any job.
9. CONNECT TO PEOPLE
Evaluate how well you've been caring for yourself. Everyone's happiness depends upon having a network of supportive connections. If you've neglected your personal life, commit time to reconnecting with people and deepening relationships. You're far more likely to accomplish your career goals if you're working with a foundation of love and support.
10. EXAMINE YOUR HEALTH HABITS
In a similar vein, examine your health-related behavior.No one can be fully engaged in their work without taking sufficient time to disengage and refuel. You need rest, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, exercise and genuine relaxation. Telling yourself that you don't have time for this actually sabotages your career. Without adequate self-care, you're choosing to put yourself at high risk for burnout and depression.
11. STAY APPRISED OF CHANGES
Consider the larger conditions in which you practice law. What's changed in your practice area, in the industry you serve, in legal business practices, and in what it takes to achieve your goals? Proactive personal leadership demands that you constantly monitor changes and organize your resources in the right direction.
Many attorneys have only recently awoken to the reality that everyone with whom they work is a client - managers, the people whose business they want, or their internal client. To be successful, you need to stay apprised of your clients' needs and know what it takes to create value. You can't afford to play a passive role in any of these relationships. Like personal relationships, these business relationships require you to actively understand how to accumulate large reserves in the "emotional bank account" as well as how to avoid making unintended withdrawals. You have the power to negotiate for most of what you want if you build a solid foundation for doing so.
12. CONSIDER WORKING WITH A COACH
Keep in mind that an executive and career coach is trained to help you craft and implement the kinds of action plans required to get you back on course - and keep you there.
1. Whyte, David (1996). "The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America." New York: Doubleday, p. 231.
2. Meyerson, Debra E. (2001). "Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference to Inspire Change at Work." Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
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