Making the Hours of Your Life Worth More™
Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still
untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.
~Dale E. Turner
We are about to enter a new year. The clock will count down; the fireworks will explode. We may toast to one another, make resolutions and hope for better times. We'll all probably incorrectly date many documents until we get used to writing the new year. But in the end, what will have changed?
On January 2 most of us will go back to work and immediately fall into old routines. It's easier to wish for and imagine change than to create genuine transformations.
The transition from 2008 to 2009 feels very different from those in recent memory. After celebrating the outcome of an election that brought hope, markets collapsed and anxiety rose. We've all watched the daily blog reports of law firm lay-offs. Legal economic prognosticators have warned that this new year may begin with even more pain. Some predict dramatic changes in the legal industry as we know it. Others appear to expect that business-as-usual will continue and have raised rates, although not quite as much as before.
MAKE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE HAPPEN
No one likes uncertainty, perhaps least of all lawyers. But everyone is anticipating the new year with uneasiness.
The hardest thing about unpredictability is how helpless it can make us feel. Many of the lawyers with whom I've spoken during this recession are wondering if they will be asked to leave their firms. Many worry about the effect of market forces on their practices. Others fear the loss of alternative work schedules. Nearly everyone is asking, “What will happen to me? What will I lose?"
But I can't imagine anything more stressful than sitting around waiting for what might happen to you. Why not make something desirable happen? You can't control the economy. You may not have enough power in your organization to decide who will stay and who will be told to look for work elsewhere. But there is much that you can do.
I won't try to convince you that this downturn is a blessing or that being unable to fill your hours is something for which you should be grateful. But if you have more uncommitted time than you had before, why not use it more effectively? Every change, even an unwelcome one, presents opportunities.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR RENEWAL
Use this time, as the year winds down, as an opportunity for renewal. It's so easy to lose track of your goals when you're caught up in the overwhelming busy-ness of legal practice. Measuring time in six-minute increments can so narrow your focus that you've forgotten why you chose to become a lawyer in the first place. Months of working an "extreme job"  can leave you so depleted that nothing seems as important as getting some sleep. The drive to win can lead you to push toward a goal that's not even your own. You can feel as if you've been on a conveyer belt, being moved along in the expected direction. It's gratifying to know that you did good work - but why did you do it? Did it satisfy you the way you'd hoped?
Renewal suggests a process of restoration. When your sense of direction has faded, renewal is an opportunity to return to yourself and consider what is meaningful to you. This kind of clarification enables you to either restore old dreams or create new ones.
Did you begin 2008 committed to making your workplace diverse and inclusive only to have found yourself by year's end so consumed with billable work that your diversity efforts fell by the wayside? If so, this may be the perfect time to refocus your energy on your diversity goals.
Had you promised yourself that as a new leader you would inspire your people to work towards important organizational objectives only to have been side-tracked by bottom-line profitability issues? You may need to renew your pledge to communicate and live your vision so that others see you as committed to more than only profit.
As you reflect upon the past year you may be reminded of how determined you'd been to help other women in the profession advance before your concerns about job security distracted you. Now you can reinvigorate this commitment.
You may remember how much you enjoyed representing individual clients and renew your dedication to practice in more person-focused areas of the law.
Devoting time to renewal may simply mean getting needed rest, connecting with people you care about and restoring your strength.
Renewal may involve rebuilding neglected relationships - with clients or with loved ones. You may decide to rejuvenate your exercise routine or revive a meditation practice. You may simply realize that in order to bring your practice back to life you need to do a bit of re-tooling and revive old habits that enabled you to constantly build needed social capital.
Renewal is an opportunity to restore your goals, values and direction. You can use it to recognize that your work/life balance has become more heavily weighted toward work. Re-center yourself by defining flexibility in whatever way works better for you, your practice and your workplace.
Taking a step back removes you from the automaticity of life and gives you the psychological space to replenish yourself, revive your dreams and re-invigorate your practice.
Don't sit at your desk worrying about what might happen in the new year. You'll accomplish much more - as well as feel more empowered and less helpless - if you use the unfilled hours to engage in a process of renewal. Rather than clink champagne glasses and then return to old routines, take time to renew yourself, your sense of direction, your relationships and your practice. You'll enjoy a far more satisfying 2009.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce (2006) Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek. Harvard Business Review, December.
It's also useful to remember that a coach's job is to help you sustain your focus on making these dreams a reality through effective planning, ongoing support and non-judgmental accountability.
All of us at Lawyers Life Coach LLC wish you a happy, peaceful, balanced and successful new year.
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