Hard work: what is it and why is it important?

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Everyone and their brother says that hard work is a key to success. But can someone tell me what hard work means and why it is important?

Is hard work defined by effort or number of hours worked? If you aren’t exhausted at the end of the day, does that mean you can’t be successful? If you are successful anyway, does this mean you don’t deserve it?

Does hard work mean doing things you don’t like or aren’t good at? What if certain things come easily to you? What if you love your work? Do those not count?

Does hard work mean persistence? Does it mean continuing to do things that aren’t working? So we can never admit defeat and try something else? We can’t get help?

Hard work, eh? Does it mean taking work home with you every night? Missing your kid’s soccer games or piano recitals and feeling bad about it? Does hard work mean pain, regret, and sacrifice?

I don’t know what it means. Or why it’s important.

What’s wrong with working smart instead of working hard? What’s wrong with getting lucky, having the right connections, or even marrying the right person?

Wait, I get it. Hard work is for those who aren’t naturally skilled, don’t know how to work smart, and never seem to have any luck. It’s a fail safe. When nothing else works, work hard.

Whatever that means.

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When you want “out” but can’t afford to quit

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You want out. You can’t take the practice anymore. But you’re making too much money and can’t see a way to replace it.

You’re stuck.

No, not really. You’ve got two options.

The first option is to do something on the side. A small business, something you could do part time. If it takes off, in a few years, you could have your ticket out.

That’s what I did when I wanted out of my practice. Over a period of three years, I wrote a marketing course and started selling it. It took a long time to get everything in place, but once I did, I was earning enough income to wind down my practice.

Today, the Internet gives you many more options. You can run a business from your smart phone, with little or nothing invested up front. This allows you to get into profit a lot quicker than a traditional business.

You may not have any idea about what kind of business you could start, and that’s okay. Use your lunch hour to begin exploring.

The second option is to take up a hobby. Seriously. Find something you enjoy doing and start doing it. Let your hobby provide the sustenance that is missing in your practice. See your practice as a way to finance your passion. No matter how bad it gets during the day, you know you have something you love to look forward to at the end of the day.

Maybe you love to paint. Do it. Take classes. Meet other painters. Go to art museums. When you find yourself stressed out at work, paint something. When you have a spare moment or two, read art magazines. Fantasize about being a great painter, or owning a successful art gallery.

There’s no pressure to earn income from your hobby. You do it because you love doing it.

But here’s the thing. Many a new career has been born from the pursuit of a passion. Don’t expect it, or try to make it happen. But don’t be surprised if it does.

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Successful attorneys do what unsuccessful attorneys aren’t willing to do

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In an interview, billionaire John Paul DeJoria (Paul Michell hair products, Patron tequila) was asked about the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people. He said something you may have heard before: “Successful people do all the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

When DeJoria was a young man working in a dry cleaning shop, this meant doing things he was not hired to do like sweeping floors or cleaning shelves. His employer noticed his initiative and gave him a raise.

What about attorneys? What is it that unsuccessful attorneys are unwilling to do?

Or, putting it another way, what is it that successful attorneys are more willing to do, or do more often?

Of course the answer is different for everyone. You may do things in your practice that other attorneys would never consider. You may look at something the attorney down the hall does and shake your head.

We each become successful in our own way. But we must ask ourselves what we might accomplish if we were willing to do things we have not been willing to do before.

Like what? You tell me.

Make a list of things you don’t or won’t do. You can add the reasons if you want. Here are some suggestions:

  • Advertise (I might lose money, it is undignified, it is unethical, it is not permitted)
  • Go out at night/take time away from my family (networking)
  • Do any marketing/sell (I shouldn’t have to, it’s not professional, I don’t have time)
  • Hire employees (Cost, compliance, risk, headaches)
  • Delegate (Risk, easier to do it myself, nobody can do it as well)
  • Take work home with me
  • Adopt new technology (Time, I’m old fashioned, the cloud is risky, cost)
  • Engage on social media (Many reasons)
  • Start a new practice area (I shouldn’t have to, learning curve, competition)
  • Open an office (Cost, I like working from home)
  • Work from home (I like to be around people, clients need to see me in an office)
  • Open a second office (Cost, risk, time)
  • Commute more than thirty minutes (Time, cost, stress, health concerns)
  • Move to another city
  • Work longer hours
  • Read outside of my field (Time, not interested, not needed)
  • Take a certain type of case or client
  • Operate in an ethical gray area

Next, go through your list and look for things you might be willing to re-consider. Think about some attorneys you admire. Are they doing any of these things? Perhaps you could ask them how they manage it. Did they have to force themselves to start? Do they do it today even though they dislike it? How has doing this helped them reach a new level in their practice?

You might find something you’re willing to do that you previously rejected. You might find yourself excited about something you have only done halfheartedly before. And yes, you might find that your unwillingness to do something is justified; you’re now convinced you won’t do it.

At least now you know.

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Do you re-read good books?

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My grandfather used to read a lot of paperback novels. Mysteries, detectives, thrillers and the like. When he was done with a book, he would write a number on the cover, to signify his rating. He would know the best books to re-read or recommend (loan) to a friend.

He used a scale of 1-5, along with pluses and minuses. A good book might warrant a 4 or a 4-plus, a great book would get a 5, and so on.

I hadn’t thought about his system in a long time. But then I got an email from blogger James Clear with his fall reading list and his book rating scale and I was reminded of my grandfather’s system.

Although similar, Clear’s rating system is more appropriate for non-fiction:

Book Rating Scale

5 – Top-notch writing, thorough research, and highly valuable or interesting content.
4 – Often great writing or excellent content, but not necessarily both.
3 – It may have a chapter or two that are excellent, but the book is average overall.
2 – Perhaps you will find an idea or two, but there is little value inside.
1 – Do not read.

His current reading list can be found here.

You might want to subscribe to his blog. He always has something interesting to say about, well, interesting things.

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Why “Be Yourself” is NOT Good Advice

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“Be yourself,” we are told. There’s just one problem. What if we’re not good enough?

Whatever you are right now, whatever it is that defines you, was created by you. You took what God gave you and made yourself into the person you see in the mirror.

As long as you continue to be that person, you will continue to produce the same outcomes.  Be yourself only if you don’t want anything to change in your life.  If you want something better, however, you need to change.

If you want to be a better lawyer, you need to improve your skill set. If you want a bigger income, you need to change your habits and attitudes and activities to match the income of someone who earns what you want to earn.

You can’t say, “When I earn more I’ll change.” It doesn’t work that way. Change comes first. You can’t change your future until you change your present.

How do you change?

You read good books. You study them. You apply what you learned.

You associate with people who have what you want. You listen to how they speak and look for insights into how they think. Most of all, you watch what they do and you emulate it.

You get help. A mentor, coach, or accountability partner. A mastermind group.

You master the mundane. You practice. You get better and better at what you do.

As you become better, you attract better opportunities. Because you have grown, you’re able to capitalize on them.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t go from earning six figures to earning seven figures in a few months. But in a few years, you can accomplish just about anything.

But only after you stop being yourself and start being the person you want to become.

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Removing the obstacles to success

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Instant manifestation. You think it and it appears. You write it down and it becomes reality. Sound good? Actually, it would be a nightmare. Your life would be a jumble of confusing and conflicting thoughts and you would be continually fixing mistakes and apologizing for transgressions.

Thankfully, there is a buffer of time between first thought and manifestation that protects us and keeps us sane. We want something, we think about how to get it, and then we do the work. It takes time and reason and effort to get from first thought to fruition.

And it’s a messy process. There are lots of failed attempts, unsolved problems, and abandoned ideas along the way. That’s part of the buffer, too. These obstacles help us clarify our objectives and ultimately, get better results.

But sometimes these obstacles get the better of us and stop us from getting what we want. How do you overcome obstacles that keep you from achieving your goals?

You could power through the problem. Drink another cup of coffee, burn the midnight oil and do what needs to be done.

When we do this, we acknowledge the obstacle and then defeat it by refusing to give up. When we do, we’re often the better for it. Tired, but victorious!

But there’s another way and it’s a lot less taxing. Instead of fighting the problem, eliminate it.

Make a list of obstacles that are keeping you from achieving your goals. Your list might look something like this:

  • I don’t know what to do/don’t know how
  • I’m not good at [whatever]
  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t have enough money
  • I don’t like doing what I have to do
  • I lack confidence
  • I procrastinate (actually, this is a symptom; the obstacle is one of the other things on this list)

Then, make a list of ways you could remove those obstacles:

  • Get help doing the things you’re not good at or don’t like doing
  • Money: Sell something, save, use credit, find vendors who will barter
  • Eliminate or postpone other tasks and projects to free up time (prioritize/learn to say no)
  • Talk to someone who has done it and get their advice
  • Read, take a class, and learn how to do it or how to do it better
  • Hire an expert to advise you
  • Outsource all or part of it
  • Change the rules. Modify the goal or objective to suit your present situation
  • Ignore the problem and let your subconscious mind solve it while you’re doing something else

You can either work harder (power through the problem) or work smarter (eliminate or dilute the problem).

And if neither of these works, you can confess your sins to your wife, mom, partner, or client and have them make you do it.

Hey, whatever works.

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You’re not thinking big enough

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If you’re not wealthy, there’s a good chance you’re not thinking big enough.

In, 10 Ways in Which Wealthy People Think Differently About Money, the author says, “The wealthy think big”:

When you focus on just surviving through retirement or paying the mortgage, you will just survive through retirement or pay the mortgage. Your brain needs something big to dream about. You must aspire to be something huge. Stop dreaming of only a million bucks. Write down the biggest dream you can think of and multiply it by 10. That’s thinking big.

I agree. You get what you focus on, big or small, good or bad, so you might as well focus on the biggest and best.

Money may not be your primary motivation in life. I get that. But let’s put aside that debate for now and continue to use money as a metaphor for success because that’s how we keep score and because more money means you can do more of whatever else it is you want to do, even if that means giving away most of that money.

Anyway, if you haven’t already done so, before reading further, do the exercise. Pick a big number and multiple by ten.

Got it? Let it roll around in your brain for a few seconds. Imagine yourself in possession of that amount. That’s your annual income. Or your total assets.

Now, don’t think about whether or not it’s possible or how you could do it, just answer this question: When you think about that number how do you feel?

Does it feel good and proper or does it feel like an impossible dream? Does it feel exciting and make you smile or does it make you nervous or fearful?

If it feels good, great. Continue thinking about that number (or a bigger one) and use it to pull you forward towards a wealthier future.

If it doesn’t feel good, we need to talk.

Okay, no lectures, and no psycho-babble about self-esteem or about negative money messages that were drilled into you at an early age. But if the thought of big money scares you or makes you feel anything bad, it means something.

For one thing, it means you’re not on a path towards wealth. Your subconscious won’t allow it. It doesn’t want you to feel bad, it wants you to feel good. Pick a smaller number. Keep going smaller until you feel good about the number. Your subconscious mind approves of that amount.

So now what? If your logical brain says you want big(ger) money but your subconscious brain says you can’t have it, do you give up and surrender to your inner fears and limitations?

No. What you do is forget about the dollar amount for the time being and find a thought about money that feels better when you think it. If thinking about earning ten million dollars makes you nervous, reach for a thought you can accept. You might think, “There are things I could do to earn more than I earn now,” for example.

How does that thought feel? If it feels good, move forward. Think more thoughts that feel good about the subject, and keep doing that until you feel good about the subject most of the time.

What happens is that over time you’re subconscious begins to accept those increasingly positive thoughts about money as truths and good for you, not something it needs to protect you from. It will then guide you towards activities that lead to results that are consistent with those thoughts.

In other words, don’t try to force yourself into thinking big. It’s not about will power. Simply reach for a thought about money that feels better and continue doing that. Before long, you will find yourself thinking big about money, or at least bigger than you did when you started.

The process needn’t take a long time. Practice thinking thoughts that feel good (about money or anything else) and in thirty days or less you will see demonstrative changes in your attitude towards the subject.

Your attitude guides your activities, your activities determine your results, and your results determine your happiness. (Cue Pharrell.)

There’s the bell. Class dismissed. Open book test on Friday.

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You think you’re so smart. Good!

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Lawyers tend to have big egos. Mostly, that’s a good thing. It’s what allows them to be successful. Imagine what it would be like if you constantly doubted yourself and your abilities.

In 10 Things Highly Productive People Don’t Do, item 4 caught my attention:

They are not realistic when it comes to their abilities

When it comes to your own skills and expectations; it’s better to be an illusionist than being modest or realistic. Successful people and high achievers are overconfident of their abilities. They believe that they can achieve anything and expect the very best to come. This is very important in order to be productive.

Holding such beliefs about yourself will make you (even if you are the laziest person on earth) tend to take actions in order to justify your own beliefs. It will lower your resistance against hard work.

If you feel incompetent, simply ask yourself if holding such a belief has ever helped you. If not get rid of it and get a new belief because at the end of the day a wrong belief that makes you feel good is far better than a more realistic one that makes you feel incompetent.

Now before you can say this is a recipe for malpractice, it doesn’t mean you should take on work you’re not competent to do and blindly do it. It means believing you can get the work done and that you can figure out how to make that happen.

In the early days of my practice, I often took cases I was nowhere near ready to handle. I believed that if some of the attorneys I’d met could do it, I could too. I spent long hours in the library. I hired experienced secretaries and paralegals. I asked other attorneys for advice. And when I was truly over my head, I associated with bigger firms, watched, learned, and earned.

If I didn’t believe in myself, I would have turned down the business and perhaps never learned what to do.

Successful people start with vision. They see themselves where they want to be, doing the things they want to do. They believe that they are able to do it, and that’s how they become able to do it.

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Judgments about trustworthiness are made in less than a second

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According to new research, “people only need to meet someone for less than a second before they decide how trustworthy they are.”

Yikes.

When you meet a prospective client they make up their minds about you instantly. In a single glance, the jury decides whether or not to trust your client or witness. When you are networking or speaking, you are judged before you say a single word.

It has to do with the human face and how our brains process the image. I’ll spare you the scientific details behind the research but the process occurs at a subconscious level, and quickly.

We used to think that people make up their minds about us in the first minute or two, giving us time to make a good impression. You know, smile, make eye contact, show people you are interested in them. Now we know that by the time we do that, people have already made up their minds about us.

Now what? We can’t change our appearance. Our face says “trustworthy” or it does not. All we can do is move forward with the things we’ve always done to make a good impression and earn trust. We’ll thus reinforce the person’s first impression of us as trustworthy, and thus strengthen it, or we’ll counter their first impression of untrustworthy and, one hopes, overcome it.

But then I’m assuming it’s possible to overcome a bad first impression. It has to be. If it were not, it would mean there are people walking around with a face that tells everyone, “you can’t trust me,” and there’s nothing they can do to change that impression. I know life isn’t fair but I think that’s going too far.

How to improve your trustworthiness. Click here.

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Happiness is a choice

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Yesterday, I had one of those moments. You know the one I mean. It’s when you’re having a bad day and you are convinced that you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not good at anything, and you should probably give up and go do something else.

Yeah, that kind of moment.

But then I paused and thought about it. I thought about things that were going well, things that had amazing potential, and things that I was really good at, and the cloud of doom over my head floated away.

Just like that, I went from near despair to being excited about the future, and with that, I got back to work.

Do we really have that kind of power? Can we really just think ourselves into being happy?

You betcha.

Dale Carnegie said, “Remember, happiness doesn’t depend on who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.”

Yes, you can work your way through a funk. But had I tried to suck it up and work my way through my malaise, I’m pretty sure I would have simply found more “proof” of my inadequacies and justification for feeling sorry for myself.

Eventually, I would have forgotten about what was bothering me and returned to my regular chipper self. But instead of having an entire day being down, I was able to get back to “me” in just a few seconds.

When you are feeling blue, or experiencing any kind of negative emotion, instead of charging ahead despite those feelings, “change the subject”. Think about something that feels better when you think it. I might have thought about walking on the beach. That would certainly have felt better and my mood would surely have improved.

I chose another way. Instead of distracting myself from the issue (not being good enough), I found some aspect of that thought that felt better (thinking about what I was good at).

Either way works.

When we are unhappy, we can wait until our circumstances improve and then be happy. Or we can choose to be happy now and use that feeling to improve our circumstances.

Because happiness is a choice.

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