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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If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough

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I was watching auditions for The X Factor. One of the thousands of people who showed up for a chance to become a star was asked what she thought about the seemingly impossible odds of winning the competition. In response, she said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

I immediately wrote that down. And then I thought about it. I thought about how most people play it safe. They give up on their childhood dreams and reconcile themselves to the pursuit of sensible goals.

What fun is that? How likely are we to achieve greatness when we settle for so little?

I have a dream. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was a wee pup. (No, not sing.) But I decided a long time ago that my dream was not possible, that even trying would have to wait.

I talked myself out of following my dream because the whole idea was frightening. What if I fail? If I don’t try, I can’t fail, so it’s better that I don’t even start.

The fear we feel when we contemplate our dreams tells us our dreams are important. If we didn’t care deeply about the dream, there would be no fear. We would shrug it off as a passing fancy.

What dreams are you afraid to pursue because you are afraid or because they seem impossible?

Chicago architect Daniel Burnham famously said, “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir men’s blood”.

Make no small plans. Thing big and take big chances. Get excited and get busy, because even if you are a spectacular failure, you’re still spectacular.

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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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You’re never scared? That’s a shame.

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If you’re never scared, you’ll never reach your potential.

You may be successful and happy but you could do more. You could do better. But only if you step outside of your comfort zone.

The most successful people in the world don’t rest on their laurels, they continually try new things, things that make them uncomfortable. They risk failure often, and often do fail, but they are successful enough to live extraordinary lives.

John Wayne famously said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Face your fears and push through them. Take on new projects that you have been avoiding.

The things that scare you the most are often what would allow you to grow the most.

For the record, I’m not advocating that you live every day in discomfort or that you continue to do things you hate. I’m saying give things a try. If you’ve been second chair on a jury trial or two and you are convinced it’s not for you, so be it. You felt fear, saddled up, and realized that it isn’t your path. Go try something else.

What could you try before this year ends? What new skill could you learn? What have you always dreamed about doing but never had the courage to try?

Don’t die before you find out.

Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” That may be true when The Force is with you, but for the rest of us, it’s “Try. Or try not.”

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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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Turn your goals into problems and then solve those problems

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Lawyers are good at solving problems. We can look at a situation, decide what needs to be done, and take action to solve the problem. That’s what we do all day long for our clients. We know the objective–to win the case, to negotiate the contract, to protect the client’s business or assets–and we able systematically proceed towards solving the problem.

Why is it, then, that we’re often not very good at achieving our goals? Isn’t a goal really an unsolved problem?

Let’s say you have a goal of earning x per month by the end of the year. Your goal is also a problem: you’re not currently earning x per month. Now, how do you solve that problem?

When we solve problems one of the first things we do is look at the obstacles. If you want to win the case, you look for ways to eliminate or minimize your weaknesses. If there is a eye witness who hurts you, for example, you look for ways to challenge their sight line or establish bias.

Why aren’t you earning x right now? What are the obstacles? And what can you do to eliminate or minimize them?

Start by scrutinizing the elements. Look at your fee structure, practice areas, average fee, and number of cases or clients. You may discover that the weakness is simply that you’re not bringing in enough new clients. Fair enough. You have a new problem to solve.

Or perhaps you realize that your practice area is waning. You need a new one. You knew this but only now are you able to admit it.

But knowing the solution to the problem is only half the battle. It doesn’t mean you’ll do what you need to do.

You’re good at solving client problems because you want them to pay you and return and send referrals, and because your reputation (and bank account) are at stake. You are accountable to your clients. If you mess up, they’ll tell others. They may report you to the state bar. They may sue.

That kind of accountability ordinarily doesn’t exist with our goals. When nobody knows about your goal but you, if you don’t make it, oh well.

Tell your spouse, your partner, or your mastermind group about your goals and ask them to hold you accountable. If a lawyer friend knows about your goal, you won’t want him to know that you didn’t achieve it, or that you dropped the ball and didn’t even try. You’ll do what needs to be done to solve that problem.

Accountability is a bitch, but she loves you and wants you to succeed.

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Reba McEntire: “To succeed in life, you need three things. . .”

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In the “I wish I said it” category comes this quote from singer, song writer, and actress, Reba McEntire:

“To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.”

Good advice for everyone, but especially lawyers.

We need to dream big to make it big. You can’t “play” at this profession, you have to go for it. Make big plans and take bold action. Another quote, author unknown, sums it up: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘Holy shit… what a ride!'”

We need a backbone to survive and thrive. Competition is tough, clients are demanding, and the ponderous rules we swore to abide by often make us want to bitch slap someone. Practicing law may be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears, but only if you can hang in there long enough to reap the rewards.

Most of all, we need to lighten up. If you don’t have a sense of humor, if you can’t laugh at the world and have some fun on this journey, you’re doomed. Bob Newhart said, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” Robert Frost said, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Groucho Marx said, “Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.” C’mon now, that’s funny!

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Would you advise your kid to go to law school?

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Would you advise your kid to go to law school today? I wouldn’t. Not unless they were passionate about it and could think of nothing else they wanted to do. And then I’d make sure they did it with open eyes.

You know the drill. You’ve seen the articles about the lack of jobs for newly minted lawyers, $200,000 student loans, and the huge number of lawyers afflicted with depression and substance abuse. Lawyers are leaving the profession in record numbers, either because they can’t find a job or because they hate their job.

If you’re making it as a lawyer, if you’re earning a living and not ready to slash your wrists, if you’re reasonably successful and happy, thank your lucky stars. There’s nothing better than helping people and being well paid to do it.

Isn’t that why we went to law school? To help people and make money? That’s why I went. And I’m proud to say I accomplished both of those objectives.

So why did I retire? I practiced for over twenty years, but I was still young. I could have gone for another twenty. Why didn’t I?

There were other things I wanted to do. My priorities changed. I got bored.

Yes, the profession changed, too. There were things I liked about those changes, but many more things I didn’t like. Let’s just say that for me, the thrill was gone. It was time to move on.

How about you? You may be successful and happy, but is there something else that might lead to even greater success and happiness? Perhaps something you toyed with once but rejected because you didn’t have the time, contacts, experience, capital, or nerve?

No, I’m not going to suggest you pull up stakes and start something new. Unless. . . you want to. If you want to do something else, do it. No matter what you lack in resources, no matter what the risks. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

If you don’t want to completely change course, look for ways to dip your toe in the water. Spend a little time each week dabbling with your secret interest. Read about it, meet some people who do it, and imagine what it would be like if you could do it all the time.

Two things might happen. One, you’ll find that you’re not as interested in the subject as you thought. It’s a passing fancy. This happened to me with real estate investing.

The other thing that might happen is that you discover something that excites you more than you ever imagined. It stirs your creative juices. It makes you feel like a kid again. It makes your heart beat faster just thinking about it.

From this, you might discover a new hobby. Something you enjoy doing on the weekends and in your spare time. It doesn’t take anything away from your law career. In fact, it might add to it. It might allow you to meet new people or develop new skills.

On other hand, you might discover a new calling and you’ll be on your way to a new career.

Has your life thus far been a daring adventure? If not, don’t wait another twenty years. Jump in. The water is warm and it’s time to play.

Marco.

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