Is hard work the key to success? Umm, no

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Everyone and his brother says that hard work is the key to success. But is it?

I can point to many times in my life when I was successful without hard work. In fact, many of my successes came with little or no effort.

I can also point to times when I worked my fingers to the proverbial bone and accomplished nothing. Goose eggs. Bupkis.

I’m sure you could say the same thing.

A mentor of mine once said, “If you’re not having the success you want, there are only two reasons. Either you’re not doing something right, or you’re not doing it enough.”

No mention of hard work.

“Doing it enough” implies persistence, but that isn’t necessarily hard. In fact, the more you do something, the easier it usually gets.

“Doing something right” is important, of course. With a little practice, you can usually improve your skills (and your results).

Let’s flip around the phrase “doing something right”. Could this also mean “doing the right things”? Yes it could. In fact, I think doing the right things is the key to success.

It’s the 80/20 principle that I talked about recently. We are much more successful at some things that others. Choose the right things to do, and you will have more success.

Don’t tell anyone, but I found law school and the bar exam to be relatively easy. I have always been good at exams, especially essays. Essays are a “right activity” for me.

Other things, not so much.

Ever meet someone who seems to lead a charmed life? They don’t work hard and yet they go from one successful outcome to another. They have a great career, and everything seems to come to them quickly and without a lot of effort. Is it talent? Luck? Magic spells?

Maybe. Or maybe they’ve simply made the right choices.

I’m not saying “don’t work hard”. Working hard is a way to hedge our bets, in case we’re not as good as we think, or in case we haven’t chosen the right activity.

Work hard if you want to. Just don’t depend on it.

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Wrestling out of your weight class

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In high school, I joined the wrestling team. I thought it looked like something I could do. Okay, I thought I could meet some cheerleaders. Turns out, the wrestling team didn’t have any.

Anyway, the coach told me that with my height and frame, I should be in a certain weight class and suggested I drop some weight before the weigh-in which was two weeks away.

Off I went, running, lifting weights, dieting, and drinking gallons of water, determined to get down to the lower weight class.

I missed it by two pounds.

There I was, forced to wrestle bigger guys, exhausted by my efforts to lose weight, and not particularly good at wrestling.

I lost every match.

Turns out wrestling wasn’t my thing. And I’m fine with that. I found other things I was good at and enjoyed.

Author Richard Koch, in one of my favorite books, The 80/20 Principle, says

Everyone can achieve something significant. The key is not effort, but finding the right thing to achieve. You are hugely more productive at some things than at others, but dilute the effectiveness of this by doing too many things where your comparative skill is nowhere near as good.

High school is a place to try things. I’m glad I tried wrestling, and I’m glad I found out it wasn’t for me.

In college, you try more things, and find your career path, or at least a place to start.

In law school, and your first legal jobs, you narrow things down further. You find the practice areas that appeal to you, and the ones that don’t.

When you start your own practice, you learn more about what you’re good at. Or you find out that practicing law isn’t for you and you move onto something else.

If you’re lucky, you find your “thing” early in life. You find what you love and do best and eliminate the rest.

But the quest doesn’t end with the choice of careers. You try different partners, employees, and office locations. You try different niche markets, and different marketing techniques, continually searching for things where you are “hugely more productive”.

If you get it right, you are happy and successful. Things click for you because you’ve found the right path. If not, you keep looking.

I’m glad I found the right path. Because God knows, at my age, I would not look good in tights.

Are you ready to take a Quantum Leap in your law practice? Here’s how.

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I’m dying and so are you

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In a galaxy far, far away (in the 1970’s) I attended my first real estate investing seminar. I was young and ambitious and had no money, but I had spunk. Mr. Grant may have hated spunk, but it was going to make me rich.

Yes, I was scared. I’m sure most of the people in the room were, too. The trainer knew this, of course and spent time encouraging us. He suggested we adopt the “I.G.D.S.” philosophy. That stands for, “I’m gonna die someday” and is meant to suggest that we get on with life because it will one day be over.

What are you waiting for? This is your life, not a dress rehearsal. Do or not do, there is no try. (Okay Star Wars wasn’t out yet. I got a little ahead of myself.)

Years later, Steve Jobs echoed this sentiment when he said,

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Over the years, I’ve reminded myself that I’m gonna die someday and I had better get on with things. Sometimes, this helped me do just that. I overcame inertia, stopped researching and planning, and got things done. Some big things, too.

As I have aged and thought more about my mortality, I realize that the clock is still ticking and there are many things I still want to do. I.G.D.S. and I had better get on it.

I also know there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. But I have a plan.

My plan is to give myself permission to dabble. A taste of this and a taste of that. I don’t have to be “all in” with every project on my bucket list. I can sample things, not with the intent to build something big necessarily, but to savor the feeling of doing it.

Of course the challenge is that I will fall in love with what I’m doing and get completely sidetracked. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.”

Steve Jobs dreamed big dreams and took big chances. He make lots of mistakes and more than a few enemies, but no matter what anyone says about him, I think we can all agree that he left a huge footprint in the sand.

So, how about it? What have you been putting off until “someday”?

Life is short and so is Danny DeVito. He didn’t let that stop him, and neither should you.

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Are you doing “Positive Thinking” the right way?

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Many studies prove that positive thinking is good for us. It can improve our health, help us live longer, improve our performance and productivity, and improve our lives in many other ways.

Other studies show that positive thinking can sometimes make things worse.

If you imagine a goal, for example, but ignore the obstacles that lie between your current reality and the achievement of that goal, you’re not going to do what needs to be done to achieve it.

I’m not an expert. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’m going to clear this for you, my friend, based on what I have learned about the Law of Attraction.

I know, many people think LOA is a lot of nonsense. Indeed, there are a lot of aspects of it that make me scratch my head. But some parts make sense to me and that’s what I’m going with.

According to the Law of Attraction, “like attracts like”. When you think about something, good or bad, those thoughts attract similar thoughts, ideas, people, even circumstances. I won’t get into the quantum physics aspects of this, because I don’t really understand it, but supposedly, it has to do with the fact that all matter vibrates at a sub-atomic level, our thoughts are energy and energy is matter.

If this sounds too flaky for you, just think of it in terms of the subconscious mind which uses the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to filter stimuli, protecting us from harm and improving our awareness of the world around us. (You just bought a new car, now you see that car “everywhere”. That’s your RAS at work.)

Anyway, back to positive thinking.

When we think about something we want but don’t have, what we really think about is the fact that we don’t have it. Your dominant thoughts are not about the goal, they are about not having that goal (and all of the reasons why). The Law of Attraction says that like attracts like so we attract more of “not having it”.

If you set a goal of earning $10,000,000 and you’re not even close to achieving that, the more you think about the goal, the more you think about not having it. You think you’re moving towards the goal but you’re doing just the opposite.

We don’t attract what we want, we attract what we think.

Does that mean we should only choose goals that are realistic? No. Long term “dream” goals are fine. It can be exciting to think about your magnificent future. But only briefly, to set your course. Don’t dwell on it.

Instead, think truthful thoughts about your current reality that are connected to your big goal.

How do you know you’re doing it right? Your feelings give you the answer. If the thought feels good, you’re moving in the right direction.

When you think about having $10,000,000 and realize you’re not even in the ballpark, it feels bad. You might tell yourself that the goal is exciting and feels good to think about, but when you’re that far away from it, your thoughts are primarily about how far you have to go.

Choose thoughts that feel good when you think them.

For example, you might think about how you’re good at your work, and getting better every day. That’s a thought that is both true and feels good and moves you a step closer to your goal. (If you’re not that good yet, take a step back and think about how you are working on your skills. True? Feel good? You’re doing it right.)

Then, reach for another truthful thought that feels good. Maybe you realize that you know some sharp business people with exciting projects you might be able to get involved with. True? Feel good to think about? Likely to move you forward towards the big goal? If so, you’re doing it right.

Perhaps after that you think about how well you get along with some of these folks. You’re spending more time with them, learning about their business, contributing ideas. These truthful, positive thoughts that feel good when you think them continue to move you forward, step by step, towards your long term goal.

Eventually, your current situation will be such that when you think about your goal it actually feels good. It feels imminent, not far away. At that point, you are on the brink of achieving that goal.

Doesn’t this make more sense than simply clinging to a thought we know isn’t true?

Thoughts lead to action and action leads to results. Continually reach for thoughts that feel good about your situation and you will continually be lead to actions which move you towards your goal.

Think about what you want, not what you don’t want, because whatever you think about, you attract.

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Doubling down on success

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Before you know it, you’ll be doing some planning for the new year. Setting some goals, writing out plans.

When you do, there’s something you should think about.

If you make a list of everything going on in your life, you’ll note that some things are great, some things are bad, and most things, perhaps 80-90%, are “okay”.

You might look at this way:

Bad: problems, weaknesses, issues, trouble, pain
Great: working well, profitable, easy, pleasurable
Okay: works most of the time, rarely needs attention, neither great nor terrible

Okay, you get the idea.

So, you sit down to set some goals and contemplate your future. Where do you begin?

Most people start by fixing problems. If you’ve got troubles that are causing you sleepless nights, and you can do something about them, that makes sense. Get those issues off your plate so you can think, and sleep.

But if have problems that aren’t causing you pain and loss, they are simply weak areas in your life, fixing them is probably not the best use of your time.

Instead, look for areas that promise the biggest opportunities for growth and happiness. You’ll find them on your list of  things that are already great.

Take what’s working and make them even better. As Thomas Edison put it, “There’s a way to do it better–find it.”

Let’s talk about your practice. What’s working well?

You’re getting lots of new clients every month. How can you get more? How can you get better clients and bigger cases?

Your cases are settling nicely. How can you settle them faster, for higher amounts and at lower expense?

Your employees work efficiently. How can you help be even better?

Your biggest opportunities for growth are in those areas where things are already working well. You’re doing it right. You’re successful. There’s always a way to do it better.

In blackjack, when you’ve got a ten or eleven, depending on the dealer’s up-card you don’t just play the hand and take the likely win. You double down and maximize your winnings. You don’t settle for good when you can have great.

Go through your list, find your good hands, and look for ways to make them better.

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Things successful people don’t say

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Successful people have different philosophies than unsuccessful people. Successful people, for example, generally don’t say, “I don’t know how.” According to this Entrepreneur article, “Instead of automatically shutting down solution-finding, successful people learn what they can in order to succeed in a project or in their career.”

Another phrase you won’t hear successful people say is, “I did everything on my own.” Successful people surround themselves with smart, talented people, the article notes. “Recognize those that have helped you or made an impact and you’ll continue to earn success and recognition yourself.”

Go through the 15 phrases in the article. Do you find yourself saying or thinking any of these things? If you do, you probably won’t change by simply telling yourself to “stop thinking that way. You’ll have better luck replacing the unsuccessful thought with a related thought that is both true and success oriented.

For example, I know many attorneys hold the belief that, “If our competitors don’t have it, then we don’t need it,” number 14 on the list. If you share that belief, you’re limiting your growth. A successful person would think, “We can gain an advantage in our market by doing what our competitors don’t do.” The latter statement is both true and more likely to lead to growth.

The author says, “Copying competitors is one of the many possible deaths for most companies. True innovation comes from the flip side: figuring out what competitors aren’t doing and fill that niche to answer a need in the industry.”

If you have negative or limiting beliefs, turn them around and find a positive version of the idea. Anchor your new thought with ideas and information that support and “prove” your newly adopted philosophy.

To support the statement that you can gain an advantage by doing what your competition doesn’t do, you might read profiles of companies and leaders in industries outside of law who dominated their market by figuring out what their competitors weren’t doing, and doing it.

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Success is not the key to happiness

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Albert Schweitzer said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you’ll be a success.”

If you don’t love what you’re doing, are you doomed to fail? What if you don’t love your work but you don’t hate it, either?

The way I see it, if you’re miserable, you probably need to get another gig. If things are okay but you’re not completely happy, you’ve got a couple of choices.

The first is to find some aspect of your work that does make you happy and focus on that. Surely you love some part of your work. (Yes, but don’t call me Shirley.)

I didn’t love practicing law, and after more than twenty years, I moved on. While I was practicing, I focused on the things I enjoyed such as how good it felt when a client said thank you. I liked writing creative demand letters and getting judges, juries, and arbitrators to rule in my favor. I also liked the money and what it allowed me to do.

The rest of my work I found boring, stress-inducing, or otherwise unrewarding. Research (before computers) seemed unending. Discovery was a drag. Dealing with nasty opposing counsel was enervating.

But there were enough things I enjoyed doing and they allowed me to handle the things I didn’t.

If your work doesn’t provide you with enough joy to make up for the things that drag you down, the other thing you can do is find your happiness outside of work.

Time with your family may make your heart sing. You may have a hobby or side project that you are passionate about. Charitable work may give your life meaning. Whatever it is, spend more time doing it, thinking about it, and looking forward to doing it. Let your work support your passion.

I did this, too. For several years prior to my transition out of a law practice and into a publishing and consulting career, I worked on creating the marketing course that was to make that new career possible. I worked on it at lunch, in the evenings, and on weekends. It was hard work and I didn’t know if it would be successful, but I was happy working on this project and thinking about my future.

Your work may not make you happy or successful, but if you have enough happiness in your life outside of work, then you have a happy and successful life.

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Get better results by asking better questions

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Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney who wants to increase his income and is transitioning into a new practice area. It turns out that if he had a choice, there’s something else he’d rather be doing career-wise and it’s not practicing law.

I slammed on the brakes and asked him to write a one page, “ideal life” scenario dated five years from today. I said there were no rules, he didn’t have to follow logic to explain how he got there, “just describe your life as you want it to be five years from today.”

Because you can completely re-make your life in five years.

Write your scenario in the present tense. It’s already happened. You’re living the life you want, doing the things you want, being with people you want.

What does your typical “ideal day” look like?

I’ve given this exercise to many people, and done it myself. I’ve found that people often have trouble being honest with themselves about their ideal day. They don’t believe that what they really want is possible so they choose something different, something they think is possible, or something they think other people in their life would approve of.

When you do this exercise, you must forget possible. Ignore “how” (for now) and simply describe “what”.

The idea is that once you have described your ideal life, you’ve got something to work towards. “Start with the end in mind,” and work backwards to make it so.

Anyway, today I was clicking my way through the Interwebs and found a blog post that asked readers a provocative question I thought was on point:

What would you do with your time if you weren’t allowed in your house from 8am – 7pm, didn’t have to work, and your children were being taken care of?

Answering this question can help you describe your ideal life scenario.

Once you have done that, once you know where you want to go, the next thing you have to do is figure out how to get there. You do that by asking yourself another question.

In the post, the author says

The better questions we ask ourselves, the better the answers will be. . . Your subconscious mind. . . will start working out ways to answer your question.

So, if you constantly ask: ‘Why do I never get what I want in life?’ Your subconscious mind will go to work to help you find the answer and it will always be negative. Whereas if you constantly ask yourself ‘How can I make this possible? your subconscious mind will get to work and start looking for ways to get what you want.

To get better results in life, first ask, “What do I want?” Then ask, “How can I get it?” Your subconscious mind knows the answers.

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Go to law school and join the Billionaire Boys Club

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I read an article about the top five industries in which the world’s self-made billionaires made their fortunes. Financing and investments were at the top of the list with a little over 19%. Surprisingly, technology wasn’t one of the top five.

Not surprisingly, the legal industry wasn’t on the list. In fact, I can’t name any lawyer who became a billionaire practicing law. I do, however, know of more than a few billionaires who have a law degree under their belt.

Practicing law may not be a direct path to earning ten figures, but it clearly is an indirect path. Your law practice can introduce you to entrepreneurs and others who are on their way to joining The Billionaire Boys Club, and if you play your cards right, you can come along for the ride.

When you know the right people, you can use those contacts as a stepping stone to wealth. Even if they are not your clients, being a lawyer can give you access to people, information, advice, and the opportunity to invest in other people’s ideas or go to work for their companies.

My father pointed this out to me when I was in high school. He wanted me to go to law school, something I was pretty sure I did not want to do. He told me I didn’t necessarily have to practice law, my law degree could open doors for me and prepare me for anything else I might want to do.

I did practice law, for more than twenty years, and it seems he was right. I made a lot of money in my law practice, but I’ve made a lot more doing other things.

How about you? Is being a lawyer your end game or do you see it as a stepping stone to something else? Do you want to join the billionaire club or would you be happy with tens of millions?

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Maybe we’re not using our calendars enough

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Most people use their calendar to record appointments and deadlines and little else. Followers of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology see the calendar as a place to record the “hard landscape” of their life, meaning only those things that need to get done on specific days and times.

We might want to start using our calendars more liberally.

In an interview, Stanford professor, Jennifer Aaker, author of The Dragonfly Effect, said that, “people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who energize them tend to be happier. However, what is interesting is that there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time.”

Those gaps, she says, occur primarily because we don’t write down those activities. Adding them to a to do list is good; scheduling them on a calendar is even better:

“When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity–partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it — because it’s already on your calendar.”

If you want to get in shape, for example, instead of merely planning to exercise after work, put it on your calendar.

I have long recommended scheduling marketing time (even 15 minutes a day) on your calendar as an appointment. If you do this, you know it makes it much more likely that you will do it. Of course you have to treat it like a real appointment, a “must do,” and not a “would be nice to do”.

In a nutshell, using our calendars to schedule time for people and projects that energize us and are consistent with our goals can make us happier and more productive.

What might you add to your calendar?

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