I was looking forward to blending into the background, like normal, at LexThink. There’s a line about people planning and God laughing that comes to mind, and I’d wager He’s ROFL at this.
I’m now presenting.
Armed with 20 slides (19 as I must use one for a disclaimer) and six minutes, I’m illustrating how lawyers can avoid the whirlpool of irrelevance by using a life raft equipped with a motor: data. There are a number of ways to approach this, and since I figured it’d be another year before the idea of data use in law firms took root, much like it that long for social media as an eDiscovery tool to take root, I submitted and forgot about it. No need to flesh out what I’d say. No need to do any kind of planning.
That line from Bob Dylan, “The times/they are a changing,” now filters through my head.
I find myself experiencing someone catching up to me, and having the ability to plop me front and center to present my view. Thinking through different approaches the past few days, mapping out what to say, I keep returning to two ideas: Pain Points and Patterns.
Misery has been my pain point. I was puzzled by this, and started looking at information I already had, like my employment history. I started going through each job, what I liked what I didn’t like, and patterns emerged.
I generally liked where I lived. I generally liked the actual job functions I performed. I generally liked the industries. So why was I still miserable?
The answer stood out like a gigantic flashing red light. With two exceptions, one at the start of my career and one at a linen company, I have had bad relationships with bosses.
I found the real pain point, and a new pattern.
I realized I was in an all too familiar situation last year. I had unknowingly repeated the same bad relationship pattern, but this time I saw it as a learning opportunity. I had to learn to break the pattern.
How? I was stuck on this question for awhile because there was a more immediate question to answer.
It was a couple months after moving into the house with my awesome roommates when I caught Jasper the house cat taking his paw to books I had recently stacked. He never seemed to like how I stacked them, and felt it was his duty to knock them out under the guise of creating a spot for himself in the bookcase. Even when I arranged the books so he could climb in and around the shelves, he still knocked them out.
Restacking them again, I picked up a book titled the exact pain point I needed to address: “How to Work for an Idiot.” I thumbed through it, remembering that I had picked it at a Barnes and Noble while still living in Chicago, working for an I-Boss. It had been following me around since, yet I didn’t remember reading it.
So I did.
Throughout my work history, I had unknowingly employed classic “fight or flight,” choosing flight each time instead of learning to work for an I-Boss. I consistently left before I learned to work for an I-Boss, resulting in consistently working for an I-Boss.
Aware of this pattern, and armed with more information, I set out to break the pattern.
I paid attention to my reactions, I paid attention to phrasing, body posture and what other people had to say in meetings and casual conversation. I read up on emotional intelligence, workplace culture, neuropsychology and philosophy.
One thing became clear: choosing “fight” over “flight was wasted energy. Except historical data demonstrated that I was either fighting or fleeing. Another pattern. Fighting was proving unsuccessful, and flight had been proven to be unsuccessful.
I was stumped.
Enter mindfulness. It is surprisingly useful, and helped me learn to identify triggers for “fight or flight” responses, recognize the triggers played into old patterns I wanted to break, and presented a different choice: neither.
It was hard in the beginning. The reaction was often swift, and I was surprised by the power of my “fight” instinct, like this slumbering animal had been rudely awakened and wanted to unleash itself. A line from Three Days Grace always played in my head: “But there’s still rage inside.” I wasn’t always successful at quelling it, but I learned to acknowledge it, let it have its say and then channel it elsewhere.
I stopped expending so much energy on work. I still showed up on time every day. I still performed my duties. I still participated when necessary. All things I had done, too, in bad relationships. A repeat pattern, though I did not want to change my work ethic. To stop expending so much energy at work, then, I had to learn to leave work at the office.
Leaving work at the office meant I had time on my hands, so I found other ways to occupy myself.
I kept myself occupied and engaged with sports. I went for really long walks while listening to audiobooks. I hung out at the beach. I hung out with my roommates. I played PS3. I did Morning Pages. I kept myself engaged through activities that magnified positive traits I wasn’t aware I possessed. Positive traits that had consistently been overshadowed by having bad relationships with bosses. During the summer, I was struck by the stark contrast between the “work” me and this other, “new” me. All of these non-work activities were cultivating a sense of value, and a positive sense of self.
Gradually this new space opened up. I got to know this new identity, become familiar with this new feeling called happiness.
It was amazing.
I had not broken the pattern, though. I had only learned to work for an I-Boss, and how to have an I-Boss work for me. I had learned to work within confines, and to leave work at work. The “work” me saw that as failure, but this “new” me saw them as important lessons.
Lessons learned. Now I wanted to break the pattern, but data was telling me to sit tight. So I did. Data points continued to accumulate, though, and a new pattern started to emerge: value. I found old data points, too, that supported this new pattern of value. I was confused by this concept of value, though, and unknowingly narrowed down its meaning to leaving the legal technology space completely.
As I’ve described, that wasn’t the direction I really wanted to take, but I didn’t yet know what to do. It took an email from that well-respected lawyer and good friend of mine, in response to a request for a recommendation for graduate school of all things, to identify what I really wanted, and to better understand this concept of value.
Pain Points and Patterns.
I’m learning that pain points don’t have to be painful. They don’t have to be traumatic. They can be simple. They can be mildly annoying. It’s the pattern that matters. If you don’t like the pattern, look at the data, and then find ways to change and move in the direction you prefer.
As seems to be a theme this year, patience is required.