I write often about career success and life fulfillment. Why? I coached over 1500 lawyers in the United States and Canada. I learned a great deal by listening to those lawyers. I learn now when candidates contact me wanting to join a new law firm.

When I first started coaching lawyers in 2005, I coached two lawyers I will call Andrea and Samantha (not real names). They were both junior partners in firms that were about the same size. They both billed about the same number of hours annually.

Andrea enjoyed a successful career and fulfilling personal life. Samantha frequently called me to say she was burning out and felt like all she did was billable work for her firm.

Why do you suppose they were having different experiences? Is your career and life more like Andrea’s or more like Samantha’s?

Success and Fulfillment or Burnout

Here are some differences and how you can apply them to find your own career success and life fulfillment.

Attitude:  It starts with your attitude. As lawyers, we are taught to be skeptical. But, too often we apply skepticism to our careers. I love this Winston Churchill quote:

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

The difference between Samantha and Andrea was that when thinking about their careers Samantha frequently said: “yes, but” and Andrea said: “sure, how.” Samantha found reasons she wouldn’t make it happen and Andrea found ways to make it happen.

Clarity on the What Question: The second difference was Andrea knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish in her career and life and Samantha has focused on what she did not want to do.

Napoleon Hill, who studied successful people for over 20 years in the early 20th century, said it well:

“There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.”

Successful lawyers have a clear idea of what they want and many actually visualize accomplishing it. You can’t visualize or get energy and a burning desire around what you don’t want. Andrea knew what she wanted both in her career and personal life and had a burning desire to achieve it. Because of her burning desire, she set goals, developed a plan and was not easily derailed.

Keeping Score: The third difference was how Andrea and Samantha defined success. Over the years Samantha defined success by her billable hours and money she was making. That is like a golfer looking at the scoreboard rather than the ball. Andrea found meaning and success in how she helped her clients succeed.

Being in the Zone: Finally, Andrea was in the zone in whatever she was doing. Samantha was easily distracted. When Andrea was working on a client matter, she was in the zone. When she taught at a local college, she was focused on her students. Andrea frequently left the office early to coach her older son’s soccer team. When she coached, she was in that moment and not distracted. She planned her personal life as well as her professional life. Samantha planned her billable time at the office and her time at church on Sunday, but not much beyond that. So, she was rarely in the zone and focused on the moment.

You can have a successful career and fulfilling personal life by saying: “sure, how,” having a definite purpose and a burning desire to accomplish it, finding meaning in your work by focusing on how you benefit your clients, and by focusing on the moment.