I know two lawyers I will call Ryan and Sam (not real names). They are both junior partners in firms that are about the same size. They both bill about the same number of hours annually.
Ryan is thoroughly enjoying a successful career and fulfilling personal life. Sam says he is burning out and feels like all he does is billable work for his firm.
Why do you suppose they are having different experiences? Is your career and life more like Ryan’s or more like Sam’s?
Here are the differences and how you can apply them to find your own career success and life fulfillment. It starts with attitude. As lawyers we are 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 Ryan and Sam is that when thinking about their careers Sam frequently says: “yes, but” and Ryan says: “sure how.” Sam finds reasons it won’t happen and Ryan finds ways to make it happen.
The second difference is that Ryan knows exactly what he wants to accomplish in his career and life. Sam has focused more on what he does not want to do. Napoleon Hill, who studied successful people 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. Ryan is a labor/employment lawyer. He knows what he wants both in his career and personal life and has a burning desire to achieve it. Because of his burning desire, he has set goals and has a plan and is not easily derailed.
The third difference is how Ryan and Sam define career success. Over the years Sam has defined success by his billable hours and money he is making. He is extrinsically motivated. Ryan finds meaning and success in how he contributes to help his clients succeed. He is intrinsically motivated.
Finally, Ryan is in the zone in whatever he is doing and Sam is easily distracted. When Ryan is working on a client matter he is in the zone. When he is teaching at a local college, he is focused on his students. Ryan frequently leaves the office early to coach his older son’s soccer team and baseball team. When he is coaching, he is in that moment and not distracted. He plans his personal life as well as his professional life.
Sam plans his billable time at the office, some time with his children and his time at church on Sunday, but not much beyond that. Sam doesn’t coach his children because he thinks his firm would frown on him leaving the office during the work day. Even when Sam is with his children, he has his iPhone with him in case he receives an email or telephone call. Sam is rarely in the zone and focused on the moment.
You can have a successful career and fulfilling personal life by:
- Thinking and 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 being in the moment at work and at home. When you are working on a matter, focus on that. When you are with your children, focus on them.