Are you focused on what you want to achieve or the person you want to become? I ask because you will approach your career and life differently.

When I started in private practice it was easier to be focused on the person I wanted to become.

This week, 39 years ago, I finished my four years as a lawyer on active duty in the US Air Force, and Nancy and I drove our AMC Gremlin (ugliest car we ever owned)  from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio to Roanoke, Virginia where I started in private practice with Martin, Hopkins and Lemon.

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Practicing law and staying focused on what was important in my career and in my life was easier then. I did not have a computer on my desk, or a tablet, or smart phone loaded with apps. Secretaries used typewriters, carbon paper and whiteout to correct mistakes.

Mr. Martin was in his 60s, (probably younger than my current age.). His secretary of at least 30 years was Ms. Johnson.

I was startled when she called me “Mr. Parvin.”  I was in awe of her. I was sure she knew more about practicing law than me. Thankfully, she took me under her wing and kept me from making really stupid mistakes.

A few years ago, Nancy, Jill and I caught up with Ms. Johnson while eating breakfast in Roanoke. She was in her 80s and was eating by herself. I had to give her a big hug and thank her for taking an interest in me.

We never used the term mentoring or shadowing, I received it every day. I regularly visited the older lawyers and asked advice on matters. If an older lawyer was visiting a client or going to court he took me along to watch. 

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One time, Mr. Martin, who wore a hearing aid, accompanied me to an argument on a motion. I remember arguing the motion and getting to the point where I could feel Mr. Martin pulling on my suit coat trying to get me to sit down.

Then in a voice he thought was a whisper, but was heard by everyone in the courtroom, he said:

Damn it Cordell, you’re winning, but if you keep talking you’re going to blow it. Sit down.

I was really embarrassed. When I looked up I saw the judge, one of Mr. Martin’s long time friends, smiling.

It was easier to learn from experience back then. Most Roanoke firms did insurance defense work and young lawyers, like me, gained first hand litigation experience, by litigating subrogation cases in General District Court.

I can’t remember how many hours I billed in a year, but I would be surprised if it was even close to how many I billed many years later. 

It was easier to distinguish work life from personal life because we weren’t available 24/7. I did not receive many calls at home from clients, so my personal time was my own.

I knew what I wanted and I created a plan to achieve it.  I established goals and listed activities I wanted to do to achieve them. I also planned my personal life each week around my roles.

I got some ideas when I  read Stephen Covey’s best seller: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I planned my personal life each week in even more detail.

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Stephen Covey’s Habit 3 is Put First Things First. He suggests answering the following two questions: 

  1. What one thing could you do (you aren’t doing now) that if you did on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?
  2. What one thing in your professional life would bring similar results?

If you want more to read on Habit 3, take a look at this article, or this short Stephen Covey video.

In a Forbes article: Stephen Covey: 10 Quotes That Can Change Your Life, there are at least 3 of Stephen Covey quotes that focus on Habit 3.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.

Life is more complicated today. For many of you, there is no clear line between your work and your personal life.

So, what can you do? Today more than ever answering the two questions above can make a difference in your life.