2

They Don’t Teach You This in Law School.

Back when I did medical malpractice work, a partner once told me that doctors and lawyers don’t understand each other because doctors spend their whole careers being told they’re right, while lawyers spend their whole careers being told they’re wrong. At the time I brushed it off, thinking that doctors and lawyers don’t understand each other (especially my kind of lawyer), because we sue them, and people don’t like being sued. But the part about spending your whole career being told you’re wrong stuck with me. It still sticks with me.

No one likes the litigators. Not just because some make bad commercials, or some represent unpopular positions, or because they operate in a very nuanced world that the public by and large does not understand (this is my diplomatic way of saying that the comments on any internet news article discussing lawsuits makes my hair go gray). We all spend every day explaining, justifying, and being misunderstood. The whole career is adversarial. Even if you start the day feeling on top of the world, it wears away through the hours. By the end of the day, I might as well go eat worms.

Sometimes I just want to be liked. Instead of someone fighting with me, for someone just to be happy with me.

I needed to be liked today. So today, when we got home, spoiled dinner be damned, I gave my kid a bowl of chocolate ice cream. And then she asked for another. So I gave her another.

ice cream

She liked me. And it felt good.


0

A tune-up for my headspace

I’ll start this post off by admitting that posting has seemingly slowed down a bit on my blog. The short answer is, I’ve been a grump. There is never enough time for all the things I want to do, and am told to do, and need to do. I’m sorting out the priorities, balancing the wants against the musts, and, to be truthful, sometimes being a brat about it. I do not like complainers. They drag me down and bum me out. But I’ve been full of complaints lately. Not so much on this online space, but plenty in person. As I climbed into my car to head home from work, I realized “I’m being one of those people I can’t stand.” And I can’t stand that any further. I’m determined to adjust my attitude.

My attitude is tied in with stress. Not long ago, I participated in a short seminar with Emily Bennington on the topic of mindfulness. (If you aren’t familiar with Bennington, check her out. She is brilliant.) She emphasized that when you are in a stressful situation, you should step back and separate the task at hand from the extraneous noise your mind is creating. She wisely taught, “The facts of the situation are the same, regardless of how stressed you are.”

Stress is pointless. Being stressed does not make you more efficient. If anything, stress clutters your mind, and leaves you more likely to make mistakes. Mindfulness involves letting go of that stress. Simply dropping it.

I get so wrapped up in the noise of all the things that are going on. I get frantic and stressed, and those emotions build on themselves. Settling in for my drive home from work, I realized that it’s not the facts I am facing that have soured my attitude. I’ve got plenty on my plate right now, especially with work. But I’ve had plenty on my plate before and I will have plenty on my plate in the future. At this stage in my career, this is a familiar to-do list. I know how to break the big tasks down into manageable pieces. I know how to prioritize the tasks. I know how to seek feedback. The facts aren’t the problem. It’s my attitude, and here is no good reason for me to have a bad one.

I got home from work, tossed together a quick dinner of soup and grilled cheese. I walked on the treadmill. I spent some time with my family. Instead of worrying about all the things I have to deal with tomorrow, I will accept that I accomplished some big things on my to-do list today and have a very brief breather. I will enjoy today, and leave tomorrow for tomorrow.

0

Sometimes, even just for a brief little tiny moment, I feel like I’ve got it together.

It takes somewhere around 2 hours for me to get everything together and get out the door in the morning. This looks like an immense amount of time written down, but it makes sense, considering it involves: getting myself showered, dressed & makeup on, packing lunch for me & Mr. Beez, making breakfast for me & Baby Beez, sometimes throwing dinner in the crockpot, getting the birds fed and watered, getting Baby Beez dressed and wrangled and OMG KID STOP TAKING EVERYTHING APART AND WHINING AND SCREAMING. So yeah, a lot happens in those two hours.

For pretty much every weekday morning since Thanksgiving, those two hours have consisted of alternating whining, yowling and shrieking from Baby Beez. I throw in an exasperated plea to tell me WHAT on earth is so terrible, because I’ll probably fix it for you if you just tell me WHAT is so terrible, but that always goes unheeded. This morning set off pretty much the same way with the toddler drama.

Then I made it to work and in the course of the day I felt pretty proud of myself. I was focused, I was gettin’ stuff DONE. I even had to make a run out to pack up our birds and take them to be boarded for the next 10 days, or as I like to call it “Deliver them to Oh-How-I-Wish-It-Were-Summer Camp.” Tomorrow starts a construction project in the house that involves stuff getting smashed and drilled and sprayed, and the featherbeasts cannot be here for that. I expected that getting the birds into their respective carriers would be the Trauma of the Century for our little Ricky, but he ended up behaving very nicely, not biting me, and even sitting on my hand for a minute and pretending that he does not hate me.

I bite.

I bite.

Even with that detour this afternoon, I got back to the office and I was killin’ it. Mr. Beez had an evening obligation tonight, so it was just Baby Beez and me. When I picked her up from daycare, the teacher announced “She didn’t nap today.”

Great.

I was bracing myself for an evening to mirror our morning. In the car ride home, Baby Beez asked for Cinnamon Toast Crunch & Scrambled Eggs for dinner. Sure kid, that’s fine. I won’t be winning any child nutrition prizes tonight, but that’s a dinner I can handle making, especially if it will keep her happy. Since I’m the “fun parent” (i.e. the idiot responsible for encouraging all that whining), I even let her watch her current Disney favorite (Hercules) at the table while she ate.

And she ate everything. And didn’t whine. And after eating, she played a little bit. And then I said it was time for a bath. And she went upstairs. And took a bath. Without whining. And then I said it’s time to brush your teeth. And we brushed teeth. Without whining. And then it was time to get in bed, and we read a Llama Llama book. All without whining. And I gave her a kiss and she closed her eyes and snuggled under the blanket.

And I went downstairs and ran a couple miles on the treadmill. And it felt good. Then I stretched and drank some water. And now I am writing all this down. And for once in recent memory, I feel just the tiniest tiniest bit like I’m not treading water. Like I’ve made it a couple paddles forward, and I’m going to be OK.

Now I will go upstairs and read my book.

1

The PA Conference for Women– 10th Anniversary @PennWomen #PennWomen

This is my second year attending the PA Conference for Women, and I’m counting down the days until next year’s conference. How to describe this phenomenal event? Simply: It inspires me to take over the world.

Q&A Chat with Madeleine Albright

Q&A Chat with Madeleine Albright

The gist of it is this: The conference pulls in exceptionally successful women for the day, who teach the thousands of eager attendees their life lessons of their climb to the top of the ladder. There is a huge representation in science, tech and politics, who share their failures and successes. This is a conference for women who aren’t afraid to work hard, who are proud of their accomplishments, and who are eager to keep learning, growing and achieving. There were so many standing ovations. The crowd was so proud for how these brilliant accomplished women have taken their place at the table, shown gratitude for the support they’ve received, and helped those around them succeed as well.

Judge Glenda Hatchett

Judge Glenda Hatchett

There are sessions focused on risk taking, leadership, entrepreneurship, professionalism, inter-generational communications, work/life integration and stress management. The first year I attended, I attended entirely sessions about leadership. This year I spread things around a little more and attended a session on risk taking, a session on stress management/health for productivity, and a session on happiness. I learned so much that I can’t adequately summarize it all at once, but I did a fairly good job of capturing the best takeaways on twitter:

Linda Cliatt-Wayman being honored for her amazing work at Strawberry Mansion High School

Linda Cliatt-Wayman being honored for her amazing work at Strawberry Mansion High School


  • Having more women in senior leadership positions matters. @SallieKrawcheck
  • If it comes down to your ethics versus your job, you can always find another job. @SallieKrawcheck (she was such an amazing speaker. Getting my application in to join @85Pittsburgh is on my short to-do list)
  • If my gut fails me, I ask the woman I want to be what she would do, and she always leads me to the right answer. @SallieKrawcheck
  • Women are overmentored and undersponsored. There is a difference. @SallieKrawcheck.
  • There is no such thing as failure, it’s warming up for success. @JudgeGHatchett
  • When you get to the pages in life’s book that are torn, you can’t give up.  You have to write your own story of hope.  @JudgeGHatchett
  • Know what you are talking about, and interrupt.  @Madeleine
  • There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other. @Madeleine
  • Women need to be politically and economically empowered, because it makes their socieites more stable. @Madeleine

HillaryRodhamClinton

  • If you are overwhelmed by options, don’t try to sort through all the possibilities. Throw together a prototype and get some feedback and go from there.
  • List your negotiables and nonnegotiables. When a potential risk/opportunity presents itself, check your lists, and the answer will crystallize.
  • Keep your authentic voice, when you have that, people will want to work with you. Stay with your integrity.
  • When you get bad news, you get 24 hours of self pity. Use it well. Then move forward.
  • If you suspect you made a bad decision, trust your instincts, don’t burn any bridges, and move on.
  • Happiness is a habit, and it needs practice.

KathyKinneyWhere have you found inspiration recently?

1

So You Want to Take a Vacation?

So You Want to Take a Vacation?

Lawyerist posted some thoughts on vacationing tips for the solo practitioner.  The post was helpful, but even with client and court commitments, when you run your own shop, it’s a lot easier to get permission to put up the “Out of Office” for a few days.

As a lawyer taking a vacation takes skill and practice. You can’t just go.  There are court deadlines, partner expectations, assignments you’ve backburnered for way too long and someone’s bound to sneak up and demand why wasn’t that done two months ago already? I can only speak from the time demands of a litigator. I don’t know what the transactional folks face, but I do know that it sometimes involves surprise projects that go til the wee hours of the morning.  The newer you are to practice, the less control you have over your time. And when you don’t have control over your time, you can forget vacationing.

My vacation technique is the product of meticulous planning and soul-crushing anxiety. I remember the very earliest years in practice where I just wanted to sleep in the office overnight and not go home on the weekends, not because I wanted to work work work, but because all the new lawyer stresses were so cripplingly bad that my only relief from the 3am panic attacks over missed (imaginary) deadlines or this or that thing I screwed up was by physically being in the office.  I got serious practice in out of office planning when I was pregnant with Baby Beez in 2010, and if I wanted maternity leave I had to create it myself, which resulted in 2 weeks off and 4 weeks working from home. (Be ye not so stupid, if you ever even consider having children, get yourself a job in an office large enough to be covered by FMLA).

My techniques are in no way perfect, but they manage to get me a few days somewhat-off each year to spend with my family:

1.    Mark your vacation in your calendar MONTHS in advance.  You can pick the destination later, but carve that time out as early as possible. And be vocal about it when things are going to be scheduled during that period.  It’s easier to ask for an alternate date for something during the scheduling process than to ask for a date to be moved later on.

2.     Let your superiors know when you will not be available. This should be in a form similar to “I’m going to be out of town the week XYZ is due, but I will get it done before I leave.”  Sometimes it’s flat out not possible, but if in any way you can swing it, set your deadlines for BEFORE you leave.  This will mean that the week or two before vacay will SUCK, but it’s better to work your backside off and then take a break than to return to the office from a vacation and then go through a whole fire drill of scrambling to get things done.  Plus, you come across as more responsible (for good reason) if you get your work done before leaving.

3.     Have your secretary scan and email your mail to you every. single. day.  Read the mail she has scanned and emailed to you every. single. day.  If you are able to resolve the tasks you DO know about before you leave for vacation, all you’ll have to do during vacation is damage control for any surprises that come in. Surprises usually come in through the mail. Make sure that mail gets to you.

4.      Check your email at least once or twice a day. The inconvenience of an hour or so of emailing each day is far easier to bear than sorting through the overwhelming pile of communications if you let them build up when you’re gone. If I feel like I’m generally keeping up with things, I can resolve most of the anxiety of the possibility of returning to a total cluster in my office at vacation’s end.

5.      Get a back up.  This one’s not easy, but it’s such a stress relief if you can swing it.  This year has been my first year that I have actually had someone junior than me who I can ask to generally keep an eye on things for me (and look up a couple research issues that unexpectedly popped up). Sure, your secretary will keep an eye on things, but also having another associate available to keep an eye on things (and maybe even present motions, shuttle boxes, etc. that there’s no way you can reschedule) is so unbelievably helpful. And remember to repay that favor.

6.      Give up the bitterness.  In most previous years, in the days leading up to vacation, I got so frustrated with the mountain of work to resolve before leaving that taking vacation seemed to cause more stress than it resolved, and I very seriously considered just calling it off.  This year I tried a different attitude. I accepted that the last few days before vacation would be mad mad mad, but if I worked hard then, I could do less work during vacation.  And I accepted that I’ve picked a profession where a week entirely free of work doesn’t exist. I would have to do some work during vacation. It’s an inevitability. And the more anger I harbored over that, the less satisfied I would be by my vacation.  I breathed deep and accepted that vacation would involve some work. That’s how it is. And I felt a lot better over it.

What are your techniques for carving out some vacation time?