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Episode 152: Lawyer Life (Time To Choose Your Hard)

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

Lawyer life can be exhausting, stressful and overwhelming yet at the same time feel exciting, interesting and fun. How can you make it more of the latter and (much) less of the former?

Listen to today’s episode to learn how proactively choosing your hard (the right hard for you) will make life and law much more enjoyable, fulfilling and interesting.

Although I’m not promising to banish the stress, overwhelm and exhaustion from your lawyer life (because that’s impossible), today’s episode will give you back control of your life and legal career/practice.

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Inside the Toolkit, you’ll get immediate access to 10 evidence-based mindset & stress management tools (you can use in a matter of minutes) that rewire your mind to think, feel and be your best.

Grab your copy of the Toolkit here.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:59] All right y’all, today we’re talking about choosing your hard, specifically how hard lawyer life can feel and be.

So maybe you’re an associate trying to juggle eight different projects for eight different partners. Perhaps you’re a more senior associate or senior counsel trying to make partner. Not only are you working crazy hours, but you’re trying to show the powers that be that you can build your own book of business and lead a team. Or perhaps you’re a young partner struggling to figure out how to make the time to build your own book of business. You know, you need to focus on that more. But how? And where do you even get started? Everything just feels so hard. It’s overwhelming, it creates stress. And before you know it, your mind spins.

[00:01:49] Here’s the deal, y’all.

[00:01:51] The life of a lawyer is not easy. But guess what? Life isn’t easy. And it’s actually not supposed to be. And here’s where we get into today’s topic. It does not have to feel as hard as it does because:

You get to choose your hard.

[00:02:10] Today is about being more intentional, being more proactive, and using a couple of – making a mindset shift. And then using a tool I’ve talked about before to help you with this shift so so that things don’t feel so hard.

Now, that does not mean things won’t be hard, because life is hard. And the thing that I want you to walk away with today, if nothing else is it’s okay.

It’s okay when life feels hard. It’s okay when life is hard. But there are still ways to enjoy it.

And there are ways to make it feel less hard.

Because here’s the deal. You make it way, way worse, way harder on yourself by thinking it’s so hard. That’s when our mind spins more out of control. That’s when we create more stress and anxiety. That’s when we go down this spinning path. That’s what we’re trying to stop. We’re trying to stop that, trying to pause and get out of it so that you can be more proactive, more intentional, and feel like you have more choice and more control.

[00:03:15] That’s what today does for you. So today is a little shorter and sweeter than a lot of my past episodes, but it’s really important. So please listen to everything. Find ways to apply this to your life. And if you have questions, reach out to me. I am an open book, and I’m more than happy to answer a quick question that may come up from this podcast or any other that you listen to. All right, so I’m going to give you an example. Really a couple of examples.

Lawyer Life: Choosing Your Hard Example 1

My first example starts with a client.

I recently had a coaching session with a client where this specific issue came up. She owns her own law firm. She has a young family. She’s trying to grow her firm, hire new attorneys while also raising her kids, and, you know, have time for her own self care and her relationship with her partner. And she was feeling like it’s just such a struggle. Everything feels so hard, Heather.

[00:04:11] And the thought was coming to her, what if I just go back to law firm life? Like to a bigger firm, right? Where I don’t have to worry about making payroll, where I don’t have to worry about, do we have enough work coming in to pay our bills, where I don’t have to take on the full responsibility for everything.

[00:04:27] Going back to a bigger law firm where she wouldn’t be the owner, would take away a lot of these worries, a lot of these problems, a lot of the things she was really struggling with.

But guess what? They would also present her with a different set of problems and worries. And that’s where you need to understand.

It’s not going to be easy anywhere. Lawyer life isn’t easy, but also life in general isn’t easy.

And life is going to have periods of harder. Right. But no matter how hard things are, no matter what the hard is in life, you get to choose your hard to some extent.

[00:05:03] So what do I mean by that?

[00:05:05] Intentionally determining what is best for you and choosing with your eyes wide open.

Knowingly going in and making choices based on what you know about you, based on your current circumstances, based on your best guesses in that moment and what’s going on with your life.

[00:05:26] So how do you do that? Well, two main things.

Number one, know your values.

This can’t be a surprise if you’ve been listening to my podcast for any time at all. And I’ve talked about values several times now, and I’m going to link to one or two of those episodes that go even deeper, because today is not the time to go real deep into what are your values and how do they lead you and how do you discover them and all that. I’ve talked about that before, and I’m going to put a couple links to one or two episodes that I think will help you with that, if that’s what you want.

[00:05:58] But you need to know your values.

Your values are your inner compass.

They are what shape you. They are what give you the perceptions that you have on the world around you. They help guide you, and they’re kind of your guiding compass for making decisions that are the best ones for you.

So you need to understand, what are my values? Put words to them, know what they are. Okay? So that when you’re making choices, you can make the best choice for you, given your circumstances, that align with your values.

[00:06:33] That’s intentional decision making. That’s the crux of what we’re talking about here. Because here’s something else.

Choices are never easy.

It wouldn’t be a choice if it was easy, because then it’s not really a choice. You choose what’s obvious, right?

So when we are faced with a couple of choices, sometimes more than two, often two, maybe three, and we’re having trouble figuring out what’s best, the only thing you can do, really, is to sit back, to pause, to reflect, okay, what are my options?

What are the pros and cons of each one, and how do my values align with these?

And then make an intentional decision based on that. It’s the best decision you can make at that time, and it’s the decision you can be content with regardless of how it turns out, regardless of whether a year later, you look back and go, you know, knowing what I know now, I would choose differently if I was faced with that again.

But you don’t know that now. You know that later. Okay?

So know your values. Be intentional about the decisions you’re making, about the actions you’re taking, about your choices. Doing that is the foundation to choosing your hard.

[00:07:49] Now, the second point is a mindset shift and it’s about reframing your focus.

So you reframe to refocus. Okay, reframing. We’ve talked about before I talk about it a lot in respect of, you know, stress management, anxiety management. It’s in my Legal Mindset Mastery Toolkit. If you do not have that, I highly recommend you get it. Because in that toolkit, there are ten tools, not just reframing. Reframing is one of ten.

[00:08:17] And those tools are to help really sharpen your mind and help you show up as your best, okay? To think your best, to be your best, to feel your best. It’s not just a stress management tool. Yes, it’s a stress and anxiety management tool, but it’s a lot more than that.

So, reframing is where you identify all the things that are good. Either what you’re learning, how you’re growing, or even the end result you’re working towards that’s getting you to a better place. So when you’re going through stressful things, when you’re going through things that feel extra hard, reframing can help you to really focus in on the good, not just the bad.

Now, I want to be very clear on this. This is not about ignoring the negative, the bad, the hard. It doesn’t take that away.

[00:09:03] But our brain works in a way where we focus on the negative, we over-obsess, and it creates, like, this overthinking pattern. And then it creates more stress, more anxiety, and really limits our ability to see the full picture, which then limits our ability to see all of our opportunities and choices and limits our actions.

So reframing is your tool for stopping that, for helping you to see the big picture, for helping you to make better decisions, for helping you to not feel as stressed, for helping you to see that there is another side of the coin. It’s not all bad.

[00:09:36] It’s what makes hard easier.

[00:09:40] Not easy. Easier.

[00:09:44] So let’s go back to my client. If she went back to that bigger law firm life where she wasn’t the owner of the firm, yes, it would take away a lot of her responsibilities, a lot of the issues and problems that she was facing. But there would be another set of hard there, right? So we kind of went through this first.

We looked at the pros and cons of both sides. She wouldn’t have the autonomy or freedom she had now. She would have to rely more on others. She would need to follow rules she didn’t necessarily agree with. She wouldn’t be the rule setter.

[00:10:16] And there were other things, but you get the gist. There was a reason she had chosen this particular hard, and she needed to remind herself of that so that she could determine “well which is the right hard for me?”

Looking at both sides of the coin and setting out the pros and the cons is what I was talking about earlier. This is what helps you make values based decisions, and then it also enables you to reframe. So that next step helped us to reframe her situation.

Okay, she was in a hard right now, but she was also learning a lot, right? She was learning how to lead and manage others. She had gotten a lot better at it over the past year, and we identified a very specific area that felt especially hard for her that she needed to reframe. So she has, as many of us do, a kind of a difficult client who was driving her a little bit bananas. It was a big reason of why she was questioning herself.

[00:11:13] They’re needy. They try to negotiate their bills even though they’ve already been given deep discounts on work.

[00:11:20] She identified, however, that despite their neediness, despite their difficulties, she’s learned how to say no gracefully, because they keep asking for things that she’s not willing to give.

[00:11:31] She’s getting tired of having to say it. But you know what she is learning? She’s growing from that. She identified, you know what? I kind of have a better idea of what makes for a good and not so great client. I’ve also identified some red flags that I will look for in the future as I bring new clients in and my minimums, what I need from clients to accept them.

[00:11:52] She kind of needed this client to discover these things. And now she’s standing her ground and even willing to lose them and realizing it’s okay if I do.

[00:12:02] Let’s go through a few more examples to help you out on reframing.

So, as a fifth year associate, I changed law firms. I had spent a lot of time up to that point, learning about the businesses that I had been primarily working for. Up to that point.

[00:12:17] I was primarily doing energy finance. And it was a very specific type of finance that I needed to understand. I needed to understand the business side of the energy companies that I was dealing with. I needed to understand how to put deals together for them. But when I changed firms, the business side changed drastically.

[00:12:35] The type of financing transactions I did changed drastically. I went from being an energy lending lawyer to a structured finance lawyer. There were tax issues I didn’t understand and I needed to learn. There were structural things I didn’t get. I had to devote my 1st 18 months to two years of time learning all of this. It was a lot of work, y’all, a lot of non billable work.

By the way, this is one of those areas I talked last season about non billables. If you didn’t listen to that, it is one of my most popular to date for a reason. Highly recommend it. I’m gonna put a link to it in the show notes.

[00:13:15] Non billable work is sometimes really necessary to improve your own professional development. And it was necessary for me here. So despite taking all that extra time daily and weekly, that wasn’t billable. And I was billing a lot at the time, too, because I was really busy. I chose to do this. I could either spend the time and become proficient, which would help me be a better lawyer and a better business advisor in the long term, or I could skip it, but not understand as much and not be as good of a lawyer. Well, both were hard.

[00:13:46] I chose my hard with purpose. I reframed that hard so that I could focus on the good, the why behind why I was doing it, and not obsess over how much time I was having to focus in order to make that move.

[00:14:03] Another example, as a young partner trying to build my business from scratch, I felt completely overwhelmed by business development, y’all.

[00:14:11] I made partner at the end of 2008. That was right at the tail end of the financial crisis. It had just occurred. All of my clients were gone. I needed to pivot my practice and rebuild. So again, I had to spend yet more non billable time learning, learning business development, learning a new practice. Because I changed into the ABL space, I got away from structured finance. This was really hard. It was a tough decision to make. But honestly, the other side was really hard, too.

[00:14:42] Some chose to stay in structured finance and not pivot. But that market was shrinking, and they were working really hard too.

[00:14:50] It was just a different type of hard, and not, not the kind of hard that made sense for me. I was a young partner, they were more senior. They didn’t have as long to practice. I had a very long career at the time ahead of me, right? So it made sense. And I had to reframe the why so that I would be willing to do that work.

[00:15:12] Final note:

Just because something is hard does not mean it’s automatically unenjoyable.

[00:15:20] You can enjoy yourself during the hard. When you shift your mentality, the way I’m talking about, and start to:

  • See both sides, and proactively pick your hard and the why behind your picking it; and
  • Reframe the good so that you can not just obsess over the bad but look at what you’re learning, look at how you’re growing;

You start to shift your mentality to see success not as a destination, but as a way of living. You start to see how much more important your input is and how to measure your success based on your input.

[00:15:55] By proactively choosing the path that makes sense for you, given what you know, what your values are, your current stage of life, success looks different.

And frankly, hard becomes more interesting. It becomes more of a good challenge. It becomes more enjoyable. It might even become more fun.

Choosing your hard is how to make lawyer life fun, and it’s a step towards being more content. Contentedness, to me, is what real happiness is, y’all.

[00:16:28] Alright, that’s it for today. We will be back next week. Bye for now.

A podcast for lawyers ready to become happily successful.

Heather Moulder in kitchen wearing light purple top

I’m Heather Moulder, a former Big Law partner (with 18+ years of experience) turned lawyer coach who traded in my $2.5MM practice to help lawyers achieve balanced success. Because success shouldn’t mean having to sacrifice your health, relationships or sanity.

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