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Episode 151: Making A Difference (Starts With You)

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

I often hear from disillusioned attorneys who became lawyers so that they can make a real impact yet don’t feel as if they’re making a difference – whether through their work or within their lives.

Is that you, too?

Maybe you feel like your always busy, often rushed schedule gets in the way. Perhaps you worry about the direction the country (even the world) seems to be going culturally and/or politically. And maybe you look around and wonder where common sense and basic decency has gone.

If that’s you, you are not alone. And today, we tackle how to empower yourself to start making a difference, feel more motivated and be more hopeful. Yes, as a lawyer but also as a human being.

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Episode Transcript

[00:01:23] Hello everybody. Welcome back to the Life & Law Podcast. We are starting Season 4, and I’m really excited about today’s topic. It is a little bit different than a lot of my past topics. We are talking about making a difference.

How can you do that? What does it even mean?

And the topic might surprise you a little bit. I think some of the examples I’m going to give today are maybe going to be a little bit surprising as well. Today’s topic is here to make you think.

[00:01:56] This has been on my mind for over a year now. And I’m going to be honest with you…

I’ve been holding back because I didn’t want to offend anybody. And I didn’t want people thinking “Who does she think she is?”. Because, y’all, I’m not perfect. I’m far from it, in fact. One of my examples I’m going to give you today is going to show my imperfection.

But you know what?

Making a difference, a real impact in people’s lives, is part of this podcast’s why.

It’s part of my why.

One of my values is to inspire others to become their absolute best.

To do their best so that they can make their mark.

It’s here for you so that you can do your best, make your mark, and make a real impact.

And making a difference is something that comes up all the time with my clients, with many people in my audience and the lawyers that I know and love.

My people want to make a difference.

They want to make an impact.

But lately, more and more people I talk with and come across, both personally and also professionally, have been more negative. They’ve been a bit more down.

Some of this has to do with the repercussions of the pandemic policies and how we’ve rearranged how we practice, how we work, how we live our lives.

Remote working has its benefits. It also has its, let’s just say, drawbacks. And I’ve talked about that before, so I’m not going to get into that today. That is definitely not today’s topic. If you happened to miss that podcast last season, highly recommend you go back and listen. I will put a link to it in the show notes.

Some of this also has to do with our politics. Politics is something – that P-word that we are all afraid to say out loud, that we’re all afraid to talk about to hardly anybody other than those who we know agree with us and have pretty much the same viewpoints.

This happens to be one of the reasons why I was so afraid to chat about this, why I’ve been holding back.

[00:03:52] However, as I embark into season four of the Life & Law Podcast, I want to make a difference in your life. I want to make a bigger, more positive difference.

It’s the purpose of season four. It’s really the purpose, the bigger picture of this podcast. And I think that we have to start talking about some of this because it’s very cultural.

Politics is cultural, so is religion. And we aren’t able to make a true difference if we’re not able to go there and talk with one another and understand one another. I’m giving you a hint here of where we’re going.

[00:04:27] So let me just lay this out. We are not going to talk about politics today. We are not going to talk about religion per se.

But the overarching theme does impact how we view our politics and religion and how we view others’ politics and religion. So this is more big picture.

We’re not getting into the specific politics or politicians. I’m not going to bore you with that, and I don’t think there’s really a place for that here. So, no, that’s not what we’re getting into.

We are getting into how to start making a difference in this world, starting from within. Right?

You making a difference.

Not thinking about it. Not dreaming about it. Not hoping somebody else will come along and do it.

You making a difference now.

A quick note:

Hopefully I’ve made myself clear, but this is not going to be the only time this season that I’m going to talk about a bigger picture issue. This podcast is here – again – to help you get you to the next level. Which, yes, generally consists of concrete tactical leadership, business, career and mindset tips.

But note the mindset. As you know by now, if you’ve been a listener for any time now, mindset’s important.

It all begins with how you show up in the world, how you feel every single day.

That’s because your mindset is your foundation. It has a huge impact on what you do, how you do it. It has an impact on your choices, it has an impact on your actions. Heck, it has an impact on your opportunities, on what you’re even able to see, on your openness. Right?

[00:06:06] And so that’s a big reason why we’re getting into this, because this impacts that also.

I believe that we lawyers have a responsibility.

[00:06:15] We enter this profession to make a difference in the world, at least most of us do. Then we get to work. And because we’re high achievers, we follow all the so-called rules to climb the proverbial career ladder. We get caught up in the busyness of work, life, etcetera, which then gets us away from the difference-making.

We forget our responsibility as lawyers, as people who have some actual power, as people who can make an impact. And yes, lawyers have that. We have more respect from others, we have more ability to speak, we have more power. And it is time for us to take that and be responsible with it.

Today we’re going to challenge your thinking a little bit.

I want you to just listen. I want you to sit back, let it kind of sink in and start challenging yourself so that you can start taking responsibility as the lawyer and leader you are capable of being, so that you can then start making a difference in this world. As a lawyer, sure, but mostly as a person.

[00:07:18] And the message is this: making a difference starts within you – in how you perceive others, in how you treat others, in your openness to others, but also in your standards. And that’s really what we’re getting at today. But your standards, let me be clear, will impact your perception.

[00:07:41] So I’m going to give you three examples from my own life. Instances I have observed, things I’ve thought as I’ve observed them, and something I even did.

[00:07:53] And I’m just going to give you those three examples first, and then I’m going to explain how they tie together and relate to my point today.

[00:08:03] We’ll also get into a little bit about how the brain works because you need to understand that to make the mindset shifts I’m talking about today. And we’re going to finish up with a few practical things. Because you know I love some good practical tips, some practical things you can start doing to help you make the shift so that you can start making a difference in this world.

[00:08:25] All right, let’s get into my real life examples.

Example number one.

I wrote about this a couple years ago on my newsletter. So if you’ve been there for a long time, you may have seen this before.

[00:08:37] There was a man.

[00:08:39] Well, let me back up. I was driving home from dropping my kids off at school on my way home. It’s a pretty heavy street. The speed limit is 45, so it’s decently fast. Most people go like 50, 55 on this street. And there’s a crosswalk area where people can push a light and the lights start to flash after a minute. And once they start flashing, the drivers are supposed to slow down and then stop and let people cross. It’s for walkers and bikers on a particular walking/biking path. So I was coming down the street and saw that the light had been pushed, slowed down, stopped. Some people went across. They were walking, they walked quite slow.

[00:09:23] The lights started to flash. And once they start flashing, you’re to look both ways to make sure nobody else is coming. And then you can go. Well, the lights started to flash. I looked both ways, and there was a biker still quite a bit of ways off, and he was speeding up and speeding up and speeding up. I’m like, oh, my gosh, he’s going to come here and get across after this has gone off. Like, he should know better. He needs to stop because there’s people behind me that aren’t going to stop. They’re going to run into him. And so what I did, in the hopes of getting him to notice and in the hopes of getting others to notice, maybe you shouldn’t speed back up. Maybe you should look, maybe you shouldn’t keep going if you’re behind us. I started going a little bit very slowly and then tapping on my brakes.

[00:10:12] Well, this man just flew right by and flipped me the bird.

[00:10:20] Okay, so that’s example number one.

Example number two.

You may or may not know this. Both of my kids are heavy into baseball. About a year and a half ago, I was at a baseball game, actually, I think this was actually, a year ago, about a year ago.

I was at a baseball game. We were waiting for the game before us to finish up, and it finally finished up and my son was going to be pitching the next game. And so there’s certain areas where you want to kind of be when you’re watching a game, if you are the pitcher’s parent and you actually want to see how they’re doing, right?

There was a woman and her daughter and then a playpen with a young child in it, all taking up that area. And we waited a good five or six minutes and they never moved. And so I asked, are you going to be moving? Because their game was over and it was clear they were done, at least for a while. I think they had an intermediary game before they were going to come back.

[00:11:14] And she was scrolling down. I don’t remember whether it was TikTok or Instagram, but it was one of them. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and just ignored me. And I know she heard me because I could kind of hear her, like, you know how many people can hear you? They kind of react a little bit. But she ignored me. I waited about a minute. I asked a second time.

Her daughter, who was probably about ten or eleven, looked at me when I asked the second time. And I kind of stood there and waited to see if I was going to hear anything from her. Because I was about to say, hey, do you need help? Right? I didn’t know whether she was just waiting for her husband to come help her, you know, what was going on?

[00:11:52] And after about 30, 40 seconds, she turned around and started reaming me out for daring to talk to her young daughter, who I hadn’t even addressed. And she just made a big ordeal. And it was a good two minute lash, like tongue lashing, for really no reason. If anything, I had reason to be annoyed with her.

[00:12:14] So that was scenario number two.

Scenario number three.

It was this past thanksgiving. Our family gets together every thanksgiving. It’s a big family ordeal. And politics came up. And my brother and I are on incredibly different viewpoints. Okay. We’re very, very different. And we got into it about a particular politician, and we had a big argument. It wasn’t a real long, it was probably two or three minutes long. And I finally just walked out because I realized, this is going nowhere. What am I doing? And we both got pretty heated.

[00:12:49] Three very different situations. Yet there are some similarities that I want to point out.

Something that was forced into me when I went to coaching school is we are all selfish.

We see things from our own selfish, me-focused viewpoint.

This isn’t necessarily a good or bad. Some of this is a survival instinct.

It is how we are made. It is what makes us human.

We each also have our own experiences, our own baggage, and our own personal values. These things shape our beliefs and opinions.

[00:13:22] Couple all of that together and you can get some pretty quick reactions that don’t necessarily represent you as a whole.

They can be ugly moments. We’ve all had these moments, these moments where we react emotionally based on our base instincts of selfishness and our past background and experiences that later we look back and go, oh, I wish I hadn’t done that. I can’t believe I did that.

[00:13:49] The man on the bike did not care about the rules. He didn’t want to stop. He expected others to do what he wanted without even thinking about it.

The woman at the baseball game was letting her primitive brain do the thinking.

[00:14:02] That’s also, by the way, what scrolling on social media does.

[00:14:06] It taps into that primitive brain and makes us react more from that primitive brain. For all I know, this woman might be a lovely person. Most of the time, the man might be too. But in those moments, their primitive brain took over. Ugliness ensued.

When I was arguing with my brother over politics and a politician, I let my emotions take over again. My primitive brain took all over. All I could think about were my own points. Neither of us were open to considering the other’s arguments, which is always the case, by the way, when it comes to arguing values-based things. And let me just say, politics and religion, those beliefs are values based.

That man on the bike was not open to others taking precedence to him. The woman at the baseball field was not open to being interrupted from what she was doing. She wanted to do what she wanted, when she wanted, in the way she wanted, which is all of us do from time to time, right? I wasn’t open to listening to my brother for understanding. I didn’t want to understand because I went in thinking I was right, he was wrong. He did the same thing to me. So that’s point one.

We all operate from our own selfishness, our own viewpoints. Based on our values, based on our background, based on our experiences, and our own innate primitive selfishness.

The second point? We all assumed, and we chose to believe what we wanted to believe so that we could be right (even if it wasn’t true).

[00:15:30] This is a very human trait. We all do this, okay? The trick is to expect it so that you can catch yourself.

The man on the bike assumed he should be able to make it through on time without giving any thought to how dangerous it was, how long the light might have been on, and so on. The woman at the baseball field assumed that she had plenty of time before the next game started. She was wrong because their game had gone long, and then the umpires were trying to hurry it, and she wasn’t paying attention. She also was assuming she had time. And this happens, by the way, as we all know, when we’re on our iPhones and we’re scrolling through social media. There is something about how we underestimate how long we’re on there, how many of us have been on there, and we think, oh, I was just there for five or six minutes, and we look up and it’s been 25, right.

[00:16:19] I, when talking to my brother, assumed that I could convince him, even though I know as a trained coach, if I stop to think about it, that’s not likely to happen. My primitive brain’s assumptive powers took over, even though I know better.

[00:16:33] So here’s what you need to understand about how your brain works. And I’ve kind of already touched on this, but it’s so imperative to understand this if you truly want to make a difference by changing your own behavior.

Because these require mindset shifts, these require overtaking the mentality that we have and thinking differently and stepping back and slowing down and pausing. And none of that stuff is easy to do. So you want to get really behind the science of how the brain works.

So, first off, our brains have a negativity bias.

I’ve talked about this before in respect of stress. If you have not listened, I think it was the second episode I ever recorded on this podcast. If you have not listened to that, I highly, highly recommend you go back and listen to it, because a lot of the things I’m talking about today also impact stress, anxiety, all of the things that plague us lawyers and high achievers. And a big piece of this is the negativity bias. So we see risk and negativity over possibility.

[00:17:40] That woman assumed and saw me attacking and made assumptions that were just totally incorrect because she wasn’t fully paying attention.

[00:17:49] That man assumed I was going without really thinking through that. You know, I think he thought I was going to go and hit him, even though I obviously wasn’t. But, you know, he had that innate reaction, and that innate reaction is meant. It’s protective, but it’s uber negative. It sees more risk. It doesn’t see the clearest picture.

[00:18:14] Also, I’ve been over this already, but we are selfish inherently. So this selfishness isn’t all bad after all. We need to be, to some extent selfish to survive, right? To ensure our needs get met. Our base needs get met, and also to ensure we take good care of ourselves so that we can show up for others.

[00:18:36] But this selfishness can go too far, and it can be what closes us off, what makes us assume, what sets off fear. Because we humans are incredibly tribal.

[00:18:49] And that’s the third thing.

We have tribal instincts.

Be with me in my group or you are in danger, right? That was necessary for survival once upon a time. It’s not so necessary now. But how that translates over time is, well, you are dangerous to me if you’re not part of the group, if you don’t think like me, if you don’t act like me, if you don’t look like me.

[00:19:15] That’s how tribalism plays out and rears its ugly head in a host of ways. That makes us humans worse humans. That’s what’s going on with the craziness of social media sometimes, where people get caught up in making fun of others for things that they would never do or say they would never do or say something the way they do online. This is how this happens.

And this especially comes up. It obviously comes up when people look and act outwardly different, but also it comes up from a religious perspective and politically too.

What this is doing is it’s making us more closed.

More closed to ideas of others, more closed to even wanting to understand others viewpoints and perspectives, the why behind it, which then increases fear. It makes our tribalism worse and it stokes our fears. And it’s this circular pattern that’s going on.

[00:20:19] This is where this uncertainty about the future of our culture comes. This is where this, I don’t feel very hopeful, comes from. Right?

[00:20:31] And so what do we do?

We surround ourselves with people more and more people just like us, and think that’s good and that’s normal, but it’s not good.

[00:20:42] It’s better to have diversity, to understand more so that you don’t start seeing people as other, as less than, just because they have different beliefs, just because they act differently, just because they look differently.

And let me be clear, I’m not getting into people who truly have dangerous viewpoints. There’s obviously a bright line, but we’re not often actually doing that. We’re taking people who don’t believe in those things and putting them in and lumping them in with those on both sides. Doesn’t matter what side you’re on.

[00:21:18] So understand how your brain works so that you can counteract these inherent reactions.

[00:21:24] This is what we coaches like to call the primitive brain or the lizard brain.

[00:21:29] Now, here’s the good news. You can stop and reverse it and or diminish it over time. I like to think of it more as diminishing because obviously, if you look at my third example with me and my brother, I’m a trained coach. I know these things, and I still didn’t stop myself. So, work in progress.

[00:21:45] We’re all fallible. We’re all human.

But you can be better.

If you know these things, if you accept that this is how your brain works and you proactively seek to counter act it, you can pause. You can become more open. You can learn not to automatically assume.

[00:22:06] You can accept that you don’t need to be right, that you want to have variety in your own circle, that you can be more inclusive. Real inclusivity. We like to talk about inclusivity. I don’t see a lot of it going on these days. So that you can show up with grace towards others, to be open to understanding them better. This, by the way, creates true connection with your fellow human beings. And it’s how to connect with people. It’s how to connect with even strangers.

[00:22:39] So, case in point, I was able to see the man on the bike and the woman at the baseball field a little bit differently than most people would have. Now, not immediately. It probably took a good 30, 60, maybe even 90 seconds for me to calm down.

[00:22:52] But I knew enough to stay silent, to breathe slowly, to stay calm, to take a moment and pause and think, okay, what’s really going on here?

[00:23:01] And then respond in a more graceful, forgiving, and loving way, even though they could not do that for me. And that’s important.

Everybody’s not going to reciprocate.

Again, I failed miserably with my brother. Funny how hard it can be with those you know the best, right? But I did learn from the experience.

[00:23:21] I took about 20 minutes. I calmed down, and then I went back and apologized and moved forward without anger or judgment, knowing, by the way, that he might not forgive me or release his anger immediately. And that was okay, because that’s not what it was about.

[00:23:34] So how do you make these changes for yourself?

How do you start to show up differently so that you can make a difference?

[00:23:45] What does making a difference for you start to look like?

Here’s what you need to know for making a difference in this world.

Number one, it does start with you, there is a ripple effect.

Show up in the way that you would like to actually show up. Take responsibility so that others will start to emulate you. But understand this is not immediate. You are a seed planter. And that’s okay.

Not everybody’s going to notice. Not everybody’s going to care, not everybody’s going to follow, and it’s not going to be immediate. And that is okay.

This is a much more hopeful, happier way to live. So it is going to help you in how you show up.

[00:24:30] Second, know that our leaders, including our politicians, are a reflection of society.

It’s not top down, it’s bottom up. So, so yes, you can make a difference, but of course it takes a lot of time and patience.

[00:24:46] So these first two things are obviously mindset shifts and they can be summed up in a couple of ways. Be an example, know that you’re planting seeds. Be okay with small shifts and be patient.

[00:24:58] Tip three, this is where we get into the practical, y’all. So take some notes.

Start with becoming more self aware.

[00:25:07] Set aside daily or weekly time to review. Look back.

[00:25:12] What were my interactions of the day or week? Where did I show up as I wanted and am proud of? What makes me feel that way? Why? Why am I proud? Why did I show up? Well, how can I emulate that more? What was I doing or thinking to help me show up in that way? What can I learn from this for future reference?

Start with the good, by the way, because I’m sure there are some things, if you care enough, you’re going to see some good.

[00:25:36] Then turn to the bad. Identify, okay, where did I not show up the way I would have wanted? When I look back and what triggered me? What emotions? What thoughts, what beliefs? What was going on? You’ve got to understand that to start making changes.

[00:25:53] What do I want to learn from this?

[00:25:55] How can I use what I’m learning to be better in the future in this situation? And how can I use my earlier review for what was good this past day or week to help me in this situation as well, moving forward?

[00:26:11] Then forgive yourself.

[00:26:15] You’re going to make mistakes. You are human. You are not perfect. Remind yourself of that.

[00:26:22] Also remind yourself that, look, I’m doing this to be better.

[00:26:27] I’m going to fail. I’m going to make mistakes. But so long as I’m doing this review, so long as I’m learning from it, I’m going to get better. I’m going to continue to grow.

[00:26:37] So forgive yourself. Allow yourself to be human and to keep moving forward. This is really important to keep moving forward and to actually be able to learn from your mistakes and failures.

Fourth, do not do this in a vacuum.

[00:26:54] Tell others about what you’re doing and more importantly, apologize when needed.

[00:27:02] Talk to your friends. Talk to your close family. Tell them what you’re doing. Identify to them how you’re holding yourself to a higher standard, and then…

Actually hold yourself and others accountable (this is the final thing) to the standards that are important to you.

[00:27:21] That includes in those conversations when you’re telling people what you’re doing, asking them to also raise their standards.

[00:27:30] It means setting boundaries with people. And it also means holding your leaders, such as those that you’re voting for, to the standards you claim are important to you. Do not excuse any behavior that you would not be okay with from a family member, a friend, a child, just because they’re on the “right side” of the issues.

[00:27:56] Now look, that doesn’t mean you can’t vote for anyone. After all, these are human beings who are also fallible. So you need to keep that in mind. But don’t put up with people who constantly lie. Know what your standards are and vote accordingly. Be honest with yourself about where they really are, where they stand, who they really are.

I think this is where we go wrong. We have too many leaders, and I would say this on both sides, the vast majority of them right now, who are liars, just there for control. And we have allowed that.

[00:28:28] It’s time to start changing that.

What I’m asking of you is hard.

[00:28:37] Making a difference is not easy, but I believe it is our responsibility as lawyers.

And the truth is, having character is not about doing what’s easy. It’s about doing what’s right. And here’s the deal, y’all. It’s the only way to start changing our world for the better. That’s it for today. We will be back with a more normal episode 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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