Courage To Be Myself Has Led To The First Hints of Success

by Dana Boyle on August 10, 2012

Yesterday I received a note in my inbox from a seasoned lawyer within my state and practice area.  The attorney had engaged in a conversation with me regarding a specific procedural question I had, but had also connected with me over my feeling that some Guardian ad Litems in family cases aren’t doing justice for the kids they are appointed to advocate for and how we might be able to advocate change in that regard to create a more uniform evaluation system.

He read my website, blog and generally googled me and conclude that:

“…You have an exceptional approach to divorce — and life. …You are a ray of sunshine in a dark place. I wish you the best in all respects.”

Over the past month or so I’ve also been selected for an legal honor that I can share later in the year, that I never thought I’d be considered for, let alone chosen for.  It had been on my vision board for about three years, since the day I hung my own shingle, but I never thought it’d become a reality, and it is.  (Vison boards work.  See?)

This year I have been asked to serve on board committee with my peers in a practice area that is near to my heart: Collaborative Divorce.  Not only that, they have entrusted me with spearheading invigoration of their online presence and interaction with the public to begin a conversation in Wisconsin about Collaborative Divorce outside of the lawyer sphere so that more people know this is a viable option.

I drove to my office in Kenosha yesterday and while on the hour and a half drive, it all hit me.  I’m following the feel good in my practice.  I’m honoring myself.  I’m being true to who I am, my values, and my talents.  I’m using what I do best to the fullest.  I’m beginning to recognize my limitations and turn away or delegate what isn’t my best work to those who do it best, which also serves my clients well.

As the thought entered my mind, “I’m actually becoming successful at this…,” tears streamed down my face because since the first year of law school I have secretly, deep down inside, felt not good enough…

I have felt like a failure.  I have felt like a little kid playing in her dad’s office.

I have felt like I am not cut out to be a lawyer.  I have felt like I will never be good at it.  I have felt like I am not smart enough or tough enough.  I have felt deep pain and self-doubt.

Those thoughts were reinforced by former bosses through negative comments and criticisms on projects I was never cut out to work on in jobs I thought I had to take.  I believed them in some ways, even though I resented them for saying so.  I still learned a great deal in those jobs.

I have nearly abandoned my legal career more than once because I am  not cut out to practice the way “everyone else” does.  (Note:  ”everyone else” is usually a construction in our own minds that is not true.)

I have resented my student loan payments.  I have felt the confinement of golden handcuffs – not because my salary was so high that I couldn’t leave, but because my student loan payments were so high that I felt I couldn’t choose another path if I wanted to eat more than ramen noodles for dinner.

What I’ve learned about myself BECAUSE of those golden handcuffs and the need to trickle money to keep those loans paid, coupled with my need to stay sane and healthy, is beyond valuable.

I’ve learned that I am smart enough, and I have a different kind of intelligence.  I have an intelligence that is needed in the field of family law.

Lawyers are trained to be adversarial.  We are trained to see all the negatives, to plan ahead for them, to strategize to defeat the other side and win at all costs.

I am, by nature, a peace-maker.  I have the kind of mind that automatically sees the common ground, the greatest kindness for those involved, and win-win solutions that avoid hurting people and creating losers.

I have learned that I am tough, or strong, in a different way.  While I can muster the grit to fight it out in court if I have to, it feels like getting in a wreck with a freight train to me.  I pay for it with a cortisol hangover for a week afterward.  My strength, instead, is the kind that can sit with someone in their most painful moments and hold space for them to tell their story and feel their feelings, no matter how ugly or irrelevant some lawyers might think those feelings and stories are.  I am energized by it.  I know it’s not my pain.  I am able to help them with their oxygen mask, because I’ve already adjusted my own.

My strength is the ability to ask powerful questions that lead to reframing painful stories to the benefit and empowerment of my clients so that they can move forward even when they don’t get everything they wanted.  (Nobody gets everything they want in a divorce.)  I help my clients move forward with dignity and self-respect even when the other side IS trying to destroy them.  I help them choose how to react to it.

My strength is acknowledging that there is love even in divorce, and leveraging that to reach settlement and resolution that both parties can live with.

My strength is giving divorcing couples the space and the opportunity to choose how they define their relationship as they move forward, instead of interposing an adversarial tone and creating enemies within a family unit.

When those ads on TV talk about, ”tough, smart lawyers,” they are referring to something else entirely.  Because I didn’t have that same drive to bury the opposition with my wit and grit, I felt like I was a failure for a very long time.  I felt weak.  I felt judged.  I judged myself most harshly.

My success comes from knowing what I value.  I value family, connection and kindness.  I value bliss.  I really do…yes, bliss.  Bliss is what feels best.  I value sensuality – and what that means for my legal practice is that all of my senses are engaged and my clients’ senses are honored and important, not ignored.  I believe those values shine through in my practice.  I center my divorce practice around my core values.

My success comes from playing to my strengths and what energizes me, and delegating those things that don’t feel blissful to those who find them invigorating and energizing so that my clients are well taken care of no matter what skill sets they require in their particular cases.

My success comes from being willing, and actually quite delighted to work with my clients on their marriages so that some of them DON’T have to get a divorce, and to work with my clients AFTER a divorce so that they can move forward in their lives feeling empowered and inspired and connected in meaningful ways with the family that has a new structure…all while creating their new normal.

My success comes from seeing the real people who are at a very critical and vulnerable point in their lives, who are looking to me for help, who count on me to help them keep their children’s lives intact as much as possible, and who entrust me with one of the most painful and impactful transitions a person can go through.

I have reached a point in my career and in my life where I feel privileged to be doing this work. 

I am not a Rambo-lawyer.  I never will be.  I finally realize that not being a bulldog does not make me a failure or less than.  There are great people out there who are bulldogs, and who love what they do and who serve the people who need them very well.

I am a different breed.  Those who need my particular breed seem to find me effortlessly, and refer all their friends to me.

I surrender to it.  I welcome this opportunity to dive deeper into who I am and what I do best.  I will be honing my offerings accordingly, and partnering in ways that fully serve my clients so that if they need an attack dog, there will be one or two of them available.  Most of my clients have not needed that kind of service.  Most of my clients have been thrilled with a calm, kind divorce process and have been willing to do the work to make that happen.

I’m elated to begin this new and even more clarified and punctuated leg of my tenure in the law.  I guess it’s fitting, as I will no longer be considered a “young lawyer” in 2013, having more than 10 years in practice.  I guess I have found my place.

It’s a beautiful place to be.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Hyatt August 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm

The SECOND BEST blog you’ve ever written!!! Well done. LOVE!!!


Dana Boyle August 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

SECOND best? LOL! I forget which one was the best, Susan.

You can remind me later.

Thank you so much! You were crucial to this arrival. Sending you love and thanks!


Christa August 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Can you hear me applauding, Dana! This is really, truly, magnificent – and so, so you. Congratulations on arriving… XOXO


Dana Boyle August 11, 2012 at 7:37 am

I sure can, Christa! Thank you for giving me your perspective and helping to make the language so easy in discussing what I do and don’t do as a lawyer. You did really make easy off the tongue.

Thanks! xoxo


Laura August 12, 2012 at 8:30 am

Wonderfully written and thanks for reminding me of the importance of knowing your passions and strengths… and then focusing on them! Your post is a breathtaking reminder – thank you!


Dana Boyle August 13, 2012 at 8:28 am

Thank you for the compliment, Laura! I’m glad it serves as a reminder for you. Thanks for visiting and commenting!


Katie McClain August 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

Beautiful Dana. Reading this is inspiring. And I am so happy for you!


Dana Boyle August 13, 2012 at 10:41 am

Thank you, Katie!


Lynn Hess August 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm

This is beautiful and heartfelt and so, so valuable Dana! I’m starting to think that everything, everything, EVERYTHING comes down to core values. Thanks for being a much-needed example to the world (and to your profession) of honoring yours.


Dana Boyle August 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Thank you, Lynn!

Yes, I am too! xoxo


Lisa Semanoff August 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Thank you so much for your blog! I read through it like it could be me in 5 years writing it. I passed the bar 8 months ago and have found myself in exactly the same place that you have described. I have been struggling to find where I, a peace-making, love-centered, attorney fits in this dog-eat-dog profession. I have been so frustrated with myself for not being more logical or fierce and I have felt so alone and out of place in this profession. Thank you for this post and letting me see that I can be an attorney and maintain who I am.


Dana Boyle September 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm


Thank you for visiting and commenting. It probably will be you in 5 years. :) Keep doing what you’re doing and being who you are, without compromise, and you’ll find yourself in a beautiful place.

Much love to you!


Maria September 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Hi Dana! I just discovered your blog right now, I like it and I’m going to read some more. I was wondering, how did YOU get over feeling like you were a fake, a fraud, like you weren’t good enough, etc.? Did you feel like you weren’t good enough to be a good lawyer? Thank you!


Dana Boyle September 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hi Maria,

Thanks for your comment and visiting the blog.

All of us are raised with messaging and then when we go to school we get more messaging. Society and our “everybody” fills our heads with what we should think, be able to do, etc. I’ve overcome it by learning to be myself, take credit for what I do well, and know that all lawyers (and everyone else) are inexperienced and make mistakes or feel less qualified when they first begin anything new. You have to give yourself permission to learn, to make mistakes, and to improve.

The biggest part of this though, for me, is not even about crude skills, but about feeling I am worthy and deserving of being in the legal profession. I come from a much more modest background, and you can take the girl out of blue collar life, but you can’t take the blue collar out of the girl. ;)

I had to do some thought work on believing I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I am good enough to be here. I wouldn’t have made it here if I wasn’t.

How do YOU get over that feeling?



Maria September 16, 2012 at 12:14 am

Hi Dana! Thank you for such a great reply! Actually, I am having trouble getting over that feeling. I identify most with what you say that you can take a girl out of blue collar life but you can’t take the blue collar out of the girl. I want to study a certain profession but I don’t dare to, because I feel like I am not good enough for it. I don’t even dare to apply for it right now, because it is a very hard profession to get into and I feel like I am not good enough. I’m scared that all I will get will be rejection letters (which would of course only reaffirm that I am not good enough). And I also feel like even if I ever got accepted somewhere and managed to study this profession, that would still not make me good enough to actually work in that profession.


Dana Boyle October 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm


Are you rejecting yourself by avoiding applying?



Janette October 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Wow, Dana – brilliant blog post. I especially love “Note: ”everyone else” is usually a construction in our own minds that is not true”.

I was a union organiser in my previous job – talk about an adversarial climate! The best parts of my job were when I got to work one-on-one with a union member and get them back in touch with their own power so they could say “no” in a calm, assertive way to a bullying boss or a demand for unreasonable workloads.

That was my big clue to the notion that maybe coaching was a better fit than union organising. But man, it took me a long time to recognise it – and it’s still a work in progress.

Your post gives me a huge boost of confidence that I AM on the right track. I HAVE made the right choice. This WILL turn out perfectly.

And all is well.

Thank you. Mwah!


Dana Boyle October 31, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Thank you, Janette! I’m glad it helps you in some way. I’ve actually had people use this post against me…believe it or not. But that’s what being vulnerable is about. I am living my truth, and it doesn’t matter what others think of it. I stand in my shoes and walk around in my skin.

Much love to you! Yes, it’s gonna work out perfectly!


Mia December 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Hey Dana,
I finally found time to read this blogpost, which I had printed way back when but never found time to read. Now I did, and loved it. Thanks for doing what you do – you bring great things to the world in being your authentic self.
Mia x


Dana Boyle December 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

Hi Mia,

Thanks for stopping by! Happy holidays!


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