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.