PSA: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Is Now Available

Today is an important day in the United States, we now have a national, dedicated hotline for individuals to call for mental health emergencies. In the case of fire, severe physical injury, or crime, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to say “call 911.” Mental health situations may be different, however, and may require a response from trained professionals other than traditional first responders. Starting today, we can now call 988 for such situations.

What happens when you call 988? The program connects you immediately with a trained mental health professional. This is significant because anyone who has experienced any kind of mental health situation knows that there is almost always a waiting period to begin care. Moreover, like any other professional, counselors, therapists, and other mental health providers usually work during normal business hours. Though we have existing emergency services, like fire, EMTs, and police, those officials are not always trained to provide care for mental health needs.

With the new 988 lifeline, anyone who is experiencing a mental health emergency can now receive immediate help. There is also a chat function available at 988lifeline.org that will allow individuals another means of connecting to help. In addition, the website offers resources to help those of us who may be supporting a loved one experiencing a mental health emergency. It even offers a resource for helping someone you may know less well from social media.

In addition to providing a support for people in need during a mental health emergency, another aspect of the lifeline is normalizing seeking help. The 988 lifeline has media kits and logos for public use and a hashtag #Bethe1To to spread the word about suicide prevention. It also has a collection of stories of hope and recovery from those who have experienced suicidal thoughts or mental health challenges in the past and tools to help those who wish to share their own story. As someone who has written about my own mental health challenges, these are powerful tools for individual healing, building community, reducing shame and stigma, and spreading awareness.

Having experienced mental health challenges myself, I have experienced how hard it can be to recognize symptoms in yourself and to seek out help. For this reason, it is essential to have a lifeline, supports, and education available to empower communities to promote and protect mental health. I am glad that this new tool exists to support lawyers, professionals, and the entire community in the United States with mental health emergencies. Please help spread the word about it.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Noticing “Why” Questions Can Help You Be More Present in Life

Nonjudgmental awareness is the goal of most meditation sessions and cultivating it is the goal of most meditators. Teachers will tell us to “just notice what’s there” instead of getting lost in our reactions. But, for us lawyers, this is not an easy feat. We are trained to judge, evaluate, and appraise. Clients pay us and specifically ask for our reactions. This means that our jobs incentivize us to automatically react to any situation we encounter.

If we could easily restrain this tendency to our work lives, we perhaps wouldn’t have any need for meditation. Most of us are not that fortunate, however, and we may find ourselves lost in judgments instead of present in our lives, whether in or outside of work. Even so, the habit of reacting to our experiences in life rather than experiencing life directly is deeply ingrained. How on earth can we start to undo it?

For most of us, this will be a gradual process and it won’t do much good to simply resolve to stop reacting so much. But, in my years of meditation practice, I have found one simple thing that has helped me: being watchful of “why” questions. You may have never thought about this before. Asking “why” questions as a kid probably helped make you the smart, talented person that you are. And, to be sure, a sense of curiosity is actually a good thing for most of us trying to make meditation a habit.

When I tell you to watch out for “why” questions, I’m not saying to dispense with your inclination to explore. I’m actually saying the opposite. I’m recommending that you notice how the “why” questions come up for you. In many cases, you may find that they aren’t questions at all, but instead are implicit judgments about your situation.

For example, if you can’t focus on your breath in meditation, you may ask yourself “why is this so hard for me?” Implicit in that question are several latent assumptions: (a) that meditation shouldn’t be hard; (b) that meditation shouldn’t be hard for you; (c) that things in general shouldn’t be hard for you; and (d) that failing to focus on the breath means you are doing something wrong in your meditation practice. With questions like this, the word “why” is an illusion that suggests that there is an easy answer out there that we are missing, but in most cases in life there isn’t one. When we notice this pattern of speech, it can help us see a pattern of our mind to judge.

Even when we are using “why” in the exploratory sense, paying attention to how it arises for us can help us uncover less obvious judgments. Let’s shift the example above to a less overtly judgmental question like “why do I do this?” That may seem fairly innocuous, but even here the question still implies that (a) the thing you keep doing is wrong or a problem to be solved; (b) the thing you are doing is part of a pattern with a singular cause; and (c) the solution to the problem can be discovered through logical reasoning. Sometimes things fit those descriptions, but often in life they don’t. When we narrow the focus of inquiry too much with a pointed “why” question, we can miss some of what life experience is trying to show us.

So, what’s the answer here? It is literally in the question. Once we have started to become aware of all the “why” questions we ask about our lives and our practices, we can then start to ask something more fundamental: what. Instead of asking ourselves “why” things are the way they are, we drill down on the facts of what is actually taking place. Much like refocusing our attention on the breath when the mind wanders, the “what” question brings our mind back to reality instead of getting lost in theories about causation.

My experience with this shift has produced a paradoxical result. The more I have learned to ask “what” in my life and meditation practice, the more that the “why” questions became irrelevant. When I focused with more intention, clarity, and precision on the facts and situation before me, I implicitly understood the “why” or realized that the “why” wasn’t as important as I had previously believed it to be.

Not only did becoming skeptical of “why” questions help me become aware of my judgments, it also helped me understand that I couldn’t take a short cut to get to understanding about myself or the world. Instead, the only way to get that understanding and all the peace and happiness that came with it was to stay rooted in the realities of what life and the world really was.

There isn’t a quick and easy way to become less judgmental in life. It’s a deeply ingrained habit for most of us and it will take time and practice to change. Even so, noticing how we use the word “why” may be one small thing we can do to bring awareness to our habits of judging and reacting to life. Training ourselves to ask “what” instead–even when we think we already know–may help us come back to presence with life exactly as it is.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

5 Steps to Help Lawyers Handle Hopelessness

­There is a lot going on in the world right now, but if you are a lawyer in the United States the term “a lot” doesn’t quite cover it. It’s not just that major and devastating events are happening. It’s that the conflict surrounding each event may call into question the legal system in which we work every day. Regardless of your political viewpoints on the events themselves, the turmoil surrounding our institutions of government, the authority of that government, and the scope of individual rights are likely to leave any lawyer questioning their work or role in the legal system. The term that keeps popping up in conversations, messages from lawyer friends, and my social media feed is “hopeless.”

While you may not have thought about it this way, hope is important to legal work. Clients put faith in us to handle their problems. In turn, we put our faith in the law, the legal system, and our own talents and processes to secure the best results we can. All of this turns on the idea of hope: that we have the power to do something good for someone else. But, when institutions change, appear to change, or are called into question by political events, hope can be hard to muster. This can drain energy, distract us from critical work, and in the extreme lead to conditions like rumination, anxiety, and depression.

So, what can lawyers do when they feel hopeless? It’s a hard problem and I don’t know that there is one perfect answer, but I have experienced this before myself. Here are the steps that have helped me.

1. Let yourself feel hopeless.

People ask me all the time how to “mitigate” or “deal with” emotions like sadness, anger, loss, or even hopelessness. My answer is always the same: let it be there. This is the hardest step and perhaps the hardest truth of life to accept, but feelings just need to be felt. Sometimes we may want to push them away or try to rush through them because we may fear that the feelings will last forever or that they signify more doom and gloom in the future. As we all know, though, all things are temporary, and we can’t really know the future until it comes. So, if you are feeling hopeless, let yourself feel hopeless. That means noticing what’s there, whether it is thoughts or physical sensations or moods. Don’t push yourself to feel hopeful or pretend that you are happy when you’re not. Just let yourself feel how you feel.

2. Treat yourself like a friend who experienced a loss

When you allow your feelings to be there, it may be obvious to you what you need next. Directly experiencing your own pain or emotions often gives you clues about what you need to address them. If not, though, your imagination can help. My experience of hopelessness is often very similar to any other kind of loss. The good news is that it tends not to last as long for me as something like being heartbroken, but it can feel similar. Thus, the best approach is to care for yourself the way you would care for any friend who has experienced a loss.

To do this, you’d ask them if there was anything you could do or anything they might need. Do this for yourself and give yourself what you need. If this is too much for you to do effectively on your own, connect with a friend or loved one and ask for help. Most of us wouldn’t try to handle a broken heart on our own, so don’t feel any obligation to deal with your own hopelessness by yourself.

3. Reconnect with positive things

After you have given yourself the time to feel and heal a bit, it can help to start reconnecting with positive things in your life. When you experience hopelessness, you may almost need to remind yourself that good things still exist. Let yourself experience those things as if they are totally new to you. Let yourself be surprised by how much even small things mean to you. Resist the urge, however, to jump to this step to push the negative feelings away with positive distractions. The point here isn’t to override or ignore how we feel, but instead to reconnect with the positive parts of our life as part of the healing process.

You may have to be intentional about this because, when bad things happen, we can sometimes feel guilty or even foolish for enjoying positive things. In truth, however, the nature of our human experience is that we can enjoy beauty in a world that is often harsh and find goodness even in dark times. We don’t have to rid the world of all darkness or ourselves of all dark emotions to earn the right to good things. We deserve good things and, as a practical matter, we need them more when life is hard. Reconnecting with positive things, whether we plan them specially for ourselves or just enjoy what’s there is our everyday lives, is a way to remind ourselves of this truth.

4. Draw inspiration from those who didn’t quit.

Once I have reached a certain level of equilibrium with bouts of hopelessness, it always helps me to remember the people who didn’t quit when they faced hopelessness. I intentionally wait to do this step until later in the process because it can easily turn into comparisons and self-judgment. After stabilizing my emotions, though, I find it inspirational to remember the people in my life or from history who must have faced hopelessness and continued in their struggle. This is a way of connecting with the idea of “common humanity” because it reminds me that it is normal and human for even the best people to experience hopelessness at times. It also helps me because it reminds me that there is value in doing good work even if success doesn’t happen every time or if circumstances derail your efforts.

5. Remember your values.

One of the hardest parts of hopelessness is that it can cause us to question our identities or our roles in the world. Hopelessness happens when our faith in something essential is shaken, so it can create all kinds of doubts about the work we do, the way we are living our lives, and the people with whom we spend our time. Doubt can be hard for us lawyers because we often look for certainty and solidity since we rely on those things as we advise clients and help them through difficult times. Yet, the truth is, that we don’t really need certainty or solidity; those things just make us feel more comfortable, safe, and supported.

So, what can we do when the world gives us a lot of reasons to doubt? The same thing we do when there are gray areas in the law: we trust ourselves and make a judgment call. When it comes to something like hope, this means we remember what we value and we try to live accordingly. World events may shake our faith in institutions and may make us worry about what the future may bring. That’s when our personal values matter the most because wise action may be even more essential in times of uncertainty. For this reason, reconnecting with our personal values may help us remember the ways that we can bring good into the world even during difficult circumstances.

Hopelessness is a difficult emotion to experience because it is something that can make us feel helpless, alienated, unmotivated, and alone. Though it can be a challenging emotion to face, each of us can learn to hold our own hopelessness in kindness. This will help us reconnect to ourselves, reevaluate our roles in our communities, and better understand the values we wish to bring into the world. Perhaps we may never recover the same hope we experienced before, but I don’t know that must do so in order to lead a good and happy life. Instead, it may be more effective to learn to let new forms of hope grow in us in each new phase of our lives.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

How My Long-Term Goal of Writing a Book Became a Reality

I have been quiet on the blog for the last few months, but I promise I have some pretty good excuses. One reason for the break is that, after several years with the same firm, I decided to transition to a new firm. Though I am thrilled with the new role and looking forward to expanding my practice, it was an emotional and complicated process and I needed some time to rest. The other excuse is also pretty awesome: I am writing a book. Actually, I am finishing up writing the book and should send a manuscript to my editor this week.

I have thought about writing a book for many years. I know I first had the idea for it in 2015 after I won two big awards in the span of a few months for community leadership and career success. I had already written how, in 2012 and 2013, I struggled with my first pregnancy, the birth of my daughter, and my transition into life as a working mom. In a few years, though, things changed drastically for me and I remember reflecting at the time that I wanted to write about it.

Of course, not much happened on the writing front for a few years, but in 2018 I decided to try to the Writers in Residence program for Ms. JD. That was the first time I had written about things that weren’t purely legal topics, including mindfulness. It went well and some of my posts were republished and got some kudos from people other than my best friends and mom.

After that, I started to think more seriously about the book and began talking to friends and contacts who had written books to gather information. Late in 2018, I attended a friend’s CLE and she did an exercise where she asked us to take a Jenga block from a symbolic brick wall and write our stretch goal on it to help make the world and legal profession better. I wrote the word “BOOK” on it and kept the block in my office.

Still, a clear idea of what to write about and the way to do it did did not emerge. So, I started writing on LinkedIn regularly. At the same time, I started speaking about mindfulness and compassion. I was nervous about that at first but it, too, went much better than I expected. The LinkedIn writing helped me build a network, allowed me to experiment with writing styles, and let me gather feedback about what people really wanted and needed. The pandemic gave me the time to focus on this writing, to speak a lot about mindfulness and compassion, and to get training so that I could better explain why mindfulness and compassion worked.

This blog was one of the fruits of that experience. I launched it the week I finished my meditation teacher certification as a celebration. The other fruit was that I realized that lawyers were fairly knowledgeable and comfortable with mindfulness but they knew a lot less about compassion. Lawyers like mindfulness because we like the idea of calm and we like the idea that we can get a handle on our thinking. But, compassion cultivation can give us emotional intelligence, resilience, greater happiness, and better relationships. It is the stuff we need when we are not calm and lawyers are often dealing with situations that are not calm.

Then, last year the idea for my book finally hit me. I texted a friend about how I want to write about how compassion is badass. I wanted to explain to lawyers how the soft, gooey, touchy feely side of compassion is actually really powerful. I wanted to write about mindfulness and compassion in a way that was real, funny, and let those of us with messy lives see how good we are. And, so the idea for my book was born in a text message to my friend. I still didn’t know what to do at that point, but at least a vision was starting to emerge.

Shortly thereafter, I met a fellow meditation teacher on LinkedIn who told me about a guy who ran a coaching program that helped people write mindfulness books. I was too busy at the time to act on it but made contact with the coach via email. At about the same time, I recorded an episode of the Legally Blissed Conversations podcast with Suzi Hixon, Esq. and said I planned to write a book “one of these days.”

I promptly forgot about that comment and episode because my law practice became incredibly busy. I dodged the emails from the writing coach and kept apologizing for being too busy. Then, late in 2021, I realized something interesting: I was turning 39 soon. I’m bad at math but even I could figure out what that meant. It meant I would be turning 40 in 2023. So, I reached back out to the writing coach, apologized for the semi-ghosting antics, and set up a call. Ten minutes into that I was convinced it was what I needed, so I signed up.

I got started with the process thinking it would be smooth sailing from there, but then out of nowhere I got the urge to make some changes in my law practice. That totally took over my life for a few months and I was able to write nothing. I even had to stop writing for the blog for a while because my creative energy totally faded away. I eventually decided to just pause the blog posts for while so I could recover and focus on the book.

My patience for myself was rewarded. I started writing the book in May and wrote more than 45,000 words in 12 chapters by the end of June. My coach guided me to scale this back and focus more directly on one topic, so I ultimately revised, removed chapters, and wrote a few more. Now the book is 30,000 words and 10 chapters but I have some extra content for a second book. In addition, as an added bonus, a strange little poem creeped out of my brain that I have turned into a children’s book (Mommy Needs a Minute which should be released in 2023) with my talented friend who draws pictures. Now, I will have my book published by the time I turn 40, have another on the way, and the beginnings of a third.

What is the lesson from all of this? The lesson is to follow your instincts and trust yourself. If something is important to you, a path will emerge. That may mean you have to keep coming back to the path when you get sidetracked. It may mean you have to be patient with yourself as ideas start to form and you learn the skills needed to make the project work. I have been thinking about writing a book for seven years now, but in that time I have not only been thinking. I see now that that steps I took along the way weren’t wasted time or distractions because they helped me build skills, create a community, and find my voice.

If you have a long-term goal, say it to yourself. Then say it to your friends. Even if the timing isn’t right to get started on the goal immediately, don’t let it go and don’t discount the impact that play and experimentation along the way can have for you. I have noticed in my meditation practice that the best ideas tend to come back to me again and again. This can be true in life too. Sometimes life can get in the way of our big goals, but the best ones for us, the most meaningful ones, may come back to us again and again until we are ready to act on them.

Update: the book is now here and available on Amazon!

Mindfulness Basics: How to Find Your Breath

Breath practice is what many people think of when they think of meditation. The instructions seem simple. You are supposed to focus on your breath and return–ideally without mentally flagellating yourself–to the feeling every time your mind wanders. But as soon as you sit down to get started, you may be greeted by the somewhat disturbing recognition that you have no idea how to find your breath.

This may be shocking since, presumably, you’ve been breathing your whole life. You may think, “how can I not find my breath? I just had it a minute ago.” You may feel as foolish as that time (or in my case all those times) you rushed into the grocery store for a quick purchase and realized you didn’t pay attention to where you parked your car. Sigh.

In truth, this may be a collective sigh. Many of us have trouble finding our breath, or at least settling on a focal point that works for us, at first. In my view, if you notice that you aren’t quite sure what it means to focus on your breath, that’s actually a good sign. It means you are starting to slow down and you’re noticing things you never noticed before. It means you are starting to ask questions about experiences you previously ignored or overlooked. That’s one of the critical benefits a meditation practice can offer, so you should be encouraged by it instead of discouraged.

Beyond this, the reason it might be hard to find your breath is that there isn’t any right answer. When you are told to focus on your breath, most teachers mean to focus your attention on the sensations of the breath coming in and going out. The sensations are the thing and not the thoughts or judgments about it. Different teachers, however, recommend different focal points. Some traditions instruct students to focus on the tip of one’s nose to feel the flow of air in and out. Others recommend focusing on the feeling of rising and falling in the chest or belly as the air fills your lungs. Which should you choose?

My recommendation is to start with the place that calls out to you the strongest and stick with it. When I started meditating, I focused on my nose because one of the first books I read about meditation recommended that. I struggled immensely with this. For me, the sensations of the breath just weren’t very strong at the tip of my nose. When I finally went to a Zen retreat, I asked the teacher and she said she focused on her belly because she wanted “to get as far away from her head as she could.” I liked that answer a lot and tried focusing on my belly. Voila! Problem solved. My practice got much easier and my mind started unconsciously settling on my breath as I went about my daily tasks.

Does this mean that the belly is a better focal point than the nose? Not in my opinion. What it means is that the belly is a better focal point than the nose for me. For anyone new to meditation, I recommend focusing on the area that is strongest so you can get your practice started without much struggle. In the early stages, the important thing is to establish a habit and do what helps you focus and doesn’t discourage you. Once your habit is established and you know your mind and body a little bit better, you can branch out and explore. In fact, if you use guided meditations, you will probably end up doing this automatically because some teachers will direct you to focus on different aspects of the breath.

Breath practice is an excellent place to start when you are first learning to meditate. It is infinitely scalable so you can start with sessions as short as 1 to 2 minutes and grow your practice to lengthier sessions over time. In addition, the breath is an ideal focal point for meditation because it is always “with” you. Lawyers today lead busy, active, and mobile lives, but no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pause for a bit of mindfulness during your day to calm yourself and refocus on the most important issues in any given moment. Once you have developed a comfort level with breath practice, you can use it to begin exploring other types of mindfulness practices that can help you in your practice and in your life.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Confidence in Job Searches: Interview with Legal Recruiter Bryan Silver

We are talking about confidence this month on the blog. What does that term mean to you as it relates to the work you do for attorney recruitment?

In terms of my work, confidence means trusting my experience and skills enough to do the work involved in building rapport quickly with the best and brightest BigLaw Mid-Level Associates, and getting them to trust me with their careers.  I have confidence in my communication style that I’ve built over the years that allows me to get along stupidly well with smart attorneys.  I get confidence when I think about the ways in which what I do has significantly helped people. 

I’ve had a candidate get a $110K boost in his base salary.  Others get the mentoring or the adjustment in responsibilities they’re looking for.  Some move to a place where the billable hourly requirement offers an improvement in work-life balance.  I know these things give people meaningful change that they feel both in their careers but also in their lives outside of work. 

The job market for lawyers is really active right now. Does that mean confidence doesn’t really matter or matters less?

It always matters.  Having confidence allows someone to do their best work. Whether they are on an interview, or doing attorney work.  Even if there is an increased demand for talent, the firms and businesses who hire attorneys are still interested in working with the best people.  

Confidence tends to be important for lawyers, but how important is it when searching for a job or transitioning to a new role? Why do you think it is important?

I think it’s very important to appear confident when job searching or starting somewhere new.  The reason that it’s so important is because there is competition for each role.  All that law firm or business cares about is their needs and how to fill them.  They’re interested in hiring the candidate who makes the very best business sense.  The margin between the candidate who gets an offer and the one who doesn’t could be razor-thin. 

I often compare it to the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding competition.  Can you tell the difference between who wins first and second place?  Me neither.  Your interview might come down to a “photo finish.”  Feeling and appearing as confident as possible will help you achieve your peak performance and make the best possible presentation in an interview.  

Do attorneys looking for new roles care about how confident prospective firms appear? If so, in what ways?

Absolutely.  Attorneys are looking for firms that can help them achieve their goals and solve their limitations.  I deal with candidates who get multiple offers.  They select the firm that best checks their important boxes.  The one that can best be the aspirin to their headache.  The main boxes are money, responsibilities, hours, lifestyle, environment and future career growth. 

How does one effectively project confidence while searching for a job without looking like an arrogant jerk or overselling their abilities? 

Your interview is a sales presentation.  Zig Ziglar said, “selling is caring, and if you care you must sell.”  I think adopting a more positive outlook on sales helps.  Instead of looking at it as something that you do TO somebody, look at it as something you do FOR and WITH somebody.” You don’t want to sell ice to an Eskimo.  You want to sell HEAT to an Eskimo.  You can confidently present that your experience and skills are the solution to the company’s problems.  This is not arrogance.  It’s exactly what the interviewer is hoping to see.  I always remind people before interviews to turn the volume up on their strength and what is unique about them. 

Recently I presented a candidate who mostly did Toxic Tort Defense work to a firm that did more sophisticated complex commercial litigation.  He was worried that his experience wouldn’t be very highly regarded.  I reminded him that they wouldn’t be interviewing him if there wasn’t a serious chance that he could win.  Then I remember saying, “maybe you haven’t worked on Cryptocurrency matters yet, but I bet you’re the only candidate they’re going to meet who speaks English, Spanish and Chinese.”  I learned that the team was divided between him and one other candidate and the final decision came down to the Practice Group lead. 

What practical tips do you offer the attorneys you work with to help them boost confidence to prepare for interviews?

I tell people to do their homework on the firm and the interviewers.  Think of their best skills and plan to tell stories that demonstrate these skills.  I tell people to prepare good questions for the interviewers because asking questions shows interest.  I always suggest that people try to relax and trust their experience.  I liken it to Tiger Woods teeing off on the first hole at Torrey Pines.  When he walks to the tee, he’s not thinking about every little nuance of his swing.  He’s not thinking about his foot position or club-head speed.  Because he’s so well prepared by all of his experience, he’s able to simply approach the ball and swing.  I tell people that no one is going to be able to talk about their experience better than they can, so just approach the ball and swing. 

Bryan Silver leads the national associate division for the Attorney Search Group. In this role, he helps law firms build the best teams and helps associate attorneys accelerate their careers. Bryan grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. He is an Eagles fan and aims to prove that it is possible to be a decent human being at the same time. After pivoting from a career in digital animation and visual effects in movies, Bryan spent years in a niche sales role, aimed at the legal industry. Outside of work, he enjoys stand-up comedy, baseball games, movies, playing guitar, trivia nights, barbecuing and scuba diving. He lives in San Diego with his Wife, Marie and 5-year-old Twins, Lily and Joey. Bryan has an interest in mindfulness and that’s what led me to connect with him on LinkedIn. He’s a good follow and you should find him there too.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

How Do You Know Which Inner Voice to Follow?

Recently, I came to a startling recognition: I have a somewhat inconsistent view about life choices. On the one hand, I have railed against succumbing to the voice in one’s head so many times that I cannot account for them all. Yet, on the other, I have also said that my life transformed and became much happier when I started to listen to that little whisper inside that told me to try something new. A few weeks ago, it came to me in a flash that perhaps I was speaking out of both sides of my mouth on this one. How could one both ditch the voice in one’s head and yet feel compelled to listen to it to follow one’s bliss?

For me, this flash revealed a paradox more than a cognitive dissonance. I knew from experience that both things were true. The trouble was, though, that I couldn’t quite distill the factors that made them both true. So, I left the question open for a while and sat with it for a few weeks. Ultimately, I concluded that the answer had been staring me in the face all along: life experience was the only real way to tell the difference between the voices in one’s head because experience tells us not just how those voices manifest and feel but also shows us the results of heeding them.

Experience has told me that I have more than one kind of inner voice: the doubt voice and the childlike urge to explore. My doubt voice usually appears in the form of words. It is like a parent that comes to keep me safe and in line. It tries to present itself as the voice of reason but can quickly become abusive at the slightest hint that I may ignore it. The other voice, however, usually isn’t a voice at all. It rarely manifests for me as anything so organized as a sentence. At most, I might get a single word that echoes in my mind for too long. More often, though, I get a sense—just a sense—that I want to try something. It’s like the urge to touch a soft fuzzy blanket just to see what it feels like. If it lasts long enough, my mind may start to offer scenes and imaginings of how this newfangled idea might work. Sometimes my doubt voice may push the idea away as irrational or impractical, but the most powerful ideas come back to me repeatedly when my mind relaxes when I am driving, or exercising, or meditating.

Following the divergent paths my inner voices have offered has produced insights too. The doubt voice invariably tells me to take the road more traveled. In some cases, there is an initial sense of relief when I have decided to let an idea go. What ultimately caused me to stop listening to this voice every time, however, was the recognition that listening to it often led me not to feel safe, but instead cloistered and stuck. Where the voice told me staying with the familiar would help me feel secure, it regularly left me feeling insecure because I kept failing to trust myself. On the other hand, following the childlike urge to explore usually felt more like play. Most of the time I have followed this voice, I would think “I have no idea what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.” I can’t say that this necessarily felt good. In many cases, it felt bad as I worked to create or try something new while my doubt voice stormed in the background of my mind. But the thing was that I didn’t care. It was like I knew I would be proud of myself just for trying even if whatever I did was a total failure and a waste of time.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer anyone a line in the sand that can tell you which inner voice to listen to at any given moment in your life. I can say, however, that awareness of those voices, including how they feel and where they lead, can provide the experience needed to distinguish between the two (or more) inner voices for yourself. A sense of balance and proportion may also serve as a guiding principle for many of us. Lawyers often find themselves guided by the voice of doubt since it is so closely associated with the logic that is our stock and trade. We may, therefore, benefit from time to time in letting another part of our selves take the reins and following those less rational and teleological notions to explore, experiment, and create.

Ultimately, though, the desire to really know the difference between the voices in our head and to have unshakable confidence that we are listening to “the right one” may point to something more fundamental: the reality that we can’t predict the future or totally control our lives. Noting the differences between our inner voices may give us signs to help us make decisions in life, but eventually we just have to let go and give ourselves the grace to make mistakes. Thus, while it may be a challenge to have these competing voices in our heads pulling us in opposite directions, it is not entirely a bad thing.

When we listen to our childlike voice and seek adventure, we may find challenges and a life we never imagined. When those choices lead to mistakes and mishaps, and you can bet that they will, our inner voice of reason may offer us a path to safety and security so that we can heal and recover until we are ready for adventure once again. Perhaps, then, these varying inner voices don’t represent a cognitive dissonance or a fracturing of our psyche at all. Instead, they may just represent the fact that a complete life has many facets and many seasons. In the end, it may not be so important to know which inner voice to listen to in any given moment, as much as it matters that we listen to our inner voices at all.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Book Review: The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris

What is confidence? That question lies at the heart of Russ Harris’ book, The Confidence Gap. Most of us view confidence as a feeling and, in fact, that is how most dictionaries define the term. Oxford defines “confidence” as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” What this definition doesn’t tell us, of course, is when this feeling should or must emerge. To be confident, is it necessary that one start out that way?

Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us may assume that this is in fact the case. We may believe that good and necessary action emanates from an unshakable, and perhaps innate, belief in ourselves, our teams, or our values. We may have watched the courageous actions of others from movies, history, or even our own communities that made it appear that their bold acts flowed from confidence. As a result, we may value confidence highly and simply assume that feeling confident is essential to living a worthy life.

This, however, is the very confidence gap that Harris argues against falling into in his book. According to Harris, the confidence gap is the space between action and feelings of confidence. He argues with clarity and wit that many of us believe that feeling confident is a necessary precondition to acting with force and skill. As a result, many of us never begin and take the action necessary to develop true confidence. Over time, this process can accumulate into a cluster of memories and fears that make us feel powerless, stuck, and drained.

The way out of this, according to Harris, is to instead accept the reality that anything challenging in our lives will inevitably cause most of us to feel unsure. In other words, Harris tells us to stop expecting and trying to feel confident from the outset. He suggests that we use mindfulness strategies to help us allow uncomfortable bodily sensations and acknowledge the troubling thoughts that may impede action. Harris suggests that neither thoughts nor feelings are themselves problematic if we can learn to “defuse” from (or not overidentify with) them. As we go through this challenge and take on new risks, Harris also explains that a healthy amount of self-acceptance (or self-compassion as I would call it) is essential.

To that end, much of the book is devoted to describing strategies for defusing in detail, including my favorite, which is to sing your nasty inner commentary to yourself to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or to type the statements out and put them in a funny font. I mean, doesn’t the phrase “I’m going to ruin my life.” seem less threatening when you type it out in pink Comic sans? And don’t these well-worn self-doubt phrases seem a little less dire when you sing them to yourself in the tune of “Happy Birthday”: “I’m a terrible mom. I’m a bad attorney. I am a total failure. My life is a mess.”

They sure do. Because, as Harris suggests, the words and the feelings don’t have power in themselves. They only have power because they can create discomfort in us that can stun us into inaction. If we can use mindfulness strategies, however, to give ourselves some space and grace in the midst of that discomfort, we can still learn to move forward in the midst of discomfort. That’s when we find confidence because we learn that fear can come but it doesn’t have to hold us back. In this way, Harris suggests that confidence is in reality a process rather than a feeling.

You could learn a lot of the lessons from The Confidence Gap without reading the book. In fact, I liked the book because it seemed to explain back to me in logical and research-based terms what I had experienced in my own life. I had always struggled with self-doubt and overthinking, but started to work my way out of those habits with years of mindfulness practice. Eventually, I learned my pattern: I would feel a rush of inspiration to try a new thing, then set out to try it, and then feel scared and want to quit.  After a while, my mindfulness practice became established enough that, instead of quitting or never starting at all, I learned how to not accept as true every thought that came to mind, care for my fear, and keep going. Over time, I noticed how often my fears were exaggerated and how rarely they affected my actual performance. Now, even though few new challenges go by where I don’t experience some fear and doubt, I am far more confident in myself because I know what to do with the fear and doubt. Now, I just bring it along for the ride instead of letting it drive the bus.

The Confidence Gap is a useful read because it can help you sort out the mélange of thoughts, sensations, and expectations that arise in the space between ideas and actions. The analysis in the book may help you understand what confidence really means for you and the strategies may help you avoid letting the confidence gap turn into a lifelong (or maybe just too long) inaction rut. So, if you want more confidence in your life or to understand the subject better, check out The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris for insightful analysis, useful strategies, and a much-needed examination of what confidence means.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Four Reasons Why I Don’t Like the Term “Imposter Syndrome”

It’s no secret that I am a self-doubter. I have struggled with it since I was a kid and, despite all my mindfulness training, I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. Doubt, it seems, is a part of my personality. So, you might be surprised to know that I don’t really like the term “imposter syndrome.” Clearly, I don’t dispute that the phenomenon occurs. And I know how self-doubt, even in the face of overwhelming evidence demonstrating competence, can harm individuals and the organizations who need their talents. But I just don’t like the implications of what the term “imposter syndrome” conveys. Here are a few reasons why.

1. It Pathologizes What Might Just Be a Normal Human Experience.

A “syndrome” doesn’t have to be a medical condition, necessarily, but that is the most prevalent use of term. By saying “imposter syndrome”, therefore, we are reifying the notion that self-doubt is somehow aberrant or harmful. Certainly, as stated below, I don’t doubt the potential for harm on an individual or social level. I am saying, though, that the idea of self-doubt as inherently problematic may not be altogether fair.

Sure, self-doubt hurts and at times it can put us in boxes that we may have to escape. But it is part of the human condition too. Self-doubt, like all so-called negative emotions and experiences, doesn’t necessarily have moral value. Instead, it’s a state that comes and may go if we learn to let it. In my experience, it’s also a personality trait that, when balanced with some care and courage, can have beneficial results. I’ve learned to accept that, though my own self-doubt drives me nuts on occasion, it also makes me check my facts and keeps me honest, humble, and connected to my human experience.

For this reason, I don’t like the implication that “imposter syndrome” is inherently wrong because that view can contribute to self-judgment and impede the understanding and self-compassion that are needed to keep doubt from impeding growth. I think the better approach is to recognize that self-doubt is a part of the human condition and to account for it, with appropriate supports, as part of the healthy path to growth.

2. It Suggests that We Should Feel Solid in Our Identities, Despite the Fact that They Are Always Changing.

Identity is at the core of imposter syndrome. The use of the term “imposter” is intended to convey an experience most of us have had: that other people will somehow discover we aren’t as perfect/talented/smart/capable/kind/beautiful/worthy/lovable, etc. as we may seem. If you break this down logically, you will see that the concern here is that our “true” identities may not measure up to the perceptions others have of us. If you know anything about Buddhist philosophy, however, alarm bells should be ringing in your ears because, according to that school of thought, no true identity in fact exists.

The concept of “not self” or “anatta” as it is traditionally called tells us that there is no stable and lasting self to which we can cling. And even if you haven’t studied Buddhism, you can experience this for yourself. Go ahead and look for your self. Or watch that self of yours behave over time and in different contexts. You can test me on this if you like, but I bet you’ll find it hard to find a sold, steady self in there driving the bus of your life.

What does this have to do with imposter syndrome? Well, imposter syndrome suggests to us that it’s a problem if we feel unsure about our identities. If you look at it from a “not self” perspective, though, it’s not a problem at all. It actually is far more consistent with reality than the so-called “confident” and “normal” people who don’t question their identities. Now, of course, when this analysis becomes protracted, painful, and gets in the way of necessary action or growth, that can become a problem. But those issues are likely to be the result of attempts to cling too tightly to identity. The way out isn’t to strive to feel more solid in our identities, but instead to recognize that identity shifts as life changes and so doubts about it inevitably may arise.

3. It Suggests that People Who Don’t Doubt Their Abilities Are Necessarily Higher Achievers or Better Performers.

How many times have you been told that confidence is essential to success? Probably many, many times, right? Well, did you ever ask that person what confidence means? If you did, they’d probably look at you quizzically and say something like “You know, feeling good about yourself. Feeling capable or self-assured. Feeling strong.” That’s close to the dictionary definition of the term “confidence” to be sure. But, does this mean that, in the midst of a challenge one must in the present moment feel capable, strong, or self-assured to get good results? As a lifelong self-doubter and high-achiever, I can tell you that’s not true. Not all self-doubt impedes performance. As I’ll discuss when I review The Confidence Gap, it’s the self-doubt that impedes action which is the problem.

And that’s the problem with thinking of imposter syndrome as a syndrome. It doesn’t distinguish between the self-doubt that should be expected with growth and new challenges and the self-doubt that keeps us from taking the actions necessary to grow and face challenges. To truly understand that distinction for ourselves, we need to look at our self-doubt without judgment to see how it affects us. If we assume it is inherently bad or detrimental, we may get the wrong idea that we are destined to fail or be stuck in our current circumstances until we can force ourselves to feel assured even in the face of risk. But, that’s not confidence, that’s bluster and potentially arrogance and it doesn’t necessarily translate to better long-term performance. So, instead of focusing so much on the detriments of imposter syndrome, it may be more effective to re-think what confidence really means.

4. It Suggests that the Problem Is with the Individual When We Are All Interconnected.

Finally, I don’t like the term imposter syndrome because it perpetuates the myth of separation. While the nod to identity in the term acknowledges that we are social beings with deep needs for social approval, most of the discourse on the subject has focused solely on the individual experience of it.  Last year, the Harvard Business Review offered a refreshing take on the subject which suggested that imposter syndrome for many may be the byproduct of systemic bias. In this discussion, the authors suggest that it is time to dispense with the notion that individuals must fix themselves by overcoming imposter syndrome because, instead, we might spend our time better fixing the systems that have created it.

That’s a pretty good point but I might also add that there are some other cultural biases at play here, including the preference for certainty, authoritarian leadership, and the aversion to vulnerability and emotions in professional life. In this way, I’d agree that the emphasis shouldn’t be on “fixing” the people who have experienced imposter syndrome. Perhaps, the emphasis should be on creating a society and workplace culture where people, including leaders, feel safe acknowledging risk and doubt. To do this, we probably need the talents and wisdom of the people who know what self-doubt feels like and what to do about it. If the advice continues to be that imposter syndrome must be shed before leadership and success can occur, we may never get the leaders who can help us make that change.

In short, I don’t doubt that imposter syndrome occurs. I have experienced it most of my life. But I don’t like the way it is portrayed most of the time because it is at odds with my mindfulness training and my life experience. I don’t think my self-doubt makes me a bad lawyer or poor leader. Rather, I think facing my self-doubt and learning to care for it is what makes me a great leader and courageous lawyer. So, instead of focusing on ridding ourselves of imposter syndrome, overcoming it or even fixing it, maybe we should learn instead to accept ourselves as we are and life as it is to build the skills needed to face the inherent doubts, risks, and uncertainties in life and work.  

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Grounding Practices Can Catch You When You Feel Untethered

When I was preparing for my first ever appellate oral argument, I remember a swirl of questions flurrying through my mind. What if the panel is hostile to my position? What if they don’t like my presentation? What if they ask the dreaded question that exposes the fatal weakness in my case? What if they ask a question that I just can’t answer? When you prepare for oral argument, these questions are normal and can even be a healthy part of preparation. But, ideally, they settle down before you walk up to the podium and say “may it please the court.”

I love oral argument and always have. Answering questions on the fly is fun for me. I did 3 moot courts in law school because I loved it so much. Today, when I have an argument or present to an audience, I fear a cold panel much more than an active one. So, it came with some surprise when I did my first oral argument years ago and I was more nervous than I expected. It was a straightforward argument, and my brief was strong. But still, standing in the lush but austere chambers of the Sixth Circuit made me feel shaky and out of control. So, what did I do?

I walked to the podium and placed my hands down. As I was awaiting a cue from the bench, I felt my feet on the ground and let the weight of my body stabilize me. Having made a conscious choice not to mentally flee the experience, I began my argument and gathered momentum along the way. A few minutes in, I got questions from the judges that made it clear to me that I had already won so I made the best choice I could in that situation: to quit while I was ahead. I made a conclusion, ceded my time, and sat down to watch opposing counsel try to fight off blows from the panel on rebuttal.

In retrospect, I now see that I had little reason to feel nervous. We got a favorable ruling days later that indicated that the judges had no trouble accepting my arguments. But I was still super proud of my work and not just because it was my first victorious appellate oral argument. Instead, I was proud that I stayed present for the whole experience and didn’t let my nerves get in the way of seeing facts in the moment so I could react skillfully to them. If I had not been paying attention, I could easily have plowed onward in my argument, unnecessarily risking raising dangerous issues or annoying the judges. Because I had managed my nerves, this didn’t happen and I didn’t lose any of the ground I had gained with my brief.

That’s what grounding can do for us lawyers in times of stress. Grounding is a practice of feeling the physical sensations of the body and most commonly emphasizes the sensations of being rooted to the earth. Most grounding practices suggest feeling the weight of one’s body or the contact that one’s body (such as the rear end, back, or feet or even hands on a podium) with the earth or other stable object. When emotions are high, this strategy works on a practical level because it helps us find stability when things seem beyond our control. It also helps us minimize the impact of a mind churning with thoughts that usually only serves to increase our anxiety. On a psychological level, though, grounding is the first step of courage.

When we root into our physical experience, we say “yes” to it on a fundamental level. We make a conscious choice to stay with whatever experience arises instead of retreating into the dark recesses of our mind. By rooting into our experience and feeling whatever is going on in our body, we implicitly tell ourselves that we can handle whatever uncomfortable emotions may come as we do.

In doing this, we open our minds up to what is actually happening in the situation, rather than merely seeing our preconceived judgments or being blinded by the things we fear. In a situation like an oral argument, where a single question could change the course of a case, clear awareness is critical. But the same is true for so many other areas of our law practices and lives. To be sure, our ability to be fully present affects the way we interact with clients so that they learn to trust and rely on us. It affects our ability to care for ourselves as we deal with the risk, time pressure, and stresses of law practice. And, it affects our ability to show our loved ones that we care for and support them in life.

So, if you experience a time in law practice when you feel unsteady, resist the urge to judge yourself or panic. Instead, it may be more effective to just find steadiness. Fortunately, no matter where you go (on earth at least) the force of gravity is always connecting you to your bodily experience as a human. Look for that sensation by feeling the weight of your body in the chair or your feet on the floor. Pause for a moment and rest in the feeling. Though it may seem like a small thing, this first, tiny act of courage may be all that you need to stay present, see clearly, and react with wisdom and skill to whatever life sends your way.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.