How Mindfulness Helped Me Learn to Love Networking

One of my pandemic projects was publishing a book about networking with 19 other women lawyers. It’s called #Networked and it was a bestseller on Amazon in a few categories. For natural networkers, this might just be a cool thing but for me it was a milestone. It was one of the things that helped me fully and finally put to rest the idea that I was not good at networking.

In case my incessant droning on about sitting quietly had not clued you in, I am a bit of a nerd. I am an introvert and love reading and writing and quiet things. I love deep conversations or presenting on subjects about which I am passionate, but I detest small talk. I hate trying to come up with things to say to people I don’t know, and I am terrible at acting like I am having a good time when I am not.

In law school, these tendencies combined to cause me to literally run away from a networking event during a failed big law summer clerkship experience. On a Saturday in 90+ degree weather in full sun, I stood in the posh backyard of a soon-to-be partner trying to “get to know” the firm’s attorneys and socialize with my fellow clerks. That was the cover story, at least. It was really an audition and I knew it and the only thing I could think about while pretending to drink my warm beer was trying to not sweat. After an hour, I made some excuse and left, knowing my fate was sealed.

Though I clerked the following summer in the firm where I am currently an equity partner and had a vastly different experience, that memory haunted me for years. It repeatedly told me that I was no good at networking and that I would never be able to develop business and make partner. As I just said, though, I made partner and I literally just published a book about networking. So, clearly something very drastic has changed. As with a lot of things in my life, my mindfulness practice is one of the things that helped me change my own mind about networking. Here’s how.

1. Body Awareness Helped Me Manage Energy

Before I started meditating, I was constantly in my head. Body scans and breath practice, however, constantly reminded me to focus on the sensations in my body instead. Eventually, that shift in focus started to permeate my life even out of seated practice and I was better aware when I felt nervous or tired or just not into it when I had to go to a social event. When I could, I learned to meditate for a few minutes before or just send myself some loving-kindness during those times. That really helped and I found I was better able to tolerate and monitor the energy drain that large social events often caused me so I could focus better on the people there.

2. Awareness of Thoughts = Awareness of Ideas

 I really like to write and do it all the time now. Years ago, though, I only did “extra” writing outside of my law practice occasionally. As a big overthinker, one of the main benefits of my meditation practice was that it gave my thoughts enough space so I could see them more clearly. I eventually found that my thoughts were ideas for written content, so slowly and surely I started writing. Now, most of us don’t think of writing as a networking activity, but when I started to do it consistently and on platforms like LinkedIn, I found that it absolutely was.

When you put written content out there, you are sending out a verbal handshake to whomsoever on the internet may find it. If, like me, you learn to be yourself, people will reach out and want to talk more. But, unlike networking at happy hours with total strangers, you don’t have to make small talk because you already have something specific that brought you together. In other words, mindfulness turned my introversion into networking gold.

3. Consistently Returning to the Breath Practices Persistence

This next one is basic, but its importance cannot be overstated. Even if you never get a single amazing insight or spiritual experience from meditation, you can be pretty sure that the practice will teach you at least one thing: persistence. Anyone who has done breath practice knows that it can drive you nuts to keep going back to the breath over and over and over again. But we do it and hope it will pay off. It paid off for me and still does today. It helped me practice persistence and persistence is absolutely critical to networking. Nobody builds an empire or a community overnight. It takes a bunch of teeny tiny acts done consistently and maybe with a little bit of skill and luck mixed in. There is nothing that teaches you better about the impact of a bunch of teeny tiny acts than a regular meditation practice.

4. Compassion Helped Me Learn to Be Myself

The number one change I made to my networking game was to stop trying to “fit in.” I used to go to events and try to “look natural” and “seem upbeat” and “appear friendly.” In other words, I was trying to look like an extrovert and look like I was having fun doing it. Nobody bought this, including myself. My meditation practice taught me something that helped me stop this foolishness: there is nothing wrong with me. Specifically, loving-kindness practice helped me understand that I was loving, wanted to be of service to others, and was loved by many.

It also helped me appreciate that some particular social settings, small talk with strangers and loud group events, were painful for me, while others, deep conversation with a small group of friends, made me feel like I could conquer the world. When I learned this and accepted it as okay, I shifted my focus. I realized that my networking could include smaller events or activities with friends or even writing on LinkedIn. In other words, when I realized that my introvert tendencies were not bad character traits, I finally started to use them. And, when I started to network like me, instead of trying to mimic or go along with my extroverted friends, I made progress.

5. Giving Feels Good

Most of the best networkers tell you that their secret to success is giving. They will tell you to focus on proactively offering value to your network more than you focus on plucking benefits from it. This is good advice and my life experience tells me that we are more likely to do things when they feel good to do. My mindfulness practice helped me not only to pay more attention to how my body feels but also to more fully accept that I need to nourish myself to do my work.

Though I hated networking at first, everything changed when I started focusing on giving, rather than taking. I started small by taking on projects that I cared about, joining groups with a mission that I supported, or writing about topics that mattered to me. This soon put me in the position to help others by connecting friends, sharing tips that could help others, or doing good work for my community. When I noticed how good—how satisfied—that made me feel, I wanted to do more and had the energy to do it even with all my other obligations.    

If you hate networking, you aren’t alone but don’t discount the possibility that you may only dislike the version of networking you have experienced so far. I used to hate networking too when I tried to mimic the way that others did it. When I started focusing on what I liked and worked for me, I learned to enjoy and even love networking. Mindfulness practices could help you do the same thing. Sure, meditation in itself won’t turn you into a super connector, that will take many other steps and a whole lot of time. But it can help you do the preliminary work you might need in order to begin taking those steps. Meditation can help you turn inward to appreciate what is truly unique about you, so that you can turn outward with more confidence and skill. So, if you’ve had enough running away from crowded networking events in tears, try sitting quietly by yourself for a few minutes instead.  

If you need a meditation to get you started, check out this guided meditation we created that uses loving-kindness practice to help you shift your mindset about networking.

How Mindfulness Helped Me Learn to Ride the Wave in a Life Full of Transitions

Spring is about transition. The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up a bit, and we’re starting to shake off the winter blahs. For me right now, it is also about life transitions. I’m 44, I have 3 kids one of which had a kidney transplant as a baby, I left a job at a law firm in December, and we decided to move in January. And, of course, let’s not forget we’re a year into a global pandemic that has required us to basically reinvent our lives. So, let’s just say that transition is kind of my jam these days.

The past year, strange as it has been, is not strange at all in the context of the last decade. These past 10ish years feel like they have been nothing but transition for me. In the span of a few years, my husband and I started our own law practice, rehabbed a house built in 1870, and had our first baby. Then, in 2012, our second child, William, was born with end stage renal disease which began what I like to refer to as: The Five-Year Pause.

For the first 18 months of William’s life we were in perpetual crisis mode. It was exhausting – both physically and emotionally. At 18 months old William received a kidney transplant and by the time he was five he was in school and we had settled into a life with an immunosuppressed kid. Our law practice continued to grow and in 2015 we had a third kid.

Loren with her kids.

Then I turned 40, and thought “now what”? I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do next and I ended up leaving the law practice I had with my husband and joined a law firm. Though I learned a lot at that firm, it wasn’t the right fit. And, like so many others, COVID also had my family in turmoil. My son’s ADHD and anxiety made virtual school incredibly stressful. My 11-year-old daughter was suffering—we were all suffering. So, I joined the 140,000 women that left their jobs in December.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve realized that I’ve experienced growth. Here I am—spring is around the corner, we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic, and I’m in the middle of yet another major life transition trying to figure out what’s next for my career. But, unlike when William was born, I now have a regular meditation and mindfulness practice to help me. Through all that change, I have learned a skill, a strategy, a practice to cling to when times feel hard.

Let me be clear. I have a lot of days where life feels really hard. Mindfulness does not mean I’m floating around blissed out all the time (picture one of those smiling Buddha statues). That is definitely not me. I’m still a mom that yells at my kids sometimes, feels overwhelmed a lot, and sometimes feels like I’m not smart enough. I still fall victim to all the other harmful thought patterns that go with anxiety and stress to which women lawyers are especially prone. And did I mention we’re in the middle of a global pandemic?

The difference is that my mindfulness and meditation practice makes me feel a little less terrible. I now have a more skillful way to handle difficult feelings when they come up and I’m able to ride the wave of the hard days with a little more ease. And I’m able to appreciate the less-hard days which has brought a little more joy and happiness into my life. And above all, my mindfulness practice helps me show up every day and practice – again and again.  

At its core, a mindfulness meditation practice is about cultivating the ability to be fully present – to bring awareness to how we feel. It’s also about compassion—for ourselves and others. An essential step in a meditation practice is cultivating a nonjudgmental space in our own brains where we can feel our body and experience emotions without being reactive or feeling overwhelmed. And for me, a major ah-ha moment in my meditation practice was reaching the understanding that it is just that – a practice. Which means I will be working on it for my entire life. I mean, sure, maybe I’ll reach enlightenment, but assuming I won’t, I’m going to continue practice because the truth is I just feel a little better when I do. And especially during times like now – when life feels especially overwhelming – my mindfulness practice allows me to be present with the hard feelings without completely freaking out. And, sometimes, when life is hard, not freaking out is a victory.

So, here’s my intention for this spring: I’m going to use this time to reset. To begin again. To remind myself that while life’s transitions can feel difficult, they also bring growth. I will be brave and remain open to the possibilities. I’m also going to work on my self-compassion practice (which means I’m going to practice cutting myself some slack because life is hard right now and I’m doing the best I can).

And, maybe for just a moment, I will celebrate all the change, and all the joy and pain, and all the people in my life who helped me survive and grow in the last 10 years. Because the truth is life will be hard sometimes no matter what I do and I’ve learned that sometimes it helps to just take a deep breath and ride the wave.

To learn more about this topic, check out the video of founder Loren and our Founder, Claire E. Parsons, discussing how even short mindfulness practices can help you deal with the turbulence of life:

How Mindfulness Can Help You Survive Virtual Litigation

Before the pandemic, I had almost never used Zoom at all but I have now litigated numerous virtual hearings. If the past year was good for anything, it at least forced me to learn how to take depositions and put on proof over Zoom. Virtual litigation offers many benefits, especially efficiency and convenience, but it is exhausting in every sense of the word. When litigation is already exhausting in normal circumstances, this impact cannot be taken lightly.

Even as we begin to come out of the pandemic, I think its fair to say that virtual litigation options are going to persist even if they are not so common as they have been in the last year. So, you may wonder if there are any tips or tricks for making virtual litigation a little less painful. Several lessons from my own mindfulness practice helped me stay steady during virtual hearings and they might help you too. Here are my tips:

1. Remember Your Limits

One of the first mindfulness lessons I learned is one that many of us lawyers often forget: we are not just brains. We have bodies. Those bodies have needs and limits. When we don’t respect those limits and honor those needs, our performance suffers and we experience a lot of needless pain. The way I handled this when litigating cases remotely was to be conservative in scheduling the cases on the front end. Rather than try to power through with 8-10 hour days on Zoom, we opted for ½ days spread out over time. While I was initially concerned that we wouldn’t finish even with the days allotted, we ended up finishing the proof early because we were conscious of time every day. This reduced the need for multiple breaks and allowed us all to avoid the fatigue and problems that came with prolonged time staring at the computer. Even if you can’t schedule a case this particular way, think practically about how long you can tolerate Zoom litigation as you set the schedule because remembering your humanity in scheduling will help the case go more smoothly.

2. Pick Your Battles

Another lesson my mindfulness practice taught me is that fighting is often unnecessary. Stipulations are essential for managing many hearings and trials to avoid wasting time on undisputed things. When you add the logistical complications of virtual presentation to the mix, that sentiment is even more important. In addition to stipulations of fact or evidence that could make things go more quickly, consider setting procedures or developing plans to make sure everyone is on the same page for the hearing. It may even be useful to hold a dry run with counsel for all parties to ensure that everyone is familiar with the platform you are using. While it may seem foreign to work closely with your opponent in this way, you may find that letting go of fights about minor things can help you all focus better on the disputes that really matter.

3. Plan for Disruptions

Anyone who meditates knows that disruptions happen no matter how much we try to avoid them. Likewise, anyone who has tried a trial or lengthy hearing knows that they almost never happen without a hitch. Prepare yourself for the disruptions. Have a plan for technology issues. Try to develop schedules of witnesses to avoid lag times if testimony goes quicker or slower than expected. In addition, it generally helps not to be a jerk about your opposing party’s situation because it will eventually happen that you are the one who needs the mercy. In one of my virtual hearings, I learned an hour before testimony was set to start that my daughter was required to quarantine due to a close contact at school. I was fortunate that my client, opposing counsel, and the hearing officer granted me a postponement for that day so I could pick her up from school. If my relationships had been less cordial, however, I may have gotten a different result.

4. Slow Down. Then Slow Down Some More.

Rushing is something we all do, especially when we are stressed, but my mindfulness practice has helped me notice it, slow down, and respond more skillfully to life. For most of us, hearings are going to make us stressed whether they are virtual or not. When you present virtually, everything goes through a filter so rushing can quickly become disastrous to your case. To avoid this, remind yourself as much as possible to slow down. Come back to your breath frequently or do a quick body sweep (check your brow, eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest belly, hips, hands) to return to your body. If you are noticing the signs of tension or quick or shallow breathing, try to relax your body and open up your breath. You can do those things in a second or two and it can help keep you steady, focused, and even as you ask questions and present proof.

5. Get Some Rest.

Finally, another important mindfulness lesson is the importance of rest. When we let our attention settle on the breath, we give our minds a chance to stop trying for a moment. For us achiever types, even a little bit of rest goes a long way. When you sit in front of a glaring screen all day and have to listen intently to less than great audio, you need to check in with yourself after and give yourself a break. That likely means an activity away from your computer with some different sensory input. Your normal exercise or relaxation routine might be enough, but I found that I needed to pull out all the stops for my weeks of virtual hearings. In addition to normal exercise, I needed some extra yoga sessions, warm baths, and any time outside that I could get. When you are in a trial or a hearing, it may be tempting to dive right into your inbox piling up with emails but a well-timed break may make your efforts less painful and more efficient.  

I hope we are leaving the COVID-19 era of social distancing but I think the brave new world of virtual litigation is here to stay. Litigating cases remotely presents its challenges to be sure, but the lessons from our mindfulness practices can help us to reduce suffering on Zoom in the same way that they help us to reduce suffering in our lives. If we remember to care for ourselves and bring awareness to the unique challenges and opportunities that virtual litigation presents, we can then focus our whole attention on getting great results for our clients.