Make a difference

No matter the level of your success, there are others around both better or worse off. As you work hard and improve your position, you should think about others and how to lift up your community. Improving your position may be financial, or it may mean you have more control over your time. Either allows you options to make a difference and give back.

There are many options. You can volunteer for a non-profit, try to get on a non-profit board, do a fundraiser or donate money. Which option(s) will be right for you depends on you. Volunteering is an easy entry point. Most non-profits need volunteers and will gladly help you find a time and place to volunteer.

Being on a non-profit board is a larger commitment. There are board meetings, committees to participate in, events to attend and financial support is always needed. If you choose this option, make sure the non-profit’s mission is something you are passionate about because board members are charged with corporate governance and making important decisions on the operations and business of the non-profit. This equates with time. Plus, board members need to take their role seriously because they owe fiduciary duties to the non-profit. If you don’t know what this means, look it up before agreeing to join a board.

Planning and hosting a fundraiser may or may not be easier. It may mean getting a restaurant to donate a percentage sales on a given night to the non-profit. Or maybe you are braver and will plan a larger event, which means higher expenses and bigger risk for the non-profit. But to be clear, fundraising is one of the most important activities for a non-profit.

Of course you can choose to donate money instead of or in addition to your time. Non-profits always need it. The more success you have, the more opportunity you have to give back in this manner. If you have the means, you owe it to yourself and your community to find good causes to support .

Find your entry point and do what you are comfortable with. The point is to do something. You don’t have to have money to do this, just an interest in making a difference.

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Intention figures into everything you do. Intention is your aim or plan. If you approach something with no intention it will be more difficult to complete your plan or reach your goal. Intention can relate to long term or short term plans.

In my legal practice, my intention is to do quality work on my clients’ behalf and help them achieve their goals. To do this, I focus on listening from the first interaction to understand their goals. I then advise them and work on their behalf with their intention in mind. I do my best to make sure I have the necessary information to make recommendations and that they have the necessary information to make choices.

Some people may be motivated by money. They will do whatever it takes to earn more, even if it means working one or more jobs they don’t like. If so, hopefully this is a short term plan because it is hard to do work you don’t enjoy.

Others may have the intention to better society. Maybe they work at a non-profit that has a mission they are passionate about. Or they may work in government.

I heard a professional musician interviewed about this and how his first real mentor preached intention. The musician thought about this and ultimately decided his intention was to be able to support himself, and later his family, through playing music and never having to get a ”real job.” His initial plan was to play with anyone who asked where there was a paying gig. As he improved, he had more and better choices, but, even decades into his career, he still makes choices based on his original intention.

The point is to think through your choices and options. This allows you to choose based on your intention. Doing anything important in your life without thinking about intention will make for a harder road. It is worth your time to consider this and think thoughtfully and meaningfully on intention throughout your life.

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Business is fundamentally creative

As an attorney, I don’t necessarily think of myself as creative or an artist. Despite this, I have to be creative during negotiations for clients or in coming up with legal arguments. No matter what type of business you work in or run, being creative is a benefit. You can work like people have for years or try to be creative, think outside the box and do something new.

You may be successful doing the same old, same old. I am not advocating for you to wholesale change what you’re doing or your approach. Adding creativity to me means doing the same old along with trying something new. It also is important to know if that new thing isn’t working that you need to shut it down. Then come up with something else new and try it.

This doesn’t mean coming up with something off the top of your head and putting it into play. In business, as opposed to art, it is important to think through the ideas you come up with. This could mean writing a business plan or conducting sufficient research before sinking significant resources into your new creative idea.

Every year I try to come up with a new idea to put into play in the way I work or how I conduct marketing and business development activities. This blog was one of those ideas many years ago. In addition to keeping me connected with people I know, as well as making new connections, it gives me another creative outlet. These are some of the reasons I keep doing it, but if I didn’t enjoy it and derive any professional benefits, I would stop.

As you can see, ideas do not need to be earth-shattering. The idea is to be constantly and consistently coming up with ideas and deciding which one to try. Sit down and see what can you come up with.

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Get outside of your information vacuum

These days the world is divided and people are either with you or against you. This is bad in so many ways. On the news today I heard a reporter say that it is a negative that so many people live in their own “digital citadels of confirming information.” He, of course, was mainly referring to politics. I think it’s more than that, and speaks to people only reading news and speaking with people who they agree with.

You shouldn’t have to agree with those you spend time with. You need to like and respect them, not agree with all of their beliefs. This doesn’t mean there may be some topics to avoid, whether a family issue or, obviously politics or religion. If you are unwilling to speak with people who think differently than you, you are doing yourself a disservice.

I love music, and especially live music. When I am at a concert, I sometimes think about the people in attendance and the differences between us. Then I think about how music brings us together. It serves as a bridge to something that connects us. The point is that despite our differences, which may be vast, there is something we could connect on and start a conversation.

And that’s all it takes, an entrée to converse with another. It may go somewhere. It may go nowhere. But real learning comes from listening to others who are, think and believe differently than you. If this happened more often, the majority of people wouldn’t change their thinking, but the lines of communication would be open, and the chance for understanding and compromise would exist.

Digital citadels of confirming information.

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Acknowledge and celebrate wins

What constitutes a win depends on you and what you value. It could be your kid making the sports team or you landing a big client. Either way, what do you do to acknowledge these types of victories? Do you take your kid out for ice cream? Do you take you team at work who supported you out for a celebratory lunch or round of drinks? If not, you should.

Life moves fast. It’s easy to congratulate someone. But many “victories,” even some small ones, deserve something more. Which wins or achievements deserve more is up to you.

At the same time, it is a different question and analysis regarding whether and how you should acknowledge your own victories. There is a fine line between celebrating your wins and tooting your own horn a bit too much. Most, if not all, wins involve the support of others. Make sure to acknowledge those who lifted you up.

So win with grace and then celebrate!

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Be relentless about continuous improvement

This is part of my firm’s culture. We have a fundamental that says: Be a lifetime learner and continually invest in your own education, both formally and informally. Be curious and never stop improving your legal, technical, and personal skills. Embrace change. Look for a better way.

No matter your role, you are constantly learning and change is constant. You should strive to learn and adapt to and embrace change. Part of this is realizing and accepting that you don’t know everything, there always is more to learn, and that change is happening whether you want it to or not.

William Butler Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” He is right because there is no way to fill up your brain with too much learning or new information. There always is room for more. On Wikipedia, lifelong learning is defined as “is the ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”

Note that lifetime learning is voluntary and requires self-motivation. When we were younger and in school, the motivators were teachers and parents. As adults, we may have similar figures in our lives pushing us to continuously improve, but many people don’t. This is why being a lifetime learner requires self-motivation. You should challenge yourself to always be learning. In our world it could be learning about a change in the law or maybe you want to learn to paint. Whatever it is you should follow the muse because it will improve the quality of your professional or personal life.

Another part of this fundamental includes embracing change. As Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” This is true and your attitude towards change makes a difference. When change happens you either are influencing the change or not. If not, you likely will feel out of control and like you are being dragged along by the change. To avoid this, you need to be pro-active. This may require you to acknowledge your fears and take action anyway. It is okay to be scared of change, but don’t let that stop you. If it does, change will happen anyway, but without you being in the driver’s seat.

Someone named David Mann explains it well in a few minute video: He explains that change happens and you can see it as a disruption or an opportunity. I urge you to view change as an opportunity. It could be an opportunity to learn or to improve yourself or your surroundings. Many times you don’t know where the change is going to lead you, but wherever it is will be better if you are pro-active and face it head on.

As we head into a new year, it’s a great time to be pro-active about the change you want to drive in your life. Instead of making a resolution and hoping you follow through, you should make smart goals related to whatever you want to learn or change. The point is to take control of your evolution, because with change being constant, so is your evolution as a person. Be the driver of your life, not the passenger.

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The 2019 version of why it’s time for an annual “checkup” for you and, if you have one, your company

Over the past few years many of you probably read my blog regarding having a checkup for you and, if you have one, your business. This does not involve the doctor, but it does involve all the other professionals in your personal and business life. Since that time, I decided to make this topic an annual tradition. This is based in part on the range of feedback I receive every year.

Some of you said “What a great idea. I am definitely going to do that.” Others said “Sounds like a good idea, maybe I will look into that.” Most of you were busy with the holidays and all that they entail, and probably did nothing. To be honest, any of these responses is okay and ignoring my advice may not have had detrimental effects to you or your business.

The point of the advice is that you only know what you know. If you do not check in with your professionals and, for example, make sure contracts or your estate plan remain enforceable and up-to-date, that is where risk comes in. For example, I always check in with my accountant at the end of the year to ensure that all is right with taxes and withholding.

A few years ago I had a reminder related to a different item you should check on annually, auto insurance. We had two teenagers on our policy and a number of vehicles, and the premiums always seemed so high to me. But my insurance person knows me and shops the policy every year looking for the best rates rates for policies with similar coverage from quality insurers. He did that for me and we ended up with a new insurer, with pretty significant savings.

With the time constraints of life, it’s sometimes hard for me to move beyond the higher-level checkup, but when I do I usually end up with some benefit. Unfortunately, in our time-crunched world, the question of who to check in with at year end is expansive, from your estate planning attorney, to your investment person, to your insurance person, to vendors you may use such as a yard or pool maintenance company, or your cell phone carrier or your Internet provider. You may be surprised what a company will do in lowering monthly costs to satisfy or keep a current or longtime customer. Try it and see what happens. A good one to start with is your cable or satellite television provider (assuming you haven’t cut the cable).

I know, I know, who has the time? None of us do, which is why the choices are yours. Are your contracts up to date? Did you pay enough estimated taxes or withholding? Are you paying the cleaning service at your office or your lawn service for your home too much? The choice of what professionals to consult, what costs to check or compare, and what services to put out to bid is yours. Choose wisely.

And for those of you seeking a reminder or who did not see it in years past, here is my original blog post on getting an annual checkup:

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of where you are personally and professionally. This can be checking in with your personal accountant to make sure you have withheld/paid enough taxes during the year or planning for deductions to planning for large corporate expenditures on things such as upcoming projects, planned corporate initiatives or planned equipment purchases. But the one thing that is a constant is that we all should be doing this.

In the past I have mentioned why it is good to sit down with various professionals you or your company work with just to check-in, be they attorneys, accountants, insurance professionals, financial planners, investment professionals, etc. The list depends on you and your business.

This does not have to be a formal appointment unless you think that is appropriate depending on the nature of the planned conversation. Instead, it can be you offering to buy them lunch or a drink. The point is the better the professionals you work with know you, the more they are able to make recommendations aimed to benefit you or your company.

So don’t wait, start making plans today to meet with these people this year, or at least first thing next year. We all are busy this time of year, but if you take these actions it will help you now and in the future.

Happy New Year!

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Reduce stress

Everyone has stress. Many people have more stress than is good or healthy. It can be related to their work or their personal life. This time of year it also can be related to the holidays, such as dealing with family or the financial burden of gifts or travel. Reducing stress obviously is important.

How to reduce stress depends on you because what helps lower stress differs person to person. I hike and meditate. Others I know run or fish or play a musical instrument. Find something, because your life depends on it.

I know that sounds quite dramatic, but anyone who has experienced significant stress can tell you how it affected them emotionally and
mentally, but also physically. Allowing yourself to remain in a state of stress is comparable to knowing you broke a bone and not seeking treatment; you know it won’t get better without doing something about it.

My guess is one or more ideas jumped into your head when you began reading this. If not, think about what can help lower your stress, try these things, and find what works for you. There will be times stress is just part of your life. Anything you can do to lower it will be beneficial.

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What’s your definition of success?

Do you ever ask yourself this? You should. If you do, the answer should include all important aspects of your life.

The answer will be different for each of us. For one person it will be gaining a certain title or earning a certain amount of money. For someone else it may to train their dog to roll over. Or, maybe it’s a combination of both, because true success should be achieving your definition of success in your work and personal life.

This is balance. Whatever your definition of success is, it should involve balance. If your work life is a 10 and your personal life is a 2, or vice versa, there is a problem. If so, you need to work to figure out how to move towards balance.

I also think you need to define success by what matters to you and makes you happy, not others. This doesn’t mean you should ignore what others think, but it is only one consideration and may or may not fit within your definition.

And your definition of success will change over time. What is important to you at 28 is different than what will be important to you at 38 or 48. This is how life works.

It means you should revisit what success is to you on a regular basis, because true success involves being happy and content in your ever changing world.

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Don’t believe everything you think

None of us are always right. Most times there is not a “right” answer, but opinions. And no one’s opinions are anything more than opinions.

I am not speaking to core beliefs such as religion, though I think it’s healthy to question all ideas and belief systems. Here, I am talking about everyday tasks and ideas. It could be the best way to drive to a certain place or the best way to keep your calendar. We all could speak to these and support our positions, but each of us is wrong sometimes.

It doesn’t mean you’re not right a lot of the time, but it does mean you always should be questioning what you and others think. You should learn about topics you are interested in or need to know, such as for your work. Though the purpose is to learn, not to prove you are right. It feels good to be right, but what if the person you are speaking with just won’t agree with you? Hopefully you can just agree to disagree.

This is why it’s valuable to know a diverse group of people. If you live in a world where you are surrounded by people with similar backgrounds and beliefs, you are living in an echo chamber in which you never hear you may be wrong. This results in a false sense that what you think is always correct because those around you simply agree with what you say. This is similar to the participation trophy mentality that there are no losers.

Be open to others’ ideas and thoughts. Question them, but also question your own thoughts. This allows you to be a constant and lifetime learner, always trying to improve your knowledge and life, along those you interact with, as well as how you move through the world.

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