Learn the norm and then push the boundaries

Some time ago I mentioned if we all were the same, the world would be a boring place. This remains a favorite saying of mine. In relation to work, there always are “in” jobs and professions, or the new better way to do your job. In reality, there are many ways to do the same job. Certain tasks may have specific steps, but otherwise, creativity and differences reign.

No matter your business or where you work, it is your individuality that makes you stand out to others. It also is your creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. Do you do that, or is the same old same old? It’s hard to come up with or do something new or different. Ideas that seem so obvious weren’t to most of us. If you are an entrepreneur, whether in a startup or any other type of business, what makes you and your business stand out?

Colleges should teach creativity along with entrepreneurship, business, etc. Tapping into other parts of the brain is important and can be life altering. It is good to think outside of the box and differently than others in your space. Of course, in all businesses and professions, you need to learn the ropes and rules before trying to push any boundaries.

Doing what others have done is safe and where learning begins. We need people to do many jobs that are decidedly not hip or “in”. In fact, being safe or working as others have or in an unhip job may make you a success. Once you have learned the basics, being creative, unique and different has the possibility to make you a trailblazer or visionary in your field.

It’s up to you to determine whether you are okay with the status quo or not. It sure seems more interesting to blaze your own trail within whatever path you choose.

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Overnight success is a myth

We all know the cliché “overnight success.” In the real world overnight successes have put in time and most people don’t even realize it. For instance, the Beatles are viewed as an overnight success. Actually their rise to the top took approximately five years, thousands of hours of practice, and hundreds of live performances. To think they didn’t put in the time and sacrifice to get to the top is incorrect.

Their first UK number 1 was in May 1963 and their first US number 1 was in January 1964, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met in 1957. Thereafter, Lennon asked McCartney to join the Quarrymen, who, other than Lennon, were not very good musicians. In 1958, after lots of practice and many shows, George Harrison joined the group. By 1959, only the three future Beatles remained in the band.

In 1960 they renamed themselves the Beatles. After that they spent a lot of time in Hamburg, Germany between August 1960 through December 1962. During that time they lived in one cramped room with a bathroom down the hall, practiced for hours each day, and playd clubs at night. They put in hard work and sacrificed to improve their skills. Obviously it worked for them.

You are asking yourself, “okay, but what does this mean to me?” It is this type of investment in yourself and commitment to whatever you are doing, whether alone or in a group, that gives you the best chance to succeed in any field. I could have told you the same story about entrepreneurs, professionals, etc. from every industry. The Beatles are a good example because everyone knows who they are, thinks their success was immediate when it wasn’t, and don’t realize the time and energy they invested in themselves leading to their huge success.

Stories of peoples’ different roads to success have in common a significant time investment and hard work. Of course, this alone doesn’t guaranty success, but it gives you a much better shot. You need to plan strategies for your business, career, networking, marketing, and whatever else you’re doing. This should be done regularly for both the short term and the long term. If you ask most successful people you know, you will get a good story about what it took for them to reach where they are. If you probe further you will learn those same people continually are trying to improve, because staying on top of the mountain is as hard as reaching the summit.

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Direct and honest communication matters

A lot of people sugarcoat what they say to save other’s feelings. This is good in theory, but detrimental to your business. If you cannot have honest, hard conversations with your peers and employees, what does that say about your business? Who are you training them to be (or not)?

It reminds me of a quote from Zig Ziglar: “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.” True statement. If you can’t be honest with peers and employees it will be an element of your company’s cultural. It likely will put your company on a path to harder times and lower results.

I have heard hard conversations referred to as “courageous conversations.” The truth is this refers to difficult conversations usually dealing with a performance issue, an attitude issue, a disagreement on an important business issue or something similar. These types of conversations need to happen in a timely manner to have the best effect, i.e. provide constant feedback in real time and not months later during a review process.

There is a mountain of information online and numerous books on this topic. What they generally say is that as part of sharing negative information, you also should accentuate the positive. If you manage people you should read and speak to others to learn how to have hard conversations, which do not come naturally for most people. That is how you can make difficult conversations constructive and a benefit to you, the other person, and your business.

Of course, you can and should tailor what you are going to say based on who you are speaking with. But don’t make ignoring or sugarcoating important matters part of your company’s culture. If you do, nothing will change and opportunities will be lost.

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Demonstrate respect

Being respectful isn’t just good manners. It’s a way to connect with others and try to understand their position or opinion. It may be about differences in how to approach the strategy in a case, a workflow process with those on your team, or dealing with opposing counsel. In all situations realize two important things: (1) the likelihood of you changing someone’s position by being disrespectful of what they think is zero; and (2) the reputation you will be building may not be what you think or would hope for. Your actions and words follow you and speaking in the heat of the moment or an adversarial conversation can be longer lasting than you can imaging.

It is easy to see this in everyday life. The divisiveness in our country is disappointing on many levels and follows up through work and our personal lives. People demean others they know and don’t know on social media and anywhere else they can leave comments. People physically attack others at protests and otherwise. This really is unbelievable if you think about it. In many ways, our country is coming apart at the seams and many people don’t respect the thoughts or opinions of others.

You should want to try to understand why someone you work with thinks differently than you. This isn’t so they can change your thoughts or you theirs, but to understand the other’s positions and try to work together to bridge the gap. Knowing why may help you better understand them. Plus, it may help you to debate and then align regarding how to move forward.

Relationships are everything. They enrich the quality of your life. Always remember that many of the co-workers, clients, and others you disagree with are people you like and know have good qualities. Demonstrate respect by listening fully to others, considering their opinions, and figuring out how to work together moving forward.

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Read, learn, and invest in yourself

This topic covers a lot of ground in my mind. Depending on what you’re reading, you may be escaping your day or learning something new. It may be pure fun or investing in yourself and your future.

It means reading news and knowing what’s going on in the world. It means reading books including fiction and non-fiction, which can include books related to my career and business. To me, reading for all of these reasons is important and adds value to my life, whether an entertaining fiction book, an article on an area of the law relevant to my practice, or a book on a general business related topic such as networking or management.

As for news, read whatever you like, such as the Wall Street Journal, the New Your Times, the Washington Post or other papers (or listen to news related podcasts). Better yet, read or skim two, preferably with different takes, such as being left or right leaning. Reading different points of view allows you to process issues, ideas and positions. It also will help you craft your own point of view coming from a well-read place because you’ve educated yourself on issues. You can create the time to do this by calendaring time with your morning coffee or for a mid-morning break. Knowing what is happening locally, nationally, and globally is part of being a citizen of where you live, and the bigger, broader world.

Reading books matters too. Reading the types of books you enjoy matters more. I rotate between fiction and non-fiction. For non-fiction books, I rotate between biographies and business related books. I usually use my time reading books as an escape from work and thoughts piled up from my day, but sometimes I hear about a business book I find intriguing and am willing to read something to make me think or try to improve some aspect of my live or business. You should read whatever motivates you to read. It’s not a contest to read the classics, or more business books than someone else you know. It’s your time, so choose what you read based on your interests.

The best part of doing this is taking time for yourself, but it has other benefits. It will help you be generalist on the current news and other topics you read about. It also will allow you to be a specialists in specific areas in which you have real interest. Both combine to make you more interesting to speak with at a networking event or in conversation with friends and family. You will be able to have a conversation with anyone, which will provide you with opportunities.

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Don’t envy others because walking in another’s shoes isn’t as easy as you imagine

Being envious of other does not help you in your life. A better title or having more money doesn’t mean the person is happy or has an easier life. Walking in someone else’s shoes for real would be eye opening to see they have worries and problems, just like we all do. No one has “perfect” life. This is why envy is waste of time and energy.

For instance, people you view as being “higher up” may hate the position they are in. People who seem to have money may be living on debt. You shouldn’t make assumptions, but that is a topic for another day.

Similarly, don’t be vindictive. Don’t try to get even. If you are in a situation where you think doing so is the right course of action, the only one keeping score is you. In that case, the one losing is you, for sure. It takes time to build a good reputation and mere moments to destroy it. Don’t be that person.

I have mentioned this before. Do your best at whatever it is you do and let what happens happen. But in doing so, do it in a way that is honest so you can look back with no regrets. If you don’t, the person you “run over” may be the vindictive sort. If that persons tries to get even it will waste your time and take your focus from the things you need to or would rather be focusing on.

Always look forward, not backward. Avoid envy and getting mired in keeping score or settling scores. Focus on yourself and you will set yourself up with a better chance to for whatever you see as success.

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Follow your inspiration

When inspiration hits, you know. You don’t need to listen to an interview with an artist to understand it can be anytime, including when it’s not necessarily convenient. It makes me think of the musician who hears a melody while sleeping and has to decide whether to get up and write it down or record it, or to just go back to sleep. I have had this happen in regard to legal matters I’m working on. I think it’s because sometimes when you’re not thinking about something intently is when inspiration strikes. One thing I have learned is when you have inspiration, don’t lose it.

Whether I am at my desk or asleep, if something good pops into my mind, I write it down. I usually use the Note app on my phone, but paper and pen still work. I have learned that if I don’t, there is a good chance my moment of brilliance will be lost; I may remember it later, but I may not.

The key is to come up with what works for you when you have that great idea, even when it’s at an inconvenient moment. If you fail to record your thoughts when the inspiration hits, it’s on you and is your loss. Come up with what works best for you so you don’t risk losing whatever fantastic thing has popped into your brain.

One way to think about it is what if you were a musician and you didn’t want to get up in the middle of the night to record that melody that came into your head, losing a possible big hit. Or if you were an author and you lose a great plot twist for the book you’re writing. We all have something equivalent in what we do for a living, or in our personal lives. Figure out what works so you remember and can capitalize on your great ideas.

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Do you have fun at work?

I know some of you are thinking “What is he talking about? Fun at work?” But it’s that simple and that’s exactly what I mean. If you can’t have fun at work, then why are you there? Fun and good work do go together. A joke can reduce tension during stressful times at work. The saying “Laughter is the best medicine” exists because it’s true.

This doesn’t mean you will joke around with co-workers every day. Of course, even if you do, it’s unlikely a minute or two will derail you from the tasks at hand. Fun doesn’t need to take up a lot of time.

I joke around with colleagues regularly. It sure makes my days more fun. On the days when I am feeling overwhelmed by what I need to accomplish the humor may include sarcasm or be darker, but it still is part of my day. Humor relieves tension and stress, even if momentarily.

You will encounter others in the office, or online or over the phone if you work remotely. It’s good to remember that humor may not come across how you intend when it’s in electronic communications or during phone calls. It’s much easier for people to understand you are joking in person where they also can see your body language.

No matter how or where you work you should allow yourself to take breaks, even if it is only a few minutes. It will help reinvigorate you to go back and work more. Plus, when you see others having one of those days, maybe you can lighten the moment for them and bring a smile to their face.

You may know the line from Dr. Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish: “These things are fun, and fun is good.” Fun is good. True statement. Put some fun in your day and see how it brightens moments for you and those around you.

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Do you think before speaking?

Just because the thought comes into your head does not mean it should come out of your mouth. In many situations, it matters what you say next. This is why it’s so important to think before speaking. It doesn’t mean uncomfortable long silences, but it means you need to plan for important conversations, negotiations, or presentations. It also means you need be able to think on your feet.

This can be difficult in emotionally charged situations. But those situations require the most thought and patience.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when an opposing attorney answered a judge’s question too fast and before the judge had finished his question. In doing so, the attorney not only failed to answer the question the judge actually asked, he blurted out information that the judge later used against his other arguments. This really happened.

After speaking too fast and, apparently, without fully thinking through what he was saying, grasping for an answer, it became obvious the attorney was arguing two sides of the coin. It probably will not shock you this was obvious to the judge. It caused the issue on which the attorney had a weak case to look like a failure and the issue on which he had a slightly better argument to lose its shine. The attorney’s failure to think before speaking, let alone not letting the judge finish his question, lost his client any chance of succeeding on either of his positions.

Don’t let this be you. Always plan for important conversations, negotiations, or presentations. If you are not sure of an answer to a question, it is better to admit that. If you do answer, think before speaking. If you do these things, there is a better chance your conversations will go well and you will avoid putting your foot in your mouth.

And, it should go without saying, let people finish their thought or question before responding. If your mouth is open your ears are shut.

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We can always do better by working on ourselves

In everything you do you can do better, you can be better. Always. If you disagree you are only fooling yourself and being intellectually dishonest. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.

If you put your money in a can and bury it in your backyard, it has no chance to grow. If you invest your money, it has the chance to grow. The corollary is if you don’t take the time to improve yourself, to learn, you will become stagnant and, in this fast-paced world, probably be passed by others. If you work to improve you will grow and your opportunities will expand.

I am speaking about improving in relation your given business or profession, but it also applies to your personal life. It may help you to take a class related to what you do for a living, taking guitar lessons, or for me, keeping up with the state of the law and current legal opinions.

I know you are busy. I know you don’t think you have time. But the truth is you don’t have time not to invest in yourself. If nothing changes, well, you get the idea.

Think about what you can do to invest in yourself. It will make you a better professional or person, and it will help improve the world around you, your world.

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Do you have work/life balance?

Are you the workaholic each of us knows? You know the one. Checking email from the moment they wake up, when they are at lunch with you (rude, by the way), and checking it right before they go to sleep. Every social opportunity is really a networking opportunity with people they probably would not socialize with. All conversations point towards and relate to business, money, etc. You are not sure what their interests are other than work and making money. Or is this you?

It is no secret that hard work is required for success, and there are times you must work harder than others and longer hours. Getting ahead does not come easy. But, as important as it is to give your all for your career or business, there has to be down time to. No, I don’t mean sleep.

What do you do for fun? What do you do for stress release? If you have to even think about the answer to either of these questions you need to rethink your priorities. Working hard until you die will only result in one result. Everyone knows someone who was a workaholic because they were going to retire young and didn’t make to retirement. While fun is important, stress relief is a required part of all of our lives.

If you question what I just said, talk to your doctor, your partner, your shrink, or whoever you confide in. Stress relief doesn’t need to be training for a marathon or triathlon, but you need to put physical activity in your routine. Your body and brain will thank you for it as you age.

As for fun, it really is a requirement too. It could be sewing or playing an instrument, travelling, participating in a book club, etc. or a combination of many things. But you need to find things you enjoy unrelated to your work. If not, you will have no balance and the odds of burnout or something worse increase exponentially.

Plus, the more things you do outside of work, the more you have to speak about the next time you are networking.

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