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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Always be prepared

Preparation is everything. It makes things look easy and natural. In my world it’s being prepared for a trial, closing of a transaction, oral argument, or the first meeting with a new client. People know when you’re unprepared. When you’re prepared they likely think you just know your stuff and don’t think about the time you put in to perform at that high level. In your world there are equivalents where you can win or lose business based on your preparation or lack thereof.

My wife has a huge presentation today. She has been preparing for as long as she has known about it, which never feels like enough. I know her well enough to know she spent the time needed to have it go as well as she can. Like all of us, she always has a lot going on in her professional and personal worlds. Even with that she carved out time because she knows preparation is key. This gives her the best chance for success in achieving her objectives.

The more prepared you are for whatever you are dealing with today provides the opportunity for the best possible outcome. I am not naïve enough to think I’m the only person a potential client is speaking with. Even if they are not speaking to another law firm or attorney, the confidence I instill in them because of my preparation gives me a better opportunity to reach the outcome I’m seeking, which is to be retained to assist them with the legal work needed.

Plus, you never know who will put your name out there providing opportunities in the future. Your preparation and then good performance turns those people into your cheerleaders too, which always helps. Preparation is investing in yourself, and it can help make your future.

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Get moving for your body and your brain

Many of us sit in place all day long working hard. This is bad for you mentally and physically. You know how this works when you’re focused on an important task or project. You’re on a roll and stay in your chair, not even getting up to stretch or walk around. This is something you know isn’t good for you, but are you willing to try new steps to help yourself and lower your stress level?

Many activities help lower and manage stress. What you have time to do depends on the time you can carve out each day to invest in yourself. Of course this is a function of the business you are in, what is going on with your children or family, the demands of your spouse, etc. so the hour and a half hike or bike ride might be out of reach. Despite that you probably have time for a 20 minute walk, to stretch, or do some sort of exercise. You should strive to find something that fits your busy day and which you can create the time to do. Find activities you actually like to do.

For me, fitting things in first thing in the morning makes it much more likely it will happen. I have two main things that I try to fit into my daily and weekly routines that lend themselves to the time I have and which help me to feel better physically and mentally. The first is hiking and the second is meditation.

This morning, before doing anything else, I meditated and exercised. I didn’t have time to hike, but I still stretched and exercised, getting my body and brain moving. I know some of you are thinking meditation is not for you. I used to think that way too. After learning about it more through a program at work a few years ago, I stopped and started with it, but now can’t imagine beginning my day without it.

I have meditated almost every day for a number of years. Two things helped me do this. The first was the resolve to make time and see if I found benefits from the activity. I did. Second was finding an app where I could track statistics and try to keep myself accountable.

Over time I worked my way up from 2 minutes to 5 to 10 and now, for the last few years, 20. I won’t lie and say that it’s been easy to fit in 20 minutes of meditation every day. It’s not. I know it sounds as funny reading that as it is for me to write it. How can it be hard to find 20 minutes in your entire day? We all know in reality it is. But the benefits I think I get from meditation have focused me on continuing to make it a part of my routine and it is something I look forward to doing each morning.

Interestingly, I think the hiking I do is an extension of and related to the meditation in that it puts me in a happy place and allows me space to think. For instance, on many hikes I come up with ideas for blogs. Sometimes I listen to podcasts on subjects I am interested in. Sometimes I listen to the news. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I listen to nothing and think about work, but if I have something such as a trial or deposition that day, odds are I am at home or work preparing and I have changed my routine because of the nature of that day.

These activities together help keep me better centered and less stressed than I would be if I did not do them. It makes me feel better mentally and physically. It’s important to keep moving as we get older so we can do so when we reach ages when many people have trouble doing moving and being active.

I am not suggesting that each of you should take up meditation and hiking, though I do think you should try meditation. Instead, I think you need to figure out what will help to focus on your mental and physical wellbeing. Once you do, try to do so a short time each day and you will see how it improves your life. Once you do, the next thing to do is to make it a routine. It takes almost no time to feel the benefits of taking time to invest in yourself.

Start today. Your body and brain will thank you.

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Your perceived control is illusory

Whether you are an owner, manager, employee, parent, child, or whatever role you find yourself in the only thing you can control is yourself, which means your decisions, and your actions. When you try to control more than that and if you are aware, you realize your overall lack of control, Instead you realize whatever you have put in motion is subject to the responses and reactions of the others, whose decisions you’re trying to guide or control.

This doesn’t mean as an owner, parent, or whatever role you are in where are you are supposed to be “in charge” you shouldn’t make decisions that affect others. Instead, it means you need to understand how others react to those decisions may not be what you expect, let alone what you may be hoping for. And sometimes you need to make the hard decisions for what you feel are very good reasons. Other times, it may be in more important to speak with others where there is a trust relationship to obtain grounded feedback to help you make choices. Even when you do that, it doesn’t mean the actions of others will be what you want or expect.

This is brought home to me regularly in my role as an attorney. Many times I have a belief on the direction a client should take. Generally my clients listen to my recommendations along with the various options and follow the path I think is best. Other times they respectfully disagree and choose a different path. In my role there is a saying many clients and coworkers of mine have heard over the years. That is, as an attorney I make recommendations, but my clients make decisions. This type of situation applies to all situations where you are providing someone else with options, or even just a singular path. Your employee or child hopefully will listen with open ears, but the resulting action or response may not be what you hoped for or even anything that you considered as possible.

Of course, the seriousness of any situation is relevant to what we were talking about. Me directing a child to unload the dishwasher and being ignored, is different than making a decision with my partners that will affect all of the firms employees. Even if you spend time, considering an action or decision, or discussing it with others you trust, it doesn’t mean that, in the long run, it’s the right decision. Always remember that sometimes the fact of making a decision or taking an action is as important as the the decision itself. In hindsight you can decide whether it was the correct one. Indecision or inaction is the same thing or worse than a bad decision.

I suggest taking some time to think about recent important decisions or actions you took, which you believed to be important, whether in your professional and personal life. Think about what you did to come to the decision or action, and whether it worked out as you had hoped or expected. If it did, think about why, including whether the process you went through, including if you discussed it with others who were stakeholders in the decision, had any relation to the success or failure of the decision. If it didn’t turn out what you were expecting or hoped, analyze anything you could’ve done differently to achieve your desired result. Be open to the fact that the answer may be that you could’ve done nothing different and you are never going to achieve or reach a desired outcome.

Understand that everything is a work in progress because it generally is impossible to predict the reactions of the people your decision affects to fall in line with that decision or action. Spending the time to think about this is an investment in yourself and hopefully will lead to better decisions and better actions you have thought through when dealing with others in whatever roles you occupy.

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Talk less and listen more

I read somewhere when you are speaking with someone you should imagine them wearing a hat that says “Make me interesting.” The point is to ask questions that allow the other person to speak because the more someone speaks during a conversation, the better they think the conversation went. This is because people like talking generally, and talking about themselves specifically.

When you ask question make sure to listen to the answers. It’s a skill to fully listen to one or more people in a conversation. With new clients and others I test whether they are listening or, even if they are listening, whether they understood what I was saying, by asking them to repeat back to me the message or information I was trying to convey. You will be surprised at how often the other person wasn’t fully listening or took something from your words that is different than what you meant.

At times I struggle with active listening because my mind goes into overdrive on what I want to say or how I want to respond. In my role as an attorney I have to be able to think on my feet, immediately respond to questions from judges or clients, and all the while respond in a meaningful way that answers a question or drives home a position. This doesn’t help me be a better listener, but only a better advocate for my client. Turning this off in other conversations is difficult.

The struggle to listen is evident in conversations any of us have with clients, friends, and family. You may be thinking about a response to a question or position, or a story you want to share, but if you focus on what you want to say, you are not focusing on what you are saying. Maybe you are better at this than I am because I constantly am working to be a better listener and it is a work in progress.

A good reminder to yourself during a conversation is to remember that if your mouth is open, your ears are closed. You know the desire to interrupt someone to get a point across or tell them a relevant story, but you have to listen to really know what they said and what to say.

I notice when I focus on asking questions and on what the other person says my responses are more thoughtful and directed at what I understand the speaker is interested in discussing or trying to convey. I challenge myself to do this all of the time. Such a challenge or remembering to “Make me interesting” may help you to listen better in conversations too.

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Are you ready when opportunity is in front of you?

Don’t be too busy or self-important to miss an opportunity. Opportunities are everywhere, but you need to take notice and in the right case treat them like they can be life altering. We all have missed important opportunities. Of course you can learn from this happening, but looking back with regret is not a positive.

On the other had, if you are presenting me with an opportunity, grab my attention and blow my mind. Whether it’s for me or others I may know, you need to impress me, make me want to know more or invest in you, or spread what you have shared.

How do you make sure you don’t miss a great opportunity? It can be something general like just being nice to everyone. Was that millennial dressed more casual than you think she should be and seemingly on her phone too much a slacker or a tech innovator with a company more valuable than you can imagine. It is impossible to know and judging people on appearance will hurt you in today’s more casual world. Talk to someone and see what happens. The worst case is you waste a few minutes and cut the conversation short to escape. The best case is an opportunity you would have never had.

Sometimes a certain opportunity only comes along once. Don’t miss your chance.

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Being organized matters

In my world organization can mean many things including time management, having an organized office, or being organized in the work I am doing for cases generally and in relation to deadlines. As in all worlds, disorganization leads to disaster. It not only can make you late on your commitments, it can adversely affect your business and personal life. For me it can mean losing time (and therefore money) or malpractice if I miss certain types of deadlines. The point is we all have consequences if not organized, if we miss deadlines, or if we don’t meet the expectations we set for clients, customers, or our bosses.

We live in a “what have you done for me lately” world that demands that expectations not just to be met, but exceeded. These include your expectations of yourself. I consider myself to be well organized, but that is because I constantly am working on maintaining organization and control of my time, work space, and calendar. If you struggle in any of these areas you need to come up with SMART goals to help change this. It will be hard work, but you will be happy you did it if you stick it out and improve your organization skills.

Initially set your expectations low and gradually raise them. Becoming organized takes work. If you set the bar to high to start with you have a greater chance of failure and not improving, even incrementally. It also helps to let at least one other person know about your goals. Of course, doing this exposes you to potentially let others down in addition to yourself, but it also give you a better chance of success.

So how do you do this? It depends on you. Will lists and calendaring items keep you on track to meet or exceed expectations? Do you need another person, an accountability partner, to help keep you on track? There are many tools to better organize and keep on task. You have to know yourself well enough to know what will and won’t work for you. Of course, you then have to put what will work in motion and commit to it.

What can you do today, this week, this month, to better organize yourself and set yourself up for success on meeting and, hopefully, exceeding expectations? Answer this question, work it and see how it benefits you in business and generally.

If you are not sure where to start, I suggest you find someone you know who is successful and organized and see if they will formally or informally serve as a mentor or accountability partner for you. For insight on mentoring, I suggest you review an older blog post of mine: “Why Mentoring Matters?”

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We all bring different things to the table

A favorite saying of mine is “If we all were the same, the world would be a boring place.” I believe this to be true. Some people are more comfortable with people just like themselves. I don’t understand that manner of thinking because I believe diversity breeds innovation and opportunity and makes the world more interesting. It also can mean so many different things.

This comes into focus when you are in a group setting. It can be a team meeting at work, a non-profit board, or any other group setting. Having people with different backgrounds and experiences makes any group function better.

I always think of this when I listen to someone with a marketing or advertising background. Their ideas come to them easily and make so much sense, but my brain doesn’t work like theirs and I would never come up with the cool and creative ideas they do.

I bet many of you are thinking of diversity as a team with people from different racial or religious backgrounds. That is diversity and can bring different ideas and angles to a situation for sure. But how about people who grew up in different states, have different educational background, or more or
less professional experience. The world of differences is seemingly endless if you really think about it.

How you approach an issue or opportunity may be different between someone who grew up on a farm in the Midwest versus New York City, or someone with an engineering degree versus someone with a sociology degree, let alone no degree or college level education, or, in my world, an attorney with 25 years’ experience versus someone with 5 years’ experience. The differences can be endless, but they matter and make for better teams. 

If any of the terms or descriptors I used above describe you, your background, or your experience level, it is your individuality that makes you stand out to others. It also is your creativity and the ability to think
differently than others. If we all just fell into line with people just like us for the next corporate job or role where would innovation come from?

The point is to be open to ideas from others approaching the same situation differently than you. Listening well and thinking through ideas you never would have thought of will broaden your world and provide a better chance of success for whatever group you are in. Try it and see where things go.

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Do you talk too much?

Is this you? To honestly answer this question requires self awareness, which many people lack. We all know that person, the one you meet in a business or personal setting who cannot stop themselves from dominating a conversation or room. At the end of the conversation they think it went well while you hope not to run into them again.

When that type of conversation is over, you know too much about them (most people like to talk about themselves). At the same time they didn’t let you speak enough to learn about you to have anything substantive to remember. They may not even remember your name

I recently revisited an article about annoying personalities you find on display at all networking events. That author had nicknames for various types of characters. It made me think of different types of people. The person I describe above can be referred to as the “Chatterbox.” The Chatterbox may be that way for a number of reasons such as (1) ego; (2) lack of self-awareness; or (3) social awkwardness. The reason doesn’t matter, but what you should do does: exit the conversation because it will provide no value for you. Positive conversations are shared experiences, not a one-sided monologue.

When meeting someone for the first time make sure you try to learn more about their background and their business versus what you speak about and share. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share about you and your business. If you focus on asking questions and learning about them, you will put yourself in a place to make a possible connection. There is a better chance they aren’t walking away thinking you talk too much and don’t really care about what they do or have to say.

I read another article on this subject a few years ago and I revisit it at times to keep its premise top of mind. The author of the article wrote about what he referred to as the Traffic Light Rule. It is another method to use to avoid talking too much. The idea is that the light is green the first twenty seconds you are speaking, yellow for the next twenty seconds and at the forty second mark the light turns red. If you talk through that red light you are talking too much.

The next time you meet someone new or are networking try to put these ideas into play. Don’t be a Chatterbox or run red lights. If you focus on the other person and not just on what you want to say you will put yourself in a better position to have meaningful interactions and make positive connections.

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Keep asking for more

Are you content with where you are in your career and, if so, why? Maybe you just want to do the same old and punch the clock. Sounds boring to me, but it could be your thing. For most of us we see there can be more. What that is depends, but, for you, there likely are many options. It’s like the books where you read a page and what page you go to next depends on the option you choose. The point is we each have the ability to choose our own paths.

You always can do more, move up, or maybe move out to move up. Determine your path or next step by always asking how you get to the next level, asking for more responsibilities, and what you need to learn. Asking let’s those you report to or who are above you know that you want to improve yourself and move forward in your career. You may think they assume you do, but if you don’t ask you are leaving it to chance. It’s likely others are asking and will pass you by if you are passive and show no affirmative interest. Of course those you report to could ask you, but may not. Know it’s up to you.

This isn’t about being “boss’s pet” or something similar. It’s about controlling what you can, which is showing interest, asking questions, and following it up with action. At the end of the day asking alone will get you nowhere, but your actions will, whether it’s a work related project or learning on topics you need to know to be able to advance in your given field. We all have blind spots and asking will help you eliminate some of them.

Once you have some answers or direction, it’s up to you to take the reins and ride into your future.

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The world begins at the end of your street

Go to new places and put yourself in new situations with new people. Don’t only stay in the places or with the people with whom you’re comfortable. You either get this or you don’t. If not, you need to think broader about the big world out there. No one grows by doing the same old with the same people every day.

When I heard “the world begins at the end of your street” the context was focused on travel to another city, another country, being exposed to other cultures and ideas. I think that context is important and everyone should try to go to new places. You can have a fun and interesting time in any city or town for at least a few days and nights. The point in this context is if you’re exposed to other places and people you may find somewhere you didn’t know and fall in love with. The person I heard say this is from Scotland, fell in love with Italy as a young man, and years later moved there. This happens.

In rolling the quote around my brain I was thinking about it in a more local and business focused way. Most people get up each morning, go through the same routine, go into their home office or where they work, later go home through their evening routine, and wake up to do it again. What if instead of following the worn path that may be your life you instead made plans to change it up?

This will mean different things depending on your line of work. For me I can get involved in other professional groups, whether made up of attorneys like me or a broader group of people, attend local or out of state conference related to the type of work I do, or join a recreational sports league or club. The options are endless depending on what interests you. The goal is to get into something new that expands you knowledge, circle of people, or opportunities. What that really means is up to you.

You should think about whether you’re in a rut and change could help you. Even if you’re not stuck in a rut, what can you do or change to expand you horizons and opportunities? Take some time to think this through and see what you come up with. If you find something or somewhere cool you think I would like, let me know!

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