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A game with rules, challenges, and results worth playing for will allow you to win!
I am asked by law students and lawyers many iterations of questions boiling down to wondering why they are not getting the results they want to, even though they are working hard. yet when asked what it is that they are working towards, many of these same highly motivated individuals can't articulate what it is exactly what they want to achieve.
A surprising common thread carries throughout these conversations - many legal professionals go through their life and career without having clear goals. Everyone wants to "do well," "bill more hours," make "more money," get a "good job," "exceed expectations," or maybe "find more balance." Unless pushed to do so, many resist elaborating on what it would look like to actually achieve their goals, or give specific meaning to their vague aspirations.
In a profession that has incredibly high standards and consequences directly related to performance, it can be immensely frustrating - and stifling - to constantly be shooting to "do better" without really knowing what that means, or when you have achieved it.
In law school, there were inherent "competitions" within the framework of the school year: shooting for top grades, journal spots, clerkships, and finally post-graduation employment. Whether or not you felt passionately about the results, it was easy to get caught up in the herd mentality and apply to "win" the top positions or honors.
Once out of law school the herd mentality no longer serves you, but it can be surprisingly hard to shake. There are no one-size-fits-all benchmarks or line items for your resume - you are now living your life and building your career every day. You are an individual with multiple roles in life and competing interests for your time. Your circumstances are collectively unique from anyone else who has the license to practice law in this state.
If you are feeling frustrated in your job, out of balance, or overwhelmed, perhaps you need a check-in on what results you are really working towards. Whether you are trying to get the most out of your current position, thinking about a career change, or trying to find better balance in your life, it is hard to stay motivated if you have vague or unrealistic goals.
I recently asked a class of law students to accept a challenge. I challenged them to envision a magic genie popping into their lives, offering them all of the resources and help needed to get them the professional position or career path of their dreams. If this opportunity arose, could you articulate what it is that you would want, and be (relatively) sure it would bring you happiness and fulfillment?
When we are young, we see the world as a big playground and look for opportunities to bring joy into our lives. We are willing to try things we are not sure we can do, enjoy practicing and learning new things, and have a natural spirit of play. While these inherent traits tends to dissipate as we grow older we are still able to reflect back and draw on these strengths if we try.
Along these terms, I want to ask you to look at all of your life as a game right now, break it down into smaller games or components (i.e. the business development game, the game of gaining substantive legal knowledge, the law school game, the family game, the health game), and choose one meaningful game you are playing that you would like to see better results in.
Now, brainstorm and really visualize what results would make you ecstatic in the next quarter. How can you work towards these concrete results by creating a "winnable game"?
Creating a winnable game plan for yourself should be challenging, fun, and help you bring focus and clarity to what a "win" will be for your game. A winnable game is something that has rules, challenges, skills, desired results, and a finish line, so you can look back to see how far you have come as well as forwards to anticipate new challenges and results.
When creating goals and envisioning what a big win would be for you, keep these guidelines in mind:
1. Play a game that is meaningful to you. Setting goals that serve someone else's definition of success instead of your own will not remain motivating. You want to create a game that will have real impact on your life.
2. Identify goals that are measurable and have a score card to help you track your progress. Depending on the game, metrics such as dollars to earn, hours to work, miles to run, or a number of family trips to take, can help you pin down and visualize what it will be like when you have won.
3. Set a realistic timeframe and make sure your goals are challenging but not daunting. Talk through with someone else what is realistic to achieve in 3 months. Biting off more than you can chew is likely to lead to overwhelm and abandoning the game altogether.
4. Choose goals that are not solitary. Involving others along your journey brings more fun and play into your game. Look at your teammates in your game - your partners, colleagues, staff, family, doctors, or friends - as key players in your game.
5. Focus on goals that have a set of skills associate with succeeding and which you can work towards mastering. As you identify skills you may need to improve, this can also spark creativity and ongoing interest in getting better at the game.
6. Don't set yourself up to have a need to be performing towards goals at a high level 24/7/365 - you can't keep that up!
As lawyers, we have honed our skills and craft over years with a focus on achieving wins. We are trained to be zealous advocates for our clients - but who is left to zealously advocate for you? If you don't take the time to set a game plan for success in motion for your individual circumstances and needs, no one else will do it for you.
Chelsea Callanan is the founder of Happy Go Legal, a multi-media resource for new and aspiring legal professionals. Mrs. Callanan is a 2008 graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, and currently practices at Murray, Plumb & Murray in Portland, Maine, focusing on corporate and intellectual property needs of business of all sizes.