April 19, 2014

The Practice of Life (Part 3): Taking Back Control

rhodesOne thing lawyers are up against in the Happiness Derby is that things can look good on the outside even if we’re dying on the inside. Being a lawyer is prestigious, and looking good doing it maintains not just our professional status but the status quo our brains love so much.

We’ll give up a lot to maintain status and status quo – even our happiness. Trouble is, when we sacrifice our happiness, we lose our edge, which leads to diminished performance, which impedes success. Too much of that, and one day we find ourselves in the state of “learned helplessness” we talked about last time.

Once we’re there, it’s easy to start pointing fingers – at colleagues, staff, clients, law firms, law schools, the judicial system….  We get a perverse short-term benefit from blame-shifting – we don’t have to take the hit for what’s bugging us – but it isn’t worth the long-term cost to our happiness. Blaming others gives them power over our work performance and our personal wellbeing:  they have to change before we can be happy, and we could be waiting a long time.

Instead of thinking, “The practice of law is making me unhappy,” how about if instead we think, “I am an unhappy person.” That may be unpleasant to admit, but at least now we’ve got our control back. We can’t control the externals, but we can do something about the person looking back at us from the mirror. (Anybody else’s brain just cue up Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”? Just asking….)

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor describes the importance of this shift from external to internal focus:

[T]he most successful people, in work and in life, are those who have what psychologists call an “internal locus of control,” the belief that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes. People with an external locus, on the other hand, are more likely to see daily events as dictated by external forces.

One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters, that we have control over our future.

Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our own fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance.

Interestingly, psychologists have found that … gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have.

After all, if we believe nothing we do matters, we fall prey to the insidious grip of learned helplessness…

Too many unhappy lawyers get all the way to learned helplessness by keeping up appearances. The way back starts with admitting it’s up to get our mojo back.

We’ll talk about practical steps for regaining control next time.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

The Practice of Life (Part 2): Getting Started on Getting Happy

rhodesThis series is about happiness as a success strategy. Before we go on with it, here’s a quick update on a post a couple weeks back about lawyers learning to be entrepreneurs.

Last week I attended a CLE on “How to Manage a Small Law Firm.” It’s on a sponsored national tour, and offers training in the business of law that’s more systematized and supportive that you get with DIY. The following blurb from the CLE brochure shows how its connection to our current topic of happiness:

Law firms that are well-managed make lawyers happier. Law firms that are well-managed help lawyers act in a manner more becoming a professional. Law firms that are well-managed also tend to be more profitable than those that are managed by the seat of one’s pants, especially if those pants have never sat through even a single course about how to manage a small law firm.

The company behind this offers training, events, connections, workbooks, practical help. You might check them out. And now, moving along….

The Great Recession (Really? What was so great about it?) has been officially over for years. Scores of articles like this one from the Miami Herald have reviewed its indelible impact on the legal profession. Life in the business of law has changed forever, and many lawyers and law students are still feeling the aftershocks.

One of those is the psychological condition of “learned helplessness.” Here’s how positive psychologist Shawn Achor describes it in The Happiness Advantage:

What I’ve learned from many companies I’ve spoken with over the past two years [writing in 2012] is that the meltdown of 2008 and its aftershocks had instilled a form of learned helplessness – a belief in the futility of our action – a belief in the futility of our action – in many of the world’s workers.

Learned helplessness is when we know there are things we could do to help ourselves, but we simply can’t summon the energy or resolve to execute on them. Then, once a hopeless and helpless outlook takes root in one area of our lives, it seeps over into all others. Again, from The Happiness Advantage:

And it doesn’t end [with work]. When people feel helpless in one area, they not only give up in that one area; they often “overlearn” the lesson and apply it to other situations.

How do we reverse this insidious way of thinking? Getting inspired isn’t enough. Summoning lost willpower doesn’t work either. We can post inspirational quotes on the refrigerator door all we like, but we can’t rally around them. For example this one from Jim Collins’ Good to Great:

We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our setbacks, our history, our mistakes, or even staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices.

Inspiring? Yes. True? No doubt. But helpful? Not necessarily. It’s like our self-help circuit got disconnected, and all the motivational sayings in the world can’t reconnect it. Now what? We’re sick of the pity party, we’re not about to blame a recession, we want to get moving, but how to start?

The way back begins with self-awareness that that this is a real issue for us. And it helps to know we’re not alone. This inability to help ourselves is a malaise of our times. It’s really out there, and it’s not just us. Yes, eventually we’ll need to find the resolve within ourselves to go on, but sometimes it’s just good to know we’re not alone. No need to beat ourselves up. It’s not just a personal problem – millions of workers around the world are feeling the same way. The mere thought of that gets us out of ourselves, which means we can start to deal with the issue objectively. We know how to do that; we’re on familiar ground again. There’s hope.

The Happiness Advantage gives us some specific strategies for dealing with our learned helplessness. We’ll talk about them next time.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

The Practice of Life (Part 1): The Ethics of Happiness

rhodesI’ve written before about the ethics of unhappiness (here and here), describing how stressed-out lawyers pose ethical risks, especially when their unhappiness reaches the point of depression and other stress-related disorders. Today, let’s look at the positive side – brought to us, appropriately, by the principles of Positive Psychology.

As a teaching fellow, Shawn Achor helped to create the famed Harvard “happiness course.” Now he’s a globe-trotting consultant, taking Positive Psychology principles to companies worldwide. In his book The Happiness Advantage, he makes the case for happiness in the marketplace, starting with an upside-down look at the topic:

If you observe people around you, you’ll find most individuals follow a formula that has been subtly or not so subtly taught to them by their schools, their company, their parents, or society. That is: If you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. This pattern of belief explains what most often motivates us in life.

The only problem is that this formula is broken.

[N]ew research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around. We become more successful when we are happier.

When we are happy – when our mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.

It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive. (emphasis in original)

This isn’t Pollyannaish theory; it’s backed up with psychological research, neuroscience, and real-world business experience:

Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance. The list of benefits of happiness in the workplace goes on and on.

What this means for the legal profession is that happy lawyers are more likely to deliver the best of the competence, communication, timeliness, and sound judgment we’re ethically obligated to provide. It also means that the best-performing law firms – the firms that will also make the “best places to work” lists – could be founded on a single guiding principle: promote lawyer happiness.

Think about it.

For most of us, happiness is a learned skill. Again, as Achor says:

The Happiness Advantage . . . is about learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviors that have been empirically proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment. It is a work ethic.

I.e., it’s a practice. We can practice happiness like we practice law, except that if we put lawyer happiness at the core, we’ll likely create a practice of law unlike anything we’ve seen before.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Winds of Change (Part 6): Learning to Think Like a Lawyer an Entrepreneur

rhodesA June 2011 NBC News story profiled law grads who went solo. They’ve got hutzpah, no doubt:

“I say screw the economy. You worked hard, you got your law degree, so make something happen with it.”

Where did they learn the entrepreneurial ropes? Not at law school. Here’s what they said about that:

“Law schools are not equipped to help you start your own firm.”

“I love some of the classes I took at [law school], but virtually none of them are useful.”

“Considering this amount of debt and that most classes deal with theory rather than everyday, practical law… three years of law school are unnecessary and should be shortened.”

“There’s a whole economic engine behind law practice and to not get that business side of it in law school sucks.”

That’s not the case everywhere. The NBC News article tells this story:

When Dr. Silvia Hodges first proposed a “Law firm as a business” course, Sheila Foster, the associate dean for academic affairs of Fordham University School of Law, was skeptical.

“I wasn’t completely convinced that was a subject that our students would catch on to, so I asked her to further develop the concept,” Foster said.

But Hodges remained persistent. Now students consider the law firm management class and the law firm marketing class Hodges recently began teaching among the most useful courses at the school.

“Just having that technical knowledge is not enough in today’s world anymore. They need a more well-rounded picture,” Hodges said.

Chetson agrees, saying that if law schools really want to place their students in good jobs, they need to teach them to be self-sufficient.

Closer to home, I was recently interviewed by a CU Law student as part of an assignment for a class led by Dean Weiser, in furtherance of his commitment to promoting the “New Normal of legal entrepreneurship.

Private initiatives have also stepped up to fill the gap. Solo Practice University bills itself as “The Practice of Law School” that “picks up where your law education left off.” It offers web-based instruction and opportunities for virtual networking. The Lawyerist blog is chock full of practice management how-to’s. There are others, too – a whole new industry forming around the need to educate and support legal professionals as the practice of law reinvents itself.

The days of hiring law students who’ve been taught to think like lawyers and hoping they’ll learn business development and practice management skills by osmosis are over. The winds of change are blowing; they’re bringing in a sea change. Some lawyers are embracing it, and some are literally dying from it. How about you? Are you sails up, or are you battening down the hatches?

(For those who might be interested, a couple new ABA publications related to topics I’ve been writing about in this series came to my attention this week. One is about reinventing the practice of law, and the other is about different generations working effectively together.)

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Winds of Change (Part 5): The New Lawyer Entrepreneurs

rhodesA recent American Express Survey (results announced August 2013) compared how the Great Recession affected Generation Y (age 24-35) vs. Baby Boomer (age 48-70) entrepreneurs. Guess what? It made both groups more risk averse: “just 56% say they like taking risks, down from 72% in 2007.” We might have guessed.

Gen Y respondents also cited student debt load as another reason they’re less inclined to risk starting a business – especially straight out of school (16% did so in 2013 vs. 28% in 2007). About the same time, a Wall Street Journal article reported that “The rising mountain of student debt, recently closing in on $1.2 trillion, is forcing some entrepreneurs to abandon startup dreams.”

Average debt for undergrads is $40,000, the WSJ said, and post-grads weigh in at 55,000 – up from $40,800 10 years ago. The numbers are higher for law grads: an ABA Journal story reported that “The average 2012 law grad debt was $108,000, according to data collected by U.S. News & World Report.”

Closer to home, 39% of respondents to last year’s Colorado Lawyer Satisfaction & Salary Survey said law school debt has a significant effect (32%) or controls (7%) their career choices.

Is all that debt deterring Gen Y law firm startups? Not necessarily.

A June 2011 NBC News story profiled law grads who went solo. They did so partly in the face of a weak law job market: “since May 2008, the legal services sector has lost about 54,000 jobs, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” As a result, “the number of recent law graduates going solo increased from 3.5 percent in 2008 to 5.5 percent in 2009, the biggest one year jump since 1982” (citing data from the National Association for Law Placement).

It’s not just the bad job market that’s fueling the startups. The AmEx story reports that Gen Y entrepreneurs take the leap primarily to pursue something they feel passionate about. Armed with that passion, they launch themselves with a characteristic can-do attitude, pushing growth though social media, rewards for repeat customers, and effective use of technology.

The new lawyer entrepreneurs are cut from the same cloth. As one of the lawyers in the NBC News story said:

“I don’t need a big copier, I don’t need a huge support staff to manage all my paperwork and I don’t need an expensive phone system. Basically I just need a laptop and cell phone and I’m off and running.”

Another caters to entrepreneurs like herself, using a virtual office and a secure client log-in system. She says this:

“There have been times when I’ve woken up in the morning and I have new clients. They’ve found me online somehow and I’ve never had any interaction with them, but now they’re my clients. It’s pretty sweet.”

And speaking of can-do attitude, one law school graduate paid off his $108,000 in law school debt in four years. His strategy? “All I had to do was put my life on the line,” he said. Not exactly what you’d normally think of as entrepreneurial, but equally innovative and focused.

Did they learn any of that in law school? We’ll talk about that next time.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Winds of Change (Part 4): Future Shock and the Business of Law

rhodesAlvin Toffler defined Future Shock as “too much change in too short a period of time.” The book came out almost 45 years ago, the concept took awhile to gain momentum, but there’s no doubt it’s now in high gear. And a lot of people think the business of law is on the short list of industries likely to go the way of video cartridges and cassette tapes.

In a two part ABA “Legal Rebel” series last fall 2013 (here and here), business lawyer Edwin Reeser posited that the law business is still in the throes of the Great Recession, leaving many of us not thinking clearly (i.e., in a state of Future Shock), and causing law firms to seek solutions in all the wrong places:

The problem has been a lack of courage and discipline to create and deliver what clients in every industry ask for: a better-quality product and service for a better price—to provide increased value. Firms stopped investing in people and the future of the enterprise as an institution, and they did it long before the onset of the Great Recession. We would still be facing this problem in the future, but the Great Recession accelerated and compressed it into a shorter period of time.

Not everyone is so afflicted. A stunning array of new practice models and new lawyer career paths has sprung up overnight. Here’s a list of a few of them from a recent Clio webinar (with a couple local additions). Another list appears at the end of an October 2013 ABA Journal article entitled Who’s Eating Law Firm’s Lunch. There are some duplicates on the two lists, but not many.

In fact, most of these newcomers aren’t law firms at all, and many go way past Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer – two already big, big businesses providing non-traditional legal services. Instead, they live and thrive in the world of new business startups. A Valentine’s Day 2014 Tech Cocktail post reported that funding for legal service startups rose from $66 million in 2012 to $458 million in 2013, and predicted that 2014 could be bigger. Check the math: that’s nearly half a billion. And this year could be even bigger? Whoa.

Innovative as they are, those startups aren’t even all the way out there on the fringe. For that, you need to check out ReInvent Law, Lex Redux, and the Forum on Legal Evolution. We’re not just talking tech trade shows like LegalTech here; this the wild and wooly land of the earliest of early adopters. Their approach has two key features – technological innovation and a blunt commitment to customer service – and they go after both with a rage that isn’t for the thin-skinned. As one member of the Blawgosphere said about ReInvent Law NYC:

[None of the speakers] “disagreed that the law was in crisis, change was about to destroy life as we know it, and lawyers are greedy, selfish misanthropes who brought misery to society and destruction to themselves,”

Or, as another Blawgger wrote:

[Many presenters] “dismiss[ed] the legal profession (or trade, as FMC Technologies GC [Jeffrey] Carr explained, who stated that he couldn’t care less about hiring people engaged in the crime of the Unlawful Practice of Law) as stupid and venal because lawyers have yet to recognize the one true god, technology, that will make the world a wonderful place.”

Okay then.

One online comment to Who’s Eating Law Firm’s Lunch pretty well sums up the Future Shock impact of these developments: “Unauthorized practice of law. What Novus law is doing is illegal. None of the idiots at the ABA Journal could figure this out?”

Oh, they could figure it out, all right. But try to hold it back? Good luck with that. One commentator likened traditional law business to John Henry and his hammer picking a fight with a steam shovel. Like them or not, agree with them or not, call them illegal or unethical or not, these new bad boys are playing for keeps, and over half a billion dollars is a lot of fuel to keep them running.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Winds of Change (Part 3)

rhodesMy wife is used to the kinds of research I do for these articles, but even she raised an eyebrow when I brought home James Hillman’s book Suicide and the Soul. “Is there something I should know?” she asked. Yeah, I think so. I think there’s something we all should know, not just about individual lawyer suicides, but also about how they mirror the collective, transformational death occurring in our profession.

Hillman called suicide “the urge for hasty transformation” – referring to the death of an individual psyche under the stress of personal transformation. In a postscript written 40 years later, Hillman added insights about the communal nature of suicide:

Once we have grasped that involvement [in relationships with others] is fundamental to the soul, we would be inescapably connected by definition, turning and twisting the threads of our fate with the souls of others. Others are entangled in your death as you are in theirs. Suicide becomes a community matter.

No suicide dies or takes his life alone; the rest of the community dies and takes his life with him. We don’t want to hear that. We quickly deny any personal responsibility, avoid the topic, turn away when it comes up. Hillman explains our response this way:

This [community aspect] helps account for the common reaction against those who attempt suicide. They are not welcomed with sympathy by family, friends or clinic, but rather are met with anger and disgust. Before we sympathize with a person’s plight or pain that may have occasioned the attempt, we blame; we find ourselves spontaneously annoyed, outraged, condemnatory. I do believe this all too common response points to the enduring strata of the psyche that we all share, call it our archetypal humanity. We are societal animals, as well as having individual destinies. Something insists we belong to a wider soul and not to ourselves alone.

This is why lawyer suicide stories are so disturbing to those left behind – such as the CNN story that prompted this series, or this one about a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer who shot himself in his office after changing his voice mail greeting to say, “As of April 30, 2009, I can no longer be reached. If your message relates to a firm matter, please contact my secretary. If it concerns a personal matter, please contact my wife.”

Can’t you just see yourself doing that? I can. Change the voice mail message, set up an out-of-office email reply, write a memo about the status of pending cases… be the consummate professional to the end. A comment in that story is illustrative of Hillman’s individual/community insight:

To some his final act was a rebuke to what his beloved profession had become—a statement made in the very office he had been told to vacate.

The legal profession is a controlled access community, and once we’re in the club we have a lifetime membership. (“Once a lawyer always a lawyer.”) When one of our members is lost, we all lose. We can gloss over the statistics and get back to work, but we cannot remain unaffected.

Concerned bar leaders have written monographs such as this one, detailing the causes and signs of individual psychological distress and exhorting us to notice who’s not bearing up so well. They have their place in promoting help for the afflicted individual, but they do not reach the terminally fearful dynamics of communal transformation. For that, we need to also examine the systemic context which allowed – or maybe even promoted – that level of individual distress in the first place.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Winds of Change (Part 2): When Change Becomes Transformation

rhodesIt’s been a windy winter in Colorado. As I write, the wind is once again blowing in another cold front.

Wind signals change. Change is The Docket dedicating an issue to wellness. Change is when law schools initiate wellness programs, when Lawyer Assistance Programs adopt new, broader missions (see my last post), when bar association leaders appeal to lawyers to watch out for each other. Plus some of the other developments I’ll write about in this series.

Sometimes all that’s going on is a mere change in the weather, literally or metaphorically. But sometimes change is only the start, a precursor to something bigger. That something bigger is not just change, it’s transformation. Transformation is when all those smaller changes suddenly stop adding up and start to multiply. Put enough small changes together, and you have a trend. Put a few trends together, and you have a movement. Let the movement gain momentum, and you have transformation.

Change is rarely welcome but usually manageable. Not so with transformation. Transformation is change that’s gotten out of hand. It’s the locomotive that can’t be stopped, the simple act of personal conscience that erupts into social upheaval. Change presents new ideas to be tolerated and accommodated. Transformation is when you wake up one day and wonder how did it ever come to this.

Judging from the research I’ve been doing in connection with this series, I believe the legal profession is on the cusp of transformation. We’ll see, but if so, then we’re currently only in the change phase, and the big one is yet to come.

If and when it does, we’re going to need a more dramatic, drastic metaphor to make sense of it. Psychologist James Hillman writes that “symbols of transformation (as birth, growth, transitions of place and time) all openly indicate a next stage. They present this next stage before the present one is over. They unfold new possibilities, affording hope.”

So far so good, but watch out for what comes next. Hillman goes on to say that transformation is experienced as nothing less than death, which makes death the ultimate transformation metaphor. And the “The death experience,” Hillman warns, “never feels like a transition. It is the major transition which, paradoxically, says there is no future. The end has come. It is all over, too late.”

Consider, for example, the practices chronicled in The Lawyer Bubble that brought several BigLaw firms down. It’s easy to read about it and feel detached and say those firms got what they deserved. But curiously, not all of them did; some continue to skate along, apparently unscathed. Such is the nature of death:  the scythe swings for one but not another. And such is the nature of transformation:  confusing, disorienting, unfair, inexplicable.

Transformation asks more of us than we’ve got to give. For some, that will be too much. We’ll talk about that next time.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

WINDS OF CHANGE (Part 1): Attorney Wellness Leaders

rhodesGoogle “law school wellness programs” and count the hits. Of course you’ll get U of California at Berkeley (Boalt) and  U of San Francisco, but hey, that’s California, you’d expect that. But how about Duke, Harvard, U of Chicago… and closer to home, DU Sturm College of Law.

Lawyer assistance programs organizations like the Colorado Lawyers Assistance Program (COLAP) have changed their mission statements to adopt a far-reaching wellness orientation. They’re also reaching out to law schools, with the idea of helping new lawyers integrate personal and professional well-being into their careers from the get-go.

Beginning January 1st, the Ohio Bar amended its CLE requirements to require classes in “alcoholism, substance abuse, or mental health issues, which shall include instruction on any of their causes, prevention, detection, and treatment alternatives, as applicable.” Also required are classes in ethics that include consideration of “the Lawyer’s Creed and A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals.”

Why am I telling you all this? Because it would be too depressing to start by telling you that CNN ran a story last month about how lawyers now rank 4th among all professions in suicide rate. The story also cited the all-too-familiar statistics about how lawyers lead the way in substance abuse, depression, and other mental disorders. Just another tiresome “lawyers are unhappy” story that won’t change anything? Let’s hope not – not if the law schools and LAP’s and CLE Boards I’ve mentioned have anything to say about it.

The “Lawyer’s Creed” and “Aspirational Ideals” aren’t about rules and whether somebody is technically over the ethics line. They’re about ideals, about how to make the world of law safer and happier, more productive and rewarding, and ultimately more competently and justly administered for lawyers, clients, judges, and everybody else involved in the legal process.

Aspirational ideals, wellness education, and assistance programs go way beyond the vague notion we picked up in our mandatory pre-graduation ethics class that somehow we’re supposed to let the authorities know when somebody is struggling so much we can’t ignore their behavior anymore. Instead, they’re introducing a major paradigm shift so radical that it’s hard to get your head around if you’ve bought the conventional “aspirational means optional” point of view.

Among other things, that paradigm shift is based on the stunning idea that the law can be a life-enhancing career. No, this isn’t about holding hands in a circle and singing Kumbaya. It’s about enlightened self-interest, about deciding that it’s not okay anymore that we allow our profession to run us down, stress us out, and sometimes even kill us. It’s about embracing radical notions such as the one on COLAP’s webpage that says, “Problems are not a sign of failure but an opportunity for growth.” That’s not a surprising phrase to see on one of those motivational plaques, but as applied to high-achieving, competitive, alpha-controlling lawyers? Truly stunning.

Can you imagine personal wellness resources being part of normal life when you went to law school? I can’t either. Thankfully, the winds of change are blowing.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Surviving a Personal Apocalypse — Part 6: Float Like a Butterfly

rhodesVan Wishard describes the final stage of the apocalypse archetype as the “rebirth of belief, culture and civilized order in accord with the archetypal expression of the new truth.” Edward Edinger says it’s when “there begins to appear the possibility of a conscious relation to the Self and its wholeness.” And here’s what we get from Revelation 21: 1, 4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Got all that? Me neither. What happens after all the revelation, judgment, and destruction we’ve been talking about is obviously a whole lot of New, but what precisely does that mean, and how does it come about when the personal apocalypse we’re going through is something as unheavenly as job loss, financial ruin, health crisis, etc., and there’s still a lot of earthly life yet to live?

A couple suggestions. First, if we get just one thing from the revelations of personal apocalypse, it’s that we got something we never expected, and what comes next isn’t anything we’ve ever known. Therefore we have no choice but to break from the old, because the old is broken. We need to quit, but quitting isn’t easy. As Seth Godin says in his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick):

Quitting feels like a go-down moment, a moment where you look yourself in the eye and blink. Of course you are trying your best. But you just can’t do it. It’s that whole Vince Lombardi thing. If you were just a better person, you wouldn’t quit… I’d rather you focus on quitting… as a go-up opportunity.”

How can quitting be a “go-up” moment? Well, for one thing, it can signal the end of apocalyptic suffering. Consider these words, from an unlikely source:

All experience hath shown mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

“The forms to which [we] are accustomed” is what our apocalypse has gotten rid of. It’s time to leave our emotional attachments to them behind. If we don’t, we’ll just perpetuate our suffering.

Second, as we go about quitting, let’s not give up on myth and metaphor. They’ offer powerful assistance because they grab big, universal experiences and compress them, make them intense and accessible. They work because they force us to wrestle out of them the meaning we need in the here and now.

Consider, for example, the caterpillar-to-butterfly metaphor. It’s so profound and perfect that it feels like just another dose of sugary greeting card optimism, but real metamorphosis has no sweetness and light about it. The moment when the caterpillar is finally enclosed in its shroud is the moment when we can be certain there will be nothing left of it when the butterfly finally emerges, and tracing the molecular bond between what it was and what it becomes will always be cause for awe.

We don’t get metamorphosis with an aggressive and willful grab, but from a willingness to believe that the bond between ourselves and our post-apocalyptic lives will be forged in the cocoon’s darkness and mystery. In order to make our own personal journey to our personal “new heaven and new earth,” we need to journey past our old understanding and ability and resourcefulness, to the point where all that’s left is to spin the cocoon around ourselves, and make our transformation inevitable.

What could that possibly mean for you? Good question. And there’s an answer already forming in the depths of your soul that’s just what you need to hear. To listen will take courage, and to play it out will take vision and determination.

And speaking of which – you were wondering about the source of that earlier quote?

The Declaration of Independence.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Surviving a Personal Apocalypse — Part 5: Destruction

rhodesJungian psychologist Edward Edinger calls an apocalypse “a momentous event … the shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution.” Hold onto that word “reconstitution” and whatever hope it gives you. You’ll need it before you’re done.

On the heels of that “momentous event,” we’re served (phase one) with the case against us: all the unpleasant revelations about how our worldview and behavior helped to bring it on. Then we hear the judgment (phase two) that not only did they bring it on, but they can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again: what we trusted in the past doesn’t apply anymore; old thoughts and beliefs won’t work to get us out of this mess.

Then, while we’re still down and out and powerless, we enter phase three, which futurist and mega-trend spotter Van Wishard describes as “the destruction of existing beliefs and institutions that are no longer functionally an expression of the new truth” of our disrupted lives. According to Prof. Edinger, this destruction phase is experienced as “the individual’s anxiety in the midst of this transformation ordeal.” (Emphasis added.)

No wonder we can’t sleep. Ordeals aren’t supposed to be fun, but this is the mother of them all.

Christopher Vogler’s marvelous book on screenwriting, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, says this about the ordeal stage of a great story:

The simple secret of the Ordeal is this: Heroes must die so that they can be reborn. The dramatic moment that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth. In some way in every story, heroes face death or something like it: their greatest fears, the failure of an enterprise, the end of a relationship, the death of an old personality. Most of the time, they magically survive this death and are literally or symbolically reborn to reap the consequences of having cheated death. They have passed the main test of being a hero.

The Ordeal in myths signifies the death of the ego. The hero is now fully part of the cosmos, dead to the old, limited vision of things and reborn into a new consciousness.

The good news is, you are the hero of your own story, and odds are excellent that you will join the ranks of countless other heroes and prevail against the seemingly insurmountable challenges your personal apocalypse has brought upon you. The bad news is, you are the hero of your own story, and you, like all those other heroes, will suffer before you reach that happy ending.

What can you do while you’re in this destruction phase? Frankly, not much. Mostly, you watch, and keep breathing. Trust me – I’ve been there – this too shall pass. Why? Because archetypal life events like personal apocalypse really do play out to completion, and there is still one final stage to go, when the plot takes that surprise twist and the hero finally pulls it off.

We’ll talk about reconstitution next time.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Surviving a Personal Apocalypse — Part 4: Judgment Day

rhodes(Since we just took a holiday break, you might want to go back to Parts 1, 2, and 3 and refresh yourself on the topic of “personal apocalypse.” Go ahead; we’ll wait.)

Jungian psychology identifies observable, predictable patterns of human experience called “archetypes.” One of them is the Apocalypse archetype. Like the others, it plays out both individually (personal apocalypse) and collectively (public apocalypse).

Jungian scholar Edward Edinger identifies four phases of the Apocalypse archetype: The first is revelation, which we talked about last time. The second is judgment, today’s topic.

No, this isn’t the Last Judgment we’re used to hearing about, when all wrongs everywhere for all time are thrown into the Lake of Fire, and us along with them. Instead, as global trends analyst, futurist, and Jungian student William Van Dusen Wishard describes it, this is the “judgment of existing beliefs and institutions against the background of the new truth” we’re given in the revelation phase.

In other words, this is the phase where we find out how our personal beliefs and behaviors, plus the operative dynamics of the important institutions in our lives, all combined to create the mess we now find ourselves in. We’re going to get a private briefing on the topic, and we’re not going to like what we hear. If we thought revelation was a tough pill to swallow, then our personal judgment day is like chugging cod liver oil.

As Edinger says, the judgment phase “can be so overpowering that it can threaten complete demoralization.” No wonder: nobody likes to be told that the thoughts and practices they relied upon colluded with the institutions they trusted to bring about the collapse of their world. That’s never happy news, and hearing it NOW makes it less so: this is after all the end of the world as we’ve known it, and we’re not exactly having a good time here.

As a result, we usually respond by blaming others or dumping ourselves into the tank of guilt and shame and remorse. But really, there’s no need for that. There’s no moral judgment here, no need to punish ourselves or anyone else for what we’ve done or what happened to us. Forgive, yes; punish, no. It’s just that there’s a new sheriff in town, and things are going to be different around here. That’s all. Nothing personal.

Still, the deflation is hard to overcome. We weren’t trying to screw things up, weren’t trying to get sick, get laid off, get hit by a train… things just turned out that way. Maybe so, but if we want to move ahead with rebuilding our post-apocalyptic lives, we need to accept responsibility for what just happened. No, we didn’t and don’t control everything, but we do control what we believe, how we behave, and the choices and responses we make, and now that the leases we had on all of those have been terminated – however unfairly – it’s time to renegotiate. Entering those negotiations with an understanding of how we got ourselves here gives us our best shot at restoring the trust, hope, confidence, and security we’ve lost.

Welcome to Judgment Day. Thankfully, it’s not the end of the process.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.