July 29, 2014

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part 8): Is It Worth It?

rhodesWe want purpose, meaning, autonomy, happiness, and all the rest of what career and personal enlightenment have to offer. We also want getting them to be safe, easy, and certain. We don’t want to rock the boat. We want to be able to look around and know where we are. We want to be able to do the things we’ve always done, think the way we’ve always thought, but just be happier about it.

In other words, we want enlightenment to be different, but we also want it to feel as safe as the life we’re trying to leave behind.

Where in the world did we ever get such an idea? From ego. From the survival instincts lodged in the most ancient part of our brains. From our brains’ embedded practice of maintaining status quo. And from the collective expressions of those things in the organizations, cultures, firms, and other institutions that make up the milieu of our lives.

Challenge all that in the name of greater satisfaction and happiness? Better think twice. It’s not going to go well. Status quo gets old, but so does constantly having to create our chaotic new lives in the name of making them better. It’s fun at first, but eventually it feels like all we accomplished was to trade one kind of stress for another. It’s possible to get past that point, but a lot of people never do, it’s just so entirely demoralizing.

For some crazy reason, life is set up so the pursuit of enlightenment is optional. We can get it, but it’ll cost us, and the cost is high: we have to end the reign of ego. Most people won’t do it. Most people probably shouldn’t. Better for them if they don’t turn pro in the enlightenment game. Better if they keep the day job, don’t cash in the 401k.

That’s not cowardice. Nobody says you have to do this. After all, ego and status quo are effective: they get the job done, pay the bills. We challenge them at our own risk, and the people who do aren’t exactly good role models.

Ever notice that so many of the people we admire live unbalanced lives? It costs a lot to do be who they are and do what they do. They’re the creative fringe, the radical, aberrant few. They left the safe center of the bell curve behind long ago, and now they’re statistically irrelevant, three or more standard deviations out. They’re out there on the edge, delusional by any standard of normalcy. They’re no longer productive citizens — at least not as status quo measures it. They take irrationality to new extremes, become a danger to themselves and others. They think “getting a life” is overrated. They work too hard and don’t know when to quit. They’re often not likeable or fun or safe to be around.

They’re also the creative leaders we’ve always needed in our world, and need again right now.

And who knows, you might be one of them.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in the August and September issues of The Colorado Lawyer. His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. Follow this link for a FREE book download (available in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a pdf. etc.). You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Seven): Micro-Brewed Bliss

rhodesThe last two posts in this series were about pivoting. A few decades ago we would have talked about guerilla marketing. More recently, the topic would have been the nimble organization. Nowadays, you probably know about the microenterprise movement, you’ve noticed all the Colorado microbreweries and wineries, and you’ve probably seen stuff online about micro-housing. Long before any of that, we had Small is Beautiful. Plus variations on the theme along the way.

That adds up to four decades of thought leaders telling us the same thing: our world isn’t supporting monolithic monuments to status quo anymore. There’s just too much change going on. Centralized, formalized, institutionalized “corporate cultures” can’t stay relevant and responsive. Globalization has paradoxically both homogenized world culture and shattered the “market” into a gazillion shards, where it’s indie-this and indie-that, micro products delivered to micro markets.

What does all this have to do with our desire to live fulfilled and meaningful and satisfying lives? Lots, actually.

For starters, it’s evidence of a systemic pivot that’s running through human existence — an evolutionary neurological adaptation playing out on billions of micro-stages. Consider this quote from a blog post entitled “Nimble: The New Big.”

We define organizational nimblenessas the ability and willingness to make smart and timely decisions about core organizational strategies, resources and actions based on real-world dynamics.

Consider what mind scientist John Medina says about human history and our ability to adapt:

“How, then, did [humans] go from such a wobbly, fragile minority population to a staggering tide of humanity 7 billion strong and growing? There is only one way. You give up on stability. You don’t try to beat back the changes. You begin not to care about consistency within a given habitat, because such consistency isn’t an option. You adapt to variation itself.”

Less stress and more peace, freedom, autonomy, meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose, and whatever other qualities of experience we put in our enlightenment bags aren’t about settling down, getting low and slow. Not so in a world where a single new product announcement can wipe out a whole industry, and dealing with “Big-Bang Disruption” is part of a CEO’s job description.

If we want personal and career enlightenment in the year 2014, we need to “adapt to variation itself,” which means staying light on our feet, nimble, ready to pivot. We need to go micro, create meaning in small, powerful doses, while simultaneously sticking to “core organizational [and personal] strategies.” In other words, we need to embrace chaos while staying centered.

That’s a lot to ask the human race. We were just getting comfortable in our evolutionary recliners. (“Hey, grab me some more self-actualization while you’re up, would you?”) And it’s especially a lot to ask the sector of the human race that makes its living in the legal profession, where precedent is our shared genome. No, we’re not all hidebound — as we’ve seen in past blogs about “disruptive innovation” in our profession — but most of us aren’t exactly early adopters either.

Is the prospect of enlightenment worth all this chaos and disruption? How do you find peace in the midst of chaos? Even Bob Dylan had his reservations: ““I accept chaos,” he said, “But I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” Are those dreams of enlightenment more trouble than they’re worth? How bad would it be to just hunker down into ego and enjoy a decent paycheck and let the Avant Garde do the crashing and burning for the rest of us?

Good questions. We’ll tackle them next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in the August and September issues of The Colorado Lawyer. His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. Follow this link for a FREE book download (available in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a pdf. etc.). You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

 

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Six): More About Pivoting

rhodes(For more about entrepreneurial pivoting, check out The Art of the Pivot in the May/June 2014 issue of Inc. Magazine.)

We rarely seek enlightenment and the things we want from it — peace, meaning, fulfillment, and all the rest — for their own sake. We’re not in the habit of doing nice things like that for ourselves. Instead, we justify our quest by embracing some noble and idealistic and altruistic vision. We’ll make life better for ourselves, but we’ll also help someone else while we’re at it. Thinking that way gets us off the dime, makes us willing to defy the odds and the gods.

It’s a good way to start, but it won’t sustain us, especially when the resistance we meet makes it obvious why we haven’t done this before, or why we failed when we tried. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to make an impact in the world, but those ambitions take their cues from outside ourselves: we’re focused on changing something, instead of changing someone — namely the person who lives inside our own skin. As long as we maintain that external orientation, our status-quo-loving and change-resistant brains will be quick to turn tail when things turn tough.

And they will turn tough. Enlightenment is an inside job that’s harshly unsympathetic to whether the externals are lining up to support our grand visions. In fact, it’s usually the case that we’ve barely taken a few baby steps when the path to Paradise plunges us into the cavernous muck where ruined dreams rot.

We need to pivot in order to move on from that place. In physical terms, pivoting is rotating around a still central axis. In entrepreneurial terms, pivoting is what we do when we find out the market doesn’t want our brilliant ideas. In enlightenment terms, pivoting is what we do when we find ourselves wallowing in the mess we created in the name of doing something awesome with our lives. Entrepreneurial and enlightened pivoting rotate around the center of what we’re really after and who we really are. The externals spin and blur, but not the core.

Our enlightenment quest takes us to that core. Along the way, we detach from ego, which is necessary because, if truth be told, our plans to save the world were probably just a spiffed-up version of ego. Ego is immobilized down in that creepy chasm; it becomes dead weight we need to jettison if we’re going to make it through. And often, when we get rid of ego, the vision goes with it.

That doesn’t mean our grand visions won’t ever come to fruition. They might, but you can bet it won’t be the way we originally envisioned, or because ego wrangled them into being. If they come to pass at all, it will be because they resonate deeply with our core selves. Find that core, and pivoting is both possible and powerful: execute that one swift, nifty move, and suddenly we’re unstuck and unleashing whole new worlds of creativity that make surprising things happen.

Then another wonderful thing happens: enlightenment hands us our bag of swag, full of peace, freedom, and all the rest. And we find ourselves living the truth of that inspirational saying that it’s not about making change happen, it’s about becoming the change we wish to make.

And by the way, was that a paraphrase just now of something Gandhi said? Or was it Thoreau? Or maybe Nelson Mandela? If you’re wondering, you’ll enjoy this article about what they really said, and where those inspirational sayings really come from.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in the August and September issues of The Colorado Lawyer. His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. Follow this link for a FREE book download (available in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a pdf. etc.). You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

 

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Five): Pivoting on the Path to Paradise

rhodesWhen we start down the Path to Paradise, we lay our “Life Capital” on the line: we stake what we’ve been and done and have on a dream, a vision of what could be. It’s a bold, risky, scary venture. We’ll run into big time challenges, and to meet them we’ll need to stay light on our feet, be adaptable, flexible, resourceful. And we’ll need to do that without compromising, rationalizing, or otherwise losing the essence of what we’re after.

How do we do all that? By learning to pivot.

Pivoting is a term borrowed from the entrepreneurial world, where the idea is to create continuous feedback loops that monitor market response to innovation. You want to know what works in real time, and you want to find out before you blow through your startup capital.

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, describes pivoting this way in his blog, Startup Lessons Learned:

In a lean startup, instead of being organized around traditional functional departments, we use a cross-functional problem team and solution team. Each has its own iterative process: customer development and agile development respectively. And the two teams are joined together into a company-wide feedback loop that allows the whole company to be built to learn. This combination allows startups to increase their odds of success by having more major iterations before they run out of resources. It increases the runway without additional cash.

Increasing iterations is a good thing – unless we’re going in a circle. The hardest part of entrepreneurship is to develop the judgment to know when it’s time to change direction and when it’s time to stay the course. That’s why so many lean startup practices are focused on learning to tell the difference between progress and wasted effort. One such practice is to pivot from one vision to the next.

So how do you know it’s time to change direction? And how do you pick a new direction? These are challenging questions, among the hardest that an early startup team will have to grapple with. Some startups fail because the founders can’t have this conversation – they either blow up when they try, or they fail to change because they are afraid of conflict. Both are lethal outcomes.

I want to introduce the concept of the pivot, the idea that successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration.

Pivoting is disorienting because when you do it, it’s hard to tell if you’re still moving toward your vision or if you’re giving up on it. The key to “learning to tell the difference between progress and wasted effort” is to stay in touch with those “common threads that link each iteration.” In enlightenment terms, that means staying anchored in the purest distillation of what you’re really after, and allowing the rest to fall out as it will.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Four): Accept No Substitutes

rhodes“Something else is possible” is the simple, powerful, and essential belief that gets us into the enlightenment game. With it, we can move toward peace, freedom, autonomy, meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose… whatever makes up our version of enlightenment. Without it, we won’t get started, and won’t continue if we do.

Holding that belief isn’t easy, because ego doesn’t believe it, and as long as it’s in charge, we’re not going anywhere. That’s why ego has to go, like we saw last time. That’s simply said, not easy to do.

Our brains support our egos by creating and maintaining a “road most traveled” of neural pathways for our habitual thoughts and actions to run on. It’s a very neat and tidy and efficient system, until one day we come stomping in with our muddy boots on its newly-waxed floor and announce we just saw the light.

What happens next isn’t going to go well.

Ego trots out The List of All the Irrefutable Reasons why we can’t, don’t, and won’t get what we want. I’ve been asking for that list in workshops for the past four years, and it’s always the same. You can recite it with me: not enough money, it’s a bad time, I’m too young, too old, my firm/boss/spouse isn’t going to like it, etc., etc.

The. Same. List. Always. Everywhere. Every crowd. Every time. It’s ego-generated, and it’s a stopper. No matter how pumped we are about making change, once ego weighs in, the game is over.

Each of us thinks our list is personal. It’s not. The reasons are universal. Think about it, if it’s always the same list, then how could change ever be possible for anyone? It’s an obvious question, but we don’t ask it. We give up instead.

It’s not that we’re wimps, it’s just that reasons always win, and no wonder: they’re backed by fear. Fear of what others will think. Fear of failure. Fear period. We sense that, and we back off, rationalizing why it’s a good thing if they win the argument, forgetting that it’s ultimately an argument against ourselves.

Rationalizing is ego foisting cheap substitute goods on us. We accept them not because we want to, but because we believe we can’t have the real thing. Rationalizing tries to make a bad thing sound good. Consolation prizes are the most misnamed trophies in the world. They mean well, but they don’t help. There’s no consolation in them; not to our hearts, anyway. Maybe they placate ego, but we still feel lousy. We were in it to win, but we lost, and we’re hurting. Where’s the consolation in that?

No dream of what our lives could be at their highest and best should have to suffer that kind of indignity.

Ego is not an original thinker. Substitutes are all it has to offer. If you want enlightenment, then get it. Period. Adopt and enforce an Accept No Substitutes policy. Hold out for the good turtle soup, and forget the mock.

Just know that working with the recipe is going to require some tinkering. We’ll talk about that next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Three): Why Ego Has To Go

rhodesEgo is why we believe what we believe and act the way we act. Ego is in charge of deciding what’s normal and possible, and one thing it knows for sure is that the kind of enlightenment we’re talking about in this series is neither.

Ego sounds authoritative, but feels a lot less so when you realize that, on a cellular level, it’s the aggregate of our brains’ most commonly used neural pathways. As we saw last time, if our brains can conceive of the idea of a life and a career filled with happiness and fulfillment, they’re ready to give it to us. Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself – can actually trump ego, and make impossible things happen.

That’s a hopeful thought, but it doesn’t make it easy to let go of ego. Ego got the corner office because of its track record. It kept us safe when we were kids, navigated us through adolescence, made sure we got things done when we grew up. No problem with any of that, but that’s actually the point.

Ego is our life regulator. As long as it stays in charge, it’s business as usual. If we’re not experiencing life the way we want, that’s because our ego structures aren’t buying into the idea. And guess what: they never will. Ego is a one-trick pony; it won’t and can’t learn; all it can do is execute its ideal of how things are and ought to be. If we want something new, we need new neural pathways to replace the ones currently in charge. The corner office needs a new tenant.

I’ve used this quote from Einstein before, but it’s so good, why not do it again:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

He might have substituted “the same ego” for “the same kind of thinking.” Ego is embedded in our life experiences (including the one we’re having right at this moment, reading this). Want more of the same? Let ego keep its job. Want change – not little change, but BIG change? Then it’s time for the severance package.

We’d like ego to keep its job because we’re used to it and think it can change. Not gonna happen: the list of ego features that need to change is just too overwhelming.

  • Our intellect – particularly the different kinds of intelligence we do or don’t use;
  • Our approach to relationships at work and home;
  • The beliefs we hold about how life works, what’s important and what’s not, etc.;
  • Our sense of identity and meaning and purpose;
  • Our learning style;
  • Our decision-making style;
  • Our likes and dislikes, areas of knowledge and ignorance, competence and incompetence.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

When our quest for enlightenment runs into resistance, we blame ourselves, blame life, blame Fate, blame the gods…. Better to simply acknowledge that the brain wiring that supports ego is just humming along the way it always has. We can stay stuck in ego, or we can go ahead without it, but one thing we can’t do is teach it new tricks.

We’ll talk more about that next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Two): Evolution’s Case for Enlightenment

rhodesWe wouldn’t want enlightenment if we couldn’t have it. All those things we called “enlightenment” last time – less stress, more peace, more freedom and autonomy, more meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose – are there for the taking.

At least, evolutionary neurology thinks so. I found that out recently when I tackled a stack of books on the subject. The books weren’t exactly a beach read; they went back to the library mostly unread, but not before leaving me with two astounding bits of awareness.

First, creation evolves. That’s a fact – not a desire or aspiration, not a random shot in the dark, not a maybe or a guess, but a fact. Every created thing is encoded with an irrepressible urge for growth, change, improvement, progress.

Second, evolution is efficient. It doesn’t waste itself on what isn’t going to happen. It plays its hand carefully, places bets where the odds are good. No, it’s not infallible, but its batting average is enviable.

Put those two ideas together, and that’s why enlightenment is possible for all of us, not just for people who can sit in the lotus position. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” aren’t just political ideals, they’re an evolutionary impulse evident in the wide world and embedded in the human soul. That dynamic isn’t only in us, but in everything we create – personally, professionally, artistically, and otherwise. We were born this way, and we endow everything we create with the same energy.

Which is why we’re going to see more Star Wars movies.

You’ve heard the quote, “’Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Napoleon Hill said that in his 1937 self-help classic Think and Grow Rich. I confess – that’s another book that went back to the library mostly unread. Maybe the book isn’t my cup of tea, but the quote is neurologically defensible: if our brains have evolved to the place where they can hold big ideas about how wonderful our lives can be, then they’re probably ready to take on the project.

We quickly dismiss our big ideas as pipedreams. We might want to rethink our practice, suspend our skepticism, and entertain those ideas instead. The notion that they might become reality isn’t just positive thinking, it’s a possibility supported by evolutionary neurology. Maybe we can’t get all the way to the top of the mountain just by thinking positively, but we can make a start, knowing the odds of getting there are probably better than we think.

If enlightenment is so possible, then why don’t we just grab it? Ah, not so fast, Grasshopper! Probably we don’t leap into the arms of bliss because we know it’s going to cost us. We talked a little about that last time. We’ll talk more about it next.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part One)

rhodesNirvana, bliss, paradise, enlightenment… what would that be for you? Yes, you. And not on some ethereal plane, but in the life you actually have, right here, right now. Better yet, what would it be like if your career and life as a lawyer was enlightened?

I watched a group of 30 North Dakota lawyers answer that question for themselves earlier this week. (Well, not exactly that question, but a series of questions that got to the same point.) They wanted less stress, more peace, more freedom and autonomy, more meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose. If that’s not enlightenment, it’ll do until the real thing comes along.

I did the same workshop for a group of non-lawyers last Saturday, and the responses were the same. They’re always the same, no matter the audience. We all want these things, but few of us feel we have them.

Does that mean enlightenment is unattainable? I don’t think so. These are universal desires; why would we all keep wanting what we can’t have? Surely evolution would have knocked this foolishness out of us long ago.

Assuming it’s possible, how do we get there? It’s simple, really: learn to live on the other side of ego. Here’s the Einstein version:

“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.”

Or if you prefer a more enigmatic quote from a more spiritual source:

“Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.”
-Chögyam Trungpa, Tibetan Buddhist, Founder of Naropa University

By ego, I mean the dynamic organizing principle that gives our lives psychic shape and physical expression. Psychologists tell us ego is fully formed by age 4; after that, it acts like a gravitational center, drawing our experiences into orbit around itself, defining for us what’s normal and what’s not, what’s safe and possible and predictable and what isn’t. Ego gives us our sense of self, creates boundaries that differentiate us from others, lays down our foundational beliefs and habitual behaviors. It creates and sustains who we are, what we do, and what we have. Ego accounts for how we make decisions, our likes and dislikes, our areas of competence and ignorance. And a whole lot more.

We need all that to survive in a scary world. Until we don’t anymore, and we realize that, for all its usefulness, ego hasn’t given us what we really want – freedom, fulfillment, and all the rest. That’s when it’s time to learn to remove ego as the gravitational center of our lives.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No – not because it’s complicated, but because we don’t know how to get there from here.

We can learn. Honest. But before we start, it’s good to heed some practical advice:

“The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.”
-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

More next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

The Practice of Life (Part 6): Facing Down the Saber-toothed Tiger

rhodesThe 2013 Colorado Lawyer Satisfaction and Salary Survey, showed that most Colorado lawyers (a) work under the kind of chronic stress that hurts us in the long-term, but (b) put up with it because they’re well paid. Lots of other scholarly research and media articles have said the same thing.

In other words, one of the things that can stand between lawyers and happiness is the money they make. 83% of Survey respondents reported earning $60,000 or more, 69% were at $80,000 or more, and 54% were over $100,000. Those are strong numbers. So what’s to complain about?

If you’re not happy, the numbers don’t help. Turns out that “money doesn’t buy happiness” is more than a folksy saying; it has roots in neuroscience. Our minds know that being happy and making money aren’t mutually exclusive. Our brains, on the other hand, aren’t so sure. They’d rather play it safe and take money over happiness any day.

Why do our brains do that? Once again quoting positive psychologist Shawn Achor and his book The Happiness Advantage:

Neuroscientists have found that financial losses are actually processed in the same areas of the brain that respond to mortal danger. In other words, we react to withering profits and a sinking retirement account the same way our ancestors did to a saber-toothed tiger.

Did he just say that our brains react to financial stress the same way they would if we found ourselves face-to-face with a saber-toothed tiger? Yes, that’s what he said. It’s a neurological fact that money issues light up the most basic survival-instinct parts of our brains. Mess with our paychecks and our fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. Adrenaline pumps through the system; we get busy surviving.

No wonder, then, that the Great Recession hit the business of law so hard. It hit us where it hurts: in our above-average pocketbooks. That was bad enough on financial terms, but the source of our distress and disorientation goes much deeper. Making good money helps things look good on the outside, and therefore maintains a happiness-depleting external locus of control, at the expense of a happiness-enhancing internal locus.

That shift in locus is why, in our minds a least, a well-paying job trumps happiness. Pit happiness against money, and we’re not talking prestige anymore, we’re talking survival. And that is why we eventually take on the mindset of learned helplessness that kills happiness. This doesn’t happen because our priorities are screwed up; it happens because our brains are wired that way.

Fortunately, we can use our minds to alter our brains’ automatic “put up and shut up” response. Which is why knowing the tiger is still on the prowl has motivated many lawyers to seek new, sustainable solutions to the business of law. (In case you missed it, we looked at several of those in the last series.)

Going inside ourselves to cultivate happiness becomes a practice of life that’sgood for our souls, good for business, good for professionalism. And none of that requires taking a smaller paycheck. In fact, as we’ve also seen, cultivating happiness might just create a larger one.

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 5): Managing the Mask

rhodesWearing a professional mask is one of the tools of our trade. We don’t do that out of hypocrisy, but to meet the demands of our work. We’ve got a lot to do. Our masks keep us on track. We need that.

Here’s what psychologist Edward Edinger says about the benefits of professional personas, both to ourselves and the society we serve:

Now of what value is awareness of the persona to the individual and society? Here again, as with all self-knowledge, both the individual and society benefit. You see, it commonly happens that, to a greater or lesser extent, one is identified with one’s persona. It is so convenient. It is hard enough to acquire competence in a professional career, and once that has been achieved, the satisfactions of that achievement are so significant that there is a strong tendency to identify with that professional role.

The minister learns an appropriate persona as he goes through theological seminary, and then starts his first job as assistant pastor; the medical student learns the medical persona; the lawyer learns hers, and so on. And once that is learned, things work so smoothly when operating out of it that there’s a strong tendency to identify with it. But the trouble is, for society as a whole, that when one meets one’s doctor, or one’s pastor, or one’s lawyer, or whatever, one isn’t meeting a full human being. You meet the mask.

All that is understandable.… [I]t takes too much time to be real. It is much easier to function out of your [professional] persona. The great advantage of it, though temporary, is that it doesn’t take any effort, you don’t have to respond out of the deeper human realities. So you can get more work done in a day…. It takes much more time to listen… and respond humanly, and then you get way behind in your schedule.

From Science of the Soul:

So far so good, but it’s not hard to spot the downside. there is more to us than our professional masks. There are times when we need to take them off, when we need to “be real” and not be identified with our professional persona, when other people need to meet “a full human being” and we need to respond to them “out of the deeper human realities” of who we are.

Managing the mask begins with self-awareness. As Prof. Edinger says “If self-knowledge is to proceed and if individuals are going to achieve a full, well-rounded personality, it is important that they realize the reality of the persona.” Wear the mask or don’t wear the mask, but do so consciously, because “it makes a world of difference whether you’re doing something consciously or unconsciously, because choice is involved.”

There’s that word “choice” again. Choice is essential to regaining that sense of control we’ve been talking about – which in turn is essential to promoting our happiness, both on the job and away from it.

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 4): Getting Your Mojo Back

rhodesCareer mojo gone? Life mojo missing? Want it back?

Getting your mojo back starts with self-awareness: admitting you’re not lighting it up the way you’d like. It’s tempting to shrug off this step, short-change it. Don’t. This series has been quoting from The Happiness Advantage; let’s go to the well once again:

Experiments show that when people are primed to feel high levels of distress, the quickest to recover are those who can identify how they are feeling and put those feelings into words. Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of those negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills.

Think about it. Feel it. Write about it. Keeping a journal is not self-indulgent, it’s a great way to discharge negativity, which by definition has an immediate, positive impact.

Next, find something you can control, and tackle it by thinking small:

Once you’ve mastered the self-awareness [step], your next goal should be to identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t.

One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters, that we have control over our future. Yet when our stresses and workloads seem to mount faster than our ability to keep up, feelings of control are often the first things to go, especially when we try to tackle too much at once. If, however, we first concentrate our efforts on small manageable goals, we regain the feeling of control so crucial to performance.

We waste energy on big picture drama when we’re in the doldrums, and end up feeling overwhelmed and indecisive. Thinking small refocuses our energy:

The point is to tease apart the stresses that we have to let go because they’re out of our hands, while at the same time identifying the areas where our efforts will have a real impact, so that we can then focus our energy accordingly.

Once my trainees are armed with a list of what is indeed still within their control, I have them identify one small goal they know they can quickly accomplish. By narrowing their scope of action, and focusing their energy and efforts, the likelihood of success increases.

Lost mojo means lost confidence. Thinking small builds it up again:

Setting smaller, more manageable goals helps us build our confidence and celebrate our forward progress, and keeps us committed to the task at hand.

By first limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching those efforts have the intended effect, we accumulate the resources, knowledge, and confidence to expand the circle, gradually conquering a larger and larger area.

Thinking small also builds momentum:

By tackling one small challenge at a time – a narrow circle that slowly expands outward – we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward.

Think small – it’s simple, accessible, high-leverage. Quick success creates fresh confidence. Before you know it, you’re ready to tackle the bigger issues. We’ll look at a couple of those starting 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 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.