I’m training myself to accept failure. More than that, I’m trying to actively identify and deal with how I process failure emotionally. And that’s not easy for someone whose perfectionism (not a positive trait) and guilt can sometimes prevent me from actually getting things done at work or actively engaging with the world, e.g. if you don’t start, then you can’t fail, and if you can’t fail, then you can’t feel the pain - but you can’t succeed either. Basically, when I fail, it’s often because I can’t get out of my own way, and not because of external reasons. I’ve failed many, many times – many times: in business, in life, in love, in friends, in family. And I keep failing. And that will certainly continue.
This is a difficult job we do, and it is easy to get caught up in the everyday problems of legal practice. It's hard to keep one eye on the bigger picture while you deal with difficult cases. There are days when you think it might be easier to do this work with the support of a big firm environment.
When people learn that I am a lawyer, I am often asked the question, “What kind of lawyer are you?” When I answer that I predominantly work in family law, the response is normally something akin to, “Oh, you poor thing. I don’t know how you do it.”
To be honest, I am not surprised with the response.
I have this thing that I do sometimes where I become frustrated, impatient and even slightly aggressive in situations where I'm working with people to manage complex problems and navigate complex, protracted, big-picture strategies. These fluid, ethereal situations are never easy to navigate. Basically, I want to yell out: "Why can't we all just move forward with this idea which we all think is great and that we all seem to want, even though the path forward doesn't necessarily please 100% of everyone at the table, and we all understand that nothing can ever please everyone all of the time in every way...so, c'mon now - 76% consensus is still a B+! So let's do this already!!"
My colleagues inspire me on a daily basis. For this post, I’m taking my cue from one of them. Interestingly enough, this particular colleague tends to write about the people in our profession who inspire her. She chooses to amplify the strides that members of our profession make, perhaps because she recognizes that if one of us moves the profession forward, then we all have the potential to do so.
It is so easy as a lawyer to get frustrated with the many deficiencies of the Legal System. It is easy to blame yourself, and often it seems, the world blames the legal profession. It is all the more important then to celebrate whenever the system has worked.
When I was working in Big Law, partners and associates sometimes looked at in-house counsel as those who couldn’t make it on Bay Street. In-house counsel were the weaker lawyers, the ones who couldn’t compete, or the ones who could not handle the long hours. Lawyers went in-house because they wanted work life balance. In fact, articles are written about women leaving Bay Street and entering in-house practice because they just can’t put in the hours anymore.
How do we affect change in our professional environments when it comes to acknowledging and confronting emotional and mental health issues? At the OBA’s Opening Remarks Summit on this topic, Dr. Molyn Leszcz suggested that we need more than a bandaid solution. I’m inclined to agree with him.
Once upon a time, I found myself visiting the studios of a major media broadcaster. As it was the first time I was there, I was meeting new people for the first time. This is how the conversation with one woman went:
Me: "Hi, I'm Andreas Kalogiannides. Nice to meet you!"
Woman: "A pleasure to meet you, Andreas. My name is Stephanie". (not her real name)
[Enter our mutual friend who introduced us]
Friend: "Andreas is a lawyer!"
Woman: "Oh wow - I had better watch out around you, then! Ha. Ha. Ha"
As she said it, her tone and demeanour changed from being comfortable, friendly and warm to somewhat stand-off-ish, cautiously guarded and even slightly reverential. In literally 2.8 seconds, the information that I work as a lawyer changed how she perceived me. Why - WHY? - would you have to "watch out" around me? Am I going to use anything you say against you in the inevitable future claim which I will rush off to file in court as soon as I leave the building?
Do you know those times in your life where you find yourself standing at the edge of a large cliff, peering off the edge, deciding whether or not to jump (metaphorically speaking, of course)? Your cliff may be a new opportunity or grieving through the loss of an opportunity - moving across the country for a new job, leaving a relationship that doesn’t work for you, or starting your own business.
It is scary to jump. Let me repeat that: it is scary as hell to jump. To jump into whatever is next; into something you can’t see. At its core, the decision is either to play it safe or venture into the unknown. Tough stuff.
“The lawyer must not be crossed because she knows everything about everything. There are conceptual monograms embedded in her very core that cannot ever be decoded. Her brain can process information in ways we cannot understand. If we catch her gaze, this automatically inaugurates an analytical process causing her to discover our hidden truths. This is how she attains success – she solves the puzzle by spotting the secret to the client’s problem."
Why would someone who grew up with an intense fear of being confronted choose to become a lawyer? The obvious answer is that I had something to prove, but that presupposes that I was conscious of this fear and that I took active steps to engage with it. If I was conscious of the fear, it was only so that I could ‘manage’ it. When it came to that fear, the only thing I actively engaged in was finding something big enough to mask it.