Finding a mentor is like looking for the Perseid meteor shower in the city. It takes time, dedication and a bit of luck to see 1 falling star.
Like a stylish black blazer, mentors have become part of the must haves of the professional world. Mentors provide invaluable advice, connections, advocacy and strength. We are in the thick of on campus recruiting and the most frequent question I get from candidates is how does your firm assign mentors. I tell them, we have a formal program, but honestly, my mentors found me.
While there are hundreds of articles that talk about how to find a mentor, there are less that talk about how a mentor finds you. I am fortunate to have several mentors but the ones that have impacted my life the most are those who decided they would invest time in me not those who were told to invest time in me. These senior rain makers and influencers recognized the commitment I had to their clients and the firm at large. They recognized that my success would translate to success for others. No discussions were had about this wonderful development. It was not like in the movies where I was ushered into a corner office and told I had become the heir apparent.
It started with receiving more feedback (both positive and negative). It grew to invitations to events and emails suggesting I take certain actions. Eventually it peaked with positive endorsements and them knocking down doors. I acted quickly on every single suggestion given. Most challenging was accepting the criticism. I ruminated for days and a few times was inconsolable. Eventually the haze would clear and I would remind myself something an early mentor told me- If I did not care about your growth, I would never bother to say anything to you.
This is not to say that all it takes to get a mentor is to do good work and they will find you. I stepped up my game every project I could, actively finding ways to get in front and show everyone what I had to offer. I lost hours of sleep. I spent too many non-billable hours refining my process. I missed a few fun events in the name of professional growth. I did these things not because I was looking to attract a mentor but because I wanted to be great at what I do. I crave the happiness that comes from doing what you love well.
The great mentors are busy people and they will not waste time on someone who isn’t hustling for excellence. Mentors help those who can bring something to their mentors. Mentors help those who can bring something to others, be it the law firm at large, an alma mater or even a specific cause.
Mentors offer opportunities and inspiration. You should absolutely be on the lookout for them. Just remember mentors are on the lookout as well and you can actively take steps for them to find and choose you.
The weekend proved to require more work than I expected. During these times, I make a conscious effort to ensure time I do have with my family is quality time. Whether that’s a house hockey match with my son, or enjoying a cup of coffee with my husband, it’s all about the quality. I am doing what is best for my family every day, even if I’m not physically there each moment. In my heart I know that is true, but it doesn’t always stop the guilt. Moments like this, I know it’s time to take a Point One break- 0.1 hour or 6 minutes to remember that I am very happy at being a working mom and I am doing right by my family.
Drop the guilt fellow working moms. It will be ok.
Having a working mom is a positive thing.
There was a moment of guilt before eating this duck and bacon pizza. And then the pizza was consumed.
Although the life of a big law attorney means always being available, weekends can provide a respite. I typically devote Sunday night to two things: Spending some time outdoors and preparing for the week ahead. The former means sunset walks while the latter means sending emails and scheduling commitments. Sometimes all you need is a Point One break- 0.1 hour or 6 minutes off from preparing for the work week to catch up on links of note.
Some career tips for women I haven’t heard put this way
I struggle with how to heed this advice given the job
I can read about the habits of successful people all day
Practicing law can be intense, especially big law. We are always available to clients and constantly churning work product. It can be exhausting but the key to longevity is to find happiness wherever you can, each and every day, no matter how small.
My happiness of the day was trying out a new coffee shop. I had extra time before attending a Board of Directors meeting for a client so I took the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood and see where I could find some coffee. When I’m near home or work, I always default to my favorite coffee shop but I love any excuse to try new places to eat. Trying out this new to me coffee shop was my way of finding happy. And the extra caffeine to get through a full day of meetings was a bonus.
I am terrible at meditation. This is likely true for many Type A corporate types whose natural inclination is to go and do. But because I’m Type A, I push myself to do most things that will improve business performance. Enter short form meditation and my new practice of simply repeating a recently heard meaningful phrase as I get my afternoon coffee.
The short form meditation of today comes from Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering. In it she mentions learning from a Japanese tea ceremony the phrase “ichi-go ichi-e“. This roughly translates into “one meeting one moment in your life that will never happen again”. The Japanese are taught to be very mindful during tea ceremonies, be present in the moment and be present with those you are with.
I may never be able to turn off the running list of to do’s in my head. But for a brief moment as I pause to get my much needed cup of coffee, I can think ichi-go ichi-e. This moment will not happen again. Now back to billing I go.
“We all need champions who are willing to advocate for us when we cannot speak for ourselves. And when your boss doesn’t do it, it can be downright challenging. But it doesn’t have to stop your progress and career advancement.”
Harvard Business Review – What to Do When Your Boss Won’t Advocate for You
In biglaw, the work demands are either feast or famine; some days you twiddle your thumbs as you bill a paltry 2.5 hours and worry that you will never meet your billable requirements. Other days (like this entire last month for me) you are glued to your screen as you bill 15 hours each day and worry about every particular of the countless deals you’re staffed on. One thing I’ve realized is that try as we might, it is near impossible to control the work demands. Billable work comes and goes and we just go with the flow. That uncertainty can be hard for lawyers and I know that I’ve personally struggled with that. I try to find solace in areas I can control. Here are 3 tips for lawyers to feel in control even when you’re not:
Tip 1: Feel in Control by Controlling Coffee Quality at Home
Coffee for me is essential. I love going out for coffee (See my Palo Alto Coffee Guide), but when work is at an all time high, finding even 15 minutes to detour for coffee can be challenging. I can’t always control when I can take coffee breaks at the office, but I can control the process for how I make coffee at home. I take the time to use filtered water, use a grinder to grind up some fresh beans, and enjoy my cup of coffee in a nice cup or coffee tumbler. Being able to control how I make my morning cup of coffee makes me feel like my mornings are just a little better.
Tip 2: Feel in Control by Controlling Your Running Speed
Running for me is therapeutic. Even if I only have 15 minutes between conference calls I will change into running gear and do a quick run outside. I can’t always control when I will be able to run or for how long, but I can always control my running speed when I do. I use the short running sessions for sprints, running as fast as I can back and forth on the block where my office is. I use the longer running sessions for pace runs, running at a challenging pace but not one where I feel out of breath. Being able to control how fast I run during each session makes me feel like I have more control over my exercise regiment and my therapy time.
Tip 3: Feel in Control by Controlling the Last Thing You Read
Like most attorneys, I find myself logging in a few hours of billable work in the evening after I get home. With cross border transactions and rush deadlines, the emails and drafting never really seem to stop. I can’t always control how late I work, but I can control the last thing I read before it’s lights out. I like to ensure that the last thing I read isn’t a work related email. Rather, I read an article from a magazine or flip open to a random page of a book of quotes on motherhood my parents gave me. Being able to control the last words I read make me feel like I have ended my day on my terms and I’m ready to face the next one.
Lawyer life can be stressful. You get so busy that sometimes you wish you were still a kid, enjoying recess, summer vacation and of course, nap time. We may no longer have the benefit of a forced break, but that doesn’t mean that us lawyers can’t take a break from the billable hour to channel our inner child. Sometimes all you need is a Point One break- 0.1 hour or 6 minutes off from the billable hour to be a kid again and bask in the simple joys reminiscent of childhood.
Did you know that adult coloring books are a thing now? And a popular thing at that! Buzzfeed features 16 coloring books that are fitting for adults (although there’s nothing wrong with snagging a page from your kid’s coloring book). Aside from being an activity that can be accomplished in as much time as you desire, coloring books are relaxing way to take a break and to channel some of the free spirited creativity we may have lost along the road to adulthood. So grab a coloring book and get to coloring. And now that we’re adults, there is no one to tell us we have to color in the lines or that a giraffe can’t be pink. Adulthood does have its perks.
I remember people telling me that lawyers are never as smart as they are on the last day of the bar exam. After the last performance test, many of the subjects tested on the bar exam unrelated to one’s future practice area become nothing more than faint memories. We become very focused on our specialties and forget just how much we used to know about other subjects, and not just those covered in law school. Sometimes all you need is a Point One break- 0.1 hour or 6 minutes off from the billable hour to test your smarts.
Enter Sporcle, the online trivia website. Although not as exciting as trivia night at your local bar^, it’s a great way to see just how much you remember about long forgotten subjects like famous art, geography or world history. My favorite are the minute morsel quizzes, which are 1 minute quizzes that test your knowledge of things like country names that include a given set of three letters. Sporcle is a convenient way to take a billable break without leaving your office plus challenge your smarts in a non-law related way. As Sir Francis Bacon said: ipsa scientia potestas est- knowledge itself is power.
^ Side Note: If you haven’t done trivia night at your local bar, add this to your livables list of things to do. Fair warning, if you do decide to partake in Tuesday Trivia at Rose & Crown in Palo Alto, get ready to compete against some seriously brilliant minds as this bar tends to draw in the Stanford PhD and graduate student crowd.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard working moms. Whether you work in an office logging in the billable hours or you work from home taking care of your family, you deserve a hug and a slice of cake.