Wield, Don't Yield, Your Power

by dsnider 10. December 2013 09:00


"But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a [woman] and the life [she] leads." — Albert Camus

Too much of what’s written about time management and work/life balance misses the mark. We read it and think: Yeah, OK, that makes sense, I guess, but it doesn’t make any real difference in my ability to manage my work or my life.  It isn’t useful.

I think that’s because neither time management nor work/life balance can be tackled in a vacuum. Time management is a tactic: potentially useful, but meaningless without a framework in which to apply it. Work/life balance is an outcome: desirable, but not the thing that identifies one set of tactics as clearly better than another. To build the kind of career and life that will actually make you happy, you don’t need merely another tactic. You don't need a restatement (or, worse, an argument refuting the possibility—curse you, Atlantic article!) of the desired outcome.

What you need is an effective strategy. My strategy—the one I used to build a successful, rewarding, and very happy career and life—is simply this: Suit Yourself.

 What does “Suit Yourself” mean?  It’s a matter of figuring out what’s internal and what’s external, and then making decisions accordingly. To do it, you must develop self-awareness, articulate your priorities, stop mistaking outcomes for goals, and focus your time and energy on what matters most.

It’s very easy, particularly for lawyers and even more particularly for well-paid lawyers, to get caught up in an endless circle of, "This must be great since it’s everything I’ve worked for, so I better work to get more of it even though it doesn’t feel great at all."

But it’s not about impressing other people or making any one else happy; it’s about impressing and making yourself happy. Letting other people or an institution or the media define success for you is yielding your power instead of wielding it.

Career success has to be measured in personal terms. Cleaving to some external definition, rather than to your own definition, is a sucker bet. It’s not success if it doesn’t make you happy—no matter what other people think. 

I believe it’s absolutely critical to define career success for yourself, to figure out your own path, and then follow it unconditionally. This has nothing to do with rigidity (times will change and so will you) and everything to do with knowing who you are and what you want. You don’t get to define what organizations perceive as valuable, but you do get to define what satisfies you. Whenever you have a career choice or decision to make, ask yourself which route will better address your internal inspirations and let you do more of what you love to do. Then choose that route, even if it’s not the traditional or expected move. Remember, you’re suiting yourself.

People will tell you this approach closes doors. I’m not convinced the doors they’re talking about are always worth keeping open, but in any event these people are wrong. As a young lawyer, I left a law firm in the city for an in-house legal position in the suburbs, accompanied by a veritable chorus of, "Doors are closing."  At the time, I figured I was willing to pay the price of a few closed doors (the principal one being law firm partnership) for the prize of a job I could enjoy and do well in fewer than 16 hours a day. Some years later, I became a partner at a law firm and then the general counsel of a $20 billion company. The doors in question didn’t close as a result of my non-traditional decision. Other, arguably superior, doors opened. That early decision ended up giving me luxury-boutique benefits at a bargain-basement price.

To suit yourself and succeed, you have to fine-tune your perspective so you can identify and focus on what matters most – to you and in your work surroundings – and then recognize and choose the best paths for achieving personal satisfaction.  How?  Come back next month for specific tips and tools that will help you figure out and prioritize what matters most to you.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, blackjack player, and mother of two grown children.  Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love” and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband of 36 years now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.

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Debra Snider | Suit Yourself

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