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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: How do you define success?

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

By Ed Poll

When coaching lawyers who feel overwhelmed by their practices and lives, I emphasize that every day is an opportunity for each of us to create balance in our lives. This means taking time to create a legacy, help clients, manage our practices, care for our families and ourselves. This is a combination that defines life … a 24/7 endeavor 365 days a year.

In the effort to excel, made more intense by the pressure of economics, trying too much to succeed can cause problems for lawyers. Generally, we’re successful because we’re competitive. But too often our striving for success can be counterproductive. In a truly successful life, each of us strives for balance, to do something daily that we enjoy doing rather than waiting until a “vacation” or reaching the age of “X.” Our time is precious and we should take time when we can to do the things we enjoy.

I was reminded of this when told that a long-time colleague, Ross Kodner of Wisconsin, died of a heart attack. He was a leader in the technology field for sole and small firm practitioners; he is given credit for coining the phrase, “the paperless office.” He was an active member of local and national bars, and a frequent speaker all over the country. He enjoyed his professional and personal passions, and will be missed. And his passing highlights the importance for each of us to take a serious look at our definition of success and our definition of a balanced life.

Often the lawyers who I coach feel that they have not achieved the degree of success that they personally want. Certainly I can empathize with this. For many years, I thought “success” was how much money one earned each year.

But as a practicing lawyer handling divorces, I wondered how my clients could earn more than I, be perceived as “successful,” yet have a net worth less than mine. Then, as a coach and consultant to lawyers and law firms, I thought that lawyers in large firms, especially equity partners, were more “successful” than I who, as a sole practitioner, both earned less than they and didn’t have the power of a large organization to help achieve my goals. Eventually I got beyond these feelings by recognizing and accepting the success that I had built in my life and career, success that met my own definitions.

That definition encompasses what I have done as a husband, father and grandfather, not just as a businessman, lawyer and coach. The desire to create new value for my clients and to leave a lasting and meaningful legacy that my children and grandchildren can admire has driven me for many years. And, as my coach says, real wealth is discretionary time, time to do what you want when you want. I enjoy what I do, and cannot envision retiring from it. Because I look forward to life, I am blessed, lucky … and successful.

As lawyers our real job is to help others and make their lives better. I truly believe that most lawyers at heart love their profession, and want to be fully committed to their families and personal lives. The trick is to get past the distractions and stress so you can see your life for what you want it to be and create your own definition of success. There is always a larger boat in the water, no matter how large your boat may be. View success not as “how much,” but rather as “how well” you use your time and talents to build your legacy.

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