This blog has now been silent for a little over a month. I’ve sat down and written a few drafts, but nothing has come out the way I want it to, and that is for a simple reason: I’ve been avoiding being completely authentic.
Authentic to myself. Authentic to my readers. Authentic. Period.
Authenticity is a powerful word. In fact, it is one of the most important qualities we can be true to in our lives. I will elaborate on what this word means to me as we go forward from here, but I want to share with you my own story, and how it is time to really drink my own medicine and live up to the ideals I’m purporting to help others live by.
I’m working through my final year of law school now. When I went back to school, I wasn’t certain I wanted to be a lawyer, but found law fascinating and loved working with intricate and technical systems. I also knew that, for me, education is an end unto itself, and I would therefore benefit simply from going back to school and learning more.
The first year of law school was very challenging. Many of us forget what it feels like to start from ground zero again and have to learn something from the roots up. This year, along the continuum of learning something new, my classmates and I moved from unconscious incompetence (we didn’t even know what we didn’t know) to conscious incompetence (we knew what we were doing wrong, and it stressed us out). For lawyers, this is a continuing process that lasts far beyond the paltry three years of law school.
Since that initial phase wore off and I moved back a little bit more into my comfort zone, I’ve been able to focus on other things.
Okay. I just spent fifteen minutes writing my around what it is that I actually want to say, so let’s just tear the bandaid off.
When I graduate, I’m not going to article.
There, it’s out. For the last six months, I’ve known what I want to pursue when I graduate, and I’ve been taking significant steps to enable that future. However, this is the first time I’m publicly affirming my decision here.
Put simply, once I graduate, I will be making my living exclusively as a coach and consultant.
Wow, that feels good.
See, for the last six months, I’ve been holding my cards right against my chest.
Because of fear.
Let me state that again, because it’s important. I have not been authentically representing myself for the last six months because of fear.
Let me elaborate on some of those fears, so that you can see what I mean.
The idea is risky
Who in their right mind spends a whole bunch of money going to law school, so that they can not become a lawyer? Well, I do. And I do it for a number of reasons. I can and do create tremendous value in my capacity as a consultant and a coach. I’m passionate about this path. I love turning other people on (in the general sense – this isn’t about sex). This is something I’ve been doing my entire life, and I am an expert in the subjects in which I support people.
There’s not a really big safety net for what I intend to pursue. Bay is working, and we have equity in our home, but we also have a great deal of debt. If I flounder and fail, where does that leave us? The answer: not looking too great.
Is this a reason to turn back from my vision? Simply because it’s risky? No.
Everything worth pursuing has a degree of risk involved. No reward without risk. You can’t grow if you don’t push outside of your comfort zone.
And besides, there are always creative solutions available. If I don’t succeed in the direction I’m setting out in (I will), I have lots of experience and two highly valuable degrees on which I can fall back.
Other people aren’t doing this
There is great comfort and safety in staying with the pack. Animals know this, and humans do too, even if only on an instinctual level. If everyone else is doing something, it’s probably a good approach to take. There is some blunt validity to this approach, and it works very well in general situations.
A wolf is trying to eat one of your own? Run together in a pack so that it’s difficult for him to pick out one individual and eat him. This behaviour has roots deep-down in our reptilian brain (the reactive part of our brain), and is fantastic when we’re operating in survival mode. But most of us aren’t. We live in a privileged society, and we are pursuing more than mere subsistence. The people that I work with aren’t looking for simple survival – they are looking to optimize their happiness, their time, their output. They are looking to optimize their lives.
We’re not all the same. At the end of the day, we are each unique individuals (Sorry Fight Club, I’m right). If we truly want to make ourselves happy, we need to follow our own path, hard as it may be. Thanks to the society in which we now live and the advances that have come along with it, we are seeking more than mere survival, and mechanisms that address only this concern will fall short.
Having said that, while I know that pursuing my own path is the right approach, that does not simply delete the fear generated from going against the grain. This concern raises its head often – pretty much every time someone tells me something like “well, that’s a neat idea Adam, but I really think you should reconsider articling”.
There is no guarantee
I can’t speak for other vocations, but a Law degree creates a considerable conundrum. Upon graduating, students are essentially presented with the a situation where, if they are willing to work harder enough, they will be guaranteed never having to worry about money again.
What did you think when you read that? If you’re like most people, you probably thought one of the following:
- “Pfft, must be nice”
- “First world problems…”
- “Take the money and run”
- “I’d like to never have to worry about money”
- “I knew it, lawyers make way too much money”
- “Pffft…. pfffft.”
Those are the common responses. For a lot of people, it’s hard to look past the third and fourth responses. Money has a powerful effect on us, and when we see dollar signs, it’s difficult to break the spell. Here’s a question – how hard would you be willing to work for money to never be a problem? Would you work 16 hours a day, six days a week? What about 14 hours? Where’s your limit?
If never having to worry about money meant that you sacrificed things like a relationship, exercise and your health, would you still take the deal?
I’m not suggesting that lawyers necessarily have to do any of this, but my own research has certainly suggested that the articling experience is unpleasant and highly demanding on the student’s time. My time is too valuable for the remuneration rates and number of hours that are expected for articling students. It wouldn’t be authentic (nor wise) for me to accept a position that placed a value that low on my time.
Focus on values and passion, not on fear
It is a testament to the power of fear that I have held back from writing about that which I am currently singularly most passionate about. Doing so has meant that my writing has fallen off. Every time I would sit down to write, I would have to hamper my creative process by trying to avoid writing about the thing that was most frequently on my mind.
This is the power of authenticity. When we allow ourselves to maximally live and act in alignment with our values and who we truly are, we stop hampering ourselves. Most importantly, we stop having to push ourselves to achieve. When you set yourself along a path that aligns with what you feel is important, you will be pulled along – no more pushing.
Identify your Values
This is the most important piece of advice I’m offering today. Take some time and try to identify what matters to you. What is most important and most real to yourself?
This is often the first step that I take with my clients when they come to me indicating that they don’t know what they want to do, or why they hate their job so much. Getting clear on your values can be a lengthy process and take time and effort, but it’s worth it. Without knowing what is most important to you, it is difficult to be authentic.
Let’s wrap it up
The wrap up for today:
- Let your values, not fear, direct your decisions
- Be authentic to yourself and your values – it is the most important thing you can do
- Just because the rest of the pack is doing something does not necessarily mean you should do the same
- Spend the time and effort to identify what matters most to you. Get a coach if you need to. It’s worth it.
And that leads us back to…
Me. The aim moving forward is to maximize the remaining time between now and graduation. The way I will be doing that is working on my practice, building a client base, crafting a website and marketing strategy, identifying exactly who I am and what I do (in terms of my business), and of course, sharing that all with you through this blog.
Keep it tuned and stay locked for more updates as I continue to progress along the path to maximum authenticity.