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Transcending Failure: How to Come Back Even Stronger

We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power within us to transform our lives.
— J.K. Rowling
Photo by   Amanda Hatfield  .

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.

OK, I admit it.  I've read every Harry Potter book.  I covet Dumbledore's pet phoenix Fawkes who transcends the flames to rise anew from the ashes.  I love the idea that each of us transcends failure to give birth to something new and wonderful.  

On Friday and Saturday, outstanding women lawyers from across the US and Canada gathered in Dallas to renew and energize each other. They joined my colleague Cordell ParvinLisa Dawson from Lexblogand me for a roundtable discussion, leadership and business development coaching, strengths assessments, and a generally fun Texas weekend.  A common theme among many of these highly successful women was a sense of not yet having done enough and a disappointment in continuing to fail along the way.

During the course of the weekend, Cordell recirculated one of my favorite TED talks, JK Rowling's 2008 Harvard University commencement address. It resonated with me as I considered my own failures. Here's what I took away from Rowling:

  1.  Face your fear of failure head on.  Rowling faced her own fear of failure in giving the Harvard address. Despite her considerable accomplishments, she endured weeks of sleep deprivation and nausea in anticipation of giving the speech.  I've felt like that too.....many times.  
  2. The greatest failure is living someone else's life.  She reminds us that there is an "uneasy balance" between what we want for ourselves and what our parents expected of us.  Rowling chose her own course (writing novels) over the more secure vocational training her parents (who had been poor) preferred. Fortunately for all of us, her choice worked out. 
  3. Take responsibility for your circumstances. My favorite Rowling quote:  "There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction." We each steer our own course as adults and that's a good thing.  It means you have the power to grow and change.
  4. You can rise from the ashes.  As a poor, jobless, young single mother, Rowling experienced poverty.  She acknowledges that poverty itself is a dark, stressful, depressing, humiliating experience which is "romanticized only by fools." I think that is true of our failures. Although I am grateful to have not known poverty, I have known all of these feelings. Her story inspires me to transcend failure.
  5.  No one is immune from failure.  She reminds these Harvard students that their talent and intelligence do not innoculate them from the "caprice of the fates." In my years as a practicing psychologist I worked with many physically beautiful, wealthy, successful people. Some, like Rowling, were famous. None of this matters when our own failure and darkness sets in. As Rowling notes, often "life is difficult, complicated and beyond anyone's control."
  6. Failure is relative.  No matter how sucessful they are by conventional measures, many people feel like failures.  Someone will always look subjectively more successful in comparison. "Your conception of failure may not be too far removed from the average person's idea of success, so high have you already flown."
  7. Failure can set us free to risk attempting our biggest dreams.  By "stripping away the inessential".....(things like pride and ego), failure can breed deterimination to succeed. When Rowling realized she had survived her greatest fear, impoverishment, she was able to risk writing, what she felt she was meant to do.  I see this with some of my successful clients who have lost a job.  When they face this greatest fear, they feel free to pursue a passion they would never have dared to otherwise pursue.
  8. Failure shows us our strengths.  Tackling failure brings out your inner will and discipline and secures your knowledge that you can survive your worst fears.  This knowledge that you have emerged from your most feared setbacks introduces you to your strongest most resillient self.  It is a painfully won gift that per Rowling is "worth more than any other qualification I have ever earned."  
  9. Failure points us to our true friends.  Rowling notes that during her darkest times she had friends who never abandoned her. When she became successful, she "rewarded" them by assigning their names to some of the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter books. They stayed with her through that too!
  10. Failure reminds us that we have the power within us to transform our lives. Just like the phoenix Fawkes, we rise again and again.  

As she closes, Rowling takes us back to the ultimate successes in life that we often take for granted.  

Life is not a checklist of acquisitions or achievement.  

Rather, we succeed each time we touch the life of another by our existance. I was touched this weekend by the lives of some incredible women and one guy.  Thank you....you know who you are....... and I promise not to name any Death Eaters after you.

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.  

Want to develop a great business plan? Play to your strengths

Have you ever tried to accomplish a goal that required you to be someone that you are not?  Lately I've been working with lawyers who participate in my colleague Cordell Parvin's business development coaching groups.  This issue of being authentic keeps coming up.  

I'm just not a sales person type.  I don't like giving speeches.  It feels wrong to ask a friend for business.  Please don't ask me to take people I don't know to lunch.

The Clifton Strengthsfinder is a great tool to help you discover the natural talents you can leverage to develop stronger relationships with clients.  And you don't have to be someone you are not or do things that feel wrong to you in the process.  The truth is that when it comes to business development, one size doesn't fit all.   

As a young lawyer I had 2 role models for client development and they couldn't have been more different. The first, whom I will call Frank, graduated from the local law school, smoked cigars and played golf.  He was brilliant, but you wouldn't know it from casual conversation.  He was a big "teddy bear" who projected a laid back attitude and could ususally be found with his feet propped up on his desk.  He was inattentive to detail and a bit sloppy in his appearance.  He was quick to show irritation but equally quick to forgive. His clients tended to be much like him, local businessmen and women who had succeeded on a big scale, loved golf and were more concerned with getting the deal done than with the details.

George on the other hand dressed meticulously, taught Sunday school, attended a prestigious law school and maintained a very businsess like, almost professorial, demeanor with his clients.  He never lost his cool.  He had a great practice filled with referrals from other attorneys across the country.  They knew him through his writing and speaking or through his law school referral network.  His clients were primarily large banks and insurance companies who valued his care, attention to detail and businesslike demeanor.

What did George and Frank have in common in addition to being excellent lawyers?  Each knew his natural talents and strengths and used those to develop clients in his law practice.  The Strengthsfinder is a great assessment for helping you learn what your talents are.  I've used the Strengthsfinder with hundreds of attorneys.  They like it because it is positive in nature and it focuses on what they can do rather than on weakness and things they cannot do.  

Ready to give it a try?

Here a few tips for using the Strengthsfinder:

  1. You will need a code to take the online Strengthsfinder assessement.  To get the code, buyStrengthsfinder 2.0 at any major bookseller or buy an ebook version if you want to get started right away. You can also get the code in other books published by Gallup such as Strengths Based Leadership.
  2. Block out about 30 minutes to take the assessment.
  3. Answer truthfully.  There are no right or wrong answers.
  4. You'll get a downloadable PDF report that tells you your top five talent themes and ideas for action.  Take time to read it and answer the questions.
  5. If your aim is to use the assessment for business development ideas, look at the ideas for action contained in the PDF report.  Ask how each idea might be applied to building client relationships and business.  Some will fit and others will not.  You only need to find a few to make the effort worthwhile.
  6. Questions?  Drop me an email.  I would love to hear from you.