GPSOLO April/May 2009
Big law firm partners (those still with jobs) have their personal trainers at the gym, their nutritionists, their financial advisors, their therapists, and a host of other consultants to make their lives easier. What do you, Mr. or Ms. Solo Attorney, have to support you in your daily struggle to succeed?
“Well, I’ve got the cutest mutt with big floppy ears that stares at me lovingly every time I wander near my refrigerator,” you offer as a possible answer to the big law firm partner’s support team.
Ha! Go ahead, delude yourself, but it won’t get you very far.
Here to present you with some invaluable tips to living life well, your Being Solo correspondent has drawn on his more than 55 years of living on this planet. There are some advantages to being older than 25 and not having perfect, wrinkle-free skin. One is that you get to know and understand some truths about life—what works and what doesn’t. Keep in mind I said “some” truths. No matter how old you get, you never solve all the mysteries of life or even come close to it, and you especially always have the ability to make mistakes and look foolish. There’s a truth for you before I even get to the next paragraph.
I’m handing out some good, solid advice here on personal behavior, personal finance, and physical and mental well-being that has been enormously helpful to me in my life, so I strongly recommend that you read through each of my points carefully, and before you dismiss a point think to yourself, “Does this apply to me? Could I benefit from spending some time on this?”
Without further ado, then, here are some suggestions for living life well.
Tips for Living Well, or at Least Better
Treat everyone with respect, no matter what their station in life . You might reply to this, “Hey, I thought that this column was going to be about how to make my life better, not someone else’s.” If this is your response, then you really need this advice because you don’t know how showing respect for others, from the janitor up to the CEO, will enhance your life greatly.
Practice this behavior and it will become a part of your personality, and people will be drawn to you because of who you are: someone who listens to others and respects what they have to say. You will be tapping into something very powerful. Everyone has a story to tell, and there is passion and a yearning to be acknowledged in every human heart.
Along these same lines, remember to always say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate. Showing appreciation will make both you and the other person feel good.
Finally deal with the myriad of financial issues in your life. Overwhelmed by all things financial in your life, including the best way to save for retirement, pay for your kids’ college, get out of debt, choose the right type and amount of life insurance, and a multitude of other issues? Pick up a copy of Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People by Jane Bryant Quinn (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006), which in a mere 250 pages covers these topics in a way that gives you just enough that you need to know to take care of your financial responsibilities.
Quinn states that most choices offered by the financial world are fluff: “It’s a world of copycat mutual funds, funds whose high fees will demolish your returns, seemingly safe (but actually risky) investment annuities, costly insurance policies, mortgages that never end—all salable products, but often stupid and sometimes even deceptive.”
This book was written in 2006, before the recent economic meltdown, so in some areas you might feel the need for an update to consider the current economic climate, but most of her advice is sound even today. If you do want Ms. Quinn’s current take on good financial practices, she is coming out with the third edition of her classic Making the Most of Your Money Now in July 2009, but that will run over 1,000 pages, so you might find it a bit overwhelming. The bottom line is that Jane Bryant Quinn is able to simplify financial considerations and cut through all of the hype.
Stop getting angry at people. Believe it or not, this is a purely selfish directive. Getting angry at people in your day-to-day interactions—bad drivers, unhelpful telephone support, and dumb politicians (that’s a lot of people to get angry at)—is a huge energy drain. And I haven’t even mentioned being angry at the crummy economy, which also leaves you less ready to face the other challenges in your day and less able to enjoy the good things in your life. How can you enjoy a hug from your kid when you are fuming about a telephone billing error? Also, getting angry almost always accomplishes nothing, so why bother? Learn how to interrupt the anger circuit by stopping, taking a deep breath, and thinking about something or someone that makes you feel good. Then you will be better equipped to deal both with the thing that is getting you angry and the rest of your life.
Never do anything else when walking down a flight of stairs . This is a big one for me. In NYC I always see people staring at their BlackBerrys or fishing for something in their pockets when walking down the subway stairs. More and more these days I hear about friends’ falls down those stairs resulting in injuries like a torn meniscus and being stuck for weeks at home recovering. Listen up people. When walking down any stairs, your mind and your body should be focused on one thing: walking down those stairs, and nothing else. I literally have a mantra I repeat when walking down stairs: “I’m walking down stairs now, pay attention, I’m walking down stairs.” Can you as a solo attorney afford to be away from your practice for several weeks while you recover from a fall? I didn’t think so. So pay attention!
“This too shall pass.” It will, really. As a solo attorney you almost certainly face stressful days, and on these days you often feel like the stressful situation will not end. Remind yourself that no matter how awful the day has become, it too shall pass. See, you’re feeling better already.
Maintain good posture (mother was right). This sounds really boring, but it’s a big one. Posture can affect your mental attitude and your physical well-being. So many people slump and slouch. It doesn’t take any more time to sit up straight than to sit all slouched down, just some focus. You will actually feel less tired if you straighten up your back, pull back your shoulders, and lift up your head. But you will be on your way to serious injury to your back from a lifetime of bad posture.
Get a business card holder binder. Here’s another suggestion that sounds incredibly mundane but that I find incredibly useful. These are binders with 8.5-inch by 11-inch three-holed plastic inserts, each with pockets for ten business cards. Ever input a name into your Outlook contact directory only to find that you can’t remember the name two weeks later? Well now you don’t have to! Simply open your business card binder and flip a couple of pages until you find the name. It’s also a good way to see if you missed following up on people you have recently met, and you can even jot down a few important details about the person on each card.
Exercise and improve your diet. Don’t you dare skip past this one! This really will change how you feel and what you get done in your life. And I don’t care how out of shape you are. If you have a vision of exercise as 50 sit-ups followed by 200 jumping jacks a day, forget it.
The key to exercise is starting at your level, even if that means just walking around the block—once. If you stick with it, you’ll find yourself able to go from that one block to one mile and more through a slowly progressing and regular schedule of walks. Having a walking buddy is a big help. If you need any more convincing, read one of the best articles I’ve ever seen on the benefits of exercise, “The Deadliest Sin” by Jonathan Shaw in the March-April 2004 edition of Harvard Magazine ( http:// harvardmagazine.com/2004/03/the-deadliest-sin.html). Read this article to learn how exercise helps prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and 12 kinds of cancer. Also, as a lawyer you will be interested to know that exercise helps you stay mentally alert.
Better diet is something that trips up millions of Americans each year. My weakness is pastries. A fudgy chocolate brownie will not survive long with me in the same room. Having said that, I find that the more I exercise, the easier it is to stay away from the bad stuff, and it also helps to have healthy food around to snack on between meals. One good habit supports another.
Have any “living well” suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them, so drop me a line with your thoughts. Perhaps I can include them in a future column so that together we can get the same support as those big law firm partners. Just don’t send me any brownies.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. In his spare time he blogs at staringatstrangers.com. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.