It’s Not All about You

By Jennifer J. Ator

There are some life lessons that they cannot teach but that apply to all of us. One of them: It is not all about me. Not me as in Jennifer Ator—the author of this article—but me as in you, me, etc., so forth. When I was a child and suf-fered disappointment, I was often advised if I did the best I could do, I would be doing enough, but even so there would be times that I still would not be the winner.

Recently, I ran for public office, and it was not until I got through the experience that I realized, it is not really all about me. I ran for office the first time in 2005—while I was pregnant—and lost by 50 votes. I considered myself the best person for the job; I knocked off the incumbent; I ended up in a runoff; and I lost by a measly 50 votes. When it was time to throw my hat in the ring for a second time, I could not help but be colored by my experience. I was robbed, for goodness’ sake. But it was that second campaign that made me realize it really was not about me. Ultimately, it was about me not being my opponent that carried me to victory.

It got me to thinking—how often is it really not about me but about the circumstance that creates the win? These are experiences that span a lifetime. When I was seven, it was "I can’t believe I was not picked first for the team." When I was 17, it was "I can’t believe that school did not accept me." When I was 27, it was, "I can’t be-lieve that firm did not give me an interview." When I was 37, it was "I can’t believe that judge ruled against me." In most of these cases, it was not that I (or my legal position) was a bad choice, it was simply not the choice that was made.

For more than 30 years I firmly believed it was all about me, and if only I had done something differently, I could have changed the outcome. But indeed, often the most significant and meaningful changes, successes, or failures in our lives are not about us at all, but instead about those around us—our friends, our colleagues, our clients, and our opponents.

But if so many decisions are shaped by the actions of those around us, what can we do to create our own destiny, to forge our own path—to get what we want? Ironically, our best chance to get the results we want is precisely to bear in mind that it isn’t all about us. As lawyers, for example, we must focus more consciously on the other players in a legal case. We must know our audience and deliver the information in a way that appeals to that au-dience. Presenting evidence to a jury is different from presenting evidence to a judge acting as the fact-finder, and each situation requires a different approach. Moreover, when you tell a lawyer what you do, you do it differently than when you tell your neighbor, the parents in your kids’ class, or your cousin. Different audience and different delivery mean different message.

By tailoring your delivery, you tailor your message, and therefore, tailor the results. A good communicator is wise to remember this basic principle. It will result in far fewer disappointments. By effectively communicating, you change the dynamic of the relationship. You still might sometimes suffer as "not the other guy," but more likely you—or your position—will be the choice, not the default. And isn’t that still the goal, regardless of what we’ve learned about the world—to make it all about me?

Jennifer J. Ator practices with Hankins & Ator, PL. She may be reached at

Copyright 2009

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