January 01, 2015

RŌNIN REPORTS: Follow Your Heart While Using Your Head

Benjamin K. Sanchez

In my September/October 2014 Rōnin Reports column, I made the following challenge to each of you and myself: Each month for the next three months, do one thing new to educate yourself, improve your health, and volunteer of your own accord. I told you I would come back and report to you on how I met the challenge. So here I am, and I must say that the past months have been nothing short of amazing for me!

I have lost 35 pounds by changing my diet and exercising, entered into a new relationship with the love of my life, pared down my leadership and volunteer efforts so as to concentrate more on the growth of my law practice, and narrowed my focus on the CLE seminars I attend. While these changes have been wonderful for me, I also realize I have so much more to change and accomplish. I am not as organized as I want to be. I have more weight to lose and more exercise goals to achieve. I have more money to make, and I have a ton of work for clients yet to accomplish.

What I have done and learned over the past months has set me on a path of growth and success, but it is a never-ending path.

Big Ideas Should Be Created with Your Heart

Whenever most attorneys are asked why they became a lawyer, they respond with some idealistic answer about pursuing justice, righting wrongs, and overcoming obstacles. It is rare to find attorneys who will admit that they went into the law because they thought the profession would make them wealthy or give them an advantage in life. Why is that?

Most people make big decisions based on their heart. Some will tell you using your heart to make big decisions is a recipe for disaster, but I disagree. Let me qualify this by noting what a “big decision” means to me: decisions about how to live one’s life, such as what career to choose, what type of environment to settle down in, what type of person to be your life partner, what type of balance or imbalance to strike between work life and personal life, whether or not to have children, and how to deal with money. I’m sure there are others, but these are the basic big decisions most of us need or should make in our lives.

We are all born with certain predispositions and behavioral tendencies owing to our genetics, and these predispositions and tendencies are shaped and molded by how we are raised. By the time we become adults, our “hearts” are a big mix of emotions and thoughts based on our genes and childhood. When we force ourselves to really look at what we want in life and how we want to live, these are the big decisions to which we should look to our hearts. A creative, free-spirit loner may want the life of a musician roving from town to town for gigs and new adventures, whereas a rigid, structured mathematician may want to work for a large accounting firm. I tend to believe that we all can be happy by following our heart because our heart reflects what we are predisposed and programmed for in life.

The Devil Is in the Details, So Use Your Head for Those

Where many people get in trouble, however, is in following their hearts for everything. We weren’t given a brain for nothing! When you decide that you want to be a big-city lawyer working for yourself, you then need to engage your brain to help you decide how to make that happen and how to keep it going.

Our hearts can give us the big-picture items of what we want out of life, but it will be our brains that help us to actually get what we want. For example, I am an entrepreneur at heart. I have worked for big and small companies in my life and a couple of law firms as well, but I am happiest when I am my own boss in control of my own destiny. So my heart tells me to strike out on my own and have my own firm. This is not enough to make me happy, however, because my heart can’t tell me much more than that. That’s when my brain kicks in and allows me to think about what kind of practice I should have, including what area of the law to engage in, where to locate my office, what employees I should have, etc.

The same is true for love. Your heart will tell you what kind of life partner you want and what qualities you are attracted to, but your brain will help you figure out who is good for you and who isn’t. Just because you want someone who is a professional, wants children, and who values a close-knit family doesn’t mean that anyone who meets these criteria will be right for you. Your brain will help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Too often, we tell ourselves that love decisions are all heart-based, and we follow one romance with another with another because we are not allowing our brains to help us pick someone who really will be good for us.

Too many people I know have made the mistake of either making a life decision with their brain against the grain of their heart and thus are always unhappy or have followed up their big, heart-based life decision with heart-based decisions on the details and thus never put themselves in a position to truly achieve the joy and happiness they crave. I include myself in that category, so I hope to make better decisions not only for my own happiness and peace of mind but also as an example to others of how to achieve everything one desires in life with good decision-making skills!

New Year, New Action Plan

Every time we enter a new year, we should give ourselves the opportunity to reflect and plan. Reflection is a necessary part of the process—how else can we know what to plan for or how to plan if we don’t reflect on what has filled us with positive or negative emotions or what behavior has led to positive or negative results? Although it is true that a new year may just be an arbitrary date in a calendar made thousands of years ago, it nevertheless is a point in time that we can truly use to our benefit. While our country is enjoying the holiday season and many people are slowing down to enjoy time off with their families, we attorneys can make use of fewer phone calls and less courtroom time to do some critical self-analysis and planning for the future.

I encourage each of you to take the opportunity to extend the three-month challenge (if you participated) into 2015 and make these new behaviors a yearlong change, with the hope of their becoming lifelong changes. For those of you who did not participate in the challenge or are new to this column, please read “Help Yourself in Order to Help Others” in the September/October 2014 issue (tinyurl.com/m4999uj) and get started!

For any action plan to succeed, accountability is crucial. I encourage you to find someone or a group of people to whom you can hold yourself accountable for the action plan you set for yourself. The more you can make your intentions known to others and then report to them on your success or failure, the more you will naturally push yourself to succeed. Sometimes reporting to ourselves is simply not enough. We are not all naturally self-motivated or self-accountable, so an accountability person or group can do wonders to help us meet our goals.

I Am Accountable to You

With that in mind, I am announcing some of my big intentions for the year to you so that I can hold myself accountable. In my practice right now, I am a true solo practitioner with no support. In 2015 I will hire at least one staff member and either a second staff member or new attorney. Regarding my health, I intend to lose another 30 pounds and jog a 5K (I can barely jog a quarter-mile at this time). I resolve to whittle down my leadership positions to two so that I may focus more on building my practice. Lastly, I resolve to begin writing the biography of John O’Quinn, a famous Houston attorney who made a ton of money in breast implant and tobacco litigation but who had a life of personal demons and ultimately died one rain-soaked morning after driving his SUV at a speed too fast for the conditions and slamming into a tree.

I have specified my goals here because only specific goals can be measured, and that is how you hold yourself accountable, by measuring your progress against your goals.

Good luck to all of you! Remember to make your life decisions with your heart, follow through with your head, and hold yourself accountable to others for the goals you set for yourselves.


Benjamin K. Sanchez

Benjamin K. Sanchez is a commercial and collection litigation attorney in Houston, Texas.