Has it ever occurred to you that the quality of our living is directly proportional to our willingness to be in discomfort? I don’t mean our quality of life, which is all about comfort. I mean the depth and breadth of the act of our living and what kind of discomfort we choose and how we embrace it.
There seems to be a strategic difference between people who choose the discomfort of being an entrepreneur versus those that choose the discomfort of working in jobs that are just jobs.
I know a few people who love the work they do, are well compensated, and have not had to take very big risk for their comfort. These few folks may have a modicum of control over their work life, hours, exertion, and location. But they are FEW.
Most people I know have had to make a Hobson’s Choice between the amount of risk they take and the security they have. Low risk, high security. High risk, low security. We all know that equation, right?
But there are a few other variables that have come up for me as factors in deciding to be and to remain an entrepreneur. In these lie a ton of discomfort. As I write this, I’m doing the math for myself all over again, a process I go through every few months or so.
The question is: Is it worth the discomfort I am in for the potential future reward and the freedom I enjoy in this moment?
In each of these factors, let’s talk about what is super-dee-duper uncomfortable, and what the freedom is in the discomfort for myself, personally.
For each one, ask where you can see yourself and what resonates for your own circumstances:
My time is my own. I have freedom to schedule my appointments, my efforts, my life according to my own unique biology. The discomfort comes in knowing that sometimes, I have to self-motivate to achieve certain goals that I create for myself and that I have to hold myself accountable for the time I spend on getting to that goal. There is no outside force, no deadline, no boss to tell me what and when to do something. I am the one who creates the opportunity and the one who reaps the reward.
I can leave the country if I want. I can schedule a vacation and know that I’ll be able to keep it. Lawyers that litigate or have court deadlines are at the mercy of a judge’s docket. They have little or no control over the broad strokes of their lives. The discomfort I feel around this freedom of movement is that I have chosen to not take many vacations since starting my firm, both because I simply didn’t have the income, and because I needed to keep my shoulder to the wheel as I got the firm going. Only now am I beginning to see the light of day here. Still it’s my choice.
3. Creating Something New
How many lawyers get to re-engineer they way their firm delivers legal services? I’d bet almost none. I’ve had the chance to create a firm that delivers legal services in the way I want to be provided legal services—in a predictable way that encourages clients to be in relationship with us. The downside is that I have to be at the forefront developing rules around alternative billing. That’s uncomfortable sometimes—when each state has such unique ethics opinions about alternative billing. But I’m willing to do it, because the old model is tragic for client and lawyer, isolating lawyers from meaningful relationships with their clients.
4. Personal Expression
Not only does our firm get to explore new ways of lawyering, but each person in our firm gets to show up as who they are personally. No one is stuck in a rigid role, no one has to adopt a personal appearance that is out of alignment for them. I’m thinking of all the cool people I know who chop off their lovely, wild hair to fit into the law firm model of dark suits and power ties. The downside of this personal freedom is finding a balance with what will actually be accepted and embraced by our clients. Knowing some people simply will not deal with the feathers that I wear in my hair on the weekend, I at least push the boundary wearing my mala beads, bright colored clothing, and flowy materials that reflect my inner softness and devotion.
5. Freedom to Fail
Oh, my personal favorite. My Waterloo, my Kryptonite. Failure! I have so much judgment around failure that I have had to make a daily practice of allowing failure. Big, small, and everything in between. Not just for myself but for everyone in our firm. I have so much fear of failure that I simply can’t work for someone who doesn’t have massive capacity to allow learning by failure, which most law firms do not. Failure, mistake, and error is met with vicious retaliation in a lot of businesses. Not in my firm. Of course, the discomfort here is learning to lean into failure and to make sure it informs, refines, and evolves our work—not allowing failure just because I’m unwilling to be punitive around it. We make mistakes. We’re human. The celebration for me is that failure is our future, mistake is our muse, and devotion to our clients makes us ever better at what we do.
6. Meeting the Unknown
As I sit in a coffee shop, writing this, I’m looking a forty or fifty people who at any moment might become my friend, or my client, or both. Every day is an adventure. When people find out what I do for a living, they give me a big nod of “Yes! I’ve been meaning to do that!” and we’re off on a conversation that can lead to deep connection. The discomfort here is in knowing that I can’t actually be close to everyone I would like to be close to. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people and look into their eyes, wishing I had more time in every day to know them, to see them. My work becomes the way I can get to know more people. A colleague once asked with intense curiosity, “Don’t you feel like you have to keep your clients at arms length?!” To which I exclaimed, “No!” The people we work with are functioning families that aren’t in the criminal justice system, who are good, caring people trying to do their best. Not everyone is best friend material for me, but every one of them deserves my full devotion and attention. And I’m blessed to be able to give it the way we practice—which I would not be able to in a traditional law firm.
Every time I do this math, I end up in deep gratitude to have the chance to be an entrepreneur. I never expected I would be—coming to it as a former stay-at-home-mom. It has made more of me than I imagined. And it’s flipping hard. It’s very, very hard to not know if I’m going to make the numbers each month, to not know how business will be in three months, or six months. Each year has been remarkably different than prior years. Each day brings a surprise, an interesting issue, a new benchmark.
Of course, in the beginning there was a TON of discomfort. I was learning at the speed of light, putting new systems into place, following Alexis’ mentorship and Client Engagement System so I could actually have a practice to grow…
But that discomfort was calculated and with a defined reward at the end: the freedoms of lifestyle I enjoy now and a practice that grew from nothing to where it is now.
This year, we’re building. We’re making a small firm out of a solo firm. It’s no longer just me. We have team and our team has it’s own remarkable intelligence that I get to witness create the firm that the team wishes, not just me.
What a blessing to be in discomfort! I allow it. I sit in it. I welcome it. I already have an idea of the rewards that will follow, otherwise I wouldn’t take the risk of the endeavour. But what a ride and what a reward!
Are you ready to make the shift into practicing law in an entirely new and exciting way? Start here: