Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inspirer'd in Paris

I have come to Gay Paree to conduct a coaching workshop at Davis Polk & Wardwell, the law firm where, back in the day, I worked as an associate. My workshop was called “Beyond Staying or Going: The Creative Lawyer Approach to Managing Your Career (While in Your Career)” and it’s basically about all the things you need to know to be successful and fulfilled in your career that have nothing to do with the actual practice of law. It follows my core philosophy that if you spend all day just doing your job, you’ll never get anywhere!

After checking into the delightful Hotel de Sers and taking a much-needed disco nap, I sought out the local Bikram Yoga studio. Soon I was getting hot and sweaty a la francaise. Though I have occasional iss-shoes with the Bikram Chowdury personality cult, there is nothing like a 90-minute workout in 100-degree heat to overcome jet-lag and eliminate the residual effects of sitting in a basically gross airplane. Plus, it turns out to be a great way to practice French vocabulary! Bikram yoga teachers use exactly the same monologue in every class no matter where in the world it’s taught, so it’s pretty easy to follow along.

Inspirer, expirer,” the teachers chanted. Breath in, breath out. “Inspirer, expirer.” They said this about 500 times.

As I did my standing head to knee pose, being told to inspirer and expirer, I recalled reading that that the word “inspire” comes from the Latin word for “breath.” We mostly think of inspiration as something that comes from within us, but the other way of looking at it is that inspiration is something we bring into our lives from the outside world. It’s not something we think up, but something that is waiting to be let in. Foreign travel is inspirational to me for just this reason – when I travel, I breathe in the world.

When my coaching clients ask me how they are supposed to figure out what they really want to do with their lives, I sometimes advise them to think of their search as a treasure hunt, as opposed something they are supposed to contemplate. Instead of looking for the answer inside you, you’re often better off looking for it out in the world. You’re most likely to find it by going out, having a bunch of experiences, and seeing what you see. As I have written in my book, when it comes to career development, thinking is vastly overrated!

The next time you’re looking for inspiration, let yourself get inspirer’d. Open up your lungs, breathe in what the world offers, and and see where that gets you.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

So very clever!

Check out Jessica's Hagy's site, Indexed, in which she cleverly uses graphs and Venn diagrams to illustrate funny social insights. My favorite is the "Tax Fraud vs. Online Dating Fraud" graph.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Go ahead, write that letter to the editor!

I am a graduate of Valencia High School, a reasonably ordinary high school in Placentia, California. This is the northern part of Orange County, the more diverse and less affluent section that is never seen on shows like "The O.C." Until recently, we had no famous grads. Now we have one and a half. Michael Chang, the tennis player, attended for a couple of years before getting his G.E.D. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez is also a graduate. And then there's me!

My sister, Jocelyn, who is also a lawyer, graduated from VHS as well. She lives in Henderson, Nevada which is just outside of Las Vegas and, until recently, was America's fastest growing city. Check out her brilliant letter to the editor of her local paper, in response to a vicious editorial against Hillary Clinton.

Not everyone can write an intelligent, punchy letter to the editor. So if there's a topic that you feel passionate about, go for it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

People and their iss-shoes

Despite my generally loving and accepting nature, there are a couple of ways in which I discipline my coaching clients:

-- I don't let clients use the phrase "don't get me started..." To me this phrase (usually preceded by a dramatic sigh) suggests someone who spends a lot of a lot of time living in and talking about their problems rather than moving out of them. (If I'm speaking with someone in a thinking-about-coaching call and they use that phrase, I gently lead them away from me. Not a scene I want to get into.)

-- I don't let clients talk about their "issues," as in the phrase, "Well, my issue with that is . . ." and "One of my issues is . . ."

Why am I such a hard-ass with this phrase? I think it's because I believe the process of analyzing and listing one's issues encourages a type of preciousness that is not conducive to moving forward in life or to being particularly useful to the world.

Once someone has defined and catalogued their set of issues, said issues seem to become part of their self-concept. They start drawing a sense of personal distinctiveness from their problems, as opposed to their positive qualities. I sometimes call this "The Princess and the Pea Syndrome." You know, you're special because if there is just one pea underneath twenty mattresses you'll wake up black and blue. Since you have royal blood. In other words, the sign of your specialness is that you have unique needs, pains and sensitivities.

This is just not true. Negative stuff does not make you special. Your talents and hopes make you special. Your iss-shoes do not.

Okay, all that notwithstanding, I recently did a fun interview with the American Bar Association e-letter about some common lawyer iss-shoes. Check out the cool graphic, too.

(Speaking of iss-shoes, I have an issue with nonstandard use of grammar. It really bugs me and I don't hesitate to correct people. Today I am violating my own policies -- I am aware that in my preceding paragraphs I used "they" as a singular pronoun rather than he or she. For today only, I'm giving up that battle.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In case you wonder what might have happened had you gone to medical school . . .

You know what feels really good? When you meet someone you knew like twenty years ago who took a totally different path, and then you reconnect in some meaningful way.

This has happened recently on several fronts. For instance, I just spoke yesterday to my first boss, who hired me for an internship in 1986. (I know, not every six-year old is hired for a post-college internship but there you go.)

Another example is when I reconnected with my friend, Pauline Chen, first at a dinner several years ago in Palo Alto, and most recently this past fall when we both coincidentally published our books. Hers just came out in paperback: Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality. It's earned rave review, deservedly so.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rekindling the 11-year old financial mastermind that lives somewhere inside me

Long-term observers of Michael Melcher are probably aware that in 1974 I was Paperboy of the Year for Scottsdale, Arizona. Actually the official title was "Carrier-Salesman of the Year" and the paper in question was The Scottsdale Daily Progress.

I was simultaneously a very sincere and determined paperboy, and a crafty one. I never missed a delivery, and at the same time plotted things like making homemade Christmas cards for my customers on the theory I would get higher tips.

Looking back, it's clear that I had a very entrepreneurial bent. I grew my route from my starting number of 37 customers to a high of 168, saved money, bought stocks (seriously), and lent my mom $600 when we moved to California the following year. This is an interesting memory for me since I tend to compare my financial skills unfavorably to those of the various bankers, venture capitalists and internet zillionaires that were my classmates in the Stanford MBA class of 1993.

What's my point here? I think it's that whatever we think is the truth about ourselves may not be the full truth. And whatever identity we have is probably just one of the many potential identities available to us, should we decide we'd like to shake things up.

I am having these ponderous thoughts after doing an interview for a cool website called QueerCents, which is a bunch of GLTB financial advisors -- who cleverly have realized that putting real, useful content on a site is more interesting than just having a bunch of people talk. They have a "Ten Money Questions" series that is interesting. Here is their interview of me.

Year-end review, with yourself

Here's the interesting thing about writing. You never know how something is going to come out until you write it. And you never know how it will resonate with the rest of the world until you put it out there. Okay, I guess that's two things.

A couple of weeks ago I did a guest-post on Marci Alboher's blog at the NYT, Shifting Careers. (A most excellent blog, by the way, independent of my own participation.)

I wrote this particular post during a recent visit to my mom's house in the burbs of San Diego County (San Marcos, California, to be precise -- a little prefab town that oddly has its own Bikram yoga studio). "Hmm," I thought. "What could I write that could be useful. Maybe some kind of exercise." I thought back to an exercise I did with my friend Polly on a Hawaii vacation three years before. "Well, I guess I could try that," I mused. I wrote it up, edited it down, and sent it off to Marci, with a not untypical email message to the effect that if she thought it sucked, I could try something else.

She loved it and posted it. It became widely read. It generated a number of strange ad hominem attacks and revealed that there is a certain sector of the population that has great hostility toward things like setting goals and in particular toward yoga bootcamp (which was merely a casual mention in the post but generated an extended argument about the divorce settlement of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. I know, kind of weird.)

But traffic continued to grow. I know, because I obsessively check the visiting stats for this blog as well as my somewhat duplicative but slightly different blog, The Creative Lawyer. Lots of potential client contacted me, as well as people I worked with more than ten years ago. It made the top ten emailed articles on the biz section. Which isn't the top ten overall, but still! Some people wrote on their own blogs about how they actually did the exercise, which made me very happy.

Anyhow, the point of all this is: you never know. If you feel the inkling of creativity, just do it. Reach into the well and see what's there, and then with a deep breath send it out to the world.

Oh, here is that cool invented-in-Hawaii exercise. The point is to look at the previous year before moving on to the next one. It's a method of taking you through the year to get clear on what, in hindsight, was meaningful to you. My favorite web post that I read about this was on a blog called Maigrey:"I'm astonished how unimportant the various men I've dated are. Seriously. Some not even mentioned, and not a one of them underlined. On the other hand, my lady friends got hearts."

Try it. It's fun and it works.