Personal Development

Blog by Julian Summerhayes. 1196 words.

Before delving into the murky world of personal development, I thought I would put up one of the first Ted videos that I watched, delivered by Anthony Robins (he of hot coal walking fame). If you have the time to watch it (… never I know), then I highly recommend it.

I have mentioned before that, when it comes to personal development, most firms leave it to chance (the throw of the dice, Russian roulette modus operandi).

It is not quite every man, woman and child for him/herself but it is one of the most under-valued and under-resourced areas, and, as a consequence, it means that most lawyers don’t realise their full potential. And please don’t mention that you have a Human Resources department. Even the name sounds positively factory like.

Of course, to elucidate my point, I could throw out a whole slew of failings – emotional intelligence, people skills and business development – but frankly it would be as tedious to read as it would be to write. We both know that there is a lacuna. The question is, what are you doing about it?

To set this in context, my own experience was hardly auspicious. I was tossed, like a herring to a Penguin, a two-page document headed “personal development plan” and when I asked what I was supposed to do with it, I was met with an incredulous “Fill it out [s-t-u-p-i-d]”. Duh … I sort of knew that. But, seriously, once having filled out another dull piece of paper, what was I meant to do it with?

In truth we never got that far because I couldn’t see the point in completing something that was created by someone who had nothing else to do but make up plan after after plan to keep the cohort of aspiring lawyers even more in the dark about their prospects.

I mean it wasn’t as if there was an end game.


Don’t be stupid.

No one wanted to get on to that thorny subject, and you certainly wouldn’t see it expressed in a ‘silly old’ Personal Development Plan.

Of course, if someone had said to me that they wanted to develop every person in the firm so that they were most that they could be – and there was a reason for that i.e. service EXCELLENCE, then I would have eaten their hand off then and there. It wasn’t that I was itching to please my peers but rather to be stretched, engaged, enlivened by the monotony of cubicle world and just to feel a sense of purpose.

Perhaps I am too exacting – both on myself and others – but I don’t think it too much to expect that when I turn up for work more is expected of me than simply turning in another time-sheet with chargeable hours being the dominant theme.

What I now realise is that even the most charitable of employer has a fear of the uprising of angst, commercial good sense and awakening that is likely to come with a workforce that starts to talk about important stuff like the vision, values, the primary purpose of the business and, of course, the inevitable “What’s In It for Me?”. But that is entirely misplaced. Rather than fear the swell of expectancy, it should be embraced.

If you feel a sense of frustration with the system then you are not alone. I would wager that all professionals feel under-valued and over-worked and under immense pressure to conform. There is nasty smell of take, take, take and an unrelenting pressure to keep those in comfort in yet further comfort. You can kick and scream all you like but rarely do I find a lawyer who waxes lyrical about their job, the firm or their position within it.

And your recourse?

Your recourse is to take control.

I am not suggesting you do a Tom Cruise and send a missive to all and sundry hoping to change the world. No, instead, I am inviting you to take control.

Take control of:

  1.  Your life. There is long-standing maxim that says if you carry on doing what you have always done, don’t be surprised if you stay doing the same things that you have always done. The only person who can truly make a difference is you. Life begins with the first step and all that. Don’t become part of the What If brigade.
  2. Your career. Yes you may be stuck in your current rut but that is no reason not to buff up your CV, LinkedIn profile and to undertake your own SWOT analysis. If I was in practice now, no matter how busy I was or pretending to be, I would be improving at every juncture my communication skills, my circle of acquaintances, my IT skills and grabbing all the free training I could. If you are one of those people who struggles to get out much, then you will be amazed at the people you meet and the experiences you share.
  3. You personal life. In Luke Johnson‘s marvelous book Start it Up he says: “It should be part of of the role of any boss to know the critical domestic circumstances of their juniors – so that they can help if a crisis erupts.” This does not mean you need to open up and tell your boss everything, but you need to make it clear where there is tension at home from having to juggle an increasingly pressurised work/life balance. In my epxerience firms pay lip service to this aspect. They would rather not know too much for fear that it opens up another ‘issue’ for them to deal with.

None of this is simple. You may feel that you are ill-equipped to deal with the issues. Let’s face it if you have got this far in your career you may not have had to work on anything other than becoming a technically brilliant operator. But believe me it is not enough. You have to work equally on all other aspects of your life (particularly your physical well being) and not focus so ruthlessly all the time on your career.

Next time you hear the words “personal development” you may be tempted to brush them off as some liberal, 1960’s experiment. Don’t. You will find that there is a huge amount of well intentioned and helpful information just waiting to be explored.

If you need a place to start then go and read Dale Carnegie’s masterful book How to Win Friends and Influence People  or Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The fact that they were written so long ago, but continue to sell so well must be a testament to something.

For me, I have never been happier now that I have the time and clear head space to explore all the areas of my life that I previously put on hold for the sake of promotion. Am I a better person? I damn well hope so.

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