Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Law Career Challenge #12- Learn from Defeats

law career fitness challengeIt’s guaranteed that if you practice law long enough, you will suffer defeats.

You’ll lose a case. Your client will drop you for another lawyer. Your firm will split up, leaving you without a job.

These things happen every day in the wonderful world of law. And while they certainly look like defeats, when viewed from a different angle they take on a new meaning. They become opportunities for growth.

“Whenever anything negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed in it, although you may not see it at the time,” writes Eckhart Tolle in “The Power of Now.” “Even a brief illness or an accident can show you what is real and unreal in your life, what ultimately matters and what doesn’t. There have been many people for whom limitation, failure, loss, illness, or pain in whatever form turned out to be their greatest teacher. It gave them depth, humility and compassion. It made them more real.”

Today’s challenge is to turn setbacks into successes.

Lemons and Lemonade

You’ve probably heard how Abraham Lincoln failed repeatedly in business and politics before becoming president. You’ve been told Thomas Edison struggled for years before finding a workable filament for the light-bulb. You know you should make lemonade when life serves you lemons.

But how to go about doing it? How to get back on your feet after being knocked down? How to turn a minus into a plus?

Inspirational stories and locker room slogans won’t do the trick. What you need is practical advice, and that begins by doing nothing. (This would be a good time to glance back at Challenge Number 3).

Smart decisions are rarely made in the churning aftermath of a bad experience. Allow some time for the dust to settle (curling in a fetal position is optional). Once you’ve gained the clarifying perspective of time and distance, sit down to examine what happened.

Don’t point fingers. You will end up the loser. It’s easy to blame defeats to other people or even bad luck. Don’t do it. It saps your time and energy.

Be a tough personal critic, but don’t beat yourself up. The point is not to wallow in misery but make an honest accounting of: (a) what you did right, (b) where you went wrong, and (c) and what you can do to improve.

Peering Into the Shadow

Sometimes when you look inward you won’t like what you see. You might find there are parts of yourself that are sabotaging your success.

Psychologists call this our shadow self. We all have personality traits that are unflattering and that we would prefer to keep hidden. So we do our best to deny, hide and suppress these darker urges and impulses.

But that doesn’t mean they go away. They emerge in behaviors like working too much, drinking too much and buying stuff we don’t need. They manifest in acts ranging from the benign – bingeing on doughnuts after dieting for three days – to the malignant – stealing from the trust account when we can’t pay the rent.

“The shadow exists within all of us. It is a part of us and yet we spend most of our life running from it,” according to “The Shadow Effect” by Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and Debbie Ford. “But far from being scary, our dark side holds the promise of a better, more fulfilling life.”

The secret is to embrace, not erase your shadow self. Once you drag your self-defeating behaviors into the clear light of awareness, they shrivel and fade like Dracula.

Five Training Tips

  1. Practice non-judgment. What’s done is done. Accept it. This doesn’t mean you have to like what happened. It means you choose not to waste time labeling events as “good” or “bad.” Start from where you are and grow from there.
  2. Start a journal or diary. Write down your thoughts and feelings after a tough experience. What factors contributed to the loss? What might you have done differently? The physical act of putting it down on paper will help you let it go.
  3. Confront your Dark Side, Luke Skywalker. “We’re often afraid of looking at our shadow because we want to avoid the shame or embarrassment that comes along with admitting mistakes,” writes Marianne Williamson. “We feel that if we take a deep look at ourselves, we’ll be too exposed. But the thing we should actually fear is not looking at it, for our denial of the shadow is exactly what fuels it.” 
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others. You will always find people better and worse off than you are. Look inward, not outward. Celebrate what you do well, and work on areas that need improvement.
  5. Face facts. “With the acknowledgement and acceptance of the facts also comes a degree of freedom from them,” writes Tolle. “Every crisis represents not only danger but opportunity.”
You can find last week's challenge here.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

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