Grab That Creative Thread, Unhappy Lawyers

Back when my journey out of law began, I remember talking to my therapist/career counselor about what I wanted to do instead of practicing law. Other than writing,  sewing, and playing with yarn, I really didn’t believe I could do a lot of creative stuff. I had this wisp of an idea that I wanted to do something with visuals, but I couldn’t even say that to my counselor. I hadn’t done anything like that, and I thought it would sound ridiculous and plain stupid.

manipolare la mente

The Universe thought my insecurities were funny. My second job in publishing was writing for a magazine, which of course included artwork with the stories I wrote. And I took to mixing words and images like librarians to reading. At my next job, I oversaw the redesign of the magazine I edited.

The point is, before I experienced it, I truly could not have articulated that I wanted a writing job that combined images and design. I simply didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or anything else that could flesh out that tiny thread that was pulling me out of law and into much better things. I just grabbed what I could of that thread, and went with it.

Was it scary? Only like base jumping is terrifying.

Rope jumping.

Getting in Alignment With You

So many well-meaning friends and colleagues at the time asked me, “Well, what can you do with being a legal reporter? Where does it lead?” They wanted a well-marked road map, with that progress arrow pointing in a constant upward slope. They wanted a path of certainty for me.

I was so sick of law, I literally could not have cared less about what came after the job I was taking. I just knew it had to be better than the hellish dysfunction of law and the stultifying crap I had to do daily.

It was. Even more than I knew it would be. Once I’d been in the job a little while, the couple tons of worry, grief, and despair I had carried around daily–and had stopped noticing–while practicing law largely evaporated. It wasn’t a perfect job, by any stretch. But it was at least in the ballpark of being aligned with who I truly am, and what I valued. The load that I ditched was all the stress of living a life completely out of alignment.

Follow That Trickle!

If you have even the slightest glimmer of a creative urge in you, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is: That glimmer is the barest shadow of what you are capable of, creatively.

Understand that unlike in the movies, all that creativity won’t come pouring out as soon as you leave law, and quickly materialize into selling your work for millions. OK, it could, but don’t be gobsmacked and distraught if your path doesn’t head that direction.

What I can promise is that paying attention to your creativity will start a steady stream. The more you nurture and honor that creativity by actually doing creative things, the more that creative trickle will turn into a creek, then a river, then an ocean.

small-trickle-from-bridal-veil-falls-at-pikes-peak-state-park-iowaI say that as someone who, in my 40s, started playing with paints and crafts generally, and am now feeling increasingly drawn to do more of that. In fact, I just signed up for an art workshop with a nationally known collage artist, and I’m both giddy and petrified.

The bad news? A creative life is not predictable. I’m not saying that it’s a life of chaos; but the heart of creativity is seeing what could be, rather than fitting life and work into existing boxes. Bringing something new, different, or interesting into being does not follow an easily replicable formula. You’ll need to take risks, and get comfortable with frequent “failures.” In a creative life, though, they’re not failures, they’re something to learn from.

Not that many of you won’t flip out about failing, until you get used to how fun those so-called failures can be.

If the Path Before You Is Clear, It’s Probably Someone Else’s

This is when a lot of you blanch, shudder, and decide that you’d rather stay safe and continue getting those predictable, fairly fat paychecks. I get that. It is gut-liquefying to move from the known (if limited and stifling) career paths in law to something with an utterly different DNA.

I’m actually not suggesting that you quit your job, declare that you’re embarking on an epic journey of creativity, and expect the world to beat a path to your door. Unless, of course, you’ve been doing your creative work for a while, and deeply feel that jumping into it full-time is what you are called to do next, even if everyone around you declares you ready for the white jacket with long sleeves.

What I am suggesting is that you start flirting with your creative impulses. Take a class that catches your eye. Go to the craft store and let yourself buy a few things that entice you. (Then go home and search for videos about what to do with those things.) Give yourself some time, daily, to just dream about what you might want.

Note that none of these things commit you in any way. You can try a class and decide you aren’t as intrigued as you thought. Or find out that you need more practice or skills to execute what’s in your head. Which isn’t a problem–in this age of video ubiquity, there are at least a dozen people who have posted something about the very thing you want to work with.

And those dreams you’ve allowed yourself, finally, to experience and explore? Those can and should be big and luscious, but you don’t have to make every single facet of them come true to find fulfillment. Working on one manageable part at a time will do that, I promise.

Get a Move On

The important thing is to start.

As a horse trainer I knew once pointed out, all of us can climb to the roof of a 25-ft. high arena. A few of the incredibly athletic among us could make it in three enormous, Spiderman-esque leaps. And most attorneys, who are used to getting all those As, awards, and accolades, think they should be able to perform at the highest levels, right away!

That’s the mistake many of us make when embarking on a creative journey: We set our minimum performance standards to warp-factor high, and then when we don’t come even close, we conclude that we have no talent, and that we were fools for thinking that maybe we had a little.

It’s a Kafka-esque recipe for failure.

Instead, to get to the top of that 25-ft. arena, we need to look for a ladder with 100 steps. That way, we can actually climb up, regardless of what shape we’re in. That’s what most people do, if they want to get to their goal. They figure out the steps they can take, not the ones they think they should be able to, but can’t yet. Any steps are good, regardless of size.

So embark on your creative journey with hope and faith. Take the tiniest step you can, and make sure that you keep taking tiny steps regularly.

If you need help with that, I’m an email away.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and recovering perfectionist who is probably going to need an intervention about her craft supply addiction pretty soon. You can reach her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.

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Are You Going to Let Fear Stop You From Writing, Unhappy Lawyers?

Some of you may know that this is National Novel Writing Month—affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. The idea is that you write 50,000 words and call it a novel.

NaNo-2011-Poster-for-web_1024x1024No one grades it or evaluates it; you get your virtual trophy by uploading the text to the NaNoWriMo site, which verifies that you did, indeed, submit a 50,000-word document.

Some of you will sniff and immediately point out, in voluminous detail, why submitting a 50,000-word document to a random third party is worthless and will not make you a novelist.

Others will quail at the idea of writing 50,000 words, period. Let alone in one month.

Some will say that since they didn’t start already and a week of NaNoWriMo has already passed by, it is pointless to start now.

A variation on “a week has already passed” is “I don’t have time to write!”

Yet another common response will be, “I don’t have an idea for a whole novel. I just have a scene or two in my head.”

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear – George AddairLet me suggest, ever so gently, that every single one of these reasons, plus whatever other ones you have ricocheting around in your head, are 99.94% pure bullshit.

Because really, you’re scared to write. There can be thousands of reasons why, but mostly it boils down to a few overarching themes:

Perfectionism: I can’t write the Great American Novel/next bestseller, and I’m not going to embarrass myself by trying and failing. Because then I will know for sure I can’t write, and I can’t really handle that truth.

Fear of Being Heard: I say and think things that make people uncomfortable. People avoid me when they’re uncomfortable. I can’t handle being a social pariah.

Fear of Actually Being Good: (This one sounds odd, but I’ve seen it.) I may have some talent at writing, but I won’t be able to handle the attention. People will find out that I’m not all they think I am, that I’m really a fraud.

Personally, I don’t think the best thing about NaNoWriMo is writing 50,000 words in a month. Not that it wouldn’t be fabulous.

The important thing is that you can use NaNoWriMo as a springboard into the writing pool, where you long to be. Trust me on this—if you have a secret, quiet, or even loud desire to write, you need to write. It’s calling you. I don’t know for what purpose, because that’s not my job to know; it’s yours.

Let me just say that you can, maybe even should, answer a call without knowing exactly why you are being called, or where it will take you. I’ve watched those who do just that, and they lead the most interesting, juicy, ALIVE lives of anyone I know. They also will tell you they had no idea that things would turn out how they did, but they are grateful beyond measure that they listened to their call.

What If I Don’t Have 3 Hours Daily for Writing?

The key to NaNoWriMo is to make it what you need it to be for your own growth as writer. “Growth” can mean just starting to put your fragile ideas on screen or paper, instead of saying “some day,” like a trained parrot.

So let’s get down to the nub: How are you going to put NaNoWriMo into your life for the next 3 weeks?

As you might expect, I have some suggestions.

  • Get up 20 minutes early daily, and just transcribe whatever comes into your head. It matters not one whit if you like what comes out; brilliance, or even liking what your write, is for later. Your writing does not initially have to make much sense, either. It doesn’t even need to have complete sentences, punctuation, acceptable grammar, or correct spelling. Promise. That is what editing is for, my friends.
  • Join up with a local NaNoWriMo region and go to some write-ins. The website helps you find them: https://nanowrimo.org/regions?
  • Go out to lunch daily, and spend time writing while you munch. I once wrote a good third of a novel by walking to the nearest Starbucks with a notebook, getting something to eat, and scribbling for a while.

Basically, you need to commit to tweaking your habits. Create a space in your life for a new, small habit: writing. You really don’t need the vast savannah of time that we writers are convinced must shine before us. Sure it’s nice, but absolutely it isn’t necessary.

But I Don’t Know Anything About Writing a Novel!

Most of you are lawyers. That means that most of you have fully internalized the notion that you must know the rules before you embark on such an intimidating project. That is what we do when we’re lawyers!

To counter this, I ask you to consider the experience of novelist Roxane Gay.  While usually I don’t like to quote people at length, Gay’s particular set of questions was so lawyer-like that I know many of you have or are thinking the same things. Just to make them easier to scan, I’ve bulleted Gay’s questions:

  • How long should a novel be? (There are a million different answers to this question, by the way.)
  • I prefer to write in single-spaced, un-indented paragraphs. Would that be an acceptable way to submit a manuscript?
  • How long should a chapter be?
  • How many chapters is too many chapters?
  • How do you number chapters during the drafting process when certain sections might be moved around?
  • Is it acceptable to use multiple points of view (i.e. both first and third person)?
  • What if certain chapters adopt an experimental format but are interspersed with more traditional prose?
  • Is it really true that every chapter should be self-contained and readable as its own thing?
  • Do you have to write from beginning to end or is it acceptable to jump around the story and pull it all together at the end?
  • How do you pace a novel?
  • How explicit is too explicit?
  • Is it okay to leave gaps in the narrative?

She goes on to say, “There is lots of advice on novel writing out there but I struggled to find satisfying answers for my specific set of questions. Finally, there came a time when I decided to ignore all the advice I had read and do the only thing I know how to do, which is write. I wrote what I felt like writing, when I felt like writing, how I felt like writing. I jumped all over the place. None of my chapters had numbers. I didn’t take notes, or create a timeline, or plot anything out.”

Gay is the author of 6 books, so I think things worked out OK for her by following her own inner guidance.

I’ll bet you can follow your own inner guidance, too. If you’re willing to listen to that wisdom, and not your fear.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys to add their own unique creativity to their lives. What better way to create a better life than with your own innate abilities? If you want help tapping into your own creativity, contact Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.

Your Lawyer Worries? Misused & Abused Creative Energy

Lawyers are WORRIERS. Despite the fact that thousands of attorneys commit malpractice daily (you know they do, because you’ve seen their work), you spend countless minutes and hours worrying that if you don’t get something absolutely and exactly right, you will be sued for malpractice, lose, get disbarred, and ultimately have to live under a bridge.

How am I doing?

While I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate things you need to be concerned about, including malpractice, worrying endlessly about them does not, in fact, do anything to prevent the bad thing you fear from happening.

The right key

The solution to your worries lies first in imagining it.

 

In fact, worry robs you of a clear mind. It focuses you on the one star that may, or may not, be going supernova in your world, and shuts out more useful thoughts and perspectives. Such as, is this a true threat, and if so, how am I going to solve that problem?

A good synonym for worry might be mental myopia, because you’re depriving yourself of the whole picture. You literally can’t see it when worry takes the wheel.

Epic Worriers Are Epically Creative

All that said, I sort of enjoy listening to clients’ worries; many of them are very detailed, dramatic, and entertaining if you don’t buy into the fantasy. Which of course, I don’t.

Now I know to my clients, these worries feel very real and present. (As do yours.) I respect that they emerge from great fear. That’s the part I help them deal with.

The good news is, if you’re an epic worrier, chances are that you are also pretty creative. Think about what you are actually doing:

  • Constructing an entire alternate universe, complete with a cast of evil characters;
  • Making up rules about how that world functions;
  • Constructing a plot of grand, dramatic and tragic proportions; and
  • Casting yourself in a starring role.

Trust me, few people are as good at this as a stuck creative lawyer.

Imagining a Better Life IS the Hard Part

Rather than indulge your creativity to create doom-and-gloom scenarios, harness your creative power for your own damned good. Start imagining possibilities. Start dreaming.

In other words, start using that creativity to get yourself somewhere you want to be.

By engaging your imagination to create a pleasant, even joyful fantasy about your life, you do a couple very sound things, psychologically speaking.

  • You remove your focus from negativity, and therefore stop the enormous drain of energy from your life and work. Constantly thinking about bad outcomes wears people out.  If you line up a bunch of random people off the street, you can likely pick out the worriers without even speaking to them. They look like they feel ill, and consumed. Because they are.
  • When you focus on the larger picture, rather than your own tiny, dark corner, you see more opportunities. With some practice, you can turn your fear into curiosity. A good way to do this is to simply ask “What if?” as many times as possible. Rather than, “I just know that everyone will think this idea is impractical and mock me,” you might ask yourself, “I wonder what I could do to show Donna Doubter that this really can work?”

I know, the thought that simply imagining a better life can work some kind of magic probably offends your rational, logical brains deeply. I get it. But remember that every change in the world was once somebody’s crazy-ass dream.

I mean, in 1995, I had a petite brick of a cell phone. With, yanno, 12 whole keys. That you had to press firmly. In the late 90s, I worked on a patent case in which the fight was over—get this—whether a clamshell-style phone could be protected by patent. Also, Palm Pilots were a big deal.

Today, because the creators of Star Trek, and later some techies, had the dream of phones that would fit in our palms, while sporting more computing power than any home computer had in 1995, we have iPhones and Android phones, with the knowledge of the world available in 10 seconds.

Logic and reason are ultimately tools for changing your life, but they’re not the only ones. More importantly, they are not your first stop. Logic cannot dream, or create your vision of an ideal life.

Queen-Elizabeth-the-Queen-Mother-crownYou first need to tap into all that creativity that currently parades around in your head in drab rags. Let it dress up with a crown, robes and scepter and parade around a bit.

Worry Repels Potential Helpers

When you let your creativity work for you, your energy changes. This is vitally important for transformation.

Negative energy from people, including you, is palpable. It makes people not particularly eager to help you. We like being around more cheerful, positive people.

If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment, which I got from Steering by Starlight, by Martha Beck.

Pick a coffee shop or similar venue. Make sure you can visit on two separate days at roughly the same time of day. (This experiment works better when it’s not the height of the coffee rush or otherwise really crowded.) If possible, enlist a friend to help you with your observations.

worry use imagination memeAbout 5 minutes before your first visit. have your friend go in and find a vantage point from which she can see you in line. Then, walk in. As you walk in, think intensely about how you need a job, and you need to find one right away, or you will soon be out of work and have to go live under that bridge. Let this idea consume every corner of your mind. Drench yourself in desperation. Don’t make any particular effort to speak to anyone, but if they approach you, feel free to converse. Maybe even talk about how desperately you need a new job.

Notice the reactions of strangers and clerks. Do they look your way, or smile at you? Do they give you the side-eye? If so, for how long? (Count the seconds.) How big a berth do they give you? Is their back to you, or their side? If you have a friend observing, make sure she observes the same things. Record the data.

Go back another day. This time, though, you’re going to focus on the thought that you are so lucky. You’re alive, and you have all kinds of opportunities before you. You just have to decide which ones you are the most curious about. It’s really exciting to be on the cusp of a great change. You are smiling. Deeply believe, for a few moments, that the world is your oyster! As before, notice looks, smiles, body language, and personal space. Is there a difference in the number of people you interact with? Have your friend do the same, again. Record the data.

Then, compare notes. Was there any noticeable difference between the two visits?

Of course, I expect there will be, or I wouldn’t suggest this exercise. And I hope you’ll do it.

Think about it: Do you engage scowling clerks, or smiling clerks, at the grocery or drug store? Unless you really adore helping the hard-to-love in the world, you’re likely to choose the smiling face. It’s simple human nature.

So get out there and re-imagine your life and work. What have you go to lose, except an albatross of worry?

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who misused her creativity for the better part of 8 years, while practicing law, and for a while after that. If you need help using your own creativity to imagine a better life and career for yourself, book a sample session by emailing Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com

Why Unhappy Lawyers Think They Aren’t Creative (but really are)

Lawyers, as a group, are a really brittle, unresilient lot. This isn’t always obvious, because in their substantive work, lawyers can be highly tenacious. They will pursue a cockamamie theory to the ends of the earth, if it serves their client’s needs.

But when it comes to anything they aren’t naturally pretty good at? Not so much. In fact, one tiny setback, and they go running for the hills, never to try again.

creative process memeFor example, what about that time you tried to network into a new job, and after 1 or 2 informational interviews and no job offers, you declared that networking doesn’t work for you? Uh-huh.

The belief that you aren’t creative springs from the same dynamic. Unless you took a ton of art, dance, music, acting or writing classes somewhere along the way, you probably walk around with the belief that creative people have something that most people don’t.

In particular, I’d be willing to bet, you likely believe that if you were truly creative, your first efforts at a creative project should have been incredibly much better than they actually were.

Which brings me to the meme that accompanies this post. Let’s walk through the truth of it. Because believe me, no matter how long you’ve been engaged in creativity, this dynamic occurs. Experienced creatives just know that, and know to push on through.

  1. This Is Awesome!

    This is the phase that we all adore. It feels so spectacular—the world is brimming with possibilities, and horizons open up before us. Some highly creative people end up staying here, due to nos. 2 and 3.

  2. This Is Tricky.

    Ah, this is when we actually try to execute the idea in some fashion. Reality rears its ugly head. Suddenly we realize that we might have to put quite a bit of effort into this idea. Possibilities suddenly contract quite a lot. For many, the clash between vision and having to adjust ideas to a situation or environment feels too horrible to bear. So we give up, preferring to stroke our idealized vision, and often grousing about how others lack vision. Like little kids, we take our ball and just go home. Many, many highly creative lawyers fall into this category.

  3. This Is Shit.

    If unhappy, yet creative lawyers haven’t crashed and burned on no. 2, this is usually where we founder. Comparing our fledgling efforts to the final product of masters runs rampant. All the warts of reality scream at us, and we are keenly aware of how much distance there is between our original vision and where we are. Oh, how agonizing that distance is! And we have little, if any, idea of how to fix it. Our usual bag of tricks, whether paltry or plentiful, has failed us.

  4. I Am Shit.

    This is the part of the process where self-doubt really takes command. We are feeling incredibly vulnerable and uncertain. Our inner critics come out strongly for a fantastic field day. Most of our original vision feels pathetic and infantile, just like we know we must be. Usually, only some kind of dire necessity (a deadline, a promise to someone, or some other shame-inducing dynamic) will move us past this, at least if we are inexperienced creatives.

  5. This Might Be OK.

    This lovely realization hits when we’ve worked on our idea just a little more, and start to see some kind of path through the morass. Hope starts to slide back in.

  6. This Is AWESOME.

    Finally, we’ve made it through! Maybe our idea changed, but we persevered, and what we got in the end isn’t so bad. Not so bad at all. WE DID IT!! This feeling is more lasting and satisfying than No. 1’s “This Is Awesome!” because there is work, persistence and accomplishment behind it. Those are worth savoring, my friends. This stage of the creative process makes your life feel amazing, no matter how small the project.

If you see yourself in any (or all) of this dynamic, you may want to check out a couple books that are perennial favorites of mine.

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. This book got me started on my path out of law nearly 20 years ago. Cameron digs into what keeps creatives blocked, and offers wonderful exercises to help you get over your fine self. Unlike me, she does this in a very loving, non-snarky way. I re-read (and re-did) TAW about 5 years ago, and it was just as eye-opening the 2nd time around, but in different areas. A classic.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. This book is especially good for writers, or those who have had a least one passing desire to write something, anything. Lamott is wicked funny, and will have you in stitches several times throughout. You’ll hardly even notice the very sage advice she offers, until it’s too late.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer, recovering perfectionist, and is highly experienced in the “I am shit” phase of the creative process. If you are looking for ways to tap into your innate creativity, drop her a line at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to set up a sample coaching session.

Walk Into Your Creativity, Unhappy Lawyers

Many of you unhappy lawyers would love to be more creative. But you finally sit down to confront the page, or the canvas, or whatever your creative urge, and you get a big, fat, nothing. And you conclude that you really aren’t creative at all, that it’s a pipe dream, and you need to just buckle down and get your real work done.

A walk can take you to all kinds of places. Some are even physical.

A walk can take you to all kinds of places. Some are even physical.

Problem is, what you’ve just done is akin to concluding that the tiny seedling that just sprouted should be a huge, whopping sunflower, already! So you pull up the seedling and call the whole experiment a failure.

Like anything important in life, your creativity needs nurturing first, not command performances.

How do you do that? Naturally, I have a few ideas. One of the best ideas I can give you is to simply go for a walk, without any electronics or screens.

No Screens = Room to Ruminate

I’m on a bit of a tear about getting away from screens and constant stimulation lately. I see people in the park, walking or running tuned into earbuds and tuned out of their surrounding, and I just don’t get it. Yes, I know, many people want something to help distract them from the discomfort of running, in particular, or maybe just for motivation when they hit the wall (or whatever it’s called these days; I wouldn’t know).

When I walk, I never listen to anything that comes over an earbud. Yes, I am probably ruining my life by not taking the time to listen to a really great podcast. Oh well! For me, walking time is time to let go of all the crap sloshing around in my brain, so that new and better stuff has room to wander in and take up residence.

This is how I got my idea for this post, in fact.

It started out as a simple wish. I had finally managed to turn off my phone and Facebook addiction, and very reluctantly get out of my car. I did not want to walk. I wanted to go home and catch up on the sleep that I missed via my other current addiction, Criminal Minds. (Ten seasons on Netflix, people! I’m on season 5.)

So I wished for something interesting, maybe even magical, to present itself as I walked. And then Continue reading