Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: The Importance of Doing Nothing



THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING NOTHING


Disconnecting from work lets our mind and body recharge.  It ensures that when we are working next, we're working at full capacity.  Jory MacKay   
  
    
       

I saw a Facebook meme recently that contained a nugget of homespun wisdom. It read:

If you don't schedule time to maintain your equipment, your equipment will schedule it for you.

This comment got me thinking. It's certainly possible to run our machines until we run them into the ground. Then what? And these days, what do we mean by "equipment?" I don't drive tractors any more, like I did as a young man on the farm. How does this "maintain your equipment" idea apply to me today?

In ancient agrarian societies, their most important piece of "equipment" was the land itself. Through Moses, the Israelites were instructed to let their fields lie fallow and rest every seven years (Exodus 23: 11). This allowed the soil to replenish itself, avoiding depletion of important nutrients. The result was greater harvests and longer-lasting farms. In Roman times, the author Ovid applied this principle of agrarian sabbaticals to human workers when he counseled: "Take rest; the field that has rested yields a bountiful crop."

In my business, computers are key to our productivity. I need to make sure our computers are in good shape, employing software that regularly reviews, updates, and maintains them. If that software is not installed correctly and is not run frequently, it's likely that we'll be dealing with computer issues at work.

(Interestingly, when my laptop or my wife's iPad is misbehaving and we call our son who works in IT for help, the first thing he usually says is, "Why don't you power off for a few minutes and then turn it back on and see if that helps."   In most cases, a little "down time" is all that is needed.)

But far more important than keeping our computers running smoothly, it's imperative that my team and I properly maintain our tools of greatest consequence, our brains. We are in the brain business. The essence of what we provide our clients is knowledge and wisdom. Those are the fruits of our brain power.   Unless we keep our brains in tip-top shape, we cannot expect to produce a bountiful crop.  

I love my job because I've been able to create a business around my own unique talents and aptitudes. (I've often said that if you want a perfect job, you need to build it for yourself.) But even in a perfect job - and perhaps especially if it's a not-quite-perfect job - it's vital to disconnect from it from time to time. Down time is essential to any successful enterprise, but especially if you're in the brain business.  

I love to work but I must maintain a balance between doing and not doing. "Strategic disengagement" is how I describe taking time away from work so the brain can rejuvenate. I appreciate Tony Schwartz' advice that in today's intense and fast-paced world, we need to create "white space" for ourselves.  

"It's not possible to move from one activity to the next at blinding speed and be reflective at the same time. The more complex and demanding the work we do, the wider, deeper, and longer the perspective we require to do it well. It's almost impossible to do that when we create no white space in our lives."

When we're not at work, doing something different is good, but sometimes DOING NOTHING is even better. If our "days off" are too tightly scheduled, we may arrive back at work in worse mental shape than when we left. We must learn - and then remember - to MAINTAIN THE BRAIN BY DOING NOTHING.

When I say "doing nothing" I mean:
  • Sitting and thinking.
  • Walking in the woods.
  • Listening to the birds or the crickets.
  • Taking a nap.
  • Sitting on the beach and watching the waves.
  • Lying in a hammock and pondering the clouds.
  • Hanging out on the porch and admiring the sunset.
  • Or doing whatever allows us to fully disengage.
Otherwise, when we are working next, we won't be working at full capacity. We cannot be tightly wound every single minute if we expect to deliver our best results.  

If we don't schedule time to maintain our equipment, our equipment will schedule it for us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: Fourth-Generation Lawyer



FOURTH-GENERATION LAWYER


Risk more than others think is safe.  Dream more than others think is practical.  Howard Schultz  
  
 
     
       


Fourteen months ago, I mentioned my daughter Sara in a Wednesday Wisdom post entitled "The Ability to Change Directions."  


Here's a recap and an update on that article.

* * * *

Fourteen years after graduating from college, Sara decided to chart a new path for herself. She enjoyed an active life in her community and a solid, stable job as a troubleshooter and customer service rep for a software company. She had completed a master's degree in Library Science, but she still felt a yearning to do more.

From somewhere inside her, she decided to explore the idea of going back to school - this time tackling the rigors of law school. It may have been in her blood or her genes. Her great-grandfather, Henry Ware Hobbs, Sr. was an attorney, as was her grandfather, Henry Ware Hobbs, Jr, her great uncle, Kenneth I. Franks, and I, her father.

When she asked me about the idea, I told her to go for it ONLY if she were prepared to go all in. With a glut of law schools and a vast oversupply of lawyers in a sagging economy, the value of a law degree has become the new equivalent of a liberal arts degree - a dime a dozen. Don't do it, I said, unless you're willing to work harder than you've ever worked before and you're convinced you can qualify for the law review and finish in the top part of your class in a quality law school. Anything else would be a waste of time and money.

Sara took the LSAT and did remarkably well, scoring in the top 98th percentile. All of a sudden, she became a hot commodity in the world of law school recruiters. Those test scores, her mature and well-seasoned outlook on life, and her other strong qualifications led to $1.25 million worth of lucrative scholarship offers from 16 highly-regarded law schools. She eventually accepted admission at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Law school was three long challenging years, but Sara stuck with it. She demonstrated the capacity to do more work than ever before, and the tenacity to finish the job she had set her mind to. As of last week, Sara has now become a fourth-generation lawyer, graduating with honors and a member of the law review. She's moved back to Greensboro to study for the bar exam and prepare for the next chapter of her life.

I spoke with Sara recently about her decision to travel a different road. What were her primary fears as she considered going to law school? She said she was very worried about giving up a regular paycheck and she had doubts about her ability to compete against a lot of other very smart people.  

But her biggest concern was whether after law school and as a lawyer she could live a happy life. She knew many lawyers who hated their work and regretted their decision to pursue a legal career. Was it possible in today's world, she wondered, to be a happy lawyer?

"How did you resolve that doubt?" I asked. "Because obviously if you didn't, you wouldn't have gone to law school."

"I looked at the example of my grandfather and my father," she answered. "Granddaddy kept work in its place. He maintained regular hours and never brought work home with him.  He took time for a short nap in the middle of the day."  

"He also made time to foster and nourish relationships. He had many friends of all ages and walks of life, and they knew his home was always open for them to drop by and visit and share stories. He was a consummate storyteller and story-listener. When he died, at least two dozen people told us they considered him their closest friend."

She continued: "In addition, Granddaddy was a master of encouraging others, including his grandchildren, to push themselves. When I was 12, I mentioned wanting to read War and Peace, the biggest book I knew. He gave me the nudge I needed to tackle such a humongous project for someone my age. Then he followed up, asking about my progress and my thoughts on the book. He showed me that a person could have a full and well-rounded life as a lawyer."

She told me that I too was good at keeping family, church, and community as my primary life focus. But she said I had taught her another invaluable lesson. "You've shown by your example that a law degree is like a Swiss army knife.   It's an extremely flexible tool, offering a wide range of options and career paths, if you're not afraid to step out in a new direction. Sometimes that means you have to blaze a new trail, or even break the mold and start afresh."

"The course of your career has been varied and interesting. From judicial law clerk to large law firm; from college professor to bank trust officer; from self-employed private practitioner to instructor of lawyers and financial planners, and a national authority on legacy planning; from retirement planning expert to advisor of high-net worth clients; and now, even at the age of 67, your new direction as the developer of the Will & Trust Express model of service to middle-income families - you've done all that and more."  

"In each of these roles, you've taught me that it's okay to find things you love and then pursue them. I've learned that focusing on my own fulfillment and enjoyment in my professional life is one of the keys to being a happy lawyer."

So, as I see it, Sara faces the future as a fourth-generation lawyer filled with optimism, perspective, and tons of ideas on how to use her degree and training to make a difference in the world and in her own life. She has taken the lessons of yesterday, combined them with a strong skill-set for today, and opened a bright tomorrow for herself. With admitted bias and pride as her father, I think she's going to do quite well representing the profession and a noble family tradition.  

Here's to you, Sara. Happy Graduation, and Happy Life as a Lawyer!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: Dark Skies Over Harmony


DARK SKIES OVER HARMONY


I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.  Vincent Van Gogh

 
     
    

One of the wonderful things about living in Harmony, Florida, is that the community is dark-sky compliant. We like the fact that all street lights, porch lights, and other lamps in town are hooded and pointed downward so that light pollution doesn't obstruct our view of the stars at night.

It's a delightful experience to take a late-hour walk in the neighborhood on a clear and moonless night. Familiar constellations smile down like old friends and the Milky Way beams a welcoming invitation to explore its gauzy pathway. There seems to be no limit to the breadth and depth of the firmament above us.

I grew up, perhaps like many people my age, taking dark skies for granted. On our farm in New Mexico we saw the stars every night, and when we went camping, we literally slept under a blanket of stars.

My most glorious memory of the heavens happened while camping on a plateau at almost 12,000 feet above sea level near Flint Lake in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwest Colorado. When the sun went down and night settled in, the light of the stars became so brilliant we could see everything around us clearly, even our own shadows on the ground. With clear skies, rarified air, and no man-made lights within a hundred miles, we could see tens of thousands more stars than were visible at sea level. So incredibly beautiful!

In the modern world, nighttime views of the cosmos are a fragile blessing. A majority of Americans today no longer have an unobstructed and undiluted view of the heavens. In many places, seeing more than a few stars is often impossible. In most of the world's large urban centers, stargazing is something that only happens at a planetarium.

In fact, when a 1994 earthquake knocked out the power in Los Angeles, many anxious residents called local emergency centers to report seeing a strange "giant, silvery cloud" in the dark sky. What they were really seeing - for the first time - was the Milky Way, long obliterated by the urban sky glow. Even in Harmony, the bright glow of Orlando, 20 miles to the northwest, blots out that sector of the nighttime sky for us.  


Does being able to see dark skies really matter?


Can the ability to look up and see the heavens make a difference in our lives? A number of scientific studies have shown that the lack of nighttime darkness has serious effects on the health of humans, animals, and plants. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2627884/

But in terms of our lifestyles and our sense of well-being, how are we affected? What is missing in our lives when we can't - or don't - see the stars? Cartoonist Bill Watterson once posed an interesting and thought-provoking question:

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, would they live a lot differently?

How might it change us and the way we experience life if, instead of spending our evenings looking at television sets, computer screens, and bright city lights, we could view Orion, the Big Dipper, the North Star, and the Milky Way?

Would we see our place in the universe in a different way if our nightly view included thousands and millions of stars and planets, and we took the time to contemplate the implications of the vastness of the universe we live in?

How would our perspective on the cycle of life and our role in it be affected by paying attention to the giant kaleidoscope of the heavens, spinning constantly, season by season?


Does being able to see dark skies really matter?


I cannot speak for others, but I know that for myself, seeing the stars on a moonless night gives me a sense of both being grounded and being part of something infinite - as indeed I am. Immersing myself in the real world by gazing into a canopy of heaven's light is far more exhilarating than any virtual or electronic world I might pretend to be a part of.

Hooded street lights in our little nature-friendly community may seem to be a small thing, but it is in fact a big deal. Having an unobstructed and undiluted view of the heavens reminds me of my place in the universe. Without the connection that a dark-sky stroll gives me to something so grand and glorious, I could easily forget who I really am.