Below is an old post I wrote before I went to Boca, that I never shared. Before I get there, there’s a story Jim Rohn tells, that to me is quite powerful. He was 26 with a young family, and was completely broke, earning next to nothing at his job. A Girl Scout came to his door selling cookies for $2 per box. He didn’t have $2 to his name. Humiliated, he lied to the Girl Scout, and said he had already bought several boxes from another girl.
That was the day that turned Rohn’s life around. He was utterly disgusted with himself that he didn’t have two measly dollars in his pocket. He decided that day that never again would he worry about having money in his pocket. This was the first choice he made in a series of choices that made him a millionaire.
There were two critical shifts Rohn made here, that put him on the path to becoming a millionaire. The first was a shift to 100% responsibility. In order to become disgusted with yourself to that degree — to the degree that you change your whole damn life — you have to recognize that you, and you alone, are the source of your results. If he had said to himself: “I can’t afford a $2 box of cookies because my shitty job doesn’t pay me enough,” or “because my wife and kids spend too much,” this would not have been the day—or the moment—that turned his life around. Instead, he shifted to 100% responsibility, and realized he lied to a Girl Scout because he didn’t have even $2 to spare as a result of who he had chosen to be up to that point.
The second shift he made was that he made a decision—a real decision, cutting off all other options completely—that this incident would never, ever, happen to him again. To use Tony Robbins’ lingo, he raised his standards—for his life, yes, but more so for himself. He essentially unequivocally declared: “I will never allow myself to create the circumstance where I cannot afford a $2 box of cookies ever again.”
I am not sure that real change can occur, for anyone, without the two shifts exhibited in Rohn’s story. It’s basically (1) a shift to responsibility, meaning a recognition that I am the sole cause of my results (and this is what empowers me to change something); (2) and a commitment to change what must be changed about myself, with an unwillingness to accept the same behavior that resulted in the old reality.
I do think this change often occurs gradually—the set-up for it, at least. But when we actually make the decision to change, that happens in seconds, and it must be forceful and clear.
The last lesson here is that the moment, or day, that turns your life around is of your choosing. Rohn did not have to attach the significance he did to not being able to buy the $2 box of cookies. He chose to. He could’ve instead added it to the long list of grievances he had about his life at the time and carried on with the status quo.
Before I went to Boca, I reflected on this story, and how I could recreate it in my own life. My post below is a product of that reflection, even as I do not mention Rohn’s story in the post.
Shortly after the post, I made a choice to become partner, and it’s an unnerving choice—it’s making the choice that’s unnerving. In so doing, I am acknowledging that the only person who will decide if I make partner or not is me. It’s easier to say, well, it’s the firm’s decision—there’s only so much I can do. The other partners will decide if I fit or not, I can’t actually just decide, on my own, to become partner.
But that’s not where I’m choosing to stand. I’m saying, instead: I’m choosing to make partner, with no qualifications.
I don’t see any other option; I am done with the old reality. I cannot continue to live a life below what I am capable of. It has become unacceptable. And while I will struggle, and waiver— because I’m human — this is the decision I have made. I am tired of, and completely disgusted with, the power I have given to my own self-doubt.
Rohn tells the story of a guy driving a piece of shit car because he can’t afford anything better. One day, the guy pulls out a shot gun and riddles the car with bullets until it is unrecognizable. He says to himself: “Not only am I not ever driving this piece of crap again — no one else is, either.”
Spray paint “giving into self-doubt” on the side of that car, and it is representative of the decision I have made. Of course I can’t rid myself of self-doubt; but I can choose to not give into it, to not give it power, in recognition of the fact that making any other choice will prevent me from staying true to the result I have declared: becoming partner.
So here’s the old post I never shared, when I was on the cusp of making this decision but hadn’t quite committed yet, stuck in my head about it. By the time the plane landed in Boca, I had decided. That decision has caused me stress over the last few days—fears about what it will change in my life. But when I re-read the post below, I’m left thinking the only real fear I have is of truly believing in myself—as if it is defiant, or wrong, or even offensive. I get to leave that behind, too.
My therapist asked me if I equate my identity with my job. I told her no. I said I think men do that, because that’s how they’re socialized. Who you are is what you do. But I believe what I do is only one aspect of who I am, and it isn’t even the most critical aspect.
I saw on LinkedIn that Jenna, who used to have an office next to mine at the first corporate firm I worked at, made partner at that firm. It was not at all surprising. When I was at that firm, everyone thought Jenna would make partner one day. She was a quintessential brown-noser, she got in early and left late, she ordered custom furniture for her office (which looked like it was professionally decorated), and she did her job well. She was also insufferable. A “gunner,” in every sense of the word. That’s the word we used in law school (and later in law firms) for overly ambitious lawyers who constantly broadcast how smart they think they are (and how smart everyone else should think they are).
When I was at that firm, Jenna was perpetually perplexed by me. She knew I was well-respected and well-liked, a top performer in my “class” (of the lawyers there who graduated from law school my year), but she couldn’t get her head around it. My office was a complete wreck. I had no custom furniture, just the standard issue furniture, with no decorative items whatsoever except a cactus that had died months ago. I was not a brown-noser, often aggressively challenging partners on legal theories I disagreed with, not caring how they took it. Jenna could not understand how I was doing well, and her lack of understanding caused her to feel threatened.
How do I know this? Believe it or not, I’m not making it up. She got drunk at a firm event and fucking told me, directly, everything I just said. She ended it with this:
“I feel like you and I should be friends. Why aren’t we friends?”
What she meant was: even though I don’t at all get it, it looks like you’re going to be successful here, so I want to have you on my side.
I rejected her drunken outreach, of course. I was an asshole back then (well, more of one). And the truth is we shouldn’t have been friends—we actually had nothing in common aside from doing well (the part Jenna couldn’t comprehend).
I also knew I wouldn’t be staying at that firm, and I wouldn’t be running against Jenna for partner. I’d never make partner there, or anywhere. Why?
Well, Jenna was right to question my success — she just questioned it for the wrong reason. Since she is very organized and methodical, she had it in her head that that was what someone had to be in order to be a great lawyer. She was wrong about that. Yes I had a woefully disorganized office, but a highly organized mind, and that’s the part that counts.
But, that said, Jenna wasn’t wrong to scrutinize the state of my office. While it had no bearing on my intellect or my abilities as a lawyer, it had great bearing on something else that mattered a lot with regard to achieving partnership: it revealed my utter lack of commitment.
I had zero commitment to making partner, and no investment in that firm. It is among the best in the world, but I didn’t see it as prestigious, I didn’t broadcast that I worked there to anyone, I didn’t identify with it at all. I told myself then, as I told my therapist, that I was simply playing a role at a corporate machine that was itself a fraud. I’m not a lawyer, I just play one on TV.
Without commitment, you cannot make partner; you’ll never even truly be in the running. That’s just what it is, and how it should be. My ability put me in the running early on, but my lack of commitment, which I could not cover up forever, soon took me out of the race.
When I saw Jenna had made partner, I had two thoughts: (1) of course she did; and (2) I don’t know if I ever can. The second one was troubling, because: that’s my plan.
I thought of this again after my therapy session. My therapist was intrigued by me saying I don’t identify with my job. I had just finished telling her how relentless my drive was at this new job, how I was determined to be successful in a way I’d never been before. But, I explained to her that my drive had nothing to do with making partner itself. I wasn’t yearning to see the title of “partner” next to my name. I wasn’t yearning to be able to hold that status or broadcast it or wield it over anyone. I didn’t even care about it from a feminist angle (the number of women partners in litigation is abysmally and shockingly low).
No, there was only one reason, one motivating factor, leading me there: my family. That’s it. The title itself? Eh. I could give or take it.
After my therapy session, I told Jimmy: “I’ve got a problem. I don’t think I can ever make partner unless I’m fully committed to, and genuinely want, the role and the title itself.” I explained to him I had no personal, separate ambition to be partner—and that without him and the boys, I had no motivation to pursue it at all. “Untangle this,” I told him.
Miraculously, he did.
He asked me who I thought I had to be to make partner. I said I’d have to be Jenna. I’d have to work long hours for show, I’d have to humor my bosses, I’d have to do things diametrically opposed to my nature. Because I have very hard time with that, I was certain I’d burn out on the effort before I even began.
Through a series of questions and answers I won’t rehash, he got me to consider whether that was a limiting belief.
Then he asked: “Is there another way to make partner than what you describe?” No was my first thought. You must be committed to the role itself. Invested in the business.
He asked: “But what do you think it means, to be committed or invested?”
I said I think it means being Jenna.
He asked, what if it doesn’t? He told me to be honest with myself about what was missing before.
I mean, I never worked crazy hours after my first year as a lawyer — yet neither of the big corporate firms I worked at ever said a word about my hours. I performed well, and that was worth a lot to them, so in large part they didn’t care the way they might have with someone else. What they did focus on was my attitude—I refused to work on certain cases, I was sullen a lot of the time, they were uneasy that they couldn’t read me or tell if I enjoyed the job at all. In short, what was missing from me was being open, authentic, appreciative, and connected.
Jimmy said what if that’s the only thing you’ve got to change? What if that’s what “invested” really means, in your case? Not more hours, not extensive brown-nosing, but simply creating authentic connection, as you have been doing? Is that something you can do to get the result you want?
The answer of course is yes.
Today I went into the city, for the settlement hearing before the judge for the first settlement I worked on at the firm (which was $28 million). At the hearing, the judge awarded us 30% of the settlement amount as our fee. I meaningfully contributed to that result. The firm’s partners directly told me as much.
I tried to experience myself as a partner while sitting at the counsel’s table at Court. There were only men in the room — and me, and the court reporter, and the judge. I reminded myself that I had every right to be there; I was part of the team that made this happen, which is our most sizable fee of the year. Still, I had moments of feeling like an impostor. I couldn’t find my business cards. I felt like I desperately needed a hair cut. My boss and a partner from Boca who came to town for the hearing talked with defense counsel in the hallway, all men, while I stood on the side not knowing what to do.
I haven’t chosen “partner” yet. I need to. I go to Boca next week, and that’s my declaration. It’s time to choose this stretch, to be Jenna, at least in terms of her level of commitment. Doubting myself is exhausting, and at this with regard to this, I’m ready to leave it behind.