Staying Alive—Release the Music Inside You

By Deborah McMurray
Published in July 1998 Issue of Strategies: The Journal Of Legal Marketing

Published in the July 1998 Issue of Strategies: The Journal Of Legal Marketing

One thousand senior marketing professionals are in an expansive auditorium. Half of them are hanging on every word of a motivational speaker, secretly searching for ways to carry his wisdom back to their firms and make life better. The other half are sitting back, arms folded across their chests, eyes rolling, wanting a beer, wondering how much longer this drivel will continue. What is the difference between these groups? These differing experiences have nothing to do with age, sex, race, tenure, firm geography or size.

One might say the reason is attitude, or maybe perspective. The first group is a “half-full” bunch and the latter is “half-empty”. Optimists v. pessimists. Idealists v. realists.

None of this captures what is at play in the auditorium. The fact is those in group two are simply having a bad day. One single day lifted from their careers that are shaping others’ impressions of them. We view this group as sullen, irritable and uninspiring. Outsiders view the first half as energizing and influencing, as leaders and risk-takers.

In what group did you fall yesterday -- and how about today?

Life inside a law firm can be hazardous to one’s health. So can life outside the law firm. So, what makes sense for you?

Law firm marketing is a fabulous career. There is a great need for talented, motivated, intelligent professionals. In fact, demand for top-level jobs far exceeds the supply of available talent to fill them. Firms are increasingly accepting strategic planning, client surveys, positioning and branding, client relationship management training and crisis preparedness.

Many firms welcome the refreshing in-your-face-by-god-let’s-be-different tactics proposed by marketing directors. Money is good, autonomy is almost assured, budget control is virtually guaranteed. Where do I sign on – what a happy existence?!

But then, there comes a bad day. The 48-hour, 17-page epic you created that precisely describes what you do received no attention. The web site committee is arguing over which lawyer is the best designer. A lawyer wants you to plan a client party in his home, but wonders what else you do all day long. You try to manage expectations, but no one will tell you what they expect. Everyone hates the design of your proposed brochure, but no one says what he or she want or suggests practical improvements. You can name several in your firm that Oliver Wendell Holmes describes as the “lean, hungry, savage anti-everythings.” Your assistant wants guidance and direction. YOU want guidance and direction. WHERE IS THIS FIRM GOING????! AND WHERE DO YOU FIT??? Are the money, benefits and position worth this? Is this when the cynicism sets in?

When a stranger asks you what you do, what do you say? Do you pause or stammer because it’s hard to succinctly describe? I just read an article about Palm Computing, Inc.’s top inventor (of the PalmPilot), Jeff Hawkins. The company’s chief strategist was quoted as saying, “One of my great purposes in life has been to create an environment where Jeff Hawkins can thrive.” A company marketer described his business life as, “My job is to kick Microsoft’s butt.”

Do any law firm marketers have this kind of crystal clear direction? Could we get by with saying, “my job is to kick our competition in the a__?” Would we be fired for indelicate language? Would we be fired for saying “NO” to requests that fall outside our articulated job description? Can our passion and purpose successfully carry us through this examination?

Richard Lieder is a founder of The Inventure Group, a Minneapolis-based training company whose mission is to help individuals, leaders and teams discover the power of purpose. Fortune 500 companies pay Lieder big bucks to help them formulate purpose-oriented mission statements and strategies. He has several interesting “laws” marketers can use for making decisions on purpose.

Lieder says that we are intimidated by how much choice we have -- we have too many career and life choices. Let’s see, we have a series of bad days in our law firms, so we decide to become consultants or “free agents” to the industry. Lieder suggests, and rightly so, that we can’t react to one thing and bolt blindly into any other thing without asking --- what do I want to do with the rest of my life? What really matters to me? This questioning is not about ideas, it is about raw emotion. We feel confused, so we consult our personal board of directors for guidance. (Remember, though, that while seeking advice from trusted friends and advisers is extremely valuable, we cannot outsource intuition.)

The next Lieder “law” is to ask yourself two questions: What do you want? And how will you know when you get it?
He then talks about “hungers” that we try to feed throughout our lives. And, he describes them as universal, so what is good for the marketing director is also good for the practicing lawyer. The first hunger is to connect deeply with the creative spirit of life. This should be easy for most of us. We are law firms’ change agents, a/k/a the firms’ professional oddballs. The edge of the envelope gives papercuts to average folk, but not to us – it’s where we live, where we are happiest.

The second hunger is to know and express our gifts and talents. Have any of you known and articulated your greatest strength – and had no one in your firm want what you uniquely have to offer? If yes, that firm isn’t for you. You won’t leave a legacy or any kind of personal mark. And, don’t we all want that, even in the smallest way?

Our third hunger is to know that our lives matter. This is all about fulfillment, not success or money. Ultimate fulfillment comes only when we feed these three hungers.

Lieder brings up another interesting point. He says, “live your life from the inside out.” This means, don’t start with the external demands of your situation. Have you ever experienced periods in your life where you felt others were using up your life for you? They were using your time, resources, ideas, space and energy, and you were letting them? Why? – perhaps because it’s easier than using it yourself. Using it yourself forces you to choose and say no to requests that fall outside the purview of what you are willing to do. This takes courage. It means that you have to care so passionately about what you choose that you can risk being admonished for saying no to things you choose to eliminate or ignore.

This brings me to Lieder’s surveys of senior citizens. We have all heard the anecdote about the gravestone epitaphs of CEOs and other driven individuals – none say they wish they had spent more time at the office. Lieder’s surveys of highly successful seniors are not this simplistic and are far more enlightening. They talk about risk, about expressing and taking creative risk, stealing more chances, being more courageous and adventurous. They would take much more risk if they could do it over again. Oliver Wendell Holmes (who is a distant relative, which is why I quote him frequently) said, “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.” Many of these seniors said that, in spite of their successes, their music was still inside them. They felt most alive when they took risks. Being busy with business made them feel numb; aliveness came with learning, growing, exploring.

Doesn’t this sound easy? Why don’t we all just resolve to keep growing, stay challenged and not let the obstacles get us down? Holmes was also quoted as saying, “it is the folly of the world, constantly, which confounds its wisdom.” Our wisdom is within – we just have to remember to unearth it and expose it to the light of day every once in awhile.

The March 16, 1998 issue of OF COUNSEL features an article called, “Unmet Expectations, Intractable Limits Drive Marketing Directors Away.” Several senior marketers who recently left their law firms were interviewed for this exposé that describes the departure of these people as a “talent hemorrhage” in the industry. Most of those interviewed are now consultants to legal and other professional services firms. One, notably a former President of NALFMA/LMA, moved to the accounting industry where he says, “it’s easier to get the job done.” Why did these professionals leave their firms?

Firm culture, mutual unexpressed-therefore-unmet expectations, no authority to direct and drive change, no seat on the management committee, flat organizational charts, multiple owner/operators, no client contact . . . there are dozens of reasons. Those of us interviewed by OF COUNSEL who have jumped to the consulting world hope to have more control over our destinies, our creative contributions and the clients for whom we work. We are taking risk – a place that, for me, feels more natural and comfortable than being in an environment controlled by others.

A 1998 Legal Directions LMA white paper entitled, “The View From Within: A National Survey of Senior Legal Marketing Directors” details the challenges, obstacles, opportunities and numerous benefits of being at the top of this industry. In this industry that is arguably less than two decades old, in-house marketing professionals are still pioneers. Countless firms in the U.S. and abroad have never hired a marketing consultant, let alone a full-time professional. This spells opportunity, a chance to take risk and to structure and style your life in a unique way.

The inside world is uncertain, the outside world is uncertain. Each kingdom offers joy, promise, satisfaction and a chance to embed our footprints. The key is to follow your vision and stay true to your values.

Finally, recognize that your passion for outcomes may be your biggest obstacle to success in your venture. Once we become attached to a specific outcome, we feel compelled to control and manipulate what we are doing. And, in the process, we shut ourselves off to other possibilities. Remember, your career isn’t just about succeeding, it is about experimenting and discovering. Release the music inside you before it’s too late.


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