Monday, October 31, 2016

Quiet

Sean Tsang leant me a book written by Susan Cain titled Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  The book was a quick read that captured and held my attention to the end.  Susan Cain discusses how the culture in the US has evolved to value extroverts at the expense of what introverts bring to the table.

Because the extrovert is more outspoken, he or she often overshadows any unique and important contributions introverts attempt to make.  The housing bubble that burst in the last ten years is a great example.  Banks valued employees who were willing to take big risks and promoted those individuals over the introverts who tried to caution their employers against such risky decisions to the point where extroverts willing to take big risks basically exclusively held all management positions.

That is contrasted by a few rare examples of companies led by introverts that flourished during the crash of 2008, one of which was Seth Klarman, president of a hedge fund called Baupost Group.  He is an introvert that is known for being more conservative than the others but still outperforming other companies.  This was true even more so after the economic downturn in our country of the late 2000s.

Susan Cain strongly advocates for introverts who are needed to balance the extroverts that dominate our culture.  She also argues that in certain situations introverts can be a stronger leader than an extrovert (in other situations an extrovert would be more successful).

Another topic Ms. Cain discusses is collaborative work, which really hit home as a former teacher who was educated in the importance of collaborative learning.  Collaborative work online has been highly successful.  Some examples include the development of Linux and Wikepedia.  Because of their success, we have tried to bring that to face-to-face work which has not been very successful.  Introverts are less likely to feel comfortable contributing in a large group and thus less likely to get their often very good ideas heard.

Furthermore, in general, creative work is most efficiently and successfully done independently with no/less distractions, irregardless of whether the individual is an introvert or an extrovert.  Brainstorming sessions are not good sources of good ideas.  Studies show that a system where individuals work independently and submit their ideas online results in significantly more and better contributions.

That is not to say collaborative work should never be done but perhaps it should include independent portions and especially when it includes introverts, should be done in small groups of 2 or 3 where an introvert will feel more comfortable contributing.  I wish I had read this book while I was a teacher as I would have integrated collaborative learning into my classroom in a way that would have better reached all of my students.

One take-away from the book is that even though we can't change whether we are an introvert or an extrovert we can make small changes for specific situations where it would be beneficial to be more introverted or extroverted.  So there are times an introvert should push him or herself to be a little more extroverted to get an important idea across or to give a speech on a topic that is important to the speaker.  And there are times an extrovert should sit back and listen a little more and talk a little less so that an important contribution or point isn't missed or too risky of a decision isn't made.

Introverts play an important role and we need to find ways to ensure that they are not overshadowed by extroverts.  Susan Cain writes, "Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:
the theory of gravity
the theory of relativity
Yeats's "The Second Coming"
Chipin's nocturnes
Proust's In Search of Lost Time
Peter Pan
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm
The Cat in the Hat
Charlie Brown
Schindler's List, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Google
Harry Potter"

I recommend this book for introverts and extroverts alike.  It will help the reader better understand their own personality as well as the opposite personality and how to achieve a better balance in interacting with others.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Office of the US Attorney

Four weeks from today, assuming all goes as planned, I will be starting a new job as a Legal Assistant with the Civil Division at the Office of the US Attorney and I am really excited about it.  The position is located downtown Milwaukee at the Federal Courthouse which is a beautiful building right near the lakefront.  The people I have met so far seem very nice, team oriented, and dedicated and passionate about their work.

I will miss my 12 minute walk to and from work each day but it will be good to be back downtown.  And I intend to take the bus.  There is a city bus stop 1.8 miles from our house and the Park and Ride where the coach busses pick up is 2.4 miles from our house.  I am trying to find a way to avoid driving to the bus stop.  I could walk.  It really isn't that far except that being downtown and taking the bus is already going to make my day a longer day than I am used to, walking would make it that much longer.  My latest thought is a foldable kick scooter.  I should be able to cut the walk in half (or maybe a third).  I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Good Assistant Follows Each Case

Two attorneys at my office sat down to meet and discuss how we would respond to some recent correspondence.  It wasn't long before they buzzed me asking me to join them.  They didn't have the context to the correspondence they were reviewing and weren't up to speed on recent court filings in the case.  It took me only a couple of minutes to catch them up.  A good assistant can be worth their weight in gold.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Job Offer

I received a job offer yesterday and turned it down.  It is hard to turn down a job offer even when it is not right.

In May my husband was interviewing with the federal government for a position that would have taken us to California, Miami, or New York, when he learned of massive hiring by the IRS.  The IRS does not hire often, especially in this quantity of jobs and so he encouraged me to apply.  As a federal government job, we figured it would be easier for me to transfer when his job moved us around.  So I applied for positions in California, Miami, and New York.

A few weeks ago, I received notice that I was qualified for the Revenue Officer position and that my application had been referred to the Miami office.  Then out of the blue yesterday, I received a phone call and several e-mails with a conditional job offer in El Monte, CA.  I had not interviewed in person or by phone.  While I felt I had strong skills and could be successful in the job, I do not have an accounting degree, as I imagine they would prefer.  So a job offer with no interview or followup came as a bit of a surprise.

As my husband's job will not be taking us out of the area, contrary to what we had originally thought, and I was not sure the position was right for me, the only thing I could do was decline.

Not everything you read online is true

It may be obvious to most of us, but not everything you read online is true.  We have recently come across a situation where many half truths and lies are being published that put us in a bad light yet due to confidentiality and ethical rules, we can't even defend ourselves.  Politics have come into play in something that isn't political at all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sometimes a door is opened with a single referral

Let me give you an example.

With our first apartment rental in Minnesota in 2004, the apartment complex suggested we contact Mark Stangler (who was with a large insurance company at the time that I will not name) for renter's insurance.  This was to be our first insurance together as a couple.  (I think I still had auto insurance through my parents at the time.)  So I contacted him.  He came out to the apartment and signed us up and soon added car insurance to the bundle.  I still remember that first time he contacted us saying that he could get us a better rate by changing certain coverage options.  I was shocked that my agent would call me up offering to SAVE me money!

When we learned he left said large insurance company that I shall not name, we searched him out and followed with him.  He had moved on to being an independent insurance agency able to sell insurance through a variety of providers.  He continued to be proactive and so we have since referred others to him.

He now has a business partner, Tiffany Uran who is just as good and his firm is called Willow Insurance Agencies, LLC.  Here is a link to the agency's website.

Years later, we no longer live in Minnesota but we still do insurance through him and can't imagine it any other way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Burnout

This morning I read Dr. Travis Bradberry's article titled "Signs You're Burning Out (And How To Stop It)" which is very relevant to me at this time because I have been experiencing symptoms of burnout and been focusing on stopping it.  The article is well written and applicable to absolutely anyone as it also discusses how to avoid burnout.

I whole heartedly agree with Dr. Bradberry when he talks about scheduling relaxation.  Our bodies and minds need that down time.  My mornings are focused on just that.  I get up early so that I can exercise and then have time for just me to read a book, listen to music, write, or just sit and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

I have also been trying to take more breaks at work.  I have the tendency to work right through lunch and breaks.   I recently purchased a Fitbit and so have set alarms for 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to remind me to get up and stretch.  I usually try to find an empty conference room and do some yoga poses.  I am also trying to get out and walk during my lunch break at least a couple of times a week.

Focusing on the above mentioned things has already improved my feelings of burnout.  But it is not enough.  I deal with chronic pain and it is a tough cycle to break.  Stress increases my pain.  Increased pain adds to me stress.

Fortunately, I work for a firm that appreciates what I do, values my contributions, and understands.  All of that can go a long way towards beating burnout.

Monday, March 14, 2016

VINE

When I left working with victims of domestic and sexual violence, VINE was just starting to become a reality in most counties of Wisconsin.  At the time, it focused on providing information on perpetrators that were in custody.  And in most counties it seemed to provide timely notice.

Since then it has added service of restraining orders as well.  So now, a victim can sign up to receive alerts when her perpetrator has been released from custody or served with an injunction.  It is an amazing tool.  But it has it limits.

I signed up to receive notice via e-mail when a client of mine's husband was served by the temporary restraining order.  Her husband was served on a Tuesday and I didn't receive the e-mail that said he had been served until Saturday.   That is a huge lag time!  How is that a benefit to a victim of domestic violence?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Put your cell phone away

It seems that those in my generation and younger are tied to their phones.  Many even take them to the bathroom!  (I don't want to know what you would need to do on your phone while in the bathroom.)

Let me give you a very valuable piece of advice - When you are at work, put your phones away!  Unless your mother is in the hospital or your wife is due to have a baby, they don't belong on your desk and you shouldn't constantly be on them at work.  Leave them in your purse, coat pocket, car, etc. and only pull them out when on break.

Why, you ask?

  1. It looks terrible to your supervisor who is noticing how often you interrupt your work to check your phone.
  2. It effects your efficiency and productivity which your supervisor is noticing.
  3. It likely will affect your job security.
  4. It likely will affect your ability to get good references when you choose to move on to a new position.
  5. And it's just not good to your mental health to be so dependent on it.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Christmas

I love Christmas!  The smell of the evergreens that just make me stop for a moment, the lights, the carols, the crunch of snow beneath my boots, spending time with family, and finding that perfect gift.  And it follows another wonderful holiday, Thanksgiving.  It is so easy though to get caught up in the superficial, completely missing the peace that this time of year brings.

So stop.  Take a moment to smell the evergreen and appreciate those who mean so much to you and who make this time of year special.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Change

The person most affected by change is the one who lets it affect them.  I will refuse to allow it to negatively affect me.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Getting in Trouble vs. Criticism

Just because someone gives you criticism or feedback does not mean that you are "in trouble".  In order to grow as individuals we have to consider feedback that we are getting constantly throughout the day, whether it be from clients, colleagues, supervisors, and even ourselves.  If we are so focused on not getting in trouble, we completely miss the opportunity.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

What does it mean to truly listen?

Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of a conversation where you are "listening" passively as you formulate your response?  Unfortunately, I do this all the time.  But what am I missing?

I don't remember who shared this piece of wisdom with me, but to truly listen, is to focus all of your attention on what the other person is telling you without even considering your response.  When the person is finished talking, that is the moment when you formulate a response.  This way you don't miss anything and you don't make assumptions.

So try it.  Focus all your energy on what someone is saying until they are finished.  Allow the silence to fill the pause.  And then respond.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Look deeper

Legal professionals (and probably many other professionals) need to pause and look deeper.  Rarely that which is on the surface reflects the truth below.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Meaningful, Timely Feedback

The lesson for this week is meaningful, timely feedback is critical.  This is very true for relationships outside of work, but my focus today is work related.

All to often, the annual review is the only time feedback is received.  Unfortunately, then the feedback is not timely nor meaningful as it is so far removed and too intertwined with compensation and job security.

With positive feedback from their colleagues and managers, an individual's confidence increases.  With critical feedback from colleagues and managers, an individual has the opportunity to grow.

This feedback doesn't have to come from the individual's direct supervisor.  Take time to support your colleagues and employees.  The stronger they are, the more successful your team will be.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't miss the good.

When you start looking for all the bad, it's very easy to miss the good.

This is true when it comes to relationships both in and out of the work place as well as situations, projects, positions, etc.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Integrity and Attorneys Seem an Unlikely Pair

Lawyers have a bad reputation for being arrogant, confrontational, unscrupulous, and contentious, just to name a few.  They get that bad reputation because as in any stereotype some attorneys fit that description quite well.  The good news is they are not all like that.

I work for a law firm whose core values include honesty and integrity.  We will fight for our clients' rights while making sure we don't lose sight of working towards an outcome that will be fair to all parties, focus on the children's best interests, and however possible, be the least destructive to important relationships.

When I see examples of honesty and integrity in the attorneys I work with, it reminds me that I am right where I am supposed to be.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Settling a Case at Trial can be a Big Let Down

Any client focused attorney hopes the matter can be resolved in a way that is satisfactory for both sides.  Settling a case through negotiation allows for the opportunity to a party that may have done wrong to save face.  It also avoids the confrontation that can destroy relationships that often comes out of trial.  And it gives the parties a chance to reach a compromise.

That said, as a paralegal that spent days upon days analyzing discovery materials, records, financial information, etc. and preparing exhibits, it was little bit of a let down.  In a conference room at the courthouse, as I witnessed the parties reach a great resolution, in the back of my mind, I only could see all my hard working going straight into the shredder bin the second we got back to the office.

Reviews from the Perspective as a Supervisor

Recently it was time for one of my employee's annual review.  This was the first formal review I participated in as a supervisor.  What surprised me most was how much it caused me to reflect on my own job performance.  How could I criticize someone else's faults without looking for ways to correct my own?

What I discovered was that I need to listen more and spend that time actually listening, not formulating my response to what I anticipated they would say.

Fireworks

Fireworks have changed over the years.  I remember when I was young, being awed by each individual firework set off, one at a time, giving the spectator a chance to appreciate each on its own.  Last night watching the fireworks from my in-laws' boat, I experienced something quite different.  It was a constant race to the sky with many overshadowing others.  And then when it came to the end, I couldn't even guess how many they set off at one time.  It was a mess of lights in the sky with no definition or unique character.

Have we lost the time to recognize the various stones of an archway?  Do we even notice when the archway crumbles, lacking a key stone as we race on to the next task?  Has the push for quantity overcome the importance of quality?  Has the push for quantity driven us to forget and fail to appreciate the crucial contributions of others?