Learning When to Say ‘No’ To the Shiny Apples

snow-white-imageThose shiny apples.  Didn’t Snow White take a bite and fall into a dead sleep?

Recently, and for the briefest of periods, I had the experience of getting hypnotically distracted from my core mission at Solo Practice University. Usually, I’m laser-focused knowing when to say, ‘no, I’m not interested’, or ‘thank you for the opportunity but it’s just not in keeping with my goals.’  This is a very difficult skill to master but I’ve always been pretty good at staying on course once I’ve laid out the guide posts.

But this apple was very shiny. I fantasized about what it would taste like, how it would change my life.  I was getting hypnotized. Until I had an epiphany.  I don’t want to change my life. I have exactly the life I want, the life I deliberately created. The work I love.  I said, ‘no’ and the spell was broken.

This type of event happens so frequently in a solo’s life, being distracted by shiny apples, opportunities that look wonderful but actually lead us off the path we’ve set for ourselves.

Let me give you an example of how getting distracted by shiny apples works. It’s rather insidious.  I had the pleasure of talking with a very talented solo.  He’s created quite a practice, not a lucrative practice in terms of hand-over-fists full of dollars, but one which allows him to enjoy a quality of life which gives him plenty of time with his family, a stated goal.  In order to have this quality of life much of his money goes to two associates and support staff to handle the work load while he consults with clients, supervises the work and handles rainmaking, speaking engagements and pro bono work. He loves this aspect of his practice.  It also allows him to develop his other passion, breeding german shepherds, something he would like to continue to do when he retires in about fifteen years. He has exactly what he’s always wanted and he says he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Until someone ‘outside’ makes a comment about how he could be doing more, doing better, that he should be growing. He then feels compelled to keep growing his business. He says he’s going to stop and not hire anymore associates, but then he hires another one.  Now his time is taken up training this associate to grab more business because he feels he should earn more money even though he’s doing just fine financially.  Why? Because others tell him he should be earning more in order to be a success. Work starts to take up more hours and cuts into his personal time with his family. He’s drifting away from his stated goals and the happiness he gets from being with his family. He’s spending less time on breeding his German Shepherds.  Things get off-kilter.  His quality of life starts to tank.  Why?  Because he got distracted by shiny apples.

What are examples of shiny (and often times, poisoned) apples for solos?

1. Taking on cases/clients you know you are not equipped to handle.  The case or client is either outside your target audience or your practice area wheelhouse but you are drawn to the dollars or prestige or both. However, making this choice cannot only derail the goals you have for your practice but also eat up so much time you jeopardize your other clients’ cases and potentially your license to practice law.

2. Unsolicited you are offered the opportunity to partner with another lawyer or to be hired by a small firm.  All of sudden there are benefits, no overhead, someone to bounce ideas off of, a steady paycheck.  Did this offer come on the day you were feeling sorry for yourself that you had to handle all the administrative minutia of a solo practice? Does this shiny apple work with your long term goals or is it just distracting you from advancing your own practice?

3. Getting so drawn up in the often artificial world of social media marketing you fail to make real and valuable in-person connections and professional friendships which can bring your practice to a whole other level.  You think you don’t have the time or the resources to attend functions or treat a colleague to lunch.

You find yourself simply more impressed with the number of tweets you are sending, who has retweeted you, the number of followers, who is following you and ‘liking’ you and all your secondary and tertiary connections on LinkedIn. You (wrongly) feel because you can also be chatting with your friends on Facebook at the same time you are answering client emails while advancing levels on Candy Crush that you are productively multi-tasking and this is an adequate substitute for shaking the hand of a flesh and blood colleague. 

It’s not a skill, my friend.  And it’s definitely not a substitute. It’s the absolute wrong way to incorporate social media into your marketing plan for your solo practice. But, damn, it’s fun.  And the social media platforms are very shiny.

4. You have your fifteen minutes of fame for something you’ve done personally, not professionally.  The attention it garners comes with a host of opportunities to speak, travel, write a book but does it help or hurt the time you have for your solo practice?  At first blush you are flattered, been told these are once-in-a-lifetime experiences which you should capitalize upon.  But, does rushing and grabbing all these opportunities undermine your true long-term goals?  Can you just accept one opportunity instead of grabbing every single opportunity?

Every alluring distraction which beckons and beguiles comes with a price tag.  As a solo, these distractions can be costly in time, money, and emotional well-being.  But oftentimes we don’t recognize the distraction for what it is.  It usually comes in a very sexy package.  Use these opportunities to reflect on what you really want in your life, personally and professionally, and then, if it is the right decision, say, ‘no’.  Be flattered.  Be appreciative. But understand what the distracting opportunity really was – an affirmation that what you are doing is what you are meant to be doing.




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