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When Bad Things Happen to Good Paralegals

CinderellaThe story of Cinderella is familiar to most of us.  Nice girl, horrible living conditions, probably violation of child-labor laws, happy ending.  When we are children, we believe this story and for some of us, it sets our expectations for the future.  And then, real life happens. 

     When we think of what the bad things are that happen to good legal professionals, it’s generally an event, incident, illness or other occurrence that was not within the control of that person. Here are two real-life stories: 

     #1:  When I heard the following story, I wanted to explore what occurs when bad things happen to good professionals.  Were bad things a result of a higher power?  Did we bring these events on ourselves?  Or, was this just the way of life and the end result was how we chose to deal with our set of circumstances? 

     Jim was all set and poised for a positive future.  A firefighter, happily married and living in Fresno, California, this young, well-liked man was expertly advancing his career when tragedy struck.  His young wife was unexpectedly diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Within 90 days, she died.

     Struggling with grief, Jim went back to work.  A short time later, he met an amazing woman in a golf chat room of all places and a couple of years later they married.  Back on track, he thought he had it all until he was injured on the job. Four surgeries in one year put an end to Jim's chances to  live out his career as a firefighter.  Devastated,  he believed there were few job options for a guy like him.  He did not have a college degree and firefighting hardly prepared him for other positions.

            “I had always been interested in the law,” he says, “so I thought I would give paralegal
school a shot.  I won Student of the Year and after graduation, I became the head Civil Litigation Paralegal for a small firm where the managing partner was head of the Central California Trial Lawyers Association.

     Motivated and enthused by the possibility of even bigger challenges, he went on to law school.  “I graduated and passed the California Bar on the first try,” he says.  "I actually surprised myself."

            Here's a guy who twice in his life had two serious choices. With either one, he could go through life as a victim or he could set himself up as a winner.  Fortunately, he chose the winning road.  I was curious.  What strengths do you need and what pursuits do you take to overcome overwhelming obstacles?  Why do some people survive, changed for the better and why do some fold, melt and shut down?

            In the 2004 controversial fiction and documentary film, “What the Bleep Do We Know”, a connection is made between science and spirituality.  At the core, are provocative questions about
how we participate, unconsciously or not, in an unfolding reality.  What was of particular interest was the theory about the brain.

     The simplest way to explain it is if we think a certain way for long enough, those connections between brain cells are strengthened and we automatically default to that way of thinking.  We make decisions about what events mean and what should be done.  We are not required to make a new decision with each new circumstance because with repeated experiences, our brain forms associations.  Thus, if we accept limited power for long enough, we begin to automatically go through life as a victim.

           #2  Phill is a seasoned veteran of the paralegal field.  A seminary student bound for the priesthood, he was told point blank by the headmaster that he just wasn't cut out to be a priest.  How on earth do you deal with that?  After a great deal of obvious angst, he changed his career direction to become, what else? A paralegal. With over 20 years of litigation experience, he is now a Senior Paralegal at a high-profile prestigious firm earning significant dollars and enjoying the perks.  Added to his long list of credentials is author of a well-selling book for litigation paralegals and teacher in a paralegal studies program.

            Married for over 30 years, his life had been relatively peaceful. That is, until the fateful
day his wife learned she had breast cancer.  “I was devastated,” says Phill.  “I had trouble comprehending the magnitude of the situation.  Until now, we had faced a relatively uncomplicated marriage.  I was scared, very scared."

     The next six months were filled with his wife’s treatments:  partial mastectomy, and chemotherapy followed by radiation. “I missed a lot of work,” he recalls.  “Being able to work from home, I was able to cover.”  His supervisors were extremely supportive, making it easier much easier to erase his fears of losing his job.

            What got Phill through?  “Resolve,” he says.  “There was not a damn thing I could do to medically improve my wife’s condition. I resolved to do whatever I could to help so she could concentrate on fighting cancer.” 

            Looking back, Phill’s attitude puts things in perspective. “It’s a bend in the road,” he says.  While that may sound too casual for a life changing event, this is not a laid-back mind-set.  It’s a reflection of staying optimistic and maintaining control over what he could control – his outlook. His wife’s illness changed his point of view about life and career. “I think work moved work farther down on the importance scale,” he says.  Strengthened by his wife’s upbeat attitude, the couple recently celebrated two years of remission.

     By thinking positively and staying the course, Phill and Jim were able to break free from victimization and experience happy outcomes. They reprogrammed so that positive thinking was the direction they defaulted. That’s not to say that positive thinking will cure an illness or get
your job back.  By positive thinking, we are able to choose how we live out a dreadful experience, no matter how long or how short our actual lives. By choosing fresh, creative responses, we begin to
experience a more positive, powerful life.

         In a bad experience, how does someone go from feeling wretched to absolutely rocking with self confidence?  The answer is quite simple really.  You make a decision.

         There’s a thin line between “fake it ‘til you make it” and behaving your way to success.  Jim and Phill are remarkable examples of legal professionals who, against the odds, took a positive approach to bad things happening - so much so that success was inevitable.  

     Although I can’t really say that I am a huge fan of Anthony Robbins (simply because I haven’t invested time in his work), I did run across a great quote.  “The only way to change your life is to make a real decision.  A real decision means that you cut off any other possibility than the one you’ve decided to make a reality.” 

       Everyday we are given the opportunity to make decisions.  Decide how you want to live your life and run your career and set about with complete certainty to create it.  When bad things happen to good legal professionals, it takes a decision – go down with the event or rise from it – and turn your life around.  Bad things happening are not ever really good.  Deciding how you’ll handle it can be the best life decision you’ll ever make.  

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