How can I be successful? I get this question a lot from lawyers when they have a call with us, or a breakthrough session with our office. They assume that what they really need is the tactic, the strategy, the know how. But what most people will encounter when they realize that there’s a lot more to building a business than just what you do, in fact, what you do is far less important for the most part than the actual who you become and how you show up. So In this episode I wanted to talk about a couple of strategies and reasons that people are not successful and it involves you being in your own way.
Tune in now to learn more!
In this episode we discuss:
- How the fear of failure is commonly learned at an early age.
- The different ways fear of failure might be taught to us.
- How the fear of success can be just as difficult to overcome as fear of failure.
- The dilemmas of becoming successful and the impact it can have on relationships.
- How these fears impact our goals and business planning.
- Procrastination and its different manifestations.
Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:26] Hi, everybody. Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast is dedicated to the topic of you being in your own way. Now, this topic may be triggering for some of you, but it probably is going to be enlightening for others of you, because I get this question a lot from lawyers. When they, when they either come to a call with us, when they have a breakthrough session with our office or when they start to ask the question, how can I be successful? And they assume that what they really need is the tactic, the strategy, the know how. All of those googleable events that they just haven’t taken the time to research. And they wanted to have kind of a business in a box, taught to them over a short period of time that they might be willing to invest in. And that’s where a lot of people start the journey of looking for more. But what most people will encounter when they realize that there’s a lot more to building a business than just what you do, in fact, what you do is far less important for the most part than the actual who you become and how you show up. Because if you’re not being the person who doesn’t just do the thing, who doesn’t just create the marketing strategy, who doesn’t just hire the person, who doesn’t just sell the service when you’re not being the person you need to be in order to accomplish the consistency, the predictability, the reliability of your your marketing and sales behavior, your culture and systems behavior in your law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:02:10] If you’re not being that person and you don’t know how to be that person, then what tends to happen is you do the thing today and then as soon as that thing stops working, you go frantically scurrying around looking for another option so that you can do the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. And you don’t really get very far. Right. You you inch ahead, you baby step, but you don’t make major leaps and you certainly don’t create the life that you truly desire. So I wanted to talk about a couple of strategies, a couple of reasons that people are not successful and it involves you being in your own way. So first, I want to talk about the fear of failure.
[00:02:57] Fear of failure is a real thing. It’s a major thing. And it’s something that a lot of people have. And the fear of failure derives often from growing up in an atmosphere where we were not allowed to fail. So I want you to think about how you grew up. OK, everyone grew up a little bit differently, whether you had both parents at home or you were raised by a single parent or perhaps by a grandparent. Whether you had a very singular household, meaning two parents, a kid and a dog, or you had a multi family household where you had cousins and aunts and uncles living in the same dwelling. However you grew up.
Allison Williams: [00:03:37] If at some point in time you were given the natural progression of life to learn the next thing, to do the next thing, in order for you to grow into an adult, and your parents in some way or whomever your caregivers were, stopped you from failing or criticized you harshly for failing. That is often going to be a trigger point that people will start to develop fear of failure. Now, it’s pretty obvious how we could see that if failure led to physical abuse, if you were spanked into the point of a beating for failing in some way, or if you were simply, if you had a stern reaction from someone that you love, such that a small child looking up at a large adult is receiving an angry tone, a hostile response, or even just the clenched jaw that we all know can happen when you’re dealing with the frustrations of kids. When when the child sees that they learn the message that they have done something wrong. Now, this is natural that at some point in time during your child’s life, you are going to express to them that you’re not happy with their behavior.
Allison Williams: [00:04:49] So this is not in any way to create a blame around parenting. Parenting is one of the most intensely overwhelming responsibilities that a person can have. And we, of course, know that there is no way to do it perfectly because there is no handbook, because all human beings have a different need and different needs at different times. And of course, what your child needs will be variable based on who they are and what’s going on in the atmosphere, which you can’t always control for. OK. So parents, please hear me not to be critical of you, but when the child has that experience, when we have an experience where we look back in our childhood and we say, aah, yeah, I wasn’t really allowed to make something less than an A, I really wasn’t allowed to join a sports team and not have someone screaming from the sidelines that I needed to be that uber performer, that I needed to be the winner on the team. I wasn’t really allowed to start playing a musical instrument and not be good at it and to hurt my parents ears when they would hear the recorder. I don’t even know why, by the way, that was called an instrument back when we were in elementary school. I’m probably dating myself. I’m in my forties. That was like a thing when I was in elementary school.
Allison Williams: [00:06:02] But the recorder doesn’t sound that good. But let’s say you advanced to something like the clarinet or the flute or the drums and your parents were like, oh, God, they’re awful. And they urged you, urged you to practice. It was like a psychological need they had for you to practice. Not so much because they wanted you to get better for you, but they wanted you to get better for them. Right. So if you have that kind of experience, there can be in you, not just a reticence around failure, but an actual fear of failure. Another thing that begets fear of failure is when you have stern judgments around failing. So if there was caustic language, if there was name calling, or even if there was a judgment that that derived from an idea of not being good enough. Right. So there’s a difference between a parent correcting a child and saying, you know, you didn’t do this the way you were supposed to or the way that we practiced or the way I know you have the ability to and I want you to improve in the future. That’s a very different conversation than a conversation that might sound more like, you know, I don’t understand why you haven’t mastered this yet. You’ve been practicing forever. How hard is it for you to do X, Y, Z? Right. So if the message is around failure, failure in any way, failure to meet a standard, failure to become the best, failure to be voted at the top of the class. Whatever it is, any type of failure, if the message associated with that is you’re not good enough and you internalize that, then the fear of failure often becomes a fear of lack of love or loss of love associated with failing.
Allison Williams: [00:07:46] OK, withdrawal of love and connection is the next common reason why people will develop a fear of failure, and that goes back to really some of that stern judgment, but stern language essentially. And it also is not just stern language. When I say stern, a lot of people will think I’m talking about yelling or name calling. You don’t have to have that to have what we would refer to as a stern judgment. But I want you to think about a parent who maybe is OK with their child being a child and not being good at everything. But what may come out of a child messing up in some way, a child spilling something on the floor at the wrong time or a child wetting the bed or whatever the behavior is, right. When children do what children do and a parent, in order to remedy that behavior, withdraws love and connection from the child. And withdrawal of love can look like yelling. It can look like punishing the child, putting the child in a corner or putting the child in his or her room.
Allison Williams: [00:08:47] It can look like a lack of intimacy. So the child could want to come cuddle with mom or dad and mom or dad could say no. When you do X, that’s not acceptable. You know, I’m not doing this with you right now. Then the child gets the message, love is withdrawn when I fail. So that very much becomes the pattern. Thought processes, thought processes when a person then approaches new activity in their life. So sometimes that resulted in a person not endeavoring new activity because they are so reticent to fail that they have bought into the idea that if they fail, they are going to lose love, which is again one of those major needs that we have. We covered this in a prior podcast. We’re talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Right. And love is one of those. If a person has a fear that they’re not going to have love and that’s a subconscious fear. Right. That’s not something that’s that’s that we’re conscious of. We just use rationalizations to come to a conclusion. Oh, yeah. That doesn’t make sense. I’m I’m afraid to do that. I’m cautious. I am fiscally conservative. You know, they’re going to be any number of phrases that we use to justify why we’re not doing something. But at the end of the day, it would be because we’re afraid. And that fear comes from one of these sources.
Allison Williams: [00:10:06] OK, another reason why someone might develop the fear of failure is when they anticipate negative consequences. Right. So the negative consequence could be that growing up, you very much had a household where if you did fail at something, there was a consequence. And the consequence could have been one of the things that we talked about before, like a parent having a stern judgment or physical punishment or withdrawal of love and connection. Like all of those things are very common devices that parents will use to remediate children’s behavior. But when I talk about negative consequences here, I’m talking about a direct correlation that a person builds in their mind to something that happened. So, for instance, children may have abandonment issues of one parent, let’s say, divorces and leaves the household. And that child may associate that action with something that they have done. Now, as much as parents will go out of their way to tell a child, hey, mom and I are not married anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t, we both still love you. And you’re now going to have two homes. And we’re going to make this a great experience out of what’s happened. The child can, depending on what’s happening in the household and how they are internalizing it, the child can develop the story without any encoding from a parent that when I do X, right. If I don’t make straight A’s or if I don’t, if I, if I wet the bed or if I do something that my parent is not happy with.
Allison Williams: [00:11:36] In other words, if I fail at meeting their standard, I can very easily have a problem develop. And the problem would be ultimately that I get a consequence I don’t like. So it could be I made an F on my test and that was the day that Dad announced he was moving out. Right. So if they’re anticipating a negative consequence, they kind of have that… Well, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s kind of the the energy of this. Then you think about where the person may be patterning that behavior in their adult life. So that could be if I fail to make this law firm successful, my spouse is going to leave me. Right. So even if your spouse hasn’t said, hey, this marriage is predicated on your financial success, if that doesn’t work, I’m out. You have at your core a belief that being successful, whether successful, means a multi-million dollar law firm or just means a law firm where you’re bringing home a six figure salary. Whatever it means for you, it means for you. But you could have it in your mind, hey, if I don’t achieve whatever it is that I have to achieve. My spouse is going to leave because you have associated in your mind, people leave me when I fail at things, right? Or it could be that there’s the hurt ego and lack of positive self esteem that attends to failing.
Allison Williams: [00:13:01] Right. So you may think back and remember all the times that you tried something and failed at it and had not just a bad feeling because you didn’t enjoy not winning. Some people are more internally competitive than others. But if you had people, places, experiences in your life that queued you to a lack of value, a lack of worth or perhaps even a lack of effort on your part, because you can have. You you did your best, but people assume that you didn’t, which is not at all uncommon with children that have special needs or children that have undiagnosed issues, like, for instance, a friend of mine, he was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was a college student. And all throughout high school, the assumption was he just didn’t care about school. And his parents rode him hard, like, you’re never going to get into college if you don’t improve your grades. You’ve got to study. You’ve got, your smart, stop being lazy, whatever. And it really didn’t come out until he was diagnosed with dyslexia in his mid twenties, really his early twenties when he was diagnosed in college, that it was, oh. OK. That’s what was going on. So this person really felt bad about himself because, you know, being constantly trying as hard as you can and not getting what you want and having people assume something negative about you. That you’re lazy, that you’re not trying when you really are trying. That can then become encoded as well.
Allison Williams: [00:14:35] So you could not try new things because you have a fear of failing at them because you remember how bad it felt when you used to fail at things before. So even though now you may intellectually realize, oh, yes, I have a learning disability, so my trying at something is not the same as normative patterns of behavior, the average person trying it. This is not likely to have the same level of success as I am or vice versa, because I have some additional challenges. You may intellectually know that, but on some level, having been, having been chided over and over again to do your best and you are doing your best and still not succeeding. That can encode the negative self-esteem. And that ultimately would be something that you fear having that feeling of again. OK, now, if you’re not in your way because of fear of failure, it could be the opposite, which is fear of success. Now, a lot of people hear this and they say, is that really a thing? I mean, why would a person be afraid to be successful? Why would any person who goes to law school… First, graduates from college, goes to take the LSAT, goes to college, goes to law school, rather, graduates from law school, takes the bar exam, passes the bar exam, becomes a lawyer, practices law and starts a law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:16:02] Why would all of that patterned achievement, that clearly is someone pursuing success because most people would say to become a lawyer, as challenging as it is, is a success. And as many negative jokes as there are about lawyers and society, people see lawyers as smart people and they see us as contributors to the fabric of society. So when you think about that, why would any person who went through all of that to achieve what is already a success by being a lawyer, not want to be successful. Ok. And the fear of success can come about in any number of ways. But typically, when you hear fear of success, the person is really fearing the consequences of their success. So what that can mean is you can be afraid of what will happen in your interpersonal relationships. Right? If you and your spouse were both super frugal, poor people when you met and you start to become more and more successful, it may seem logical that your spouse would be happy about that, or it may be that your spouse is happy about it, but only to the extent that you get to live in the same lower middle class neighborhood that you were living in before because that’s where your spouse is comfortable. Or it could be that you have to keep the same friends. Friends that oftentimes won’t understand your success journey and won’t support it.
Allison Williams: [00:17:29] So that tends not to be the healthiest way to continue to grow. But you can have any number of interpersonal conflicts that arise as a result of money changing. One party suddenly becomes much more affluent than the other. And you see this in relationships, whether it is the man earning more or the woman earning more. But it is particularly taxing on a heterosexual partnership for the woman to grossly out earn her male counterpart for a whole host of reasons that we need to not get into today. But we know that just historically that that can be a problem in a relationship. And so there are a lot of people that fear becoming successful because they fear what it will do to their relationship. Sometimes people fear becoming successful for what it will do to their children. Right. Because if you are accustomed to being a middle class earner and you expected to raise your children with you being a middle class earner, making a budget, planning for that one vacation a year that you have to save up for. Putting your children in private school or rather keeping them in public school. Right. You planned for a certain lifestyle for your kids just based on what you knew. And then when you start to become successful, you have more access to different resources. So many parents will immediately use the additional money that they have to put their children in private school so their child has what they consider to be the best education.
Allison Williams: [00:19:02] But beyond that, there’s also the concern about what happens when you have gotten to a point where you decide if we’re traveling and flying first class and you think, OK, my child hasn’t had the experience of flying in coach, right. Do I put my kid back there in coach while I am enjoying first class? Do I reduce myself to not have the first class experience because I want to be with my child? How do I handle that? How do I navigate that? Or what happens when you remember growing up and having chores in your household and those chores in your household taught you the value of keeping a clean home and contributing to the place where you live and helping everyone to unify the environment. Right. So there’s also a responsibility. Maybe you had an allowance that came with your chores so you could have been thinking about creating that experience for your kids and then all of a sudden you’re significantly more successful. You have more on your plate. You decide to have domestic help. So you hire a housekeeper and now you think my kids aren’t going to have that same experience as me. Right. Because of the housekeeper is picking up after them, they’re going to get spoiled and they’re going to grow up and think that they don’t have to clean up after themselves.
Allison Williams: [00:20:15] I don’t want that. So a lot of people will have fear of success around what it’s going to create in the environment that they create. Then there is the negative messages, right? Then there are the negative messages that we often receive about rich people. Right. So people often assume that rich people are selfish, that they are the ruling class versus the, quote, lower class, that they did not earn what they have or they got it through some misbehavior toward people without resources. And I’m not even talking about extreme views like Marxist theology. I’m really talking about people that may not even be anticapitalist. They just happen to believe that the capitalist way is that there’s a meritocracy in employment, and as you become better, you’re worth more, you earn more. But they don’t conceptualize the idea of stair stepping their wealth, i.e. instead of doing a little better every year and getting a little bit more from your boss who can terminate you at any time, you own the company, whereby you create the wealth and you treat people in your company the same way that you would have wanted to be treated if you were that employee that your parent was. Or if you had chosen to remain an employee in law firms the same way that you now employ people in your law firm. However you get there fear of success typically manifests itself in the following ways, so we often see people that create very low goals, right. Very modest goals.
Allison Williams: [00:21:53] So if you meet with somebody and they say, all right, I’m making a hundred thousand dollars this year and I want to grow my law firm, and you ask them, OK, best case scenario, what is your stretch goal for the year? They say, oh, I don’t know. One hundred and fifty, maybe, maybe, maybe two hundred. And we look at them, we look at their the structure of their firm and we look at what they’re selling, how they’re selling it, what they’ve done so far and all of the opportunity. And we see a four hundred thousand dollar law firm. Right. And I remember one of our clients, she signed up about three months before quarantine and she was a smaller law firm. And she was at that point in time looking to hire her first part time paralegal. She was, really had like no team. She had a friend that was helping her out periodically. And through the pandemic, we went through a process of constantly repatterning her law firm because she was growing at a very rapid rate. And we were able to get her marketing dialed in to such a degree that she added an associate. She now has added a second of counsel attorney and she now has two full time staff people. So a team of one went to a team of five, including two lawyers. And her law firm is on track to be around eight hundred thousand dollar law firm at the end of this year. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:23:14] And that comes from the fact that when she created a goal, she had someone looking at her and saying, I see more for you than you see for yourself. Right. So that modest goal, we understand where it comes from. It comes from wanting to baby step and having a little bit of fear of what’s going to happen when you blow up your whole world and become an eight or nine or 10 or 15 times wage earner. What you’re used to having, right. When you start mass producing your wages instead of stair stepping and baby baby stepping them forward, you can create a lot. And there’s often a fear of what’s going to happen when you arrive there. OK, next up with fear of success is procrastination. Procrastination tends to come when you start looking at your circumstances and you start saying to yourself, well, I don’t really have to do this now. Right. And then, by the way, are some people that just they never get around to identifying why they procrastinate. They just think it’s a human behavior. But oftentimes procrastination is, again, that fear of what’s going to happen when I do this thing right. And sometimes it doesn’t even show up as blatant procrastination. Sometimes it shows up in being scattered like the person who has 14 different projects open all of the same time.
Allison Williams: [00:24:38] Nothing has been completed. No major progress has been made on any particular activity. And the person is moving from activity to activity to activity, never finishing anything. That person is also procrastinating, right? They’re procrastinating on completion of a task in one project rather than hopping from place to place to place in order to feel busy, in order to tell others they are busy, but they’re not truly being productive and they know it. Right. That often comes from a fear of what’s going to happen when I get my stuff together. OK, and then the final area where we see evidence of the fear of success comes. And this is a very, very big one for lawyers. It comes in the form of perfectionism. So when you start to see people that perseverate over whether or not there was a comma splice on page nine hundred and seventy six of the document, the legal brief you just turned in to the high court, when you start to see that level of minutiae management and focused attention on all that has to go right, typically that is coming from a place of if I do anything wrong, there will be a negative consequence. Now, you might say, isn’t that also then fear of failure? And yes, you can see perfectionism with a fear of failure, like in other words, if this is not perfect, I’m going to face a repercussion.
Allison Williams: [00:26:10] Someone won’t love me. Someone will hurt me. I’ll be physically punished. Absolutely. But when we see it with fear of success, it usually shows up in the form of someone making a decision that whatever they got going on right. It has to be perfect. And the time and energy and effort that it takes to be perfect stops them from growing. So if you are working on legal product and your mindset is this has to be perfect, there cannot be a single space out of line, there cannot be a typo anywhere. There cannot be a punctuation issue anywhere. It has to be perfect. Then the amount of time and energy and expertise and double checking and triple checking that you’re going to have to invest to get to that form of perfectionism that you have defined for yourself is going to stop you from bringing other people in. Because if your standard is perfectionism, it is damn near impossible for any human, no matter how exceptional a lawyer they are, whether it’s a lawyer or a secretary or a paralegal. No matter how exceptional an employee they are or could be for your business, if you require perfectionism, they won’t cut it, which means you get to stay small, you get to not grow your law firm, and you get to not be a success.
Allison Williams: [00:27:30] All right. So today we have talked about why you are in your own way. And I wanted to cover fear of failure and fear of success, because I know this is something that a lot of lawyers struggle with. If you are somebody that has a feeling that you are in your own way and need help to break out of that, you can always reach out to us and you can schedule a consultation with us where we can actually talk you through some of the things that are going on in your head that are stopping you from being the success that you desire to be. All right. I am Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. And thank you for tuning in for another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. And I will see you on the next podcast.
Allison Williams: [00:28:26] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
Law Firm Mentor Master Class: https://lawfirmmentor.net/masterclass
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Fear of failure is a real thing. It’s a major thing. And it’s something that a lot of people have. And the fear of failure derives often from growing up in an atmosphere where we were not allowed to fail. So I want you to think about how you grew up. OK, everyone grew up a little bit differently, whether you had both parents at home or you were raised by a single parent or perhaps by a grandparent. Whether you had a very singular household, meaning two parents, a kid and a dog, or you had a multi family household where you had cousins and aunts and uncles living in the same dwelling. However you grew up.
And that comes from the fact that when she created a goal, she had someone looking at her and saying, I see more for you than you see for yourself. Right. So that modest goal, we understand where it comes from. It comes from wanting to baby step and having a little bit of fear of what’s going to happen when you blow up your whole world and become an eight or nine or 10 or 15 times wage earner. What you’re used to having, right. When you start mass producing your wages instead of stair stepping and baby stepping them forward, you can create a lot. And there’s often a fear of what’s going to happen when you arrive there.