What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

There are humans, I am told, whose lives don’t revolve around to do lists, completion of tasks, and productivity systems like Getting Things Done or Atomic Habits. Humans who don’t wake up clutching a bullet journal or begin tapping on Todoist before they leave bed. Humans who more or less go with the flow, who live in the moment, and who don’t spend their life energy building and tweaking a set of byzantine systems to make sure they’re doing the right things at the right time.

These humans are called normal people. It is not a category that includes most lawyers. It is not a category, at any rate, that includes me.

I’ve been obsessed with productivity systems since I got my first week-to-two-pages calendar sometime in college. Since I filled that first agenda with homework assignments and important dates and to do’s, I have been in the thrall of the belief that just the right combination of productivity systems, notebooks, pens, and software would one day align just right in my life so I could transform from my perpetual B+ level of productivity and ascend to join the pantheon of A+ productivity dieties.

Alas, it hasn’t happened yet.

And it hasn’t happened because my life, like your life, is an array of systems that is perfectly designed to bring me to the place I am (and you to the place where you are). Even if you are someone who won’t cop to having a finely tuned set of systems (again, known as a normal person), make no mistake, you do indeed have and live by them. And every day those invisible systems conspire to get you exactly to where you are. Like the Matrix. Or a high carbohydrate diet. Or the illuminati. Choose your villain.

Which brings me to the title (at last, you may be forgiven for thinking) and subject of this article and this column at Slaw: That to get beyond where you are in your career (and given where you are reading this, most likely your law practice) you are going to have to alter, improve, rebuild the systems that got you here. You’ll need to change. What got you here won’t get you there.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first, though, so we both feel better about this enterprise. I am not suggesting you need get beyond where you are. In fact, you would be a wiser and happier human if you could figure out how to live mindfully and become content exactly where you are instead of trying to change it. I truly believe that, even if I have done a poor job of accepting that in my own life. But if there is any part of you that thinks, “you know, things are pretty good in my practice, maybe I can just be content”, you owe it to yourself to try.

Second, I write this not as some would-be guru on a mountain, but as a fellow traveler trying to make change in my own life and career; sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. I’ll write more about that in future articles. In the meantime, I hope what I write in this space will read as coming from a place of empathy, shared challenge and the counterintuitive joy in working at something some difficult. Change is hard, but to paraphrase the immortal words of Jimmy Duggan, that’s what makes it great.

If you’ve read this far and decided that you want to, maybe that you feel you have to, continue the work of getting your law practice to the next level, well, I will look forward to seeing how it goes as I work alongside. I hope this column provides some small amount of help, value and encouragement to you along the way.

What got you here won’t get you there. But something will.

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