The vast majority of lawyers, young or old, are going to spend their Christmas holidays just enjoying the fact that they aren’t at work.
A few beers or glasses of wine, a dose of the standard family (dis)functions and some time to do 1 or 2 of those household jobs that have stacked up in the never-ending list.
That’s a pleasant feeling to revel in for a minute, but it will fade quickly come January as you realise that nothing looks any different at the office.
So what if, instead of frittering away the entire time, you took a more deliberate approach to some part of your holidays, so that next year you can make powerful inroads towards your career outcomes?
It doesn’t need to ruin your holiday. And it can really help the rest of your year.
The Christmas Advantage – Margin
In terms of professional growth, the biggest barrier throughout the year is normally time.
Working 10-12 hours a day plus a commute normally doesn’t leave a large margin for undistracted reflection. Even when you’re at home, there’s a good chance that 10 or 20 matters, clients or issues are still floating around in your head, especially if you can’t escape your email notifications.
Family events aside, your Christmas holidays usually offer some margin.
Fewer emails, less distraction, more time.
Being able to take a bit of time to yourself to ask some questions, do some navel-gazing and consider things is going to work to your advantage if you let it.
But what should you be considering, and how should you do it?
The involuntary pre-Christmas torment of Ebenezer Scrooge can give us a hint… but with less terror.
The Ghost of Office Past – How Did your Year Go?
Review your year.
What was good, what was bad, and what was ugly? Why did certain things fall into each category?
Where did you get things wrong and how can you learn from that?
Did you set any goals at the start of the year? Did you achieve them? If not – why?
Which people in your professional life are good for you, and which are vampires who drain your energy and positivity?
Jot down some notes. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins and figure out why they made you feel good.
The Ghost of Christmas Present – Is your Career on Track?
As things stand now, is your career where you want it to be?
Are you in the right practice area? Working in the right team? Earning the right amount of money?
Take stock of your career.
This, of course, is going to involve asking a difficult but essential question: what do you actually want, and why does it matter?
If you’re finding your career deeply dissatisfying, despite everything looking glossy from the outside, then perhaps you’re not answering that question honestly enough. Perhaps you’ve been convinced what you should be wanting by the world around you, rather than deciding on the answer yourself.
- What do you want?
- Why does it matter?
- Are you on track towards achieving it?
The Ghost of Career Future – The Year to Come
Having looked at the year that’s just past and the state of things now, it’s time to look to the future.
If you’ve done it right, then you already know:
- What went well that you’d like to repeat;
- What went badly that you’d like to avoid;
- Which career aspects you want to focus on changing or developing.
This is where most people don’t bother doing the work properly. Many lawyers will often reflect on their year, but don’t (or can’t) come up with a plan to effect change. The result is that next year looks exactly like the last one.
If you want to change something, here’s a simple plan to make it happen:
- Pick something that you can change – there’s no point wanting to change your boss’s personality if you have no influence over it;
- Decide what the change looks like, tangibly. Don’t’ say “I want a salary increase”, say “I want to be able to ask for X as my salary after the next salary review in June”;
- Decide what needs to happen to get there – “That means I need to achieve 10% over my current budget and be able to plausibly convince my boss that I can sustain a budget of $X going forward”;
- Break that down into steps:
- On Monday, I’m going to ask Bruce for more work of type X;
- On Tuesday I’m going to set up a meeting with Mary and ask why she keeps writing off all my time, to see if I can do anything to fix that from happening;
- At 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm and 5:00pm every day I’m going to ensure that I have entered my time accurately;
- Do the steps.
You probably know that points 4 and 5 are the “money” steps – they will make or break your plan and are critical if you want anything good to happen as part of this process.
Effecting change is simple but not always easy.
But if you want to capitalise on the breathing room you’ve got over Christmas, then taking a little time out to reflect and plan can make a huge different to your career satisfaction.
And in between it all don’t forget to have a Merry Christmas!