Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Make Time, and Enjoy the Moment

Why are kids so happy?  Because they don't dwell on the past or worry about the future.  When they are doing something, they are completely engrossed in the moment, and maybe we should try to take a page from their book and do the same more often.

This year, in my own effort to worry less and enjoy the moment more, I took a page from the "Happiness Project" and began by de-cluttering and simplifying my home life.  In the process, I detached from the past and extricated myself from negative situations.  Then I took to heart what Miguel Angel Ruiz suggested in the Four Agreements:

1. Make no assumptions;
2. Avoid passing judgment;
3. Be honest, and just do your best; and
4. Don't take things personally.

Inspired by those gentle souls that I have crossed paths with over the years, I wound up reading almost a dozen spiritual books by some of the masters, including the Dali Lama and Deepak Chopra, and what is undeniable is the common theme they all promote-- learning to let go of outcomes.  What kids seem to know instinctively, and we seem to forget as adults, is that we should enjoy the journey and not worry so much about the final destination.  

2013 showed me that I cannot control what happens around me, only my reactions.  Rather than dwell on the losses or allow anger to take hold, which is just a waste of energy, I stayed positive believing that that attitude would yield positive results.  The masters were right, and I humbly bow down to Millman for showing me the way with his book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Being present has allowed me to see that we are all born with different capacities, and there is no point to passing judgment on others. Those of us that have been blessed with many gifts need to be grateful for what we have and show compassion to those less fortunate- because we are all connected, we are all human, and in the end we will all suffer, but together we can ease each other's pain and bring joy to one another.

Embracing life with a much more open mind has reduced a lot of unnecessary stress for me, and taking time to connect with others has enriched my life beyond words.  Here is hoping more will free themselves to enjoy the moment, and take time to be with family and friends. 

Only those that make time to give and receive love will get it, and what is more important than love?  Just remember, we all have choices to make, including how we use our time and who we share it with, and we become defined by the choices we make, so choose wisely.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making Your NYE Resolutions Count

Three years ago on NYE, I remember racing from an intimate dinner with friends to one of those ridiculous hotel parties in DC to ring in the new year, and once I found myself there surrounded by a bunch of strangers drinking cheap champagne from a can, my resolution came to me right away: not doing this again.  I decided then and there that in 2011, it was time to face the one thing I'd been avoiding for quite some time-- after 20 years, it was time to try and find my dad.

Luckily, I was able to track down my uncle rather quickly in January 2011, and the following month my dad flew to DC.  At rather warped speed, I was able to meet his entire side of the family that year and integrate them into my life.  By the time NYE rolled around, I was exactly where I wanted to be-- surrounded by my family in Miami feeling on top of the world.  But there was still some more repair work to be done,...

2012 was the year to reconcile with my mom, and that was definitely something I could not have accomplished without tremendous encouragement and support from my father, step-mother, aunt and godparents.  They all believed this was critical to my emotional well-being, and although I did not fully see their point at the time, I did trust in their wisdom, and of course it turns out they were 100% correct.  Sadly that year ended with my grandmother in the hospital, and I opted for a low key NYE realizing I needed to draft a eulogy, which I in fact wound up giving in the beginning of this year.

My plan for 2013 was to start fresh-- purging not just things, but all negative energy.  I set some pretty high goals for this year, and although not everything went according to my vision, it all turned out beautifully.  With the help of family and friends, I finally moved into a new home and finished my children's book, while also completing 58 tv episodes, winding up on Good Morning America and making the Washingtonian's top lawyers list in December.   So how will I celebrate NYE?  On top of a mountain, literally, with my favorite person on Earth-- my son.

I have no idea what 2014 has in store for me, but here is one thing I do know-- I'm out to make my NYE resolutions count.  So far, I've got a good streak going-- and no doubt a lot has to do with the fact that I didn't waste my time sweating the little stuff.  I decided 3 years ago to think BIG, and here's hoping you do too.  As the saying goes, reach for the moon-- even if you don't make it, at least you will land among the stars. :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Starting Fresh After a Break-up

Break ups are never easy, especially the longer you've been with someone and the more your lives have become intertwined.  Yet once you get past the unpleasant task of untangling everything, purging crap (including cleaning up your digital life) and establishing new norms, slowly but surely a calm washes over you and soon thereafter a sense of hope begins to build as you find yourself forging a new path, and you realize that what you have in front of you is an amazing opportunity for a new beginning for yourself, and maybe eventually with someone else-- someone better suited to meet your needs and share a life with you.

Personally, what I found after my divorce is that after the dreams of my happily-ever-after came crashing down, a whole new world opened up with very little rules and a heck of a lot of flexibility.  Both professionally and personally I found myself far more willing than ever before to test new limits and challenge preconceived notions of how things "should be done."  The less rigid my mind has become, the more doors just keep opening up-- and maybe this is more than anything else attributable to the fact that before I simply wasn't able to see them from my limited point of view.

To change your way of thinking and the way you view the world does not happen overnight.  Appreciating the complexities of life happens over time, with experience.  But sadly, for many of us the experience that tends to jolt our systematic way of thinking is a catastrophic event, like death or divorce.  Thankfully, this is NOT a person's defining moment, it's just the trigger  for a series of events or a chain reaction that will lead to someone's metamorphosis.

Honestly, a key part to my own metamorphosis was dating-- because it opened me up to seeing the world from varying perspectives.  In the last 8 years, I've dated people ranging from 13 years my senior to 6 years my junior, and some have been richer while others have been poorer, with some being totally non-committal while others were just rushing to walk down that aisle again.  (I highly recommend avoiding the latter.)  Needless to say, there has never really been a dull moment in my own post-divorce journey and by being open to these different opportunities, my own understanding of the world has grown far deeper and richer than I'd ever imagined possible.

For those of you about to embark on this journey, I encourage you to watch last week's episode on MMCTV with New Beginnings, and you really should consider getting a personal guide to help you through the process of rebuilding a new life.  There are also some great books out there, and the one I mentioned on air is a quick read-- and it is free online: Butterflies are Free to Fly by Stephen Davis.  Here is the link:

I know a lot of you will not survive the holidays together-- after 15 years of handling divorces, I've seen the trends, and it is no secret that many of you are just trying to grin and bear it right now.  All I can say is that I'm sorry you are going through this right now, but you are not alone, and while the path ahead may not be easy, try to see this as an opportunity for a fresh start.  Hopefully, you too will soon become a free butterfly.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Good Things Do Come to Those That Wait

Growing up, the best part about the holidays was seeing how NYC got all decked out for the holidays with the gigantic tree at Rockefeller Center, the lights everywhere, and the store windows all beautifully decorated.  At home, it was always just me, with my mom and grandma.  That was my entire family, and my grandma's big tradition was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, which to be honest I hated.  I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up to a bunch of gifts under the tree-- and I longed for a fire place with stockings, but of course that wasn't going to happen in our modest little apartment, with Santa always on a budget.  But I never gave up hope that one day I would have the kind of Christmas that I'd always dreamed of, if not for me, then for my own child.

And so it has been my whole life, I've always had to wait for things.  It took me 21 years to finally break my family's cycle and become the first college graduate.  Soon thereafter, I broke another record by finishing law school and getting married at age 25.  Then I had to wait another 5 long years to get to the place in my career where I felt secure enough to tackle motherhood while balancing that with the demands of work.  Finally, it is in the last 10 years that I've focused on righting all the wrongs from the past, and basically everything I did not get to have as a child, I've made up for with my own son.  Funny thing is that along the way an unexpected thing happened--that poor little 8 year old girl from Queens that longed for so much has come out to play with him.  Turns out, all this time she's been waiting-- waiting for the moment where she could finally have those experiences that so many others seemed to just take for granted, like family beach vacations, or Disney with the family or even just Christmas dinner surrounded with a big family.

This year in particular, my son seems to be far more aware of things than ever before, and the other day as we were baking more cookies for Santa, he asked me whether when I was a child I ever decorated my home the way we do now.  Of course, the answer was "no."  Then he asked about the gifts I got, and of course the answer was that I never got anywhere close to the gifts he gets.  Finally he said, "if you always just had dinner with your mom and grandma, then Christmas dinner would not really be any different from any other day."  Of course the answer to that was he was dead right.  With that, he lay his hand on top of mine and said, "I'm so sorry that Christmas was not very special for you, the way it is for me.  Now I understand why you make such a big deal about it."

There certainly is no doubt that I love Christmas as an adult, but perhaps the motivation hasn't always been so obvious.  The fact that I can provide my son with some beautiful traditions and experiences that I lacked at his age is a true gift that I cherish, and even more important now is that he is able to appreciate that not everyone is as fortunate.  My early experiences not only motivated me to excel, but they kept me humble.  I remain eternally grateful to all those that have helped me, and together we have all proven that good things do indeed come to those that wait.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Getting Engaged Over the Holidays?

Lots of people get engaged over the holidays, in fact I was one of those many, many years ago.  Just hours later, everyone started asking about the timeframe, location, what kinds of flowers, venue ideas, etc.  If there is one piece of advice I can give to those about to embark on this journey, it would be this: take your time, and do things your way.

It actually doesn't take long to plan the major logistics-- your party size will dictate the venue options, and your budget will really drive everything else.  Keep in mind that the average U.S. wedding costs about $22,000, although in places like NYC and DC this might barely cover the flower budget for some couples.   And this is why a lot of family dynamics will play into the whole planning process.

Now, as a matrimonial attorney the most interesting trend I've seen over the last 15 years is the tremendous rise in families insisting upon prenuptial agreements.  Let me be brutally honest, a lot of trust funds and family corporations now have written into their operating agreements that the beneficiary or shareholder must have a valid prenup in order to protect his/her interest in the family trust or corporation.  Not very romantic, but super smart-- just in case things go south, it's nice to know what's off limits vs. what's up for grabs.

So, before you start making all sorts of announcements and posting things on social media sites, you may want to have a little talk with your beloved about whether s/he is thinking about doing a prenup, and if so, you may want to find out sooner rather than later what the terms of that agreement will include-- some are fairly straightforward, but more and more we are seeing some very strict or rather harsh provisions.   I know most people like to postpone unpleasant conversations, but honestly this is not something you should leave to the last minute. The sooner you get these difficult discussions out of the way, the sooner you can focus on the more enjoyable tasks, like tastings and shopping for the perfect outfit.

Another thing I would suggest looking into is a marriage prep class.  There are some great non-secular weekend programs available that cover a lot of topics that you may not have really considered.  If you have not done so already, you really need to talk about your views on managing money, balancing careers and home life, the importance of family and your plans for building a life together.  Be candid about your needs and your deal-breakers-- and maybe try to come up with some rules of engagement when dealing with conflict.  It is bound to happen, we all get into arguments, but set up some ground rules, so this way you can prevent World War III from erupting.

Finally, don't skimp on the honeymoon.  The party only lasts one day, and let's face it you are way too busy running around and playing host to fully enjoy that moment.  On the other hand, the honeymoon is all about the couple-- the drama should be over, and this is your time together to relax and enjoy being Mr. & Mrs. Right for Each Other. 

Congrats to all those out there getting engaged this time of year-- truly this is a very special moment in your life that you should treasure!  Just take your time and be smart by laying the right foundation for your happily ever after.  


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Opposites May Attract, But They Don't Last

There are a lot of lessons that I've been trying to impart on my son over the last 10 years, and it is definitely nice to see now that the hard work over the past decade is in fact paying off, but just as interesting are the lessons he's gleaned unintentionally, simple through observation.  My favorite one that falls into this category is his comment the other day that the number one lesson he's learned about relationships is that "you shouldn't marry your opposite, it won't last."  So true, wish I'd realized this in grade school!

It is easy to see why opposites attract-- someone different is interesting, fun, and maybe sometimes a bit of a challenge.  It's exciting to see the world through their eyes-- you get a totally different perspective from them.  Also, for those of us that like to debate and/or test limits, the ability to do this with someone that does not think the same way you do is way cooler.  For quite some time these games can be a blast, trust me, I have tried this theory out a couple of times.  Yet in the end, the result has always been the same-- the very reasons I might first have been drawn to my opposite are the same causes for the demise of the relationship. 

Sadly, love does not conquer all.  For it to last, you need trust and respect, which fundamentally cannot exist with someone that doesn't share the same core values.  Don't underestimate the importance of how critical it is for you to be on the same page with your partner on major issues regarding what I consider the Big Six: (1) finances, (2) career, (3) family, (4) friends, (5) religion, and (6) sex.  If you don't trust or respect the way people handle the Big Six areas in their life, your love will simply not last.  

For years, I admit that I felt guilty for not modeling a happy, intact marriage for my son, who was 2 years old when I got divorced.  And perhaps as a result of that guilt, on a couple of occasions over the last several years I tried much harder than I should have to fit a square peg through a round hole, until I just couldn't deal anymore.  Ironically, this may be the best life lesson that a child from a divorced parent can learn: there is no point in being with someone if you aren't happy.  Rather than be miserable, it is actually an okay choice to be alone and hold out for that special someone who will love you like there is no tomorrow.     

So, in the last few weeks I've actually come to accept  that while I may not have modeled a happy marriage for my son, I have succeeded in modeling a happy independent life.   Over the past 8 years, he has seen first-hand the importance of having a good career, being fiscally responsible and making time for family and friends.  He also knows that even the best of us can make mistakes, and the key is simply not to let those setbacks drag you down. 

Now it's time for me to learn from my son's astute observation.  Perhaps the thrill-seeker that keeps getting lured by those unlike her should stick more to her own kind.  :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Use a SWOT Analysis- Even in Dating

In the corporate world, we use a SWOT analysis all the time, especially during annual retreats, to determine what are the firm's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  The point is to continue to play off our strengths while finding new opportunities to address the weaknesses and eliminate the threats.  This is an incredibly useful technique that helps companies figure out their competitive advantage, and the fact is more of us should apply this concept to dating.

To be perfectly candid, I did not understand much about the dating scene 8 years ago.  I went straight from college to living with my boyfriend, who later became my husband in law school.  After 12 years of being together, when we divorced in 2005, I was shocked to see how the dating landscape had changed, especially as a result of modern technology.  Luckily, I am a quick learner, and if I had to emphasize 3 key points, they would be this:

1. Pace yourself - you don't need to speed things up just because someone else has a different agenda.

2. Take breaks when you need to-- we all have moments that require us to focus on other things, and rational human beings will understand that work and kids have to come first.

3. Stay focused- don't let your emotions cloud your judgment.  You need to stay true to your wants and needs and stay clear of your deal-breakers.  Don't compromise those for anyone.

If someone actually makes it past the four month mark, and you find yourself getting serious, then you may want to start doing a SWOT analysis.  Do you play off each other's strengths and shore up each other's weaknesses?  What opportunities are there together?  And most importantly, what are the threats to this relationship, and can they be addressed?

In law school, I was taught to plan for the worst and hope for the best.  Funny thing is that this mentality has actually saved my life many times and served me incredibly well in dating.  Here's wishing you too will plan for the worst while hoping for the best!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Have You Been Naughty or Nice?

Less than 3 weeks to go before Christmas, and as we work on our holiday cards and gift ideas, we inevitably have to ask ourselves how generous we feel like being towards the cast of characters that are part of our world.  It's almost like an annual review of our status with family and friends, and here is where I love playing Ms. Claus and shedding the dead weight while rewarding those that have been good.

Being perfectly candid, 2013 started out a bit rough, particularly with the death of one of my greatest heroes-- my grandmother, who lived 97 very full years and is one of the most peaceful souls I've ever met here on Earth.  There were other hiccups along the way, which are not worth mentioning here, but suffice it to say that those who truly cared about me stepped up and rallied, and I will be eternally grateful to those that stood by me in a time of need and helped make the second half of 2013 a stellar experience.

As kids, we all learned that good behavior would be rewarded, whereas bad acts would be punished.  I say we should continue to live that way as adults.  Why put up a facade?  If you don't feel like buying someone a present, then don't.  If you can't afford to do what you'd like to do, just say that.  There should be no drama during the holidays-- those that love you will understand if times are tough, and really once you become an adult, it's all about spending time together-- the magical gifts are for the kids, and that's where we should focus our resources in my opinion.

During the holiday season, it is perfectly normal for all adults to reflect on the past, and think of what is yet to come in the new year.  My advice is to start the new year fresh-- without the bad baggage.  Don't harbor resentment towards those relationships that failed.  Those that are there for you in good times and in bad are in fact rare, that's what makes them so special.  Make those count, and with the rest, just envision yourself like Teflon-- don't let their b.s. stick to you.  People can only drag you down during the holidays if you let them-- so don't allow yourself to give them that kind of power.

In the end, I'm not leaving it to Santa, or any other powers that be, to figure out whether I've been naughty or nice.  I know I've been nice, despite ample opportunity to go to the dark side, and now it's just about rewarding those that helped me stay on track.  Here's hoping you will do the same!      

Friday, December 6, 2013

A True Miracle on 34th Street

Last week, after waiting four decades for this moment, I finally got to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade live this year seated right by the tv cameras-- a dream come true after freezing my butt off for years watching the parade while standing with the masses on the streets.  It was truly an amazing sight, but what really made this moment all the more special was that I was able to share this experience with my mother, a cancer survivor who had never been to the parade, and my son, who doesn't remember when we went years ago.  Together, it is something we can cherish for the rest of our lives, and with that we will always be reminded of the power of forgiveness.

Three years ago, when I decided to go in search of my dad, let's just say my mother was not supportive of this endeavor.  To be fair, even my closest friends were worried about this decision to  open up my deepest wound in my life.  Many could not understand why I was taking such a huge risk back in 2010, and while they worried about the possible trauma that I might suffer if grossly disappointed, I just focused on getting some answers for my son about our family history, although little did I realize at the time that I was the one who really needed the answers in order to find peace.

After various trips to Florida the last few years, I have a far better understanding of the characters involved, and many tears were shed as we all came to grasp the depth of how much was lost and would never be recovered.  However, everyone involved has stepped up to create some of the best family memories over the last 3 years helping that inner child in me that longed for so much to finally heal.

There is no dispute that I am not the same person I was three years ago, and the evidence is all there as the entire journey was captured digitally in my blog, on Facebook, and later in over 50 tv episodes where I have revealed bits and pieces of my story. While there remains a lot that I have not shared out of respect for other's privacy, I do believe it is important for others to understand that we all have family baggage that we carry, and at some point-- especially during the holidays-- we must try to find it in our hearts to forgive our makers for their mistakes, accept their character flaws, and just let the past go and enjoy whatever time we have left together.

It is not easy to let go, and as evidenced by my journey, it took me years to piece together my family puzzle.  Ironcially, I may never have done so if my own immediate family had not fallen apart when I got divorced 8 years ago, which proves that sometimes amazing things happen as a result of great tragedies.
As the floats went by us and the performers did their songs and dances, I have to admit my mind wandered a lot as I thought about all the litle miracles that have happened to make that moment possible.  At one point, I guess my mom's mind had been wandering also, and she turned to me and asked me how I could forgive my dad.  It was with great mercy that I simply said, "we cannot turn back the clock and undo things, so I've just learned to let the past go."

Families are complicated, but this year particularly they showed me just how much they can rally and be there in a time of need.  So if you have some unresolved issues with your loved ones, this holiday season, maybe you can try to create your own holiday miracle by making an effort to mend those ties.  Forgiveness is the best gift you can give not just to others, but to yourself.  I promise, it is far better than anything you can find under the tree wrapped with a pretty bow.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

5 Most Common Fears That Surface in Divorce

Tis the season for breakups, and every year I brace myself this time of year for some very difficult conversations about people's worst fears.  Whether it comes as a surprise, or is something that everyone could see was inevitable, the fact remains divorce is a difficult process-- not legally actually, but emotionally.  It is hard to untangle those ties that have kept you together all those years, and whenever I hear the stories, my only question is how did you last so long??? 

At first, I did not understand how people could live such unhappy lives for years before finally getting the courage to say enough is enough.  And yet, over the years, I have come to see that what I may view as a simple reorganization of a family structure, is for many a very painful experience they have been dreading for quite some time because it means facing their greatest fears.  Here are the top 5 fears I encounter most often:

1. The Scarlet Letter Syndrome.  Many are afraid of what people will think.  My response is who cares?  If you need to get out of a dysfunctional situation, most rational people will be supportive and understanding.  We are not living in the 1950's anymore.  Being divorced does not carry the same stigma that it had when we were kids.  Today over 40% of kids are being born out of wedlock, and blended families are an accepted part of our cultural norm. 

2. Fear of being alone.  This is a common one, and all I can say is that this is your choice.  If you choose to close yourself off from society, then yes this can truly become your reality, but if you don't want to be alone, then you will find a way to motivate yourself to get back out there.  Over 60% of once married people will remarry, so the odds are in your favor if that is what you want to do, and even if you don't-- that does not mean you are alone.  My friends and family have rallied each and every year the last 8 years since I got divorced, and even though I have specifically made it a choice not to remarry, that doesn't mean that I never will-- actually it's just that having options is a lot of fun.

3.   Fear of being poor.  I'm not going to lie, getting divorced and having to support two homes means that everyone is going to take a hit financially.  Here, it is all about learning to mitigate your damages.  You have to really strip unnecessary expenses and learn to live on a realistic budget.  You have to do your best to maximize your income and minimize your spending.  Friends and family may have to help you out, and I know this can be a very humbling experience, but then again isn't that what friends and family are there for-- to help in times of need?  Those that love you are going to want to help you get through this difficult time, and you should let them.  You can pay them back later, when they are the ones in need and you are in a better place. 

4. Fear of becoming irrelevant with your kids.  A lot of parents worry about being marginalized in their kids lives and missing out on major moments, and here is where I believe that where there is a will, there is a way.  If you want to be involved in your children's lives, our laws and the court system are actually set up to want to make that happen.  We promote joint custody, and we believe in all the research that shows that regular and frequent contact with both parents is what will help kids be happy and healthy. 

5. Fear of change.  This is the toughest of all in my opinion-- because if you have lost the ability to adapt, how can I help you understand that change is a normal part of life?  Whether you want things to change or not, they will.  Our babies will grow up, while our parents are getting old and will soon die.  Meanwhile, technology is accelerating the changes that are occuring not just at work, but in our personal lives, and the way we view the world is transforming right before our very eyes.  Case in point: it is not that long ago that we lived with segregation right here in the USA, and today we have our first black president-- seriously, I never thought I would see that in my lifetime!  So, to me this is a no brainer, change is constantly happening and you can either embrace it and learn to roll with it, or life is simply going to pass you by.

Divorce is scary, no doubt about it.  It is not at all what I wanted for myself, and yet I didn't just survive it- I actually learned to thrive.  It turns out I am much stronger that I ever gave myself credit for, and while searching for answers as to why things unraveled, I finally took the time to dig up some buried issues and deal with them.  This is a common experience among divorced individuals.

As for post-divorce dating, which initially seemed a bit daunting after years of being out of the game, it has actually not just turned out to be fun, but it's been an incredible experience that has taught me so much about how men think, while at the same time being the best ego-booster ever.  While passion is indeed one of the first things to die at the end of a marriage, it is also one of the first things to ramp up when your divorce is over.  There are plenty that will be happy to help you light that fire--especially if you are strong, confident and ready for some adventure!

So, if you are not in a good situation, don't let fear hold you back from making a change-- there is an amazing world out there full of interesting characters and opportunties.  Face your fears, conquer them, and set a new course for your life.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What's Left on Your Bucket List?

I've never been big on New Year's Resolutions, but I've definitely been working on my bucket list ever since I graduated college and finally got my first full-time job.  This year, I say skip the stupid minor promises to yourself about eating better or trying to lose 10 pounds, and instead THINK BIG.  Let yourself dream about things you want to enjoy before it's too late.  Among the many great things to do in life that are not related to work or being a parent, here are some of my favorite PG-rated adventures, for those seeking a little inspiration:

1. Traveling Abroad
2. Horseback riding
3. Skiing
4. Fishing
5. Sailing
6. Playing Golf
7. Scuba Diving
8. Riding a Hot Air Balloon
9. Taking a helicopter tour over the volcanoes in Hawaii
10. Shooting a gun
11. Enjoying the great outdoors: hiking, biking, kayaking or canoeing
12. Flying trapeze
13. Touring NYC
14. Gambling in Vegas
15. Seeing the electrical parade and fireworks at Disney

As you can see, over the last 20 years, I have definitely made a serious effort at enjoying a lot of the things I was not able to do as a child.  Don't get me wrong, my mom truly did her best as a single parent with little means, and I will always be grateful for her sacrifices, as well as the generosity of those around us that helped me escape the reality I was born into and see that the world is in fact full of beauty. 

Sadly, I am now starting to see my GenX peers getting sick, and our parents are growing old and dying.  Life for us is getting increasingly more difficult--especially as we get older and take on more and more responsibilties.  Meanwhile, everywhere you look there are horrible stories of violence, unfathomable greed and severe acts of betrayal--  and as much as I want to try to address all these issues, every now and then, I also think it is critical to find an escape.

What is the point of working hard if you can't have some fun?  Whether you need to get away from all the madness or the drudgery of a banal existence, develop your own reward system and give yourself something to look forward to-- something major, like the kind of thing you will remember the rest of your life-- at least once.

GenXers- I love you, but so many of you seem to have forgotten the importance of play.  If I had to pick a NYE resolution, it would be to help you guys bring out that inner child more.  Before we get too old to climb mountains and sail the seven seas, let's have some fun and teach our kids that the world is full of wonders worth seeing.  To them, seeing is believing-- so help them believe. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Giving Tuesday Ideas

Today, in honor of Giving Tuesday, I want to encourage everyone to think about either making a donation, or volunteering for a good cause in your area.  There are so many wonderful ways to give back to your community, and especially during the holidays, those of us that can, need to help those that are less fortunate.

Each month in 2013, I tried to feature on Making It Last at least one local non-profit in our area, but this month during the holiday season I will be highlighting three: (1) Mentoring Today; (2) DC Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy and (3) New Beginnings.  There are so many great causes out there, but the ones that go to my core are children, education, and healthy families.  Here are ones we highlighted in past episodes:

College Tracks, which is based in Betheseda, and helps kids through the college application process.

PEP, which is based in Kensington and provides parent education programs.

Manna, which is a food bank based in Gaithersburg, MD.

Living Classrooms, which has programs in both Baltimore and DC that teach kids that will not go on to college trade skills so they can earn a living.

Living in Pink, which is based in Bethesda and was founded by a breast cancer survivor to raise funds for cancer research.

Becky's Fund, which is based in DC and raises awareness to prevent domestic violence.

Junior Achievement, which is a nationwide organization that promotes financial literacy for kids in grades K-12.

Women's Bar Assoc. Foundation in both MD and DC is the charitable arm of the WBA, which gives scholarships to women that want to pursue a legal degree.

DC Lawyers for Youth, which seeks to reform the juvenile deliquency system and advocates for public policy changes that will distribute funds in a more efficient way.

Although I lacked the means to give to all these wonderful causes, I certainly gave as much as I could of my time and energy-- and not just with the shows.  For the last five years, I have guest lectured at my alma maters, and this year I was also able to connect with the Fresh Start students at Living Classrooms and teach for Junior Achievement at my son's school this spring.  After I was given the honor of speaking at the annual fundraiser for the Oliver Scholars Program in NY, I decided to donate 10% of the net proceeds from my children's book to them.   And now, just in time for the holidays, there is just one more thing I have left to do: go to prison.

Yes, that was not a typo, I am going to prison this month for the Storybook Project, which records incarcerated women reading to their children, so that their kids will be able to hear their mothers voices this holiday season. 

Hopefully, I have made my point-- there are plenty of worthy causes out there, and you don't have to have money, but at least give of your time.  There are so many out there that have so little.  That is how my life started out, and it is only through the generosity of so many that I became the woman I am today.  Since I can not pay it back, I have to pay it forward.  Please find it in your heart to do the same, at the very least one day a year, on Giving Tuesday.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Applying the Laws of Physics to Love

In physics, one of the main principles is that matter does not cease to exist, it simply transforms depending on its surrounding conditions.  For example, if you take water and boil it, it turns from liquid into a gas, but it doesn't cease to exist. If you freeze it, it will become a solid, but then if you transport it to a warmer environment, it can melt and become a liquid once again.  No need to be a mensa to follow this basic example of how things can and will change depending on what they are exposed to-- so why is it so hard to believe that this same rule of logic can apply to love???

Each person is a mass of energy, with vastly differing potentials.  There is in my opinion a direct correlation between a person's energy level and his/her capacity to love, which I view as a byproduct of our own energy.  Again, applying another basic physics principle, we all accept that energy cannot be destroyed, it only transforms between the two forms of energy- potential energy (which has yet to be used) and kinetic (which is in motion.)  In human partnerships then, when two energy sources meet and are able to feed off of each other in a healthy way, their kinetic energy creates a love that is simply magical.   But can this realistically be maintained?  It is a question I am often asked, and I believe it depends on both energy sources, and the environments they are exposed to over time.

If we can accept that nothing in life stays in a permanent state, then we have to recognize that it is the same with love.  For example, the love I felt for my unborn son 10 years ago is nothing compared to the love I now feel towards this growing human being with his own distinct personality, thoughts and creative ideas.  However, it is equally apparent that just as our feelings can become more intense over time in a positive way, energy can be re-directed down a dark path.   

The key to survival, as Darwin pointed out, is adaptabilty.  In life, as our environments constantly change, we see all living creatures modifying their behaviors to stay alive.  We need to apply this same concept in our relationships- if you want to stay together, you need to make sure that you are both absorbing positive energy from one another.  Negativity needs to be addressed right away-- find a solution to issues before they turn into crisis situations.  If you allow your relationship to suffer too many hits at once, it will either implode or explode.  (An imploding relationship sinks quietly like the Titanic, whereas the explosive ends go off like a nuclear bomb leaving massive damage everywhere.)  Neither one is a pretty end.

But as I stated earlier, there really are no endings.  It is all just redirected energy and the transformation of matter into a new reality.  Embrace change, not just in science but as part of your every day life.  The whole point of science was to help us make sense of the world, and it does make sense-- if you just keep applying the law of physics.  And in the meantime, enjoy making that "kinetic energy" with the one you love. :)


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Joys of Being Married

There are a lot of lists out there espousing the virtues of being single, and some idiot even got me a book listing all the reasons it is great to be single-- but if being single is so great, let me ask you this: why is it that over 80% of Americans still believe in the importance of tying the knot???

Let's be real, while I realize that over the last 8 years many of my married friends have often lived vicariously through me and my hilarious dating stories, they also know that I hate coming home to an empty apartment after a huge win, or receiving some great news.  The silence that follows a day full of great highs just plain sucks-- and yet it is in those moments that I remember all the reasons it was so great to be married to my best friend.

For those that maybe have not yet experienced being in a great partnership, or sadly may have forgotten the positives about married life, here is a glimpse into what makes that walk down the aisle so worth while-- when you do find the right one:

1. Meals Together- It really isn't fun to eat a bowl of cereal by myself, even as entertaining as I may be in my own mind.  Seriously, being able to share a meal with a loved one is just so awesome, and something we take for granted-- until it is gone.

2. Date Nights- It is so nice to just avoid the whole "scene" and be able to cook together, open a bottle of wine, and watch a movie at home any night of the week.  Knowing the x-rated activity is also guaranteed on a weekly basis with someone you love and trust is also very cool.

3. Facing Challenges- When you are part of a team, problems just seem less daunting.  It is so amazing to know that someone has your back, that you are not alone in dealing with whatever life throws your way.

4. Family Time- Being able to share special moments on holidays or vacations with someone you love-- those are the memories that last a lifetime, especially once you have kids.   

Sadly, you can have all of this and still have it fall apart because as the years go by, it is very easy to take each other for granted or grow apart.  Also, temptation is everywhere these days, and it's never been harder to stay together, especially with the demands of our duel careers while juggling mulitple kids.  So, for those in need of a little reminder that the investment of our time and energy is worth it, here it is-- I am telling you that it is totally worth every effort if you have found that person that totally gets you, loves you, respects you and wants you by his/her side each and every day.

Marriage is a very special union, don't let all the stories about the singles scene mislead you.  Chasing tail, or having your tail chased, while you do your own thing each and every day, it gets old.  I actually miss married life, and despite everything I have seen and experienced, I still believe in the institution of marriage--as long as there is a long courtship and an ironclad prenup the second time around. :)

For all those out there making it last, just know this: you are my heroes!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays

As we all gear up for the holidays, I find a lot of people are excited to have a few days off, but dreading the commute and perhaps intense amounts of time with loved ones, who can drive us crazy with their probbing questions or inappropriate comments.  Fact is, only those dear to us can take such liberties with us that the rest of the world wouldn't dare try.  But rather than just grin and bear it, here are 5 tips to make for a more enjoyable holiday with your family:

1. Set Your Own Boundaries-If there is something you don't want to discuss, think about how you will decline to engage in the conversation before it even comes up.  Practice whatever line you want to say a few times, so this way, if the moment arises, you have it down like a champ.  I suggest something short and sweet like "I really don't want to talk about that right now."

2. Take a Time Out- If you feel yourself getting upset or on edge, don't reach for the booze.  Instead, go for a walk, bike ride, or run.  If that's not your style, then say you need to take a nap or bring a good book and go to a quiet room for some alone time.  Just as we encourage our children to take a time out to calm down, grown ups should be entitled to the same courtesy.

3. Remember the Good- No one has the perfect family-- we are all flawed human beings, but the holidays is about celebrating those ties that bind us, and rather than remember the bad, try to focus on the good.

4. Find an Activity- A lot of families have the boys playing football while the turkey is in the oven.  Some of us nerdy types like board games or cards.  Pick something fun that will bring people together and keep things light.

5. Silence is Golden- We all have an instigator in our family-- there is always one that likes to stir up trouble.  Funny thing is this-- you actually have a choice as to how much power you give him/her.  If you engage, it's not likely to end well, but if you just stay quiet, you are not giving them any ammunition and they'll eventually stop firing.  Take the high road, and I promise that not only will you feel better, but everyone around you will appreciate that you maintained the peace.

All these tips seem simple, but trust me implementing them has taken years of practice!  Now, I still can't control the commute situation, but if you try and keep some of these points in mind during your time with family and friends, I am confident your holidays will be far more enjoyable and less stressful.  Here's hoping you build some great memories this holiday season!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

6 Things Most Lawyers Wish They Could Say to Clients

Tonight I have the privilege of presenting at GW University, where I get to share my thoughts on what it is like to practice law in the 21st century.  I have put a lot of thought into the message I want to convey-- because I know it is a grim market out there, and yet I like to be the messenger of hope. 

Remaining an optimist after 15 years as a divorce attorney may seem odd, but honestly, it is all in how you view things.  I don't see myself as someone that tears families apart.  In reality, the damage has already been done way before anyone comes to see me, so it is all about damage control as I work to restructure the family's ties.  All that being said, there are 5 things I think clients should be cognizant of in order to preserve a healthy attorney-client relationship:

1. Babysitting is expensive.  I liked babysitting when I was a teenager, but that is not the best use of someone's resources at my current rates these days.  I get paid to put out fires-- major ones every day.  So, when you get assignments and deadlines from me or the court, do your best to stick to them without requiring a lot of hand-holding.

2.  Listen carefully.  You are in crisis mode, which means you are not thinking clearly.  I'm doing my best to help you out of this legal mess.  But, if you are not going to follow my advice, why are you paying me?  If you are not going to heed my warnings, then what is the point of asking me my opinion? 

3. No pro bono requests please.  Everyone has a sad story, but resources are limited. Meanwhile, we all have our designated charities, where we want to commit our time and money.  Giving away thousands of dollars to a complete stranger is not going to happen.  As a result, if government and non-profit lawyers cannot handle the case, then you either need to represent yourself or pay someone a reasonalbe rate to help you.  I don't know anyone that works for free, and I'm not sure why people think it is ok to ask for an attorney to take their case pro bono.

4.  Discipline Your Emotions.  Emotions have no place in the practice of law.  We are trained to be objective, and create clean contracts-- we want as little emotion as possible to cloud your judgment when making major decisions.  We are not meant to be used as emotional punching bags, and outbursts are just not appropriate.  Therapists process emotions; we process legal settlements.

5. Respect boundaries.  Just because I have a cellphone, doesn't mean you should feel free to use it all the time, 24/7.  We have families and need down time, just like all other normal human beings.  When we go off the clock, the only true emergencies require calling 911.

6. Collections isn't fun.  Lawyers are not bankers, we can't lend clients money. Most of us go to law school to help people, not to be in the position of acting as bill collectors.  Put in this position will be an unpleasant experience for everyone.  Think about it- I don't know anyone that shows up for work without getting paid.  Everywhere else, if someone wants a product or project completed or they need a service done, they know they have to pay for the service requested.  Without payment you won't get service- it really is that simple.

I promise that tonight's presentation is quite positive-- but I would not be doing my job if I did not warn students about some of the challenges they will face as lawyers.  Meanwhile, I think it might be helpful for some lay people out there to hear things from the lawyer's perspective.  A long time ago I was taught that understanding is the enemy of conflict, and I have come a long way in the last 15 years to do my very best to understand the challenges my clients are facing when they come to me.  That said, it might be equally as beneficial for clients to see things from our perspective as stated above.

In the end, we are on the same team--  but to get to the final goal, lawyers and clients have to work together to prevent their respective emotional and financial pressures from derailing the legal process that binds them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

7 Signs That S/he Just Isn't That Into You

Sometimes, we only see what we want to see, and we are incapable of seeing what everyone else around us can see.  My dad told me that a few years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since--  especially when I'm asked to weigh in on the dating scene. 

I'm not quite sure why this happens, but somehow it is incredibly common for someone to miss the signs that the person they are with is just not that into them.  Here are some examples of what you need to watch out for:

1. My work/travel schedule is just so hectic, that's why I can't see you more than once a month.

2. I'm at a place in my life where I really can't commit to anything- don't take it personally.

3. Well, maybe I could see us moving forward, but you really need to move closer, this distance/commute is a real pain.

4. Can we change your wardrobe around a bit?

5. Have you thought about getting a personal trainer or getting a makeover?

6. Will you let me help you redecorate?

7. Since I don't have anything in common with your close friends, can you just hang with them on your own time?

What do these things tell you???  This person clearly isn't interested in making you a priority and/or doesn't accept the package being presented, and so you have two choices: 1) try to change because you really want that guy or gal, or 2) you can gracefully exit with your self-esteem intact before things get too far.  I highly recommend the latter tactic, although it might sting short-term, in the long run you will be happy you preserved your reputation and dignity.

For reasons I cannot fully explain, I've never let anyone try to change me, and luckily my past loves that remain in my life taught me well as to what to expect in a healthy relationship.  Sadly, I understand that not everyone has had a positive experience of what love should look like, so here is my humble attempt at shedding some light on this subject: Love is when someone accepts you for who you are-- faults and all.  There is no need to be together, in fact it may not even make any sense at all, but there is a deep and mutual want-- a desire that just conquers all doubts.  Overtime, as you build mutual trust and respect, you also develop a deep understanding for one another, and there may even come a point where you realize one very painful fact-- that you cannot meet that person's need for how s/he wants to be loved.  And if/when that moment comes, true love is about letting go-- you need to let that person go so that they can find the love they deserve.

The truth is that love is complicated, but dating should not be a hassle-- if it is, most likely the problem is simply that s/he is just not that into you. :)


Sunday, November 10, 2013

What is Your Bandwidth?

There are some lessons that you can truly only learn over time with experience, and one that really only became apparent to me over the years is this: we all have vastly different capacities for love.   There is definitely a direct correlation between your bonding experiences growing up and the attachment style you display as an adult.  A lot also depends on your mental health and ability to process emotions.  The more insight you have into yourself then, the better you will be at identifying what you need in a partner, and whether you can accept the love they are capable of demonstrating.

The only way to come to terms with your own bandwidth of course is to test its limits-- so here are some key questions you may want to ask yourself:

1. Can you tolerate long distance relationships? 
2. Are you okay dating someone that is only available twice a month? 
3. Can you stomach being intimate with someone that is seeing other people?
4. Do you have an issue with people that have to remain in constant contact with you and need to know your every move?
5.  Is PDA (public displays of affection) acceptable to you?
6. Do you need big, elaborate gestures to feel loved, or are you more comfortable with low key, small acts of kindness?
7.  Do you require daily compliments?
8.  Is frequent intimacy important to you? 
9. Are you more of a plain vanilla person, or do you like to live on the wild side?
10. Do you need to feel in control, or are you okay playing a more submissive role?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions-- you just need to be at ease with who you are, and then be capable of sharing these answers with your potential partner.  They may not be able to meet your needs or wants for reasons that have nothing to do with you.  As I said before, the way we are wired has a lot to do with our own nature and how we are nutured.  So, you can't take it personally if someone says I just can't stomach a long distance relationship, or I'm not ready to commit to any one person.  If someone isn't capable of meeting your needs, all it is speaking to is their own capacity, not your worthiness of being loved.

Figure out your bandwidth, and then be honest with others about what you really want from them.  Not everyone will be capable of meeting your standards, and you need to be prepared to walk away if that is the case.  There is no point in forcing outcomes or trying to convince yourself to settle for less.  Patience is a virtue-- especially when it comes to love.  Just wait for the one who will give you the love you need and deserve!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Stop the Blame Games

It seems that on a weekly basis I have to explain to people that divorce court is NOT criminal court.  We are not going to lock someone up for life or deprive them of all their income and assets just because someone had an affair or has a severe personality disorder or addiction problem.  These fact patterns exist in over 75% of my cases-- and as a result of all the chaos most of the people I interact with are suffering from either situational depression or anxiety, and here I went to law school vs. medical school to stay away from sick people.  God clearly has a sense of humor, but let me not digress-- my ooint is this-- although it is natural when you are in pain to want to lash out and have the other person suffer along side you, don't do it.  It will not do anyone any good-- if you let yourself erupt like a volcano, everyone is going to wind up covered in ashes, including you.

In the last 8 years, I have delved into a lot of psychology research, and I've come to understand a lot more about the human mind, including this phenomenon that some people cannot accept the slighest blame for anything because if they admit any fault, it means they are bad.  These are black and white thinkers, so either you are all good or all bad-- they can't see the gray in the world.  So what do they do?  They blame others for everything, and there is no point in arguing with these people-- you can't be rational with an irrational human being.  Do you see my point?  Let me give you some examples:

1. I drink because of you. It's the only way I can cope with everything.
2. I work like a dog because of you-- to maintain the lifestyle you've become accustomed to.
3. I avoid coming home because of you-- I can't find any peace at home so I'm staying away. 
4. I punched that wall because you made me so angry.  Now my hand hurts and it is all your fault.

I wish I was joking, but these are all true statements that I've heard from various sources, and it is really hard not to laugh, but as calmly as I can I just try to point out that it does take 2 to tango.  If I truly wanted to refute these claims it would go something like this:

1. Maybe we need to help you find some better coping skills.
2. We both created this lifestyle, and if we've over-extended ourselves, then we are both at fault and need to find ways to cut back.
3. Rather than avoiding the problem, maybe we can both work on fixing our relationship?
4. Anger management classes might be a better alternative to destroying the house, or your fist.

There are less severe examples, and a common one is the game that it played between someone who is unabashedly assertive versus someone who is passive aggressive.  These two are a BAD combination and this is why: as a member of the former group I can tell you that there is nothing more infuriating than interacting with someone that won't just speak their mind or stand up for what they believe-- rather than say it to my face, they prefer to do things behind my back.  Instead of having a conversation upfront and trying to reach a resolution, they promise to do one thing, and then they turn around and do something else, which is what they intended to do all along, they just didn't have the guts to say it to me straight.  I have zero tolerance for wimps, which is how I view these types-- actually I can't tell you in a blog the word I'd actually use, but suffice it to say that what I really want to tell these idiots is to grow a set-- guys and girls.  I have a brass set, and you should too, otherwise step aside and go play in the sandbox with all the other 2 year olds.

In the end, I find the blame games are totally stupid and a waste of energy-- especially once you have made the correct decision in getting out.  When you finally do agree that it is over, I fail to understand why the blame games continue, haven't you had enough?  I certainly have, both professionally and personally, and I hope the rest will see the light some day soon.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

I usually avoid absolutes like "never'" and "always," but generally speaking I think none of us want to fail, and we all enjoy the sweet taste of victory.  The problem is that sometimes we overestimate our abilities or perhaps we underestimate the complexity of a situation-- especially in personal relationships.

Long ago I realized that I am wired to want to exceed all expectations, and this is not a shocker to anyone that knows me.  However, what I've also learned overtime-- especially at work-- is that if I don't want to disappoint my clients or colleagues, sometimes I am just going to have to say no upfront.  If the case isn't going to be a good fit or the project is just more than what I can take on because of other commitments, then I am far better off declining the assignment upfront, and this way I'm spared the stress and aggravation that comes along with being over-extended and we all avoid the huge sting that comes with half-ass results, or a total fail.

The more I witnessed the success of saying "no" in my professional life, the more I carried this over into my personal life, and although it is a lot harder to say "no" to someone you care about, we all need to learn this skill if we want to remain sane, which brings me to my main point...

Throughout the years, I have seen a lot of crazy break-ups as a divorce attorney.  Thankfully, I have not personally experienced many myself, but I have had a few, and the problem was always the same-- people tried to bite off more than they could chew.  Either they over-extended themselves financially or personally, and eventually the stress or resentment grew to be too much.  When you personally compromise too much of yourself and your own values to try and sustain a relationship, this is going to blow up in your face-- it always does, it is just a question of how long will you let things drag out.

Sometimes I think the problem stems from a lack of either self-awareness or self-confidence.  Maybe people think they can make certain compromises to get the guy or gal and that these minor concessions are not a big deal?  Perhaps it is the fear of being rejected?  Whatever the reason, if you find yourself taking on too much or giving in too much to others, you need to find a way to stop-- it's just not healthy.

Recently, I was with a friend, who had just endured a bad break up, and I was strugging to understand how he could let things go for so long, and then he candidly admitted this: it's like slices of salami.  Each little slice you give someone seems so minor because it is just a slice, until one day you just suddenly realize you've given away the whole salami.  As soon as he said this, I completely understood, not just what happened to him, but what happens in all these explosive episodes that seem to come out of nowhere.

Every bad breakup I have lived through or witnessed has one individual that finally realizes s/he has let things go for far too long, given in too much, and they really feel like they did not get an equal amount in return.  While originally someone might have felt "lucky" to have that other person in his/her life, eventually the harsh reality that their love would never be reciprocated becomes unbearable.  Inequalities in a relationship are quite obvious to outside observers, and true good friends will clue you into this before it is too late.  I am eternally grateful to all of mine that helped me take off the blinders when needed.

So, if you want to avoid a disaster of epic proportions, date someone that is your equal.  That is of course no guarantee that things will work out, but let's face it there are no guarantees in life.  All I can say is that in all the amicable break ups that I've witnessed or lived through, there was always a tremendous amount of mutual respect, understanding and admiration.  Sometimes despite all that, personalities may just clash or your goals may just not be properly aligned-- if you can be honest with each other and accept that fact, then it's very easy to walk away with no hard feelings, it was simply fun while it lasted.

To all those that have shared a past with me and remain in my life, you know exactly how much I appreciate our time together and the friendships we've maintained over the years.  Perhaps I took this evolution of our relationship for granted in the past, but I assure you I do not anymore.  The honesty, integrity and self-restraint that you have all consistently demontrated throughout the years is truly amazing, and it's why I still love you and am grateful for the role you played in making me the woman I am today.  So glad none of us ever tried to bite off more than we could chew!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Work-Life Balance, It's Not Just a Female Issue

Last week we had a great discussion about Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," and how the struggle for work-life balance is not just a female issue, but actually a major issue that impacts everyone.  GenXers and those that have followed increasingly do not want to just make work their entire life, and as companies come to terms with the immense brain drain that occurs at the upper levels of management, we all need to take a hard look at what's a realistic expectation with respect to billable hours, the importance of face-time in the office, and time management all while taking into account commitments outside of work. 

I'm sure there is no doubt these days that I have enjoyed my legal career the past 15 years, but equally as important to me are the roles I play in society as a mother, sister, daughter, friend or partner.  Both my male and female peers all feel the same way-- we want to do our best at work, but not at the expense of being a total failure in other equally important areas of our lives.  We all struggle with balance-- finding time for ourselves, our families, and our greater community are not aspirational luxuries, they are a necessity to promoting a healthy life and stable society.

Later this month, I'm going to feature Working Mamas, which is a local DC group that helps women excel in their careers while still feeling fulfilled in their family lives.  Dealing with issues of guilt or resentment are quite common, and sadly we don't talk about this enough.  So, here I go trying to change that, and I hope more will follow.  In the meantime, here is the clip to last week's show:


Monday, November 4, 2013

The Importance of F-You Money

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have your own resources to sustain yourself.  You never know what will happen-- you or your partner might get sick, either one of you might suddenly die, or you may just split up.  Of the three, the last option is actually the least scary of all to me, but you have to self insure for that possibility.  How do you that?  Well, let's see...

1. Savings- Do you have at least a 3 month reserve for your necessary expenses in an account in just your name? If not, you have to start putting aside a little bit each month to do this-- and yes, this might mean not eating lunch out so much, drinking coffee at home instead of at a cafe, and cutting back on other non-essentials.  During the recession, I had to teach a lot of my clients about budgets, and the new mantra many of us had to embrace is "do I really need this?"  Every little bit counts, and the more you can set aside for a rainy day, the less anxious you will be about that possibility.

2. Earnings- Do you have your own sources of revenue, and if you had to could you live on what you yourself generate?  If not, then what can you do to maximize your own income potential?  You need to be self-supporting.  This is key to not only achieving total independance, but to being able to protect your integrity and not having to suffer any fools-- at work or at home. 

3. Credit- Do you have your own credit resources?  If your cards are maxed out, you are living beyond your means, and you need to make debt repayment a top priority.  If you credit sucks, you need to figure out a way to fix that, fast.  Credit is key not just for loans and job opportunities, but to lower your cost of living.  The better your credit, the cheaper the insurance rates, the lower you pay in security deposits, etc.   There's also another benefit that is less obvious-- the more responsible you appear, the more likely you will be to get a loan from family and friends in the event of a real emergency.  If you are a financial basket case, people will be far less likely to want to lend you money.

My friends and clients that have decent savings, earnings and credit have managed to avoid financial disaster when hit with a crisis, such as death, disability or divorce.  As emotionally upset as they might be, they have at least managed to avoid being economically devastated.  Recovering from emotional setbacks is relatively easy, but a financial implosion is incredibly hard to weather, and it will take years to dig out from under that kind of mess.

It is funny that 15 years ago when I graduated from law school I naively thought I wouldn't have to do math anymore, and yet what I do more than anything is deal with numbers every day.  For those of us in the divorce world, when your partnership is dissolving, aside from custody issues, all we are really doing is re-distributing assets and income, and you would be shocked at how many people have not paid attention to their budgets, have very little in savings, and have not protected their credit scores.  Sadly, there is no quick fix to any of these things, and watching the harsh reality hit people like a ton of bricks is very painful to watch.

So, if there is one lesson I can pass on to you after all these years, it is this:  Save as much as you can, earn as much as you can, and be responsible about spending and managing your money.  You never know when a crisis will hit, so make sure you have your own F-you money!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Will You Make It Through the Holidays?

It is a very tough decision that a lot of couples will have to face in the next few weeks-- are you going to be able to keep it together through the holidays, or do you need to bail now?  If you find that you cannot hold it together, then the answer should be clear-- bail now.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep up a facade and make it appear to everyone like everything is fine, when inside you feel like you are dying.  The holidays are supposed to be a festive time, but if you feel like you have nothing to celebrate and the last thing on Earth you want to do is buy presents for your partner, then the time has come to be honest with yourself and find a way to gracefully exit.

I'm not suggesting this is an easy process to go through, nor one that you should try to tackle by yourself.  You need to find an ally and develop a plan, but time is of the essence if you are feeling like a ticking time bomb because the last thing you want to do is explode, especially during the holidays and definitely not in front of little ones.

I've always been a big fan of lists, and if ever there is a time to carry a journal and have lists to keep you focused, it is when you are going through a separation.  If I had to develop a list for a friend about to separate, it would look something like this:

1. Get a consult with an attorney to learn about your rights and obligations;
2. Do a budget for yourself-- this is how you can determine what you can afford in rent, etc.;
3. Find an apartment or suitable short-term living arrangement;
4. Notify the post office and get mail forwarded elsewhere;
5. Go through your home and list the things you want to take;
6. Set up your own bank account and stop making charges on a joint account;
7. Change your passwords and lay low with social media;
8. Rely on friends or find a counselor for emotional support;
9. Try to talk with your partner about the logistics of moving out; and
10. Resist the urge to find comfort in the arms of another-- at least for 3 months.

Throughout the years, I've always been amazed to see the dramatic change I've witnessed in my clients-- even in our first session.  They tend to come in scared, often at a total loss and with some very mistaken notions of the law.  By the time we are done addressing the major issues, they leave so much more relieved and feeling like this process will not be so daunting after all.  Those that listen to me and get their to-do lists done in a diligent manner make progress at record speed.  Then as the months go by, and we have everything in writing and things are much less chaotic, I see them all calm down and get to a much better place in life.  By the time I see most of my clients for their final divorce, usually a year after our first meeting, some of these individuals are almost unrecognziable-- they are so much happier, heatlhier and at peace.  This is how it should be, and this is how I know that I may have seen them at their worst, but that the best is yet to come.

The holidays should be a time for joy, but it can be a very painful time for those who don't feel they are getting the love they deserve, for those that have lost that connection they once felt with their partner, or for those that can no longer consider home a safe haven.  Seriously, it is not easy to leave, but if you hate the person you've become in the relationship, and you can't stand the sight of the other person, you need to stop pretending that this is a sustainable situation.  It isn't fun for anyone to make believe that it's all okay when it's not, and the joke is on you if you think those around you haven't picked up on the fact that there is a rotten smell in Denmark.

So, will you make it through the holidays?  I'm betting no if you feel like you are a volcano that is about to erupt.  Only you know how bad it is at this moment, but I promise that if you ask for help, you will be amazed at how supportive others will be in your time of need, and if 2013 ends on a low note, well here's the silver lining to that cloud: it can only get better in 2014!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lean In-- or Out-- At Least Now It's A Personal Choice

On this week's tv show, we'll be talking about Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" and the relevancy of the Women's Bar Association.  As many know, I've been very active throughout the years in DC's WBA, and my guest, Heather, has been very involved in the Maryland WBA.  Both of us are GenXers, who were brought up as Title IX babies and graduated at the same rate as men in our law schools-- so you can imagine our surprise as we both went out into the real world, and then got a glimpse at some very stark disparities in the number of men vs. women in leadership roles within our field.

There is about a 40% dropout rate of attorneys in the private sector world, and only 15% of women will ever make equity partner-- the chances are less than 4% if they are minorities.  It is no wonder that over 1/3 of female attorneys will suffer from depression at some point in their careers-- the numbers themselves are so devastating.    (All of these stats come straight from recent studies done by the ABA and NAWL). 

Needless to say, I was completely unaware of  all these stats when I picked my field of study-- but to be honest, I'm not sure it would have made a difference.  Ever since I was 12 years old I wanted to be a lawyer, and I don't regret my choice at all-- what is regretable is simply the inability law firms seem to have becoming more accomodating to those of us that want more of a work-life balance.  We all understand that there is high overhead and the rent needs to get paid-- but what firms fail to fully acknowledge is that they are suffering a huge brain drain as people burnout and leave when the demands and pressure simply get to be too much. 

Fortunately, throughout the years, I've always had amazing male mentors at Andover, Georgetown, and in all my years of legal practice-- and they taught me well.  Unlike a lot of my female peers, I don't have a problem being assertive and promoting my skills like a guy.  I make no apologies when I disagree with someone, and I unabashedly voice my opinions-- even in a board room filled with nothing but men.  I don't dwell on rejection, and I certainly will not back down just because someone with seniority thinks he knows better.  Sadly, these traits do not come naturally to a lot of women, and the only way the next generation is going to ever get the courage to do these things is if some of us are not just gutsy enough to tell them that it is going to be okay-- we have to show them it will be okay, so the proof has to be in the pudding.

Organizations like the WBA are an amazing resource for young female lawyers precisely because they emphasize the importance of mentoring and networking, something that seems to be lost these days for those joining the bigger law firms, which focus mainly on billable hours.  Of course, it is also only over the course of the last 15 years that I have truly come to appreciate those friendships that withstood the test of time, as we have encouraged each other to negotiate for flexible schedules or reduced hours, all while insisting on making partner and being recognized for our contributions and accomplishments in the legal world.  These female connections have played an amazing role in my life, and now it is a great honor that those of us in leadership roles get to pay it forward helping the next generation.

To lean in is a personal choice, and no doubt a difficult one when you are juggling motherhood, but not all of us have a choice to lean out.  As a divorced single mom, I truly did not have the option to stay home the last 8 years, but I'll be honest that I never would have made the choice even in an intact marriage, for several reasons, including the fact that I would NEVER want to become so vulnerable that if something happened to my husband- death, divorce or disability, I could not take care of myself and my son.

Every day as a divorce lawyer, I have to deal with horrible situations, and if only you could see what I see, you would understand why I care so much about women staying in the workforce.  Do you know how many women are left at a huge economic disadvantage when suddenly their spouse is either laid off, becomes ill, or decides to leave the marriage?  The lucky ones are the ones who   fortuitously kept their foot in the door and did not sacrifice their careers for their families.  They are not just able to survive, but often they wind up thriving post-divorce, and for them there is no desperate need to remarry.  They will, if the right guy comes along, but for the most part, they can hold their own, and so having to settle is not an option.

In the end, we are so fortunate today to even have the choice to either lean in, or lean out.  However, I want to echo what Sandberg emphasizes in her book:  (1) women in leadership roles really need to step up and help other women; and (2) women that lean out need to think very carefully about the vulnerable position they are creating-- not just for themselves, but their entire families should there be a crisis situation.

Lean in or not, it's a truly personal choice-- I just hope people will choose wisely!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Are You Fighting Like Cats & Dogs?

Very few of my friends have both cats and dogs.  Usually, you are either a cat or dog person, but not both.  I'll be honest upfront, I am definitely not a cat person-- in fact, I'm allergic to them.  So it is of no surprise that when I first referred to one of my friends as a cat recently he took great offense-- until I clarified what I meant by this comment, then he realized the magnitude of the compliment, not just for what it says about him but what it says about our friendship.  Hoping that this might be helpful to others, let me explain my theory about those that fight like cats & dogs...

I have always loved dogs-- they are incredibly loyal pack animals.  When you come home, they eagerly greet you at the door while wagging their tails, and they love going for walks with you, having you play with them, and even just cuddling up watching a movie together.  Hmm, this is almost exactly what I do with a partner, and as I my ex-husband lovingly pointed out very much like a dog, I have a very loud bark when I feel threatened, but deep down inside all I really want is a belly rub.  He is dead right, and this insight has served him well the last 20 years that he has been in my life.

Then we have those that are more like cats-- very independant, rather solitary and elusive creatures.  They may on occassion grace you with their presence, but for the most part, they hunt on their own and enjoy their alone time.  Do you see how this may be at odds with a dog person???  The attraction is easy to explain-- I've encountered a couple of cats in the past few years, and NOT the domestic kind, think more like a black panther-- they are beautiful and strong, clever and consistent enough that they don't fall off my radar, but in order for us to get along, even just as friends, I've had to come to accept the true nature of these incredible beasts.     

If you find yourself fighting like cats & dogs with someone in your life, just take a step back for a minute and try to think of all their positive attributes.  Often what you will find is that those same traits that attract you can also infuriate you because you are not the same way.  It's easy to understand why opposites attract, but if you want it to last, you have to accept that person's true nature in all its glory.  If you can respect that you have different strengths, and not try to change each other, that is what I think is the key to survival in these relationships.

I for one am working on my immunity to cats because those select few panthers that have been part of my life these past few years have taught me so much.  I know it is not easy for them to put up with some of my dog traits, but they enjoy the loyalty and playful side I show them, while I dig having a wild cat my life much more than I can truly admit in a blog. 

Here's hoping you find your own peace with the cats and dogs in your own life!  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Back Story to Gina the Gymnast

Ten years ago, I was waddling down the streets of DC-- 9 months pregnant and ready to pop!  I had no idea what the next decade would have in store for me, and let me be honest it turned out nothing like what I had imagined.

Joking with the anesthesiologist at Sibley as we sat and watched the World Series, my only real concern back then was whether my son would be delivered without any complications, and thankfully everything turned out just fine after just 8 hours of labor.  Everyone kept commenting on how I pulled through like a champ, and there was already talk about the next time, and all I could think was OMG people, let's not skip ahead-- I just want to enjoy this moment.

As I laid in the recovery room with my newborn, there was such an amazing sense of joy coupled with an overwhelming sense of responsiblity.  Life as I knew it was about to drastically change-- it was no longer just about my own needs and desires, now there was a little one that would be relying on me for his survival.  I knew I could deal with the daily tasks, but I had a far greater concern that is best explained in a wonderful passage that is often quoted from the Prophet, which basically states that a child is like the arrow and the parent is the bow.  If you want that arrow to fly straight and hit the mark, you have to keep the bow steady.  The truth is that deep down, I had no idea if I could keep the bow steady.

I did not have a "normal" childhood.  Let's face it, I have not had a typical life at all.  I grew up poor with an immigrant single mom, and the odds were not in my favor at an early age.  Yet somehow I learned to speak English quickly, and I moved up in the academic rankings, as well as in the world of competitve gymnastics, such that by age 14 I won a scholarship to Andover.  From that point on, I followed the cookie-cutter path designed for us prep school kids-- up until the birth of my son.  Then, everything changed.  I left law firm life to open my own practice, and yet while my career blossomed, my personal life unraveled.  Sadly, it is only as a result of my own divorce that I finally went in search of all the answers to my questions about my family's past, and along the way I managed to resurrect my creative talents, which now have found their outlet in my various forms of writing and the weekly tv shows. 

It was not my idea to write a children's story-- it was my son's wish that I share our story with young kids.  I am eternally grateful that he inspired me to do this, even though looking back 10 years ago I had intended to write an entirely different love story for him.  The irony of how much gain came from so much pain is not lost on me, and yet I give thanks every day for all those that helped me survive all the great challenges that I had to overcome-- truly, it is a miracle that I did not implode, and I credit all the angels  I met along my path for carrying me during some of my darkest hours.

One day, I do hope to write the full back story to Gina the Gymnast, but in the meantime here is the link to the show that just aired about the book, which is a true story about a little girl that overcomes some major challenges to pursue her dreams against all odds, and in the end finds her dad and discovers that the best reward of all is the love of her family. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExGQwUjTRLw

Also, if you are interested in buying a copy of the book, which will donate 10% of the net proceeds to the Oliver Scholars Program in NYC, here is the link on Amazon.com:

The last 10 years have been an amazing journey, and let me confess, it has not been easy to keep that bow steady.  In fact, sometimes I think that it is my son that is the bow, and I am his arrow.  But this is now, and we all know that in another 10 years he will be off pursuing his own dreams and adventures that will become part of his own story.
Here's hoping all chlidren will feel free to follow their passions without feeling any limitations based on their race or socio-economic backgrounds!  And to my son, who wanted to share that message with his peers, happy birthday little one-- you made all my dreams come true, now here's hoping all of yours do too.    

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Are Your Expectations re Privacy Realistic?

Back in the days when I was an intern in the Manhattan DA's office-- even before the internet explosion-- I learned exactly how little is actually private.  This lesson was later re-affirmed in the divorce world, where for the last 15 years I've been able to use the discovery process to get all the information I need with respect to a party's income, assets and liabilities-- plus all emails, hard-drives, calendars and monthly credit card statements dating all the way back to the date of the marriage if I really want to go for scourched earth.  Biggest take-away I can share from all these years is if you don't want someone to know how you spend your money, pay cash.

Now in a post 9/11 world, where it's not so clear who our enemies are, I get it, the government may need more leeway with respect to invading our privacy in the interest of protecting the greater good.  Most of us have come to accept that if the government has good reason to spy on you, it can and will, but if you have nothing to hide, then most of us will continue to do our thing without any real concern.  But what increasingly does worry me, and I hope others also find this bothersome is this: what's going on in the corporate world?

Corporate America is increasingly tracking our purchases and spending habits, with very little government regulation at this time.  If you are an employee for a company- you should know your emails are not private.  Google also screens the contents of those with gmail accounts to then send them targeted ads.  Credit agencies are now tracking your friend connections on Facebook, which can affect your credit.  Meanwhile Linkedin is amassing tons of information about your resume and contacts.  Banks track your spending habits-- and yes, they are paying attention to how much booze you buy.  Grocery stores are also keeping tabs on your purchases, and retailers in general are amassing huge data banks full of our information, all presumably to try and better serve us.  But doesn't this beg the question-- what is the private sector doing to keep our personal information safe?

This was the subject of a great interview with a consultant for Homeland Security.  Here is the link:


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Time to Go Fish--in a New Pond

Have you recycled someone from the past, only to find that the same issues come up?  Or do you keep dating the same kind of person, hitting the same dead end road after a few months?  Don't beat yourself up, we've all done it.  Why?  Because it is safe, familiar, and comfortable.  But when you get tired of this same thing happening over and over again, be honest with yourself-- it is not that the world is full of only this one type of person, it is YOU that are responsible for attracting the same kind of person.  So if you want to change things up, you are the one that has to alter a few things:

1. What are your must-haves and can't stand?  Perhaps the things you thought mattered a lot really aren't as important?  Maybe looks aren't as important as IQ points.  Maybe you can broaden your horizons with respect to age, religion, or acceptable occupations.  Maybe a 10 mile radius can be expanded to 20? 

2. How are you meeting your matches?  Instead of sticking to just one dating site, or relying solely on Divine Intervention to meet a mate, try mixing things up a bit.  There are tons of websites, activity-based groups, Meetups, alumni events, charity fundraisers-- you just never know where you will meet someone, so try a variety of options.

3.  What image or vibe are you giving off?  People can smell desperation a mile away-- and we run from it like the plague.  Sexy is having your sh*t together, and being okay exactly where you are in life.  There is no faking this fact, so if you have to work out some issues for yourself first, then do it.  Confidence makes you shine-- just don't go to the extreme of being cocky, that's not hot.

A while back when I was in one of my moods, complaining about the dearth of good men, one of my male friends that enjoys hunting and fishing asked me this: when you have actually gone fishing, do you always expect to catch a fish?  I said, "no of course not, it's always just a pleasant surprise."  He smiled then and said, "exactly.  We hunt and fish for the pure joy of the experience- the actual capture is just icing on the cake."  This my friends is excellent advice. 

Ultimately, dating is an on-going process of trial and error, so be patient and keep an open mind.   You will not always go fishing and catch a fish, but enjoy the journey.  However, if you find that the pond you're fishing in is polluted-- don't try to cleanse the pond, go review questions 1-3 above and find yourself a new pond!