Wednesday, December 31, 2014

8 Points to Consider In the New Year

Year-end is a perfect time not just for corporations, but for individuals to take a good look at how they spent their time, money and effort.  After taking into account this year's return on our investments, we can then figure out a plan for the coming year.  When going through this analysis, here are 8 points to consider:

1. Health- are you taking good care of yourself?  If not, now is the time to think about making changes that will improve your physical and mental well-being.

2. Work- are you satisfied with your professional performance and compensation?  It is important to take pride in your work and feel properly appreciated for your efforts.  If this is not happening, you need to figure out how to implement a change.

3. Family- are you happy with your existing family ties?  Family dynamics are tricky, but if there is discord within your family, you need to try to find a way to make peace-- a form of peace that you can live with.

4. Money- are you financially solid?  To survive, you need to be able to meet your own basic expenses.  If you don't have a good grasp on your budget, ask for help.

5. Friends- have you created a support network that works for you?  Friends do get married, move away, or get caught up in their own affairs (as do all of us), so it does take a lot of effort to keep up these connections,  but this is something we need to do and cannot neglect.

6. Appearance- are you content with your image? How you present to the world does matter, and you need to be okay with how you look or go make the necessary changes to feel good about yourself.

7. Spirituality- are you being true to your belief/faith, whatever that might be?  We simply can't be happy unless we live a life that is reflective of our real core values.      

8. Love- have you found love?  Hopefully the answer is "yes," but if not then the answer should be "not yet."  We are all worthy of being loved, it just takes time to find the right match.        

While all of these areas in life may require our constant attention, cut yourself some slack and don't try to tackle everything at once.  Prioritize and focus on what it most important to you.

Thank you all for an amazing 2014, and best wishes for the year that lies ahead!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What's Your Christmas Wish?

As many of us make the journey to visit family and friends for the holidays this week, we are bound  to reflect back on 2014 and think about not just what we have accomplished, but also what we have left undone.  My advice is to cut yourself some slack, and after making your to-do list for 2015, let go of the bad and focus on the good.

We all have our sources of stress and sadness, but this holiday season try to take some time to unplug from everything and put things in perspective-- a better perspective.  No matter how bad you think you have it, someone else has it far worse.  You can't look at the glass as half empty-- instead, you need to train your brain to see that glass as half full.

I cannot explain why I'm naturally wired to have a positive attitude, but I can tell you that positive thinking is an essential survival skill in life.  I've had to overcome some horrific challenges, and it is no secret that the only way most survivors are able to cope is because they believe that everything happens for a reason, and that it will all work out in the end.

So, this Christmas season, while I hope your wishes do come true, here is my wish for you: that you learn to harness the power of positive energy.  Here are three simple tips to help you on this path:  

Peace- find inner peace for yourself by coming to terms with your past and your present, and then allow yourself to dream about your future.

Serenity- learn to accept certain truths while finding the will to change things you don't accept as truths, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

Love- believe without a doubt that there is an unlimited ability within you to love and be loved for this is our true legacy-- it will survive us long after we breathe our last breath.

Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Can You Stop Enabling Bad Behavior?

Those of us focused on finding solutions to problems will often encounter one big one: we tend to be enablers.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it basically means that because we keep covering up or fixing the mistakes of those we love, we don't let them suffer the harsh consequences that would normally result from their bad choices.  But eventually, one of two things will happen: either you get tired of mopping up someone else's messes, or they will create a catastrophic situation that finally leaves you with no choice but to walk away.

There are actually many problem accumulators out there, and I unfortunately have to hear about them and their epic failures every day in divorce court.  Sometimes I refer to these people as ten-triers-- these are people that need to get burned at least 10 times before it finally sinks in that fire is actually dangerous.  Ten triers simply cannot play out the consequences of their choices beforehand, and instead just act on impulse.  They often lack insight into their own behaviors, and impulse control.

If you are a loving, caring person, you will find that you in particular are a magnet for these problematic types.  Why?  Well, precisely because they need you to help fix their problems.  But you can't always play the role of a savior, and eventually you will learn that the best way to help this type of person is to actually let him/her fail.  This is particularly hard when it is your own child or spouse, but at some point you will realize that they will only learn their lessons the hard way.

When you finally cease being an enabler, be prepared for some backlash.  Problem accumulators have a tendency to blame everyone but themselves for their problems, and if you change the status quo on them, chances are high that you will be the target of blame.  It sounds ridiculous, but seriously these people will turn everything around, and somehow it is a huge conspiracy that is working against them to have them terminated at work, incarcerated, hospitalized, evicted, involved in collections actions, with suspended licenses and/or divorced.

Ultimately, you have to realize that these people are toxic.  They create no-win situations that will make you feel ill.  If your home ceases to be a safe harbor because of these individuals, you have to find a way to create boundaries to protect yourself from suffering for bad choices made by others.  One great book I read years ago on this topic was "Boundaries in Marriage" by Dr. Cloud.  Another good resource is "It's All Your Fault" by Bill Eddy, who is the founder of the High Conflict Institute.

High conflict personalities make up over 20% of our population according to a recent NIH study.  You have a 1 in 5 chance of meeting up with one of these, and you can't let feelings of guilt trap you in a pattern of behavior where you continue to facilitate their bad behavior.  Get some help, and stop enabling.   It won't be easy, but this too shall pass.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Aren't You Getting Tired of Faking It?

Whether in or out of bed, I really don't get it-- what is the point of faking it?  Either you are truly happy being with someone, or you are not.  If you don't actually feel fulfilled despite the big house full of toys, fancy car and fat bank account, then maybe it's time to take a good look at some of your  life choices and make some changes.  The secret to success is this: you have to define it for yourself.

Growing up poor, I bought into all the commercial hype and after putting myself through law school I pursued all the normal big-ticket items, but with each new acquisition or professional accomplishment I found myself thinking "what's next?"  It's almost like you become a junkie looking for that next big hit.  The problem is that this never ends, and once you realize how meaningless it all is, what you are left with is a deep, undeniable feeling of dissatisfaction.  At that point, what do you do?  Well, let me clue you into something that has been medically proven: dis-ease will eventually lead to disease.  If your mind isn't well, those problems will manifest themselves in your body.

Take a good look at the GenXers around you-- how many of those in the rat race have actually aged well?  Not many.  Why is that?  To me it is clear that the very life is being sucked out of them, and if you don't want to end up the same way, then truly do something about it.  Stop burying your feelings and putting on a happy face, even though deep inside you feel like you are dying.  The fact is you will have to let a part of you die so that a new you, the real you, can live.

Unless you are performing on Broadway, don't feel like you need to put on an act.  Life is too short to go around faking it (especially in bed).  Be true to yourself both on and off the clock, and live a life full of passion.  This my friends is my holiday wish to you all.  Be real, and enjoy the real beauty that life has to offer before it is too late.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Should You Do When Your Friends Decide to Split?

Holidays are funny-- it's that time of year when a lot of couples decide to get hitched, and it is also common to hear couples have decided to split.  If your friends are in the latter category, you may feel torn trying to figure out what should you do in response.  Here's my advice: try to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

Inevitably, one or both of your friends will want to tell you their version of what led to the breakdown.  What I have learned over the years as a divorce lawyer is that there really is her version, his version, and then the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Each person can only tell you the story from his/her own point of view, but if you can just take a few steps back (rather than getting sucked in or pulled to one side) you may find things are not so black and white, and indeed you may come to appreciate a bit of what I see everyday, which is a splendid spectrum of varying shades of gray.

Unless you are the actual judge that gets to decide the couple's fate, why do you need to see all the evidence and hear all the gory details about the demise of a marriage?  Just accept that it is not pretty, and that these situations will bring out the worst in people.  Fear and anger drive people to do horrible things. Desperate people often take desperate measures, and unless properly guided, their actions often have horrific consequences.  Do you really want to be a witness to all of that?

Unfortunately, it is part of my professional duty to hear about evil and see evil every day, and then it is my job to avoid a bloodbath by quietly finding legal solutions that preserve a family's right to confidentiality.  Dealing with trauma situations requires a highly specialized skill set.  So, unless you are asked in a professional role to play a part in addressing a family's crisis, don't feel obligated to play any part beyond neutral Switzerland.  No one can suck you into an awkward situation if you just remember to hear no evil, see no evil and above all speak no evil.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How Do You Cope With 2 Homes, 2 Sets of Rules?

In an ideal world, whether children are being raised in an intact family household or not, the goal would be to keep things simple for them by having them deal with just one set of rules.  Unfortunately, most children of divorced couples will at some point or another experience situations where their parents are not on the same page.  While sometimes parents can work with an expert to get on the same page, sometimes there are just fundamental differences in values or parenting styles that we need to accept (even if you don't respect those choices), and this is where despite our personal preferences we need to teach our children to learn to compartmentalize and live with two homes, two sets of rules.

It is not easy for me to have to explain to my divorce clients that the court cannot force someone to parent a certain way-- if someone is okay with a messy room, letting the child eat junk food and/or play video games all weekend, there is NOTHING we can do about that.  We cannot control what someone does with his/her child during their time together-- unless of course it becomes a true danger to the child, and that is when the authorities will intervene.  Otherwise, we all need to learn to let things go, and I don't say that lightly from a detached point of view, but honestly from a very personal perspective having dealt with the same issue the last nine years post-divorce.

As a parent, I have struggled with the message I want to send to my child, especially when he is getting a different message from someone else that he identifies with more.  I've found it helpful to take a few deep breaths before saying anything in response to news that I may find disturbing.  Before speaking, I choose my words carefully-- the key is to strip out all negative comments and anything that may seem to suggest you are passing judgment.  Stick to "I" statements, for example, "I don't want you watching more than 3 hours of tv today."  Do not get into an argument about what goes on elsewhere-- you govern your house your way, let others govern their house their way.  Sometimes, to be quite honest, I just have to visualize duck tape, and I take that duck tape and smack it across my mouth.  Some things are just better left unsaid.

Remember, language was created so that we could communicate with others in an effective manner.  Before you say anything to a child, ask yourself "how will this information be helpful?"  Be careful with your word choice-- it matters, especially if you want your message to be heard and well received.  Don't attack, call names, or use sarcasm when talking about the other parent-- just think you are talking about that child's other creator, and like it or not one-half of that person is part of your child.

In the end, you don't have to agree with your child's other parent at all.  And if you are put in a no-win situation, try to pick the lesser of two evils.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let's say for example that the other parent does something that you do not approve of and now you have to weigh in on that.  Well, you have 2 options: 1) put on a fake smile and try to appear that you don't have a problem with the situation or 2) be honest, express your disappointment and explain why you would not make that same choice.  Neither choice is a fun one, but to me being honest is the lesser of these two evils, and at least I can live with myself by being true to my own values, so that is why I'd go with #2 each and every time.

Two homes with two sets of rules is not what any of us want for our children, but when it is their reality you have to be able to adapt and help them cope.  Stop wishing things were different and instead teach your kids to filter and compartmentalize.  There's actually a book, "Mom's House, Dad's House" that has more concrete tips for divorced parents on this topic.  Is this ideal?  Of course not, but at least know that you are not alone.  This is a very common problem, and there are work arounds.

I gave up banging my head against the wall long ago, and instead I had to find new ways around it.  You can too-- by remembering that there is a reason your marriage did not work out, and luckily you no longer have to deal with that other person's ways, but your children do, so help them figure out a pathway that let's them build a bridge between mom's house and dad's house.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Are Your Emotions Clouding Your Judgment?

Have you ever felt like you were starring in a bad movie, and at some point you could almost hear a little voice in your head saying "how did things get to this point?"  Well, if it is of any consolation, we have all been there.  The key is how quickly can you find the way to gracefully exit Stage Left?  Sometimes the door is right there, but your emotions are clouding your ability to see things clearly, and that is why you either need to learn to detach from your emotions, or find someone driven by logic, who can calmly walk you through an escape plan- to a better place where you can see things more clearly.

As a divorce lawyer, my job is to hatch escape plans every day.  The reason I can do this so easily is precisely because I am emotionally detached from the situation, and I can rely entirely on logic and past patterns to forecast what will play out down the line.   Unfortunately, someone who is experiencing severe pain, distress, or is living in fear (whether brought on as a result of deep-seeded issues or external forces) is not going to be able to think or see clearly, and s/he will therefore not be exercising his/her best judgment.  To make smart choices, you first need to feel safe and find a way to calm down.

Once someone has an established sense of security, it is important to learn to let go of outcomes.  Years of practice have taught me that the more open you are to playing out various possibilities, the more flexible you are with your thinking, and the more you can adapt to changes, the better off you will be in the long run.  By being less focused on a particular end-goal, the more apt you will be to see other factors at play, such that you will be in a better position to appreciate the totality of the circumstances.

Learning to let go is not easy, but it is necessary.  While feelings of anger and disappointment do serve an immensely useful purpose by letting us know that something is not right, continuing to harbor such feelings is never a good thing.  You need to find out the cause of the problem and find a solution, accepting that your preferred solution may not be the one that actually plays out best.

Humility is what teaches us that there is very little we actually control in this world.  And it is precisely that humility that will save us, by allowing us to let go of the emotions that can cloud our judgment.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Are You Doing on Giving Tuesday?

There are so many hyped-up events that I now refuse to take part in, but Giving Tuesday is actually one that I do enjoy.  It's important to remember those less fortunate then us, especially during the holidays.  If you can't afford to donate money, then at least donate some time.

Many great local causes need volunteers, and last year on MMCTV I tried to feature at least one non-profit each month that was doing something to help families in our area.  One of my favorites was actually the Storybook Project, which helps record mother's reading stories to their children.  It was a very humbling experience to spend a day in prison last year around the holidays, and because I found it so moving, I am doing that again this year.  Stripped of jewelry and my phone, subject to being frisked and then surrounded everywhere by cameras that monitor every move made behind a wired fence in the middle of no where is perhaps a bit extreme, and that is fine-- you don't have to go to such lengths to be reminded of how fortunate we are in our daily lives.  But do something.

Helping Junior Achievement this spring at a local middle school was incredibly rewarding, and all it took was one hour of my time for 5 weeks.  Spending an afternoon connecting with the Fresh Start students at Living Classrooms, which teaches work skills to young adults transitioning out of juvenile detention was another incredible experience that I will always cherish.  Why? Because these kids remind me that the odds of escaping poverty were grossly stacked against me.  I give them hope that it can be done, but they give me something much greater-- humility and gratitude.

Don't ignore Giving Tuesday-- find a cause that resonates with you, and if you can't give any money, give others a piece of your heart.  You never know how much can change with just one act of kindness.  I can try to tell you, but really you should experience it for yourself.