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Bar News - June 20, 2008

Work-Life Balance: Work Your Strengths


Doobie McDowell, a news broadcaster, told this story at my niece’s high school graduation five years ago.

"When I was a student at this school, I used to play this practical joke. I would stand outside students’ rooms and mimic the house mother. ‘Girls, open this door immediately.’ I would hear chaos as windows opened, toilets flushed and contraband was frantically hidden. The door would finally open and I would laugh and laugh. "Ladies, as you go out into the world, don’t look far to find your niche. I have a natural verbal gift upon which I have built a successful career. So often we look far outside ourselves to find our niche, and undervalue what is close at hand. What comes naturally to us is the greatest gift we have to offer to the world."

This was the most effective graduation address I’ve heard, in part because it was only five minutes long and also because of the apt message for young adults. Ever since then, I’ve thought what a great message it is for all of us.

Lawyers, physicians, and manufacturers have specialties. They rely on the efficiency of focusing their efforts on particular products or services to set them apart in a competitive marketplace.

But what about you, the individual? How do you focus on your own strengths to set yourself apart and be the most effective attorney you can be? As we all know, a common employment interview question is, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" We’re all conditioned to rattle off appropriate responses to the former and strategic answers to the latter.

My experience working with people has taught me that we often underrate what comes most easily to us. As McDowell says, "We look far outside ourselves to find our niche and undervalue what is close at hand." If you look carefully you will see that what you enjoy doing, what comes easily to you, may be very difficult for others. This is one reason that people hire accountants to do their taxes and lawyers to handle their conflicts and other affairs.

As part of your own development, I encourage you to do an inventory of your strengths, and note which bring you the most satisfaction. Bear this in mind as you move forward in your life. How can you rely more on these strengths? How can you further develop them through study, teaching, specializing? How can you improve your own excellence by using your gifts?

As my former Pierce Law Professor, Ruth Chevion noted "What I tend to, blossoms." Tend to your strengths and they will blossom.

Betsy Black, J.D., A.C.C., is an accredited life coach who specializes in working with lawyers seeking greater satisfaction in their work and personal lives. Please direct your thoughts, questions and requests for future topics for this monthly column to her at or 228-6195.

Read other Work-Life Balance articles by Betsy Black, as featured in Bar News (login required).

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