Christmas wish list: that more people will enjoy the experience of listening and being listened to

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By Bernadette Healy

What is it like to be with the other when you truly focus on listening to them and their story?  Embarking on this kind of journey – if only for 10 mins – is a little like going to a foreign land as we cannot really know how it is for the other no matter how well we know them or think we know them.  If we want to truly be with the other we must let go of our preconceptions and our petty needs such as the use of conversation with another to gather data; compare ourselves; or make ourselves feel better etc.  Paradoxically if we approach it with the openness and curiosity that we typically bring to travelling, we will find that the other can help us, like a travel guide, to see their world through the eyes of the local expert: – them – as, after all, we are each the expert in our own lives.  There you will discover the other in a new and wondrous way and find yourself in the midst of connection.

The following is offered as a representation of being with the other:

 The red ribbon sits between us

silken light

A floating promise

If I or you tug too hard it falls from the other’s hand

If I let go it drops into the space beneath,

out of reach,

not ours anymore.

Holding, not grasping

Keeping it untangled and free.

Holding so you know I am there but not calling for you unbidden

We can leave it still and sit connected.

We can place it down and take it up again at another time.

We can take turns offering and leaving it resting.

My rabbit holds it at times – but I must not allow him to run off too far afield.

I am there with you

My ribbon will sometimes meander as I try to stay with your twists and turns

Remind me if I am falling behind or have strayed too far ahead or away from you

The ribbon connecting you to me to you to we

Safely softly huge

Holds contains encircles

Allowing

Allowing

Allowing

When the rug is pulled out from under you… and thrown over your eyes… and someone sets you on fire while you’re in the dark.

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsLet me paint a small picture for you:

  1. It’s your birthday;
  2. You have to work on your birthday for the first time in your life, so you’ feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole thing;
  3. You had a superb interview with your Dream Job exactly one month ago and are waiting to hear back;
  4. No, you’re not being cocky, it went really well and one of the interviewers even said “what a fantastic answer, you’re pretty much already in”;
  5. You get an email from your Dream Job;
  6. You did not get the Dream Job;
    … did I mention it was my birthday?

Now I know what your first question is, because it will be the same as my lovely best friends’ question was when I told them, “did they give reasons why?” No, but I could email HR if I wanted to find out, 4 minutes later I had. Haven’t heard back yet.

I wrote an earlier article about how I had the wrong impression about a job interview which I thought went badly, but turns out I got. This would be the complete opposite, except worse, because the Dream Job that you’ve been pining for, for the last 5 years just punched you in the face with its generic email content.

The next question should of course be, how long did I stare at my screen re-reading the email? At least 10 minutes, while I yelled to my mum and her friend to “hold on” without giving any further information as to why. I just couldn’t fathom it, it must be a typo, it just couldn’t be a ‘no’. Needless to say the birthday party hat I had insisted on wearing to make work more fun was taken off.

So what now? (aka when your faith is truly shaken)

My family has one of those “if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be” type mentalities. In fact, when I’ve been getting knocked back for some other jobs recently we’ve all been thinking (and occasionally saying) that clearly I’m not meant to have this job because I’m going to hear back from my Dream Job who will give me a resounding yes and welcome me with open arms. It’s really hard to see the positive side of this knock back. What in the hell could ‘fate’ have in store for me in terms of job prospects (supposedly saving up for a good one) if my Dream Job is a big fat no?

So what do you do, when your Dream Job knocks you for six… I’ll let you know when I know. Apologies for the loose type of ending here, but I seriously don’t know, and really that lack of understanding and almost speechlessness (though not in writing) shows just how lost a\ writer who has a fun “whoopsie daisy” kind of column can be at the moment. Maybe soon I’ll have a top 10 list of “coming to terms with not getting your Dream Job”. Everyone loves a top 10!

 

 

A letter to you as a parent

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By Bernadette Healy

Dear parent,

I wonder what is going on for you as you worry about your child.  Perhaps the following is of interest (although it may not be!).

It seems to me that you have come to a point in your life where you are trying to make sense of who you are as a parent (as well as a person), and this includes exploring the ways that you yourself were parented.  This of course brings up old hurts and lots of complicated feelings towards your parents.  Possibly, as well as wanting to distinguish yourself as a mother/father from your own mother or father, you will also find yourself understanding more of what her or his life structure was like – this is hard because you might find yourself being sympathetic at the same time as being angry at some of the ways she or he was, for example, with regard to a sibling.  You seem to be feeling a mixture of being trapped (in a situation that you did not expect to be in with regard to your own child) and being afraid that if you cannot find a way of keeping it all together; that everything will collapse into chaos.  It is as if you are alone in all this difficulty – but perhaps that is how you felt in the past when you were too young to have much influence?  You are not that little girl or boy anymore; you have life experience, skills and attributes to bring to this situation; and you do not have to be alone in it all. But perhaps you have not yet found satisfactory ways of letting people in to share the emotional load  (and perhaps others are not as available as they could be)?

It seems as if you have to solve all the problems, but perhaps that too is a leftover from the past, and the role you were expected to play in your family of origin.  Perhaps you have been in the habit of carrying more than just your anxiety in your determination to keep the chaos at bay?  But now maybe you are ready to find some new ways which are not so heavy, and hopefully you will have more moments enjoying yourself being with your family.  It seems to me that you could be a little kinder to yourself and trust the part of you that, at times, wants to seek help.  When you are ready, the parts of you that haven’t had a chance to come out into the light for a while will bubble through, and offer easier ways of being. Be gentle and patient with yourself, and allow your child to help guide you into becoming their parent (they only want you and ‘ok’ is the gold standard).

Bernadette

 

I wish I knew… I’d never be Alicia Florrick

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

I love the television show The Good Wife. I love that Alicia Florrick can become a partner of one of the biggest law firms in Chicago with only two years’ post admission experience. I love that she always has career-defining cases fall into her lap, can do shots of tequila without wincing, and that she’s interesting enough to have the National Security Agency keep tabs on her. She also has impeccable hair.

Most of the time it feels like I am treading through the paper trail and not doing the high-level lawyer stuff that I signed up for. It is the time spent chasing people for documents you requested weeks ago. The time spent reiterating the advice you have already given three times. The time spent making sure all the emails you printed made its way onto the file because someone else has collected your printing or you’ve forgotten to collect it. By the end of the day, I’m so tired I barely have the capacity to read the expiration date on the milk let alone the stack of recent case law that I promised myself I would read before bed.

I’m sure there are high functioning lawyers who engage in high stakes litigation and have decent hair. However, most cases I manage are on a trajectory that don’t challenge the foundation of the legal system or become a career defining moment. I’m tempted to blame television for mismanaging my expectations that a legal career would be perpetually inspiring and challenging. Sure, there have been a few moments where these elements have transpired and this is why I am still a lawyer. However, much of the work is administrative, frustrating and … work. This isn’t a bad thing. If I were Alicia Florrick, I would have burnt out and have a Christmas tree made out of tequila bottles. Sometimes, though, it would be nice if the reality of being a lawyer matched the image of a lawyer.

However, the real ‘aha’ moment of my legal career was when I found out that the Julianna Marguiles, the actress who plays Alicia Florrick, wears a $10,000 wig on set. If Alicia Florrick is even faking it till she makes it, then there is hope for the rest of us.

Cleaning cloths, politicians and values – maximising good fit with your partner.

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By Bernadette Healy

I recently noticed a range of cleaning cloths upon which were printed images of current Australian and international politicians, together with suggestions for possible applications of the cloths.

I wondered both about the product line, and where else it might be sold. Other than the not-so-upmarket as to be apolitical but not so political as to be anti-frivolous-consumer-goods place where I was – who was the target market? I was amused (but not tempted to buy!) and although I didn’t experience any negative reaction in coming across this product, I thought it likely that some would – that others may experience a ‘values-clash’ moment.

The expression ‘values-clash’ while perhaps increasingly absent in the modern work-place vernacular, never-the-less concerns a very important concept both in the personal and work domains.

In the personal domain, a sense of shared values with one’s partner is vital to relationship longevity.  Some of the values that influence compatibility relate to lifestyle choices – an area of potential to have battles about day to day decisions.  Examples of these ‘values in action’ decisions include:

  • How much emphasis is placed on planning? Is the process of planning a jointly enjoyed activity within the relationship? Is allowing scope for spontaneity, valued?
  • How do each in the couple value time spent socialising versus time alone pursuing their own interests?
  • How much emphasis is placed on money? What form and place does money-management occupy in the relationship? Is economising an important shared language in the relationship? Is the language of money confined or pervasive?
  • Does the expression of emotion fit in the relationship? Is there an emotional language?
  • What decisions are made about food? What will be eaten? Where? Prepared by? How much is reasonable regarding cost? Is quality a key issue? Is variety important? Is it just about taking in the appropriate nutritional requirement to enable the more important activities to be undertaken? Or is it an important activity in its own right?
  • What emphasis is given to keeping up with friends? What emphasis is given by each of the partners to the extended family and spending time with them?
  • What emphasis is given to the standard and maintenance of the shared spaces occupied by those in the relationship? What is the definition of minimum / optimum with regard to house-work standard?

Having regular conversation about what really matters to each of you, and starting these discussions early on will provide you both with key information about the viability of your relationship in the long-term – and help to minimise the hurt all round.

Terminus – Bottled Snail

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by Phoebe Churches

It is practically impossible to experience a fully and flawlessly orchestrated choral experience in the acoustics of a cathedral without feeling profoundly moved. Whenever I go to enjoy live music I immediately wonder why I don’t do it more often. The actual vibration of musical notes in the chest, the tingle down the spine and the hairs on the back of the head which feel the notes, even as the orchestra tunes up in that discordant way just before the conductor taps on their music stand.

BottledSnail’s Habeas Chorus and the Melbourne Lawyers Orchestra (Lawchestra) along with the Monash University Choral Society did not disappoint. The evening started with the fantastic premiere of Last Verses, a work by Australian composer Dan Walker. Last Verses consists of the last poems of Thomas Hardy, Ralph Waldo Emerson (whose poem Terminus gives its title to the performance), Robert Herrick, Elinor Wylie and D.H. Lawrence. It is a wonderfully life affirming celebration of mortality. At once fresh and traditional. I am not sure whether it will be released anywhere else, so if you missed this concert, look out for a further opportunity to catch it live.

The second half of the show featured W.A. Mozart’s last piece – Requiem. It is fruitless to attempt to reduce the experience of Requiem in the beautiful acoustics of St Paul’s Melbourne to words on a page. It was magnificent.

BottledSnail is a great outfit. They donate a substantial amount of their profits annually to the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, whose aim is to improve the mental health of lawyers.

Terminus is a celebration of life, as Dan Walker says ‘rallying against the idea of death, but not necessarily the idea of dying’.

If you missed it, this short clip will give you the idea.

I wish I knew… when to hang up

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

When I started practising law, everyone refused to speak with a particular lawyer over the phone. This lawyer was known in the legal community as ‘the Pterodactyl’ due to her screeching at other lawyers. If she called the firm, all the assistants knew not to bother putting the call through to the lawyer responsible for that matter. They would politely say, “It is our policy that all communications are to be in writing”, and hang up.

I was shocked when I met this lawyer at court one day. She was pleasant enough. I think she even complimented my shoes. I didn’t understand why my firm had a ‘policy’ to deal with her. That was, until I had a matter against her.

She wasn’t just rude; she was abusive. She called my client a liar. She called me a liar. She said my correspondence was “bordering on unethical” because I had asked for some documents and included a deadline. She made continual threats. These ranged from making a complaint to the law society to seeking numerous personal cost orders against me. As a baby lawyer, I would be lying if I said I had Teflon skin. I was terrified of this woman. When I saw an email waiting for me the next morning from her, I would sweat. I would make sure every email and letter was immaculate and I wrote a transcript for every conversation I had with her. I would lie in bed thinking about the threats I had received from her that day, thinking I would lose my practising certificate before the ink was even dry. Whatever confidence I did have when I started practising was quickly evaporating.

That was, until I realised the threats stemmed from her insecurity. She was a generalist practitioner, did not specialise in that particular area of law and had only been practising in that field for about a year. She was also a sole practitioner. I was exclusively practising in that area of law and had access to experienced lawyers to advise and mentor along the way. The aggression was a mechanism to prove to her client that she was advocating strongly on their behalf and deafen her ineptitude. I am all for ‘faking it till you make it’; however, I had never seen a senior lawyer act this way. There is no need to. It doesn’t help your client and it doesn’t help you. It puts other lawyers off side and makes you feel more isolated in, what can be, a lonely industry.

Now, I do not engage with these practitioners when they carry on. Sometimes, I remind them of the legal profession rules (and very rarely, threaten to make my own justified complaint to the law society).  However, most of the time I now say “put it in writing” and hang up.

Authenticity: A power equally available to all

original

By Bernadette Healy

I have just finished a little book written by Oliver Sacks, entitled Gratitude.  The book contains four very short essays written in the last two years of the author’s life; three of them were written in the knowledge that he was dying, and the last piece was published in The New York Times only two weeks before his death.

I wouldn’t characterise the essays as amazing in a literary sense, nor ground-breaking in the way of his famous medical narrative books: Awakenings and The man who mistook his wife for a hat.  The essays are not particularly intellectually challenging either, although the essay My periodic table certainly gives a wonderful insight into both Sacks’ long-standing and favourite academic areas, and his intellectual capacity more generally.

I did however, find them extraordinary in the sense that they are an exquisite representation of the power of conscious authenticity.  (There is also a deceptive simplicity and quiet beauty to them, and most definitely a spirituality.)

What do I mean by conscious authenticity?  I think that this is almost a developmental concept; that is, it is something which will unfold over time. It can be fostered but not compelled, and it is subject to individual variation – for some never achieved.  Conscious authenticity incorporates two important parts.  Firstly, there is a sort of hurdle requirement related to an advanced knowing and acceptance of one’s self. Secondly it is the ability to consciously interact in the world and make decisions about potential actions therein by constantly referring back to that knowledge base of what really constitutes the genuine, non-contrived, ‘I’.  This to-ing and fro-ing of experiencing and deciding is done with the awareness that there is always a choice, and that each chosen action or direction is more or less consistent with that something of which we have a sense, as being truly us.  When we consult with ourselves and act accordingly, we feel a formidable power both within ourselves, and, I believe, by others. This power of enacted authenticity is equally available to all.

Unfortunately, many people become so caught up in living the life they think they ought to be leading – rather than the life that is uniquely theirs to be led – that a dilution of their personal potential results. Even when absolutely driven by one of the myriad forces that can motivate individuals, if such a force is not really yours – such as when your motivation is primarily to become what your parents would have you become or what your partner thinks you should do – then eventually a depletion of the self may occur, leaving one feeling a sense of loss and even a sense of betrayal of the self.  Even worse perhaps, is a pervasive sense of there being an unknown something else which is felt as beyond one’s grasp.   This is a difficult – though common – transition to experience and work through.  It can be achieved by honest reflection and review combined with a preparedness to make different decisions than previously – those which are about leading the life that is uniquely yours.

This of course is a long process.  Sacks shares quite personal material about some of the important decision points in his life’s journey, but what makes the book extraordinary is that we come to know the importance that writing and sharing his story held for him, and of his clear sense of what he wished to impart in this, his final work.

This becomes a work in itself; of the power of choosing to be authentic.

 

Soaring through the law

Terminus A6 e-flyer

Katharine Kilroy

As lawyers – or in my case, aspiring lawyers – we are all too aware of the pressures and mental health risks we face. Ours is a stressful profession, and the need to be mindful of our wellbeing and proactive in maintaining a work/life balance is paramount. Each individual has their own approach to this challenge, and for the creatively inclined among us, it can be an even greater challenge.

Music was one of the first casualties of my decision to study law. Throughout my childhood and undergraduate studies, I had discovered and nurtured a love of classical music performance – although I will readily admit I was not destined for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I fell in love with orchestral music the first time I experienced the ecstasy of performance. There is a moment, not always attained, when the music works. When the orchestra becomes greater than the sum of its parts and explodes in perfect harmony. The feeling as a musician is indescribable. Your chest swells, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you achieve simultaneous clarity and euphoria. It is thrilling, addictive and so much more.

The move across to law school and the loss of my music was a terrible wrench. Although I was shortly consumed by the demanding law curriculum, I was also half-heartedly googling community orchestras, wondering whether I could ever again find a place in my life for music. In between the mountains of assigned reading and the copious hours of study I felt obliged to put in every day, the law had established a monopoly on my time. It wasn’t making for a particularly joyful first semester.

The light returned with the golden glint of a treble clef worn around the neck of a classmate. This kindred spirit told me about Lawchestra and gave me the nudge I needed to drag my viola back out of the cupboard. In Lawchestra, I have discovered many a like-minded lawyer-musician. Together we take time out from the pressures of work and study to meet and make glorious, uplifting music.

Lawchestra are looking forward to our first performance of the year, Terminus which will be our greatest performance yet.

Terminus brings together Lawchestra, Habeas Chorus (the choir of Melbourne’s legal industry) and Monash University Choral Society for two epic works, Mozart’s sublime Requiem and the Melbourne premiere of Australian composer Dan Walker’s Last Verses which is based on the final works of some of history’s greatest poets. The performance celebrates life and rallies against death, showcasing the final step of the journey. It promises to be a spectacular event.

One cannot always pick when the moment of perfection will come. When everything clicks and the music begins to soar. It is transcendent, euphoric and amidst the majesty of St Paul’s, I cannot begin to imagine its power. Come and join us, for it shall be incomparable.

As part of Law Week, BottledSnail Productions presents Terminus at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday 21 May 2016 (3pm and 7pm) see http://www.bottledsnail.com/terminus for tickets and more information.

BottledSnail Productions is an organisation that seeks to promote mental wellbeing in Melbourne’s legal industry through supporting and producing creative and performing art projects. It has staged musicals, comedy shows, theatre productions and runs many musical ensembles throughout the year.

Terminus is supported by a Law Week grant from Victoria Law Foundation and sponsored by Your Law Firm.

Katharine Kilroy is a third year Juris Doctor student at the University of Melbourne and plays viola in the Melbourne Lawyer’s Orchestra.

How free are you to be yourself at work?

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By Bernadette Healy

Anxiety and issues around levels of responsibility are two of the most common reasons why lawyers attend counselling:[1]

  • Anxiety is often reported as a non-specific kind of experience and is frequently associated with symptoms such as constant scanning of your personal world for possible signs of future threat, excessive worrying about past situations, and negative thoughts such as concerns about failure and approval-seeking and physical sensations such as agitation.
  • Troubling feelings related to responsibility include: taking on too much responsibility and wondering how the effort to ‘keep all the balls in the air’ can be maintained; stress around too much responsibility combined with too little autonomy particularly with regard to decision-making scope; and issues around inconsistency about responsibility such as seeking high task responsibility but resisting or struggling with taking responsibility for personal reactions.

Early in the counselling process it is very common for lawyers (and others who have highly developed thinking skills) to intellectualise difficult situations and to resist or be unaware of the feelings underlying their thoughts about the difficulty.

Obviously thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all connected but the feeling aspect tends to be neglected, particularly for those working in professions where rationality and intellectual capacity are greatly prized. This neglect can lead to a general feeling of being cut off from oneself and others, and from the full range of your own feelings.

Cutting off and distancing behaviours are more likely to happen when work roles have associated expectations about feelings which are at odds with our own. In some cases it may be that work demands that one ought not to have any feeling responses at all.

Hoschchild[2] suggests that organisations turn emotional responses into commodities through the ‘purchase’ of expectation implicit in the job description.  Emotional labour is a term used by Hoschchild to describe the effort required by individuals to either exhibit a particular emotional response which not actually being felt, or suppress a felt emotion in order to satisfy work role expectations.

This behaviour is expected within many workplaces in which certain emotions cannot be displayed, in order that a particular outward appearance is maintained. Emotional labour is further described as either requiring surface acting or deeper acting. Surface acting is when we fake an emotional reaction in order to fool others in the interest of performing a work role, but we are not deceiving ourselves.  Deep acting happens at an internal psyche level when we attempt to alter how we feel or experience a situation in order to comply with work role expectations.

Feeling compelled to sustain deep acting over a prolonged period – which is done as a means of dispelling dissonance between expected work self and self – eventually leads to issues such as alienation, burnout and inauthenticity. [3]

In addition to being mindful of the extent to which your organisation may be buying a particular emotional response from you, it is important that you manage your own wellbeing by making sure that you do not self-commodify.  In other words you need to make sure that you know who you are and how you feel and how to remain true to that while in your professional role.

As with any self-improvement or even self-care process, you need to start with self-reflection in order to increase your understanding of yourself, including identifying your values and core beliefs.  This will help you to predict and prepare for possible values clashes and triggering situations at work, and to work out to what extent you may be using ‘deep acting’ to reduce the dissonance between yourself and your organisation’s expectation of you.

[1] Based on my own practice experience

[2] The managed heart Commercialization of human feeling,(2003)

[3] Rebecca, Erickson Christian Ritter  2001  Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2 pp. 146-163