Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The "F" Word

This past weekend, there were 7 of us at Disney for the Princess Half Marathon weekend.  We were all there to have fun.  We all did have fun, a lot of it.  The interesting thing is that if you asked us to tell you what we meant by "fun," you would have gotten 3 different answers.  For my Mom, "fun" meant spending time with family and friends, enjoying good food, riding a few select rides, and not standing in long lines in big crowds.  For my Aunt and 2 cousins, "fun" meant spending time with family and friends, enjoying good food, and cramming as many rides as possible into each day at the parks.  For the 3 runners, "fun" meant spending time with family and friends, enjoying good food, getting to bed early, soaking in the experience of the Princess races and enjoying the race.  Our three definitions of "fun" have some characteristics in common, but they are very different.  We all had fun.  Think what kind of a time we would have had if we had expected that everyone in our group had the same definition of fun.  Mom would have been miserable wading through the crowds to ride on just one more ride.  My Aunt would have felt she was missing out on the experience of the parks if she had only ridden a few rides.  I would have resented missing out on the race experience for the sake of a couple of rides.  The point is that if all of us had expected the others to share our definition of "fun," we would have all had a terrible time.

Here in the Trenches, we have another "f" word:  fair.  Every client who walks in my door says they want to be fair, they just want what's fair.  They use that word as though everyone gave that word the same definition.  Kind of like the word "fun," isn't it?  Sure is.  The difficulty arises because the client usually thinks their spouse defines "fair" the same as they.  The spouse usually doesn't.  If the client holds onto the concept of "fair" and the notion that word means the same thing to everyone, then they are destined to be disappointed and frustrated from start to finish.  Besides, it's not really about what's fair, because it's not fair to sign up for happily ever after and find out that ever after is not forever.  It's about what is acceptable.  "Acceptable" is an easier word, because most people understand that what is acceptable is particular to each person and is not universal.  Changing the word changes the focus and removes the emotions that go with the word "fair."  Because, really, the choice of words means everything.  Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lessons From a Princess

It's been here.....and it's gone.  I'm talking about the Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend.  I came away with 3 finisher medals, 3 race t-shirts, and a horrible head cold.  Lesson number 1  - if you keep going from 80 degree heat into your sub zero hotel room, you will get sick.  Were there other lessons from this weekend?  Of course there were.

Anyone who ever said you don't learn from victory was just plain wrong.  Maybe the lessons aren't as obvious, but they're still there.  Let's take the woman who won the race, in record breaking time, no less.  She's a former Olympian and she smoked the course, knocking 6 minutes off the old record.  What she had to say at the end of the race was that it took her a while to get used to the relaxed atmosphere of the Princess Half.  She was used to a huge competitive feeling at the start.  It's not there at Disney because it's not that kind of race.  She also said it was disconcerting running by herself:  usually there is a pack of competitors with her to help her pace.  She said it took her a few miles to get used to the changes and adapt.  Lesson learned if she runs a Disney race again.

In terms of costumes, we learned a lot, both from personal experience and from watching others.  If it's not practical, don't wear it.  Tulle tutus look great but get caught between your legs.  Wearing a heavy wig or hat is not a good idea - ever.  Sometime, the suggestion of a character is better than a full blown rendition, especially at mile 10 of 13.1.

What did we learn about running?  In general, we learned that preparation and training are everything - unless you're 21, in which case it doesn't matter because you will finish anyway.  The front of the starting corral is always better than the middle or back.  It is better to be placed in a corral because of a qualifying time than because you guessed at your finish time.  Getting past "the bus" is key (for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, "the bus" is really a bus, and it pulls out in front of the runners at strategic points in the race when the runners behind it have no chance of finishing the race within the time requirements.  If you can get past the one or more buses, you are home free, because then they let you finish, no matter what.).

Here in the Trenches, we see plenty of 21 year olds who acted before they thought.  Most of them bounce back because 21 year olds are resilient.  They may or may not learn anything from the experience, but they bounce back a lot easier than our older clients.   Here were my take aways that apply to the Trenches:

1.  It doesn't matter whether you look at your family law dispute as a victory or as a loss.  There are lessons to be learned regardless.

2.  Learning what you don't want to do next time is perhaps more important that focusing on what you did right this time. That's not to say you shouldn't savor your victories, but if you can learn how to avoid the things that caused you pain or conflict, it might be more valuable in the long run.

3.  Preparation is key.  Rushing into things without preparing properly, unless you're 21 years old like my daughter, is not a good idea.  You may feel fine at the beginning, but as time goes on, you will feel the lack of preparation.  Yes, this has to do with the Trenches.  I can't begin to tell you how many   people rush out of one relationship and into another, without really pondering why their last relationship failed.  They are usually followed by the people who don't examine what they added to the ending of their last relationship. They are our repeat customers, and for all the same reasons.  Had these folks learned from what went wrong, chances are they could have avoided making the same mistakes again.  Sure, they would probably make different ones, and that's human nature.  The key is learning from what didn't work, and thus, increasing your chances of success.

4.  Success is not always winning.  Sometimes, success is trying.  It's crossing the starting line and taking the chance of making mistakes.  As long as you learn from them, it's never wasted effort.

5.  It takes a village to win: the right kind of village.  This year's Princess winner had years of coaches helping her and people supporting her to improve.  Why should she be any different than the rest of us?  The key is having the right kind of support.  The Princess winner had people who told her what she did wrong, helped her to learn what to do right, and worked with her to improve.  She didn't surround herself with people who reinforced her bad habits and told her she didn't need to change a thing.   She had people tell her hard truths....and she listened to them.

We can all learn from a Princess (or 3).  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Do Disney Princesses Have Expectations?

May we talk a little bit more about managing expectations?  This weekend is the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend.  I am running in the Inaugural Glass Slipper Challenge - a 10k on Saturday, followed by the half marathon on Sunday.  Yes, both in costume.  I'll post pictures, I promise.  This year, the friend who was going to run with me last year and my daughter are running as well.  I have three expectations for these races - I am going to finish, I will not injure myself, and most of all, I will have fun.  I don't care how fast (or slow) I run.  I'm there for the experience and the friends and family.  This attitude worked great last year.  I was ridiculously slow, but I finished and had fun.

My friend is Competitive with a capital "C".  She is fierce.  It serves her very well here in the Trenches.  It scares her to death thinking of the race.  She was not born a runner, and in fact, until yours truly stuck the idea of the Disney Princess into her head, she'd probably never thought about running.  Now, she really likes it.  Problem is that she's not finished a race.  She knows how she is - did I mention she's fierce?  She's worried she won't be successful at Disney.  She won't finish.  It scares her.  Running both the 10k and the half were overwhelming.  She recognized what was happening, and decided her goal was to run the 10k.  She would do as much of the half marathon as she could, and if they picked her up off the course because she was too slow, it was OK.  Daughter and I are going to run with her on the 10k.  We'll all get across the finish line.....and we'll have fun doing it.  I'm really proud of her.  Why?  Because she adjusted her expectations.  She looked at where she was in her training and ability and realized that if she continued to push to run both races, she would finish neither.  What's more, she would make herself miserable and the racing experience would be no fun.  She did what a normal, healthy and rational person would do - she adjusted her expectations to fit the reality of the situation.  The 10k will be a challenge, but in a good way.  My friend will have lots of fun and test herself in the process.  All is right with the world.

Here in the Trenches, our clients are faced with challenges.  Their lives are changing in ways they never imagined.  It all feels overwhelming.  Unlike my friend, however, they are not rational.  Their emotions are raw; their nerves are shot.  They want it all.  They are afraid to settle for less than they need.  They can't think clearly, at least not on their own.  They need help to calmly examine their options.  They need guidance to weigh the pros and cons.  They want someone to help them do what my friend did all on her own - adjust their expectations so they can determine what they need and how to get it.  That's what we do; act as their guide and help them develop realistic expectations.  Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snow, Please Melt!

Another week and a few more problems with my laptop.  As much as I love my MacBook, I really don't love planned obsolesce. It's only 3 years old, and already it is too slow, without added RAM, to run a newer generation of operating system (which it needed to do after the hard drive crashed).  Argh.  The new RAM arrived last night, and I installed it.  I was so looking forward to sharing with you all again.  Then, it still didn't work right.  It's behaving right now, so I'm typing feverishly.  I'm sure I could be more frustrated, but it would be difficult.  Thanks for letting me rant.  Now onto business.

We've had terrible weather here in Maryland.  Snow, sleet, snow and more snow.  I haven't had to do any weight lifting because shoveling snow off the stairs leading to my second story front door has taken its place.  I am so ready for spring.  Last night we had another 2-3 inches of snow, and then today temperature got up to 50 degrees.  That's right, 50 degrees.  Tomorrow promises to be more of the same.  I was excited.  It would be great to run outside without a balaclava and mittens.  i was psyched.  Then I got home.  It takes more than one 50 degree day to melt a foot and a half of snow.  The roads were still narrowed by snow.  There was still some ice on the sidewalk.  There were snow mounds on the corners.  I couldn't run here at home.  I was bummed.....kind of like our clients here in the Trenches, don't you think?

Here they are, stuck in unhappy marriages.  Day by day, they become more unhappy with their spouse and the marriage.  Every day, they move closer to deciding to separate and divorce.  Then, one day, they make the decision.  They separate.  They work hard at reaching a settlement with their spouse.  It's a miserable time.  Their emotions run high and conflict.  They can't wait until it's all over.   Then, one day it is.  They wake up, newly single.  They expect everything to be great.  After all, it's what they worked toward.  Funny thing, though, it's not so great.  Sure, life's better, but it's not fantastic.  They're confused, and a lot of times, they get depressed.  Surely, it's the let down from all the activity of the divorce, they tell themselves. It will go away by tomorrow. It won't and it's not.  That's unrealistic.  It's like seeing that one 50 degree day and expecting the snow to magically disappear.  That much snow doesn't melt that quickly, and clients don't get over a divorce just because a judge signs a piece of paper.  It takes time, and sometimes, you just need to let grief, death and rebirth take their course.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Do You Measure Success?

A few years ago,  I was appointed as a pre-judgment parent coordinator in a case, but I was only somewhat successful in helping these parents reach a parenting schedule.  To tell the truth, I felt a bit like a failure about it.  They were nice people, with obviously different gifts and strengths to share with their child.  They were polarized by anger, by their differing communication styles, and their attorneys.  Yes, I said their attorneys.  They both had very good, but highly combative attorneys.       Fast forward a year and a half, and they called me to help resolve a child support issue.  Sort of parenting related, so I made the appointment.  They came in today.  They have two different lawyers, same communication problems, and the anger is still there.  We made a lot of progress.  We'll resolve the issue.
I took a lot away from our mediation.  It drove home that success is measured in many ways.  No, they didn't resolve their initial parenting issues with me, but obviously, we built enough trust in each other and the process that even though they were back in court, they both thought I could help them avoid a contested hearing.  I was successful with them a year and a half ago, even though it didn't feel that way at the time.  I measured success by reaching a solution; they measured success by having a safe place to talk, and someone to help reframe what they said so the other could hear.  They also both liked that I helped them weight their options by playing "what if" with them in a way none of their attorneys would (more on that in a minute).  I helped them deal with the conflict so they could focus on resolving the dispute.  Even though they may continue to have disputes, I think they are successful as well because they both recognize they need to resolve their dispute and need help doing it, and they both agree on who they trust to help them.  That is incredibly huge and healthy. These folks will ultimately be OK.  They will never like each other, but they can manage their conflict, and to me, that's success.
The other piece of my work with this couple was disturbing - between them, they had been represented by four different lawyers.  They don't like or trust any of them.  They thought their lawyers were out to drag out their case in order to increase fees.  They both laughed that the least true thing their attorneys said was that they weren't doing anything on their case "to save them money." They knew their case was being ignored.  They said they would email their attorneys and would never get a definitive answer; they figured it was to keep it so that they didn't have enough information to solve their own problem - it was to keep them dependent.  They felt comfortable telling me this even though I'm an attorney too.  To them, I was different and not like their attorneys.  I'm glad that they thought I wasn't like all the others.  I'm sad that they had to make the distinction.  If only we could see ourselves the way others see us.  Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let's Look Out For Each Other, Shall We?

When people ask me how long I've been practicing collaborative divorce, my answer is 20 years.  That's how long I've been practicing exclusively in the area of family law.  I say that, not in the sense of the relatively new dispute resolution mechanism, but in the more general and commonly understood sense.  In my office, a problem shared is a problem on its way to being solved.  The only way that can happen is if everyone is working toward the same goal.  That goal may be resolving the issues around the end of a marriage or deciding on a parenting plan for the children.  It may be learning to communicate effectively with others.  It may be healing.  The point is that the goal could be anything.  Everyone involved has to be committed to reaching it.  That is the point.  We work as a team because we want the same things.  We each do our jobs and work to our strengths to reach the goal.  Sometimes the team is the client and the attorney.  Sometimes it's two attorneys and two clients.  Sometimes the team involves a mediator, a broker or a coach. Sometimes it is a full collaborative team.  What the team looks like doesn't really matter, so long as everyone acts like a team and shares the vision.  Then everyone is free to problem solve and reality check because it's safe and supported.  We get some of our best ideas and most creative solutions that way.  Why would anyone with a problem settle for anything less?  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Risking Life and Limb

The weather is kicking our butts here.  For the second time in two weeks, Frederick County closed the courthouse.  Not that I blame them.  Frederick County has some of the worst snow removal services in Maryland.  Today, we had ice.  So much ice that trees fell across one of the main streets of Frederick.  After I crawled across the deck to help puppy girl over the bridge to the backyard and slid my way across the sidewalk to get to my car, I decided that there was nothing so important to risk my life over.  The client I was supposed to meet did not agree.  Really?  I do many things for my clients.  Risk my life?  Not one of them.

That client's unrealistic expectations about whether I should risk my life to travel to the office matches the unrealistic expectations this client has about what I am supposed to do.  This client doesn't work with me.  This client doesn't want to take responsibility for their own decisions.  That's my job.  That way,  there's someone to blame when things go wrong, and it's not the client.  Some days it's hard to love my job.  Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I Love Facebook.....

Can we talk social media?  I like social media.  No, no, no, not for the usual reasons a family law attorney likes it - great source of evidence.  I really like social media.  Used correctly, it's wonderful.  I post my blog on Facebook and Twitter.  Colleagues post articles pertinent to the Trenches.  We have conversations about Divorce Corp on Linked In.  We share ideas.  Our listservs allow us to help each other with sticky issues.  Imagine having all those colleagues' brains to pick!  Then, there's the personal level.  Facebook allows us to put to rest old misunderstandings from high school, and reconnect with friends from sleep away camp.  We can see what interests our children.  We can share our joys, our fears and our pain, and know someone is listening and cares.  Isn't it amazing?  I know, it's hard to sift out the random thoughts, the posts from the cereal aisle of the supermarket, the sharing that no one should really share.  Those moments that count - the chances to heal, the opportunity to reconnect, the sharing of joy and pain - make social media worthwhile.  Remember, I also like it as a family law attorney, so share responsibly.  Here in the Tenches.