P’s Have More Fun

Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?  It’s a personality assessment instrument that’s based on the theories of Karl Jung, and it has pretty much permeated the professional world.  This is the instrument that measures you on the parameters of introvert/extravert, intuitive/sensing, feeling/thinking and perceiving/judging.

I personally love the MBTI.  It’s given me a lot of insight into work, relationships and how to manage myself for optimal living.  There’s a chapter on it in my book, The Creative Lawyer.  (Stay tuned for my “Celebrity MBTI Profiles!” Coming soon.)

One of the Myers-Briggs dichotomies is perceiving/judging. This relates to attitudes about closure. People with a preference for perceiving like to keep on perceiving data.  They are seen as spontaneous, don’t mind and may even enjoy last-minute changes, and can have lots of things up in the air without feeling stressed.  What they don’t like is being overscheduled or forced to make decisions too quickly. 

People with a preference for judging like to know where they stand.  They prefer to make decisions and get things done.  Once they have a reasonable amount of data, they are impatient to move on.  They are organized and orderly, and show up on time.  They are usually the ones who know the proper way to load the dishwasher.

I’m a big J.  I’m good at working at not so good at playing, unless I schedule it. (Sad!) The one exception is when I’m on an overseas trip. I can easily while away a day or week in Istanbul or Chittagong; having fun at home in New York City is another matter entirely.

Recently, in a J-like effort to improve my fun quotient (J’s often create “programs” for self-improvement), I’ve been doing some shock therapy by hanging with some P-friends for entire days at a time. P’s are excellent at having fun.

My first Fun Coaching experience was with Faith Adiele (MBTI type INFP), famous writer and my close friend since 1982, when we met in the Freshman Union at Harvard the day the Boston Herald announced “Reds Brez Dead.” 

We recently spent an entire day hanging out in NYC.  First we went to a Weight Watchers meeting.  Then we had lunch with a mutual friend.  Then we saw The Jane Austin Book Club, which was lame but it passed the time.  Then we sat in the café of the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art.  Then we went to Soho and walked around.  Then we went to Pearl River Department Store and I bought tropical gummy candies.  Then we had bubble tea.  Then we met famed documentarian Bennett Singer for dinner at a Persian restaurant.  (Only the first and last activities were planned. The rest were spontaneous.)  I periodically felt urges to go home or do some lame kind of work, like check email, but Coach Faith kept me on track!

My second Fun Coach experience was with famed criminal defense lawyer, Laila Sharif (MBTI type ESTP).  Laila invited me to a day of shopping at the Woodbury Common Outlet Stores.  She was going to rent a car and everything.  I honestly found the prospect of going to Woodbury Common scary and disturbing, but I love spending time with Laila and thought it might be pretty to drive out to wherever Woodbury Common is.  I was sure there would be some trees and stuff, and not just unhealthy people from the suburbs.

Laila was in a shopping vortex that day, so we ended up spending like 7 hours at the Woodbury Common outlets, which turned out to be truly high-end outlets, not just shlocky fake outlets.  I accompanied her from store to store, supplying helpful male-point-of-view comments like, “That looks good on you, you should buy it” and “that makes your boobs look weird, which are otherwise fabulous.” We had lunch together and inspired a table of 20-somethings with Coach Store nametags with our nutritious choices.  Left on my own, I would have high-tailed it outta there after an hour, but under the supportive yet firm leadership of Coach Laila, I stuck it out.  And I liked it!

J’s of the world, if you feel a fun deficit, ask one of your P friends for help.  In fact, if you are in the market for a Fun Coach I would recommend you make said person take the Myers-Briggs assessment, and toss out all the J’s (like me).  J’s are great for getting things done, but when it comes to fun P’s are king. 

Create a Right-Brain File

When people come to me to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, they typically arrive with one of two mindsets. Either they have lots of ideas, and don’t know how to figure out which one they should pursue; or they don’t have any ideas at all, and want to get some. 

One method that can help you, regardless of what category you are in, is to create a “Right-Brain File.”

A Right-Brain File is a way to collect data that you aren’t ready to process. It’s a way to let your subconscious do the work for you. A Right-Brain File is based on the premise that applying your analytical skills, alone, won’t get you the life you want. As I wrote in my recent book, The Creative Lawyer, when it comes to creating a great life, thinking is overrated. That’s where the Right-Brain File comes in. It’s a way of thinking without, well, thinking.

What you put into your Right-Brain File is anything that tickles your fancy. It could be an article, a photo, a travel brochure, an email, an overheard snatch of dialogue. My Right-Brain File consists mainly of articles, but that’s just me. What you put into your Right-Brain File might excite you, it might intrigue you, it might make you boil with envy, it might just make you say, “huh.” There’s something there, you’re just not sure what. And the key is: don’t think about it. Just put it in the file.

Later, once your file has grown, take a look at what you’ve collected. What do you see? Any patterns, inspirations, insights?  What you have is a record of what your right brain—the intuitive, associative, non-logical part of you—has noticed. It’s been noticing things, even if you haven’t been able to put words around it. Indeed, sometimes avoiding putting words around your impulses is one of the best ways to let them develop. 

Create a Right-Brain File, and see what your mind comes up with when it’s not thinking. Here’s what I put into my Right-Brain File yesterday morning. 

What’s in yours? 

Have you been upgraded to the Valley Wing (and not realize it)?

When I was checking into the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, I asked the front-desk person, “Is it possible to get a room with one king-size bed rather than two double beds?” I get kind of creeped out sleeping by myself in rooms with two beds.

He looked doubtful. But then after clicking on his computer for a few minutes, he announced that he could comply with my request and that I’d been upgraded to the Valley Wing.

“That’s nice,” I said, though the phrase “Valley Wing” meant nothing to me. Still, you gotta love the word “upgrade.”

My room in the Valley Wing was really nice. Extremely spacious and sort of classic-looking but brand new at the same time. The bathroom was divine. There were many interesting things to investigate, like the automatic blackout curtains and shoeshine kit.

Since I was spending a relatively large percentage of my earnings upgrading my airfare and hotel, I decided that economizing was in order. So, the next morning I made coffee in my room with the free coffee provided, and deferred eating until later. Internet access was free in the lobby, so I hung out for some time in the lovely gilded Valley Wing lobby checking up on things. Several times I was asked by the exquisitely coiffed lobby hostesses if I would like a coffee, cappuccino or tea, but I smilingly resisted their blandishments. I didn’t want to spend seven bucks for a cup of coffee after spending three hundred dollars a night on my room.

The second morning I splurged on the breakfast buffet, since felt it important to be well-nourished in order to perform several hours of workshops. I’ve seen a lot of breakfast buffets in my time, but nothing like what the Shangri-La provided. It really defies description. There were a lot of food choices, very artfully provided. It cost about forty bucks, but I felt it was a reasonable investment.

The fourth morning, as I checked email in the lobby, I was again asked if I would like something. My workshops done, I decided to treat myself with a cappuccino. The cappuccino came in a little Wedgwood cup, with a glass of water and a cookie on the side. Yummy! Afterwards, I asked for whatever I needed to sign. 

“No, sir, there’s nothing to sign.” It turned out beverages were free in the lobby of the Valley Wing.

The fifth and final morning, since I was flying later in the day, I again went to the breakfast buffet. However, I wanted to be intentional about my spending. After the waiter asked for my room number, I asked, “Do you have an a la carte menu?”

“We do have an a la carte menu,” the elegantly dressed waiter said.  “But you are staying in the Valley Wing and your breakfast is included. So you can have the buffet if you want. Either way.”

So there you have it. All week I had been resisting the offers and entreaties of the Shangri-La. “Not for me,” I’d thought, marveling at my self-control and financial focus. “I’m spending three hundred dollars a night and not a penny more!” Yet all along, the free, lovingly made beverages and buffets were mine for the taking. It just never occurred to me that such things were possible.

It’s easy to think that we are only going to get things in life if we struggle for them, and that the outside world is our opponent rather than our collaborator. But what if it’s more complex than that? What if we’ve already been upgraded to the Valley Wing? What if the world is waiting, in some way, to help and support us. Can we let ourselves see it?

What I learned from Madeleine L’Engle

Here’s what I learned from reading the obituary of Madeline L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, who recently passed away at age 88:  she didn’t write this massively bestselling book until after she was 40.  In fact, in her thirties her writing career was going so badly that she thought she might give it up.  The novel itself was rejected 26 times before finding a publisher.  How’s that for inspiration?

If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time, you have missed out on one of the great experiences of childhood.  It is practically the awesomest book ever.  So go out and get a copy! 

I can still remember how I felt in fourth grade when Mrs. Thacher read our class a chapter each afternoon after lunch to help us cool down.  (This was at Navajo Elementary in Scottsdale, Arizona; given the midday temperatures lunch recess resulted in my daily entering a state of heat exhaustion and borderline mental illness).  As she read the novel, I was transported. 

A Wrinkle in Time is a book that’s both intense and easy to read. It’s about a girl named Meg who steps through a tesseract – a wrinkle in time – to a parallel universe in order to find her missing father, who despite his PhD can’t save himself.  Meg is accompanied on this journey by her eerie genius 6-year old brother Charles Wallace.  They meet characters named Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which, and find a planet run by an evil force where all the children creepily bounce balls with exactly the same rhythm. Lots of other stuff happens. 

Now that I think about it, Meg’s journey is sort of a metaphor for career growth and transition.  She’s plunged into uncertainty and weirdness, her parents can’t really help her, and she gradually discovers that she has talents she’s never really seen or valued.  The whole journey is scary and dangerous but far better than living on the planet of people who bounce balls with exactly the same rhythm! 

When asked in an interview how she came up with the idea for A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle said, “I think that fantasy must possess the author and simply use him.”  She then added, “I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice.” 

When reading this quote I thought of myself.  I thought of the time I have spent wondering why I’ve made the decisions I have, both in work and love – basically why am me, as I am, rather than a different version of me. 

What if we thought about the ways life possesses us rather than always thinking the ways we are supposed to possess it?  In other words, what is sometimes life is in charge rather than us?

Focusing on what we can do in our lives – as they are now — rather than endlessly wondering why we are here, or why we’re not somewhere else – opens up possibilities. Maybe you can write a book that goes into (literally) 69 printings.  Or maybe you can just bounce your ball to your own personal rhythm.   

How jet lag can improve your life

I’ve popped over to Singapore to do some workshops for the National University of Singapore business school.  With a 12-hour time difference, you can’t really fight jet lag – you just have to give into it.   But jet lag isn’t all bad.

The mindful pleasures of ironing

What do you do when you are fully awake at 4:30 am?  I ironed my clothes.  Slowly and carefully, since I had a lot of time to kill.  First my suit and tie; then all my dress shirts; then my jeans.  I lovingly attended to every ironing detail.  And you know what?  I felt really happy. 

Mindfulness is being in the moment.  “Now I am ironing,” the mindful mind observes.  “Now I am turning the sleeves inside out because I once heard that’s what you are supposed to do.  Now I am attending to the collar.  I am doing these things rather than thinking about global warming, or whether I will forget my passport when I check out.” 

Buddhism holds that the monkey mind is always part of ourselves—the monkey mind being the voice that constantly judges and raises points of dissatisfaction.  The way to freedom is not to talk ourselves out of vexing questions, but to rise above them by attending to the moment.  In this case, ironing.

New frontiers of exercise and community

After a big travel stint last year, I ended up with back pain, weird sleep patterns, and, let’s be honest, constipation.  So I decided to go to a Bikram Yoga class since there is a Bikram studio in Singapore.

Normally when I think about going to a hot sweaty 90 minute yoga class, I mentally seesaw for several hours asking myself should I go, will I like it, is there enough time.  But with jet lag, I had a lot of time as well as great urgency to do something constructive. 

So I went, and it was awesome.  “Say hello to Michael from New York, everybody,” the peppy instructor said.  I sweated through my bad airplane juju energy, and felt great. 

Time to be and time to plan

When your body clock is off, you don’t automatically fall into the normal work, socialize, check email routine of our lives.  You have a fair number of hours when you are just hanging out. 

So after a lapse of several months, I returned to journaling my Artist’s Way-inspired “morning pages.”  I also spent a fair amount of time planning and replanning my day, to make sure I could do all the cool things that Singapore has to offer – taking advantage of delicious street food (which, in Singapore, is arranged in nice clean indoor food courts) and planning my trip to the Singapore Zoo’s night safari.  Plus getting ready for my workshops.  The end result was that I felt ready for my days, because I’d taken time just to reflect and anticipate, rather than just to jump in and bounce from activity to activity. 

Jet lag can make you gorgeous!

You can curse jet lag or  you can cheer it.  Notwithstanding the great street food, I haven’t been all that hungry so I’ve eaten lightly.  Plus I went to Bikram Yoga three times.  So I’ve lost like five pounds.  So now I’m coming back confident and trim rather than bloated and regretful.  Hooray for jet lag!

Dare to be peppy!

Peppy people in school

When I was in business school (I did a joint degree), my friend Polly Arenberg and I decided to name ourselves the two peppiest people at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

We did this not because of our inherent Pollyanna natures or our uncritical admiration for all thing b-school; quite the opposite.  We made this decision because we recognized we were in danger of falling under the sway of cynicism, and still had the clear vision to see that this would not be a good thing.

MBA students are very peppy.  They are high-energy, can-do people.  Compared with law students, they focus on execution more and analysis less. 

When we started business school, Polly and I felt different from the mass of b-school students, and one of the ways we were different is we were sometimes skeptical of jump-on-board group activities.  We felt proud of our critical faculties.  We understood the world.  And its difficult complexities.  More than others, anyway.

But then we realized that critical faculties can come at a cost.  We were holding ourselves back from what we were experiencing, and from what we were contributing. 

So we decided we would the two peppiest people at Stanford business school.  We also decided that our most dreaded class, Cost Accounting, was actually our favorite class.  “Are you ready to study for our favorite class?” one of us would ask.  “Omigod, I can’t wait to get started on our favorite class!” the other would reply.

Sometimes it was difficult to fulfill our mission.  Polly went on a study trip to Chile and Argentina with a group of b-school students.  “Let me tell you,” she wrote.  “It is quite a tall order to be the peppiest person amidst a group of people who are getting up at 6 to go jogging in downtown Santiago. Extreme levels of peppiness were evident.” 

Other times, people were not so supportive of our peppiness.  When we started something called The George Stephanopoulos Fan Club (this was back in the early Clinton days), and created our own fanzine, just for fun and the prospect of fame, some of our classmates thought we were incredibly witty and creative fun, and others thought we were kind of weird.  It sure opened us up, though, and we even got into People magazine (the issue with Darryl Hannah and JFK Junior).

Deciding you are going to be the peppiest person in your environment really does change the way it looks for you.  You choose one path – positive energy – over another – detached analysis.  You pull open the shades and let the light pour in, even if it might bleach out your expensive carpets.

To be a lawyer and decide that you are going to be known for being peppy takes courage, since peppiness is not always a culturally smiled-on characteristic.  But try it.  It gives you options, and you might like it.

Negativity is boring

Here’s a dialogue I’ve heard a lot of in New York.

Person 1:  Hi, I’m A.

Person 2:  Hi, A, I’m B.  What do you do?

Person1:  [eye roll]  I’m a lawyer.  I work for a [grimace] firm.   How about you?

Person 2:  Yeah.  [sharp, bitter laugh.]  Same here. 

Based on the foregoing, are you interested in speaking with these people in more depth?  Are you interested in learning about their interests, ambitions, dreams? 

Would you hire either of them?  Would you introduce them to your friends or colleagues?

Probably not.  Why not?  Because they both sound like pills!

There is a fair amount of negativity in the legal profession, especially among lawyers who work for elite urban firms.  While individual lawyers may think they are simply responding to real things in their own experience, I would argue that they are more likely acting out a particular cultural norm.  Speaking negatively about one’s own career is a kind of ghetto norm, from the particular ghetto of educated urban lawyers who work for firms.

Communicating in this way doesn’t do much for you.  The tiny frisson of grown-up cynicism that you might experience the first time you dog your own career dissipates pretty fast.  The same goes for any kind of consciousness-raising that might emerge the first time you discover that, yes, some other lawyers out there have career and life frustrations. 

As a career coach, I can tell you that speaking through a filter of negativity significantly impedes your ability to move forward in life.  Negative people are unappealing to potential employers and coworkers.  Most people have enough issues already—they aren’t looking to acquire any of yours. Negativity is boring.  And it won’t help you move forward in your career.

Just because other people bond on the basis of negativity doesn’t mean that you have to.  Fundamentally, your career frustrations just aren’t that interesting.  On the other hand, your talents, gifts and ambitions may be very interesting.

Find a positive way to talk about yourself and your aspirations.  Your start may be as simple as saying, with a smile, “I’m A, and I’m a lawyer.”

Extraverts can be writers, too

People know me as an extraverted person.  I get energized by being around people and doing things in the world. When I think of my favorite foreign trips, I inevitably imagine myself walking in large exotic public spaces surrounded by throngs of people. Once in college I talked for eight hours in one day.  You get the picture.

Because my extraversion has always been so clear, I have often wondered whether I am the right kind of person to be a writer.  Writing usually happens when you are alone.  It requires a lot of concentration.  It takes a long time to get the words down, and then to edit them into the right shape.  You can talk over ideas but at some point, you need solitude.  Lots of it.

While introverts are 25% of the population, I am pretty sure that a significant majority of are introverts.  Introverts’ personalities are streamlined for the process of writing in the same way that super-studly Olympic champion Michael Phelps’s body is streamlined for the process of swimming.

Introverts rarely have resistance to the notion of spending time thinking by themselves or working by themselves.  For instance, my partner, who is a law professor, is an introvert.  He spends his days happily working on legal scholarship.  Ten hours after turning on his computer he is still at his desk, the only signs of physical movement an expanding set of empty coffee cups.

That is just not me!  I can sit still for maybe a couple of hours, max.  And even then I need to indulge in various kinds of self-bribery, most of which involve food.

And yet—my whole entire life I have been drawn toward writing.  As a 12-year old in California, I typed 150 pages of a novel (it was about a 12-year old character named “Michael Melcher” who lived in a townhouse in New York City and went to a special school for millionaires’ children).  I’ve continued writing, on both serious and wacky topics, ever since. Several years ago I wrote a novel with three other people (about a student prostitution ring at Harvard), and I just wrote a self-help and career-management book for lawyers.  Plus articles, travel emails, crazed letters to the editor . .. the whole nine yards.

My urge to write has persisted. Writing is not the thing that makes me most comfortable, but fulfillment and excitement are rarely about comfort.  When I do it, writing makes me very happy in a very unique way.   

So now, instead of wasting any time wondering whether writing is really me, I focus on creating the workarounds that enable me to write—I have lots of clever tricks (more on those, later). 

All this kinda makes me wonder how many of us put off pursuing things that excite us because they don’t seem to fit.  Instead of just making them fit. 

There are a lot of masterpieces of all kinds waiting to be created.  What would it be like to make them happen, rather than pondering the reasons you might not be able to?

Buddha on the Subway

This morning, when I was talking with a friend about life stuff, I remembered an exercise from a self-help book I once read. 

Try going through your day imagining that everyone you run into is more enlightened than you.  This means:  the post office clerk, your boss, your dog, the checkout girl chewing gum, the delivery boy, your kid, your spouse or partner, your assistant, the scary teenagers shouting on the subway.  Et cetera. 

Sound hard?  Actually, it’s easy.  It frees you from the burden of judgment. If you regard other people as more enlightened than yourself, you’re accepting that you don’t have all the answers, and don’t have to.

Instead of getting annoyed at the person who stands directly in front of the subway doors, you get curious about him—because he’s more enlightened than you are.  You start wondering about his thoughts, interests, gifts, what he’s struggled with, what he knows, who he loves, who loves him.  In a weird way, through this kind of observation, you join with the world, rather than detaching yourself from it. 

Making a practice of nonattribution

Changing your career (and life) involves seeking out the advice and assistance of a lot of people. You have to do a lot of initiating and it’s not always clear what is happening on the other side. This can lead to frustration. I often hear a version of the following sentence:

“Well, I sent an email to that person, and he didn’t answer.”

There are many alternate versions of this sentence: someone didn’t follow up; someone didn’t return a call; it was a great interview but nothing happened. Etc.

From my heady perch as New York’s coach to the stars, what I know is that these folks are getting all wrapped up in their own internal perceptions of what’s going on, which often has little to do with reality.

There is an inherent asymmetry to looking for a job, starting a business, or getting people enrolled in your new idea. Other people are busy, they are attending to their preexisting list of things to do, and, shocking as it seems, they all have their own issues. All this means that time passes more quickly for the asker than the asked, and your greatest priorities are not necessarily theirs

I tell my clients that a lack of response isn’t the same as a “no,” and that they should assume a 5:1 ratio of output to response. In other words, until you’ve made five attempts to contact someone, don’t start assuming they don’t want to deal with you. It’s awkward, I know, but that’s how life is.

A sales expert with very high emotional intelligence recently put it this way: “I try to make a practice of non-attribution.” This statement was in response to one of my colleagues who wondered what the heck was going on when a great initial meeting didn’t seem to lead to anything. “Maybe they were busy,” he said. “Maybe they have other things going on. I don’t know and you probably don’t know. Most of the time, I can’t know. So I try not to make attributions. It’s easier that way.”

I really dig this phrasing—“making a practice of non-attribution.” When you start attributing motives to people, you weigh yourself down. You complicate your thoughts and your interactions. You make yourself responsible for a whole other story line. You spend a lot of time strategizing rather than just, you know, doing stuff.

In contrast, when you avoid attributing motives, you lighten your own load. You take your own ego out of the equation. You increase your energies. So try it—the next time someone else makes you feel irritated, jerked around, ignored (and of course, they’re not making you this way, you’re making yourself that way) … see what it feels like not to attribute a motive to them. It works.