Permission to do Cool Things

Filed under: Editorials | Tags: , , , , |

I was listening to Episode 5 of Back to Work. A brief summary: Dan and Merlin discussed how to let people give you a shot, a break, an opportunity to work on something cool and meaningful.


Stop whinging on about not getting opportunities. You haven’t gotten a shot because either:

  • You’re not good enough yet (but you don’t even know enough to realize it). Or,
  • You haven’t proven yourself capable to your immediate supervisor who doesn’t want to stick his or her neck out by giving you something cool (e.g. something valuable, which could get them fired if all goes pear-shaped on your watch).
  • You are a real pain in the ass because you constantly go on and on about not getting cool projects and/or have to be kept on to get your current work done.

Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. It is all a matter of how long it takes to get it together and start doing stuff well enough to get noticed.

Merlin offered a “ask not what your country can do for you” suggestion on getting to do better projects.

  • Keep in mind that your boss isn’t there to please you. Your boss has to please his boss.
  • Instead of asking to do something that helps you, ask if there is something you can do help your boss.

Making your boss’ life easier is a good way of showing your value and it is fairly certain to be on something that your boss will pay attention to (so your work will not go unnoticed).

Some people are not going to like this since it is a brown-nosing approach. Well, in a way it is. You are paying attention to you boss. However, it is not about getting ahead by being a sycophant and not producing anything (you are being a sycophant and producing something). Seriously though, it is about showing that you can listen to a supervisor’s needs and then meet them – which is what getting ahead is about.

Another option is to just wow your boss with something they are not expecting. Which is great, if you can figure about something that actually will wow them and not result in the following response:

You were doing WHAT on company time?

This gets to the topic of permission which was to be the main thrust of this post. The earlier section certainly still applies to many lawyers; especially those in big law. After 19 years of education and dog-eat-dog competition for a starting position, you find yourself in a position akin to an Egyptian slave moving blocks for Pharaoh’s pyramid. Figuring out what to get noticed is what it’s all about.

For solo attorney, this is the reason we left the rat race. Being a solo also means not having to prove things to a supervisor. It also means we are free of the main thing holding back attorney who are not their own boss: you don’t have to ask for permission.

  • Want to write article? Go for it!
  • Want to dive into class action cases? Why not!

There is no one stopping you. You may not be qualified to handle that yet. However, there is nothing stopping you from starting down that path.

I can’t just choose to be Gary Spence!

Lame example? Fine. You pick someone. Got it? Ok, let’s move on. Of course, you cannot choose the result. The result is what happens in response to your action and in response to the actions of lots of other people. For example: you can choose to get into politics, but you don’t get to “chose” that you will be elected. That outcome is out of your hands.

Another thing that holds people back is mistaking the first step for the outcome.

Lifting these tiny dumbbells isn’t going to get me bench-pressing 300 pounds.

Really? Because sitting on the couch has been getting you there? Obviously you are not going to go from 20 pound dumbbells to lifting massive plates. However, you will never get to lifting 300 pounds without starting much smaller. And you will never reach the goal by stopping after the first step. Or worse, never taking a step at all.

So, if you have the freedom to do thing, get out there and do it! Just keep in mind that you cannot control outcome and don’t blame the first step for not taking you all the way to your goal.

Creative Commons License photo credit: noaha