Being faced with two really interesting projects recently, I was soul searching as to which was the right opportunity for me. One of the key factors in my decision was how much the project would challenge and stretch me. Now those of you that know me would perhaps not be suprised by that (never one for an easy life!), but I also know there are plenty of people who don’t like being stretched and who, in my opinion, stay in their comfort zone way too long. Often for years!
I’m a great believer that personal growth occurs in these areas where people are stretched (a great book on the subject is Flow, the psychology of peak experience, by the utterly unpronounceable Csíkszentmihályi). What allows me to really create value today, is the things I’ve learnt and the experiences I’ve had where I’ve been engaged on new projects, worked with new people and experienced different environments. It’s almost like increasing my own personal diversity of skills and competencies.
So what does this mean for lawyers? Well, I think one of the interesting questions is how many opportunities more senior lawyers get to challenge themselves on a regular basis. One of the great things about the law as a career path is that it can offer a great variety of intellectually challenging problems that keep the job fresh and interesting. Particularly in private practice, there are new clients, new laws, new jusrisdictions and of course new circumstances, so there is often plenty to think about. This is without doubt a healthy environment for an active brain and keeps the technical skills evolving.
But should we look more widely at the idea of challenge and growth? Is this technical growth enough? How much is it allowing the lawyer to fulfil his potential? After 10 years specialised in a particular technical field or 5 years in house working on a particular company’s deals, then looking at the bigger picture, is it REALLY challenging? One of my mentors commented recently that he thought any good job or project should make you feel a tiny bit scared. Similarly a leadership development specialist I know suggests closing your eyes, visualising the next project, and experiencing both how excited it makes you feel, and also how comfortable or uncomfortable it makes you feel.
Ultimately there are no right or wrong answers, but it is easy to forget about personal growth and get sucked up in the day to day “doing”, especially if the doing is varied and stimulating. Perhaps over Christmas the question to ask is whether “varied and stimulating” is enough to allow you to grow?