Sunday, March 22, 2015

On Working Hard - Letter to My Boxers

Roger Bannister - First Man to Break the 4 Minute Mile
Dear Boxers,

This letter is about working hard. I realized this week that my last letter on not cheating wasn't all it could be. I even asked another adult boxer, "What would you tell your kids about why not to cheat, when the people in the City are making close to half a million dollars a year?" In not too many words, he found it hard to answer the question.

I have an answer for you. Remember, when your teacher said, "Cheating only cheats yourself?" Well, that's only partly true. Cheating harms more than yourself. It harms those who care about you and those you are cheating from.

But, first I'll tell you how it cheats yourself. When you cheat you're taking a shortcut. And when you take those shortcuts, you're not learning the skills you need to develop and improve. In other words, listen carefully, when you cheat, you will NEVER be the best at what you want to do. NEVER. EVER.

So, think about all that you dream of becoming. The best boxer, perhaps. The best student. For me: the best lawyer or the best writer or the best innovator. Now, realistically and statistically, we won't be the best because there is only one best. But, there's nothing wrong with wanting that, and better yet, there's nothing wrong with trying to get there. And you know, if you work hard enough, you might not be the best, but you can come close.

But when you make the decision to cheat, you're already telling the world that you stopped believing in yourself and that others should stop believing in you too.

True story. I told my legal mentor about one of my hearings that I lost and how hard I worked on it. And he said, "Well, Paul, that's what it means to be a professional."

I asked him, "What do you mean by that?"

He said, "Well - 80 percent of the time, the court's already made up its mind about what its going to do, regardless of your lawyering. But there's always that 20 percent of the time where it counts. And as a professional, you have to believe that every time you do your work, you're working in that 20 percent margin."

I thought, Wow, now that's advice worth its weight in gold. (Incidentally, to be a professional means that you "profess," meaning promise, to God that you will commit your life before him in carrying out your duties. That's why we swear an oath, it may be to the Constitution instead of God, but in theory, we have a calling to serve a purpose higher than ourselves. Woe to all the lawyers who have forgot the purpose of why they exist.)

I think it's also worth mentioning another lesson I've learned about hard work as a rookie lawyer. Going back to cheating, cheating seems OK to do because it brings results. And hard work is for losers, right? Because even when you work hard you don't get the results.

That's really short-sighted thinking, though. A lot of the work this year that didn't pan out, that took a lot of work, wasn't wasted - even to my surprise. In some shape or form, when I didn't get the results I wanted, I usually learned something very important from it, was able to use that work for another assignment, or have it later redeemed and validated. So, what I'm saying is that if you did your best and you put your heart into it, and you don't see immediate results, don't worry. Just wait. Things might happen later. (Actually, in almost every hearing I worked hard in, produced some worthwhile effect later.)

If working hard brings you self-peace and honor, well, lying, cheating, and stealing, carries with it guilt and shame. And it's not worth it because these dishonest means, make you a destructive person, who attacks others when they try to tell you the truth. (Just look at our city leaders.)

Finally, I wanted to say that it's alright to work hard and accept a lesser award than cheating would bring. My reward and your reward is that we can hold our heads up high and know that we fought the good fight with honor.

For instance, I can tell you this: the court may have lowered my bounty, but when we defeated the City of Baldwin Park and the court announced to the world that I was worth $350 an hour because of my quality work and it acknowledged all the hard work I put into the case, I felt a sense of victory, dignity, and strong self-worth. No one can take that away from me. The profit may have been sensible, but the moment of victory was priceless and enduring.

And, so I say, live a life where people can't take your character away from you - because after our lives pass, that's what people will know about you and me. That legacy is also what you leave behind for others to remember you by and to follow you in.

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