Staying Solo Successfully in Tumultuous 2020

On October 20, I celebrated my 6th year as a solo lawyer at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. It was a quiet acknowledgement in the middle of COVID-19 stress, civil unrest, political polarization, and a very divisive election year in the United States.

As I write this article on Wednesday, November 4th, we have yet to know the final outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Many are feeling discomfort, anxiety, anger, and worry over the uncertainty. Regardless of whether incumbent Donald Trump or challenger Joe Biden is elected as the 46th U.S. President, there are fears that political unrest will continue. The social isolation related to COVID-19 measures has added to the distress.

While the distractions and changes continue to mount, we are still expected to show up, do our part, and fulfill responsibilities in daily life.

In this tumultuous year of 2020, there are days when I wish business would slow down more. This is a fine line to walk in the present economy. While it’s great to have meaningful work to do, it can be hard to tackle other people’s problems in unstable times.

There is much to be thankful for. I still have a thriving law firm that helps clients achieve their U.S. immigration objectives, even as COVID-19 related travel restrictions, cancellation of visa interview appointments, and many unknowns persist. On the upside, I’ve had USCIS grant green cards, waivers and other benefits, and the U.S. Consulates lift inadmissibility bars and issue visas to my clients this year.

As a productivity coach, I’m helping lawyers, busy professionals and working parents maintain their sanity, build resilience and make progress on the things that really matter. I draw from my experience working remotely from my home office, with my husband and our two young children in close proximity.

Since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March, my family and I have been together through unprecedented changes, such as schools closing and businesses requiring or encouraging their teams to work from home. While the upending of normal life can lead to positive changes and a reemphasis on the highest priorities, it is a perpetual stress test. If we fail to manage it, it may result in our own destruction and society’s fracturing.

A key practice that has been essential to me is to respond with grace and compassion. When you’re faced with fast changes and unlimited demands or requests, you might move too quickly into resistance mode and defensive positions.

To lengthen our fuse and hold our center, we need to take care of ourselves, including our mind, heart, body and spirit. Otherwise, we won’t have the interest, composure, energy, or patience to respond effectively and break negative cycles.

As a lawyer, I get to deal with the problems, dilemmas and crises of my clients. When you have clients that are often in worse situations than yours, it’s easy to forget about self-care. But to be responsive in the most effective way, you need to have boundaries and set priorities. You must avoid the madness that comes with trying to do too many things all at once.

We also need to pivot, innovate and adapt to changes that are outside of our control. There are new opportunities in every crisis. Being a consistent player in our business arena, professional space or personal life will help us make vital progress, no matter how small it might seem.

We also have to confront our own biases and integrate multiple perspectives to navigate uncertainty. A big mental roadblock is confirmation bias, which means we hear what we want to hear, and see what we want to see. We have habit loops that keep us glued to the same sources of information. We have default networks that filter out information that disconfirm existing beliefs.

If you are breaking off relationships purely due to political differences and ideological disagreements, ask yourself whether you’re allowing divisive rhetoric in news media and social media to manipulate you.

Invite real discourse and participate in conscious conversations. Listen deeply to understand the stories, backgrounds, and experiences that shape the values of others who have conflicting viewpoints. Don’t allow your subconscious mind to dictate your behaviors and actions.

By confronting your biases and challenging your opinions, you might start to uncover commonalities that you did not know existed. Only then can we have civil discussions, increase mutual understanding, and form nonpartisan or bipartisan alliances to create lasting and positive changes.

Like many other eligible voters, I was bombarded with skewed messages on what to think of the 2020 political candidates and who to vote for and who to vote against. There was so much noise and distortion coming from so many angles.

While voting is an important civic duty, the act itself involves little effort. You have a lot more to do in terms of how you respond to the results, make space for whatever unfolds, and engage with others to inspire positive action.

The choices you make are probably not as important as how you form them. If we want to hold our society together, maintain civility, and address real problems, we need to know how to think clearly and make better decisions.

To learn more, check out my three-part commentary on reducing bias, framing and reframing problems, and owning your decisions:

How to Think Clearly and Make Better Decisions: Part 1 – Get out of echo chambers

How to Think Clearly and Make Better Decisions: Part 2 – Frame and reframe the problem

How to Think Clearly and Make Better Decisions: Part 3 – Keep Experts on Tap, Not on Top

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps lawyers, small business owners and other busy people reduce overwhelm and make time for what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps, an e-book at http://leanpub.com/incrementalist.

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