I know I’ve written about this before and that all of you agree, but the more I observe people in general and young lawyers in particular I think they are trying achieve success in the wrong way. Great trial lawyers become great not by learning skills and techniques, but by first learning about themselves and the changes of attitudes they need to make for greatness. Certainly, the first lesson is we have to be true ourselves. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “This above all to thine own self be true.” Trying to please everyone instead of remaining true to ourselves is a formula for disaster and failure. Aesop, who lived in the 6th Century, told this fable about trying to please everyone.
Once there was a man and his son who were leading their donkey to market to sell it. As they walked along the road, two men going the other way passed them and as they did said: “What is wrong with you? You have a donkey. Why aren’t you riding on him?” So, the man put his son on the donkey and went on. Soon they passed another group of men and one of them said: “What a spoiled boy. His father walks while he gets to ride.” So, the man decided to lift the boy off and got on himself to ride. The boy led the donkey with his father riding until they came to a group of women who said to them: “Shame on the lazy man riding on the donkey while that poor boy is forced to walk.” So the man lifted his son on the donkey and they both rode him down the road. When they came to some men sitting along the road and they began to berate the father and son saying: “Aren’t you ashamed of overloading that poor donkey with both of you on his back in this hot sun?” They both got off and went down the road a short distance wondering what to do. They decided to cut a pole, tie the donkey’s feet to it and putting the pole on their shoulders carried the donkey down the road. As they passed people they jeered at them for carrying the donkey along the road. When they got to the bridge, the donkey got a foot loose and in the struggle fell off the bridge into the river where he drowned. The old man who had been walking behind them the whole distance said to them: “That will teach you. Please all and you will please none.”
The great lesson of life is to be true to ourselves and not trying to please everyone else’s idea of what and who we should be. We must always start with who we are if our goal is greatness as a trial lawyer. That requires stripping away all of the artificial pretense we have and removing the masks we wear to conceal our insecurities. Margery William’s Velveteen Rabbit tells about a toy rabbit talking to a toy horse who has lost most of his hair because he has been handled so often by the children. The toys talk about the “precious moment” in the life of a toy when a child loves it as a real person. The horse says it usually happens after most of the hair has been “loved off.” But the ugliness, caused by the loss of hair,” says the horse “doesn’t matter. Because once you’re real to children, you can never be ugly to them anymore.” Once we have the courage to be real we can’t be ugly either.
It is finding the courage to risk being an authentic person that is the challenge. We are afraid to let go of our protective devices for fear of rejection and loss when just the opposite is the truth.
In North Africa the people use a gourd they have hollowed out and made a hole in to catch monkeys. The hole is just large enough to insert an open hand inside. Then nuts the monkey’s want are put inside and the gourd is tied firmly to a stake or tree. The monkey smells the nuts, puts his hand inside and grabs a fist full. The fist with the nuts is too large to come out of the hole. But, the people have learned that the monkey’s refuse to let loose of the nuts and continues to struggle without letting loose of the nuts. As a result, they are easily captured while their hand is trapped inside the gourd. We are often just like the monkey, afraid to release what is holding us back from achievement and success. We need to accept the importance of the truth all right change starts with who we are. Not in arrogance or inflated self importance, but in an attempt to stop pretending and be a decent and genuine person. Everything else falls into place after that.