Category Archives: Office Gossip

Peer Pressure 3.0

peer pressure

Peer pressure. We’ve all had to deal with it. As children peer pressure is limited to the playground. As we grow up, our behaviour is increasingly influenced by our peers. We don’t want to be picked last in dodgeball, we want to be able to dress like the cool kids do, we want to go to all the cool places our peers have labelled as the latest it-thing.

When you go through it as a teen, those social pressures are real and feel very real. However, as you get older you tend to laugh at teens for their radical and emotional behaviour influenced by others. You want to reassure them that once they graduate high school a whole other world opens up. A world that is accepting to everyone, in which you can be your own quirky self. I used to believe that. However, lately I’ve started wondering: do we ever escape the peer pressure or does it gradually get worse as we grow up?

Recently I had to interview an older gentleman for a piece I am writing. As I arrived at his place, the phone rang. His wife showed me in and kept me company, while the gentleman was handling the phone call and sending an urgent email. Polite conversation often starts with questions about someone’s job. She asked if I had been writing for a long time and I said “No, I used to be a lawyer, but now I am a writer”. The pity was dripping from her face and she suggested some contacts her husband might have to land me a proper job if I was interested. For a brief moment I felt like a failure. There I was, sitting in a stranger’s living room pretending to be someone I’m not. What do I know about interviewing people and writing pieces? I was actually considering asking the husband about his contacts, even though I had contacts of my own. This feeling stayed with me all through the interview. Needless to say I didn’t manage to get a lot of inspiring quotes and great anecdotes.

At home I thought about what happened and felt silly, really. It wasn’t like I was no good at being a lawyer and got fired for it. I was awesome at it! I made a choice- a conscious decision. I wanted this. And hell, I am good at this. I’ve been writing way longer than I had worked at being a good lawyer. I’ve been writing ever since I could write. I just started and never stopped. Over 20 years of experience. In a regular job that would mean that you’re the expert, people come to you with the difficult questions. So why do I let these random strangers bring me down?

Peer pressure. As adults we don’t have to necessarily deal with peer pressure from people from our own age group. That’s why we live our lives as if it is something of the past. However, our behaviour is influenced by people from our own social class all the time. A well defined job gives you social status, contacts and a great answer when people ask you at social gatherings what it actually is that you do. But the thing is, if you’re not happy with that job, is that brief 5 minute conversation at boring social gatherings really worth the pain?

Every time I tell someone I’m a writer and they shrug and say “Ah well, if you don’t make it you can always go back to being a lawyer”, I have to force myself to remember why I do this and why I’m not a lawyer (or in any other socially acceptable profession). Perhaps we should stop and realise how much impact our  seemingly innocent comments can have on other people. Perhaps we should collectively stop making those comments and just ask why someone is doing what they are doing and respect them for having the balls to do it.

Keep chase your dreams. They will become reality.

Freelancing Pyjama Style

OM_Pyjama-Girls

Before I started freelancing I read all these helpful blog posts on how to do it properly. And every single one mentioned this one:

“TREAT IT LIKE A JOB”

Meaning: do not sleep in until late, take your time to make coffee and crawl behind your computer in your pyjamas only to get distracted by social media. Rather: get up early, like any other job would require you to do, shower and put your butt in that seat and write dammit!

I do think the above commandment is an important one. In the beginning, I did sleep until late and didn’t even bother to crawl behind the computer. It didn’t mean I wasn’t concerned about the consequences. I was just really tired.

Then I got this cleaning lady who persisted on coming to work at ungodly (for normal people, regular working) hours. So once a week I woke up early, sat outside on my balcony and worked (mostly out of guilt) until she left. Then work started pouring in- meetings at 8 am, deadlines, people calling early in the morning- and before I knew it, I was sleepy at regular-people-hours in the evening and I woke up at a decent hour in the morning unable to sleep.

Awesome, right? Until yesterday. I had an early morning Skype meeting with someone who was travelling. I woke up, brewed fresh coffee and crawled behind my computer just in time to dial in. I felt so guilty afterwards that I hurried to the bathroom, took a shower and dressed extra cute. Today, I woke up early, showered and worked a couple of hours straight. After I let the cleaning lady in and made coffee of course.

Some things will never change

(k)

C

 

…the new rich…

The 4 Hour Work Week

I can safely say that Timothy Ferriss opened my eyes as well as confirmed that I was right all along. I’m reading his best-seller “The 4-hour work week- escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich”.

I stumbled upon Ferriss’ book when browsing a news paper kiosk at Schiphol airport, while waiting for my father’s arrival in Amsterdam. He was supposed to land at 7pm- I arrived late as usual- but his flight was delayed. I’m not sure what it is with airport news stands and I, but I always come across the most interesting reads at the airport. Perhaps it’s because I rely heavily on the recommendations from Amazon.com when purchasing books online or that I simply never venture out in the wold between business hours anymore, let alone take my time to browse. So when I do have the time to browse, I usually find myself at an airport.

I bought the book together with The Economist’s style guide to the English language (can’t hurt right?). I started reading Ferriss’ book that same evening after a long and relaxed dinner with my father, brother and his girlfriend. At 4 in the morning I forced myself to set the book down and get some shut-eye. I am now half way through and not only did it inspire a story I am working on (yay!), but it includes numerous tips on how to work smarter. Since I’ve decided to turn my life around and chose happiness, without the intention of getting fired or a bad appraisal, I started to think of ways to work smarter. Not shirking on the job or free riding (hate that!) or anything, just work smarter and more efficient in order to free up time for myself and my writing.

Through trial and error I came up with basically the same things that Ferriss suggests. Take the concept of face time for example. Face time, in the wonderful and magical world of commercial law firms, means that associates should be available during business hours, which, depending on the law firm, can range from 8 am to midnight and beyond. Clients and partners alike should be able to reach said associate at the office no matter the time.

Not only do I hate the concept, I think it is utterly ridiculous. If I should be in the office anyway, why make sure I have a working blackberry and token for remote access to the system before I even get assigned a desk? Besides, why not make use of the wide range of IT solutions allowing employees to work off-site? Nowadays, technology is so advanced that you can work from anywhere in the world with internet connection without the client even knowing! Assuming. of course, he or she won’t just drop by the office- but let’s face it, the chances of that happening is remote as the client is probably travelling all over as well.

Tim FerrissSo, I’ve started analysing the concept and thinking of ways to beat the system. I’ve noticed that most partners come in early (say around 8.30 am) to read their emails in peace, work through the tons of documents that they have to sign before opening of business and to just enjoy a cup of coffee. Most associates mimic that schedule and find themselves picking their noses out of boredom and taking on unimportant tasks or know-how development work just to keep busy. Between 8.30 and say 11 am, no partner will ever ask you to do any billable work.

I also noticed that partners are human beings too and need some human interaction from time to time. They aren’t energizer bunnies, so around 5.30 pm their batteries are mostly depleted and they start roaming the office for some good banter. Most associates are AWOL by then, which is perfectly understandable as they had an early start and some want to run personal errands before shops close. During lunchtime, partners are either having lunch with clients or injuring themselves in the gym. Most partners leave around 7 or 7.30 pm as clients have usually gone home or are reading whatever memo or contract we have sent them. After 8 pm most clients don’t bother to respond to any emails that can wait until the next morning- which are most.

I started planning my work day around the partners’ schedule and trained my clients to email me (by responding quicker to emails and responding to phone calls by emailing) instead of calling me. Presto change-o! As a result I have more free time, which I use to write or dream or read or run errands or whatever. I feel like I get my personal errands done during the week, leaving my weekends free for me to lounge, read, write, Skype with friends, shop, sleep and generally be lazy.

Thing is, everyone still thinks I am one of the hardest working associates in the office. At first I thought it was because I built enough credit with the firm that the partners generally accept more crap from me. Or maybe because my output remained constant. Or because I am always sitting behind my desk at the right time looking (and actually being) very busy. Anytime a partner needs me, he can find me sitting behind my desk. Also, I’m always the only one there when disaster (read: some client requests something outrageous after 7 pm) strikes. My utilisation is still high, as I work efficiently and effectively during the hours I am there and unlike others I don’t have a lot of time allocated to non-billable stuff (which brings the utilisation down, calculated as the number of hours billed divided by the number of hours you are in the office). ...thinking inside the box...

Associates often ask me how I manage to pull it off- in their eyes I get away with murder! Easy-I come in between 10 am and 10.30 am, avoiding any non-billable work that was allocated earlier to bored associates. I take a long lunch break between 12 and 2 pm to either enjoy a long lunch or run personal errands (while my peers do a desky). I usually leave around 7.30 or 8 pm, long after other associates have sneaked out. My schedule allows me to have free time, while avoiding non-billable work, allowing me to have some good chat with the partners in the afternoon (that is always the best time to discuss topics like bonuses, vacation time that seem unreasonable and other topics you don’t want to discuss when people are stressed) and being the big hero if disaster strikes. While effectively working only 8 hours a day instead of the usual 12 or 15 hour days I used to (and other associates still) pull.

Lately, I have been struggling with distractions at work- colleagues walking in an out my office for a quick chat, some input on a matter. I also catch myself spending a great amount of time sending BBMs, browsing social media sites like Facebook or other entertaining websites like Roll on Friday or Here Is The City (boring sites only City lawyers and bankers visit). And this week, it got worse! I have to share my office with an intern for the next two month (oh, the horror!). She keeps asking the most ridiculous and pointless questions ever (other than that she is tolerable, nice even). Those interruptions are nothing but time wasters in my new uber efficient work day.

Comes in Ferriss with his helpful tips and tricks to eliminate those time wasters. He recommends little changes you can make based on the presumption that no one can actually multitask (of which I am a believer..I really can’t!). E.g. limit the frequency you check your emails. Let the emails accumulate and read and respond to emails only twice or at most three times a day. Only allow yourself to spend an x-amount of time on social media sites and other time wasters. Do not check them every time someone updates a status or posts a pic. Same goes for BBM.

...satisfaction guaranteed...My personal favourite- manage those chatterboxes. I admit it can be useful to chitchat with colleagues (e.g. if you want time off that’s the best moment to ask for it), however people shouldn’t interrupt you willy-nilly. Ferriss suggests keeping chitchat to a minimum by the way you respond to people. Don’t invite prolonged chitchat. Imagine something like this:

Peer: “Hi, how are you? How was your weekend?” You: “Bit busy here. My weekend was great, probably as enjoyable as yours! How can I help you?” It totally cuts the chitchat off, without you seeming unfriendly. Winning!

I will definitely give Ferriss’ tips and tricks a try starting Monday. Who knows, I might actually be able to increase my productivity, while keeping my face time to a bare minimum.

(images of Timothy Ferriss and his book from http://www.fourhourworkweek.com)

New York, NY

 

 

Our firm sends associates on secondment from time to time for several reasons. The main reasons are commercial of course (strengthening relationships with clients, getting inside info on what moves a particularly difficult client etc), however if the firm plays its cards right it will get a re-energized and eager associate back. At first the associate will love the change of pace and his/her new-found freedom and social life. But soon enough the associate will get bored (law firms recruit a specific type: workaholic and eager to please) and happily returns to the mother ship.

I was working myself into a burn-out and due to firm regulations (every young associate must rotate to a different department in order to get to know the firm better and have a more diverse basic knowledge of the law) I was working in a department I didn’t really enjoy (and couldn’t help screaming it from the top of my lungs every time someone asked me how I was doing) . Although I was trying to make the best of it, as my three-year contract was about to terminate I started looking for other opportunities.  I actually started talking the calls of those pesky headhunters.  My principal is a great mentor and saw right through me- every time I would tell him I’m loving this job (but not the department), he would just give me a hard look and give me some fatherly advice on how important work-life-balance is (work permitting of course, ‘cuz that memo/draft contract/engagement letter had to go out to the client tonight). So he finally figured out what I needed- a break. He arranged for me to hang out at one of our clients- a bank just across from our offices- for a couple of months.

Everyone knows the banking industry is in trouble and that there isn’t much going on in the market deal-wise, so my principal pitched me the secondment as a sabbatical and a good opportunity to meet new people. Adventure and rest at the same time while keeping my steep lawyer salary-ideal right? Right to some extent… these past few days have been super busy! Although I love the adrenaline rush that comes with a busy workday, it led me to reconfirm that I am basically done with that lifestyle. Especially since my colleagues at the law firm are not busy at all!! (just my luck!). So you can imagine how surprised I was when it only took one of my lawyer friends half an hour to convince me to move to Manhattan and work a couple of years as a lawyer there…am I insane?!

Ok so here’s what really happened. The corporate lawyers at my law firm are not busy at all as there are really no deals in the market. So one of them suggested we have lunch to catch up- his treat. The sun was shining and a good lunch is crucial when super busy so I agreed to a quick lunch. As we were basking in the wintery sun, enjoying a club sandwich and lattes we started talking about what we really want in life. I got my new contract to review so I was discussing the terms with him just to make sure I can walk away clean once I get my cafe bank loans approved. He nodded and was happy for me that I decided to return to the Island (as everyone at my law firm calls my place of birth) and do something completely different with my life. “Or..”, he said, ” you can go to New York for a couple of years and then go home”. Erhmmm go on?!

It has been a life long dream of mine to live and work in NYC. However, due to circumstances beyond my control (read: global financial crisis), I ended up in Amsterdam at this law firm three years ago.  So apparently the law firm he used to work for is searching for someone with three to four years experience to be based at their Dutch desk in New York. Good pay, great colleagues, brainless corporate lawyer work and reasonable work hours. He is still friends with his ex-colleagues so he knows that people with families or boy/girlfriends are much more of a hassle with visas and work permits and such. A highly intelligent, social, single gal without anything to hold her here in Amsterdam with the required experience would be perfect for the job! Although hearing someone say -out loud- that your empty life is exactly what makes you the perfect candidate for a job, is bound to give anyone mixed feelings about their life and the job being offered. But when he added that the offices are located smack in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Times Square, I was sold!

Last time I was in Times Square we stayed at the Marriott – we just walked out of the hotel into all the excitement, including comedy clubs, jazz clubs, walking a wee bit further you’re on Broadway, Rockefeller Center, Madison (or 5th Ave if you prefer) and depending on how fit you are you can end up in downtown or central park…the sky is the limit! I never walked that much in my life, but it was great. So I started picturing myself living and working in NYC and all my old hopes and dreams came back. I briefly paused to consider that it would be much more difficult to meet any single men there (even though I don’t own the Sex and the City shoe box, which I’m very ashamed of, I do know all the episodes by heart), but I dismissed that pretty quickly. If I can end up working harder than my lawyer friends during my sabbatical, I can most def meet a great single guy in NYC!

My colleague gave me until Monday to think it over- to apply or not to apply? I just bbm-ed him to make sure he would know the right people to land me the job (don’t want to get all excited for nothing) and he just sent me a smiley face. Urphm. So I ask you, why do I have an attention span of a two-year old? Just last week I made up my mind to be a cafe owner and lover of life…and now I want to stay a lawyer and live in NYC?

Definition of “tedious”

Tedious /ˈtiːdiəs/

meeting regarding a share purchase agreement that is boring and continuing for too long. for the avoidance of doubt, “too long” includes meetings over 8 (eight) and a half hour.

Sunday Inspirations

Today, a partner at my law firm called and woke me up. Of course, I did not pick up and returned his call over an hour later. I learned that you never want to be too available all the time- it works in my career and in life in general.

He text me and so did one of the senior associates: “Wake up! We need to save [insert name company]! Call me.” Seriously, that’s no way to start of a relaxing Sunday.

As I was supposed to be “on call” the entire Sunday, in an effort to be efficient, I skyped with a good friend of mine, while monitoring my email. To my surprise, she was thinking about starting a webshop selling knickknacks for the home. It’s been one of my goals to start up something, just because I like building and making things from scratch. But I am too risk-averse to start a company. I always figured a webshop would be the ideal solution.

So on what might have seemed to be a horribly boring Sunday, turned out to be very inspirational. Next week, we’ll meet up on Skype to discuss the business plan. Exciting!

How to be a male associate if you’re a woman

I will start off with a warning: if you think the 80s was not the most fashionable decade and you are as repulsed by women’s business attire of that era as I am, you should cease reading this post immediately and navigate away from this page. If you can brave it, carry on reading. But be afraid, be very afraid!

So today I was fairly busy, so I didn’t think twice when our only female partner rang me up to discuss a memo I wrote.  Innocently I went by her office, loaded with articles and books from the brightest legal scholars in the Netherlands in support of my arguments. She spent literally two minutes reviewing my additional comments and assured me she was comfortable with me circulating it to the client.

As I started gathering my stuff, she walked to the door and shut it quietly. She obviously had something she wanted to discuss in private. I suspect she got some training in how to broach difficult subjects, ‘cuz she started out by saying how impressed she is with my legal skills. Hmm I braced myself for the bad news and there it was: she didn’t see me climbing that corporate ladder anytime soon.

Say what? Trying to keep up the appearance that I take feedback very well, I thanked her for her honesty and asked her to please elaborate on what she just said as I was having some difficulty understanding what she was trying to say.

I almost giggled when she tried to back up her arguments with scientific research, but after a while of faking it, I actually started to listen to what she was trying to tell me.

Apparently, the way I dress won’t get me far- not in lawyer land and not anywhere else. I dress very feminine, because my father always told me that every beautiful woman owes it to herself, but mostly to the world, to enhance that beauty through proper attire and a good attitude.

So, like any beautiful picture, I try to frame myself with my clothing, shoes and accessories and a positive outlook on life. I told the female partner just that, but she shot me down completely- when in a man’s world, I should aim to resemble one as much as possible (my interpretation). I should not wear jeans on casual Friday, I should not wear dresses but rather male suits from the 80s like she does. Guess  she endorses what has been previously communicated to us…

According to her it would be best if I made an appointment with a speech therapist sooner rather than later. My voice is too high-pitched ( I say that’s inherent to me being a woman) and I should raise my voice more often and slam my fists on the table more frequently. My mom always taught me that such behaviour would be considered rude and not tolerated in her house or anywhere else for that matter. Lastly, I should laugh less and be more professional. That girly attitude and flirtatious behaviour will hold me back.

I totally try to see her point, but then again it is hard to dismiss the fact that I always get to assist on the high-profile cases (‘cuz men being men rather have someone easy on the eyes to work side by side 24/7), I get to go to clients (‘cuz clients usually being of the male gender, always prefer to sit across a gorgeous woman and opposing parties are more willing to be persuaded if there’s a woman present) and partners never say no when I need funding for an associates weekend or other fun bonding activity. Who can blame them? Few men are strong enough to say no to a cute, flirty woman right?! They are just not equipped for that…damn you, Mother Nature!

So, in my opinion I am actually partner material. Afterall, a partner should be able to persuade clients to have their office to the deal and who better to convince men than a woman? We are built to do it! Also, a partner must be able to lead by example and be one of the top legal minds in her field.  I am considered to be one of the up and coming brilliant legal minds (their words, not mine), I work hard and people tend to follow me and respect my opinion (natural leader if you ask me).

I am convinced that the people who made it big, or will make it big, are those who embrace their own unique qualities and are not afraid to be (and remain) themselves no matter the pressure. So why would I want to be a senior male lawyer in an 80s suit if I can be a fashionable female partner?

After intense deliberation, I decided that I won’t set myself up to fail. I will keep doing what I’m doing- just being myself. Besides, I don’t even want to be any kind of lawyer…writers don’t have a dress code, right??!!