It’s easy at the beginning of the year to have all sorts of new resolutions and good intentions.
But there is a world of difference between motivation and commitment.
Motivation is easy.
I want to lose weight; I want to run a marathon; I want to become a better husband/father; I want to become a better writer/solicitor; I want Kildare to win the All Ireland football championship; I want Kildare to win the Leinster.
Yes, the motivation part is easy and I can do it from the sitting room couch or the office chair or my car.
Commitment, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish.
Commitment is coming home to a cold house, taking out the ashes of yesterday’s fire, setting a new one, striking the match and watching the Zip firelighter flame up, going out into the cold, wet night to walk/jog/run on badly maintained, dark, rural country roads.
Commitment is getting up at 5.30 am and going into the office at an insensibly early hour to do the work that needs to be done to improve and brutalise an ambition into a noticeable improvement in a worthwhile skill.
Maybe the gulf between motivation and commitment can be exploited and put to good use, though, by embracing it and jumping into the darkness.
It was 1987 or 1988 when I met him. He went on to become one
of the most successful and high-profile figures in Irish business for the next
quarter of a century, or thereabouts.
And his success has always puzzled and annoyed me. Because my
gut feeling, from my observation and conversation on a Saturday morning on the
south side of Dublin back in the 80s, was that he was steeped in luck.
My gut feeling was that if he had not failed in his venture
then he would never have got the big break that he later made the most of. But
he had failed, or at least not succeeded-he was only ‘average’ and it was that ‘average’
that forced him to quit.
That led, fortuitously, to his big break and subsequent
Now I am reading a book that appears to confirm my view, a
view that I could never, by definition, prove.
The book is “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and he puts forward a compelling thesis of how and why spectacularly successful people succeed. He asks the questions such as “is it genius”, “is it IQ?”, luck, serendipity, hard work, a combination of these?
I have not finished it yet but it puts forward some
Success is down to the circumstances you find
yourself-opportunity-and 10,000 hours practice
Where you come from matters-the difference between
high IQ people who achieve and those who don’t is hugely influenced by their
family circumstances, their background, their skills. In a nutshell the
recognition that analytical intelligence is not practical intelligence.
Even if Gladwell’s thesis is not perfect or does not explain everything or the success of every ‘outlier’ I believe it is close enough to be of real value and worth serious consideration.
I don’t suppose you think about it too much, do you? Maybe
you do, but it’s probably not at the top of your priorities.
Me too; in the normal day to day struggle I am not much
occupied with it.
Sometimes, though, events intrude and jar my mind, and force
me to think about what life would be like without the Rule of Law.
Events like the arson attack on the hotel in Rooskey, the
hotel that was to be used to accommodate asylum seekers. Or like the attack on
the security guards who were securing a property that KBC bank had repossessed
outside Strokestown in Roscommon.
I don’t want to go into the merits or otherwise of these events.
I am happy to let the Courts do so when the time is right and I am delighted
that anyone accused of an offence will be given natural justice and will only
be prosecuted in accordance with the law.
But I am fearful when I think what society would be like
without rules and regulations, without laws, without some boundaries by which
we oganise ourselves. And by which we give rights and obligations to each other.
I think about what would be like to allow football or hurling
or rugby or any other sport for that matter be played without rules. And without
The strongest, dirtiest players could do what they liked.
Anything would go, no penalties, no frees, no rules.
Democracy and the rule of law may have imperfections but,
for me, they are the only game in town, the only acceptable solution to
organise ourselves as a society in a civilised way.
The thought that in 2019 there are still people out there
who believe that violence is the best way to sort out a problem with a bank or
with an opposing viewpoint as to accommodating asylum seekers causes my stomach
It nauseates me.
It sickens me that there are individuals who believe the
willingness to wield a baseball bat or threaten serious harm on opponents
should prevail in any dispute.
Lord Denning said many years ago when faced with the prospect
that the British legal system faced an “appalling vista” if it had to accept
that the Birmingham Six were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.
Yet the British legal system bit the bullet, freed the wrongfully
convicted and imprisoned prisoners and in the process almost certainly strengthened
the appearance and respect of the legal system.
Let me be clear: I have sympathy for anyone who borrows
money from a bank and is unable to repay it. I have sympathy for anyone who is
upset about asylum seekers living in a hotel in their community.
But that’s as far as it goes.
I also am happy to accept that we need rules and regulations
and laws for the good of everyone in Irish society, particularly the weakest
and least well off.
The Rule of Law must prevail; anything else is such an “appalling
vista” as to not bear thinking about.
For 2019 and beyond I want to focus all my attention on the things that matter; I mean the things that really matter.
For my business, and for myself personally.
And these things are closely related.
Let me explain.
There is a small number of things that really matter to continue to grow my business, and one thing I need to guard against and fight like hell to defeat. And if I can defeat it I will win by business and personal growth.
Before I set out the things I need to do to grow my solicitor’s practice I need to be crystal clear about my purpose or objective: an obsession to obtain and serve clients.
Clearly I need to grow my client base and acquire new clients but I also need to serve them, and my existing clients, tremendously well.
To do this I need to focus on the work that matters to achieve this goal-I need to do deep work. (Take a look at my Youtube video about this topic and the book, Deep Work, by Cal Newport, a graduate of M.I.T. and a university professor in computer science at Georgetown University, USA).
This work includes:
continuing to write blog posts for my various websites, and to do so in a way that makes the subject matter easy to understand for the greatest number of people;
continuing to make videos for my YouTube channel, and to do so in a way that explains the subject matter to a non legally educated audience, and which will address the particular problems facing the viewer at any specific point in time-for example, if he/she is considering taking on a commercial lease explaining what a Deed of Renunciation is for he/she will probably come across this in negotiations for a lease
using YouTube advertising to promote my videos
continuing to grow my email subscriber list and provide useful, valuable information to the subscriber (my 3 main subscriber lists in 2 markets-employment law and property-contain approximately 6,000 subscribers)
doing distraction free focused work in sufficiently large chunks of time to be the best lawyer I can be.
These 3 spheres of promotional or marketing activity are how I have built my business over the last 5 years and I am determined to focus with laser like intention on these areas in 2019.
The battle I must win
And the thing I need to guard against?
I have written about this in the not too distant past and make no apology for touching on the subject again: the problem of the narrowing of my attention span through the use of
This battle is a constant one and needs to be fought with real purpose and intention because if I lose I will lose the ability to do the work that matters to me and my business.
I want to retain, and grow, the ability to do focused, distraction free, concentrated work on the things that matter, having identified the things that really matter for my business above.
The things that don’t matter and which I need to guard against to prevent the stealing of my attention and focus are sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and apps like Facebook messenger.
Anything that is an intrusion or distraction as the potential to wreak havoc on my business and personal growth and ability to do “deep work”.
I want to ensure that my attention span is never degraded by notifications and attention seeking sounds or visuals to the point that I cannot read a good long book such as anything by Dickens or Tolstoy.
If that happens, I am screwed and will have failed abjectly in my fight to do the work that matters to me and my business.
Choosing the right clients
I also need to be far more particular about the work and clients I take on and avoid trying to help everyone who comes my way. If I was to do a close time analysis of certain types of work I routinely do and compare it with other work that’s available to me I believe I should exercise far more discernment and need to refuse a lot of easy money.
In 2019 I hope I come back here again and again and remind myself of the work that matters to me, and not get distracted with time consuming notifications on my phone or in my email inbox.
What about you? Have you identified the critical work to be done for your business or career? Have you noticed the potential ambushes to your attention and your ability to do “deep work”?
My favourite time of the day is the ten minutes in the morning it takes me to drive to work. When I leave the house it is usually between 6.15 am and 6.30 am and it takes approximately ten minutes to reach my office in Enfield.
In that ten minutes, however, I am transported to another world courtesy of my mobile phone and the Audible app which allows me to listen to the novels of Charles Dickens.
It is not just the stories; it is not just Dickens’s use of words; it is not just his construction of sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books; the narration is also a huge factor in my enjoyment and transport me, however briefly, to another world.
A world of London in the mid 1800s, and the tough life for working class people, and the class system, and the idea of a good marriage being one made between money and blood.
The ability of the narrators such as Simon Callow, Martin Jarvis, Owen Teale, and other professional British actors to carry off the various accents of the characters is a vital factor in the overall audiobook experience.
To my mind Charles Dickens is the pre-eminent writer in the English language.
The first book of his that I read was “Bleak House”, Dickens’s great criticism of the legal profession.
It was tough going at first-tough because of the words he used, the length of his sentences, the length of his paragraphs, the length of the book’s chapters, and the doubt whether it was worth my time or not, whether there was a story in there at the end of it.
Boy, how there was a story. Each and every time. A story populated with such memorable characters.
I am tremendously glad, a few short years later, that I persisted.
Like cheese or Guinness or many of the finer things in life for which it is worthwhile to cultivate a taste, it may not be sweetly saccharine and digestible at the first attempt.
But the perseverance has been worth it and now I admit to having read many of his books more than once, and am also making my way through the audiobook versions.
Presently I am reading “Bleak House” for the second time, having also listened to the audio book, and am listening to “Dombey and Son”.
I believe that reading Dickens’s books has helped me greatly to improve my vocabulary, improve my writing in my day to day work as a solicitor, and assisted in the fight against the invasion of the use of trite, meaningless words from across the Atlantic-words such as “super” and “awesome” and “sick” and “amped”.
I also have great fun from time to time “speaking Dickens” to my wife by observing that she is once again “going into society” when she is going out to meet a friend or “improving my acquaintance” with someone when I myself am meeting someone or when I “lay to prodigiously” when I am describing how I polished off a meal or when I talk about “feeling all the glories of dissipation” after a rare overindulgence in alcohol.
The characters that populate his books, too, are a wonder to behold and tremendously memorable; characters such as Carker the manger in Dombey and son or Uriah Heep in David Copperfield or Fagin or the Artful Dodger or Master Bates or Bill Sykes or Nancy in Oliver Twist or Thomas Gradgrind and Josiah Bounderby in Hard Times or the various solicitors such as Mr. Tulkinghorn or Mr. Vholes in Bleak House or the wide range of saintly female characters such as Little Dorrit or Florence Dombey in Dombey & Son.
And the villains, the villians you have no difficulty hating with a passion so true to life and credible are they.
To make things even better many of Dickens’s books are considered to be “classics” which means they are available for free or a pittance on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
I was in traffic during the week and I spotted a small removals van with a sign emblazoned on the sides. It said something like “Your entire home moved for €249/299“.
And it struck me that the guy better have a way to cross sell, up sell, sell add-ons, sell trimmings/extras or he won’t last long in business. Because the problem with trying to run or grow your business on being the cheapest has a fundamental weakness: somebody else will come along and be cheaper.
And you are screwed.
Now it is true that the guy could have been using this offer as a loss leader, something to get people into his net and give him a chance to offer them more profitable services or add ons.
I sincerely hope so.
Racing to the bottom with your costs is not only rational and sensible, it is a necessary part of your business.
But racing to the bottom with your pricing will leave you struggling to make a living.
I got a great deal of quiet satisfaction this week from reaching my 2,000th subscriber to my YouTube channel.
I uploaded my first video in March 2011 and it took from then until the third quarter of 2018 to grow my subscriber base to 1,000.
But it only took a couple of months to add an extra 1,000, which bodes well for 2019 and beyond.
I also get a great kick from the fact that I did it without any ‘expert’ help.
No digital marketing guru, no video marketing expert, no expensive equipment, no cameraman, no editor, no studio time. (I have nothing against experts; but don’t tell me, show me.)
Just me and my mobile phone and a $20 webcam purchased on Amazon.
I made all the videos myself, made mistakes, made rubbish, researched answers to questions, improved a little, Googled some more to find more answers, sought out tips, techniques on YouTube, subscribed to good Youtubers, learned from them, learned from my mistakes, learned from trial and error.
And I have loved the journey, the journey of discovery, discovery about making videos, discovery about video marketing, discovery about marketing, discovery about myself, discovery about communication, discovery about hustling and rainmaking in a digital age.
And bit by bit, step by step, gradually the videos improved, and my subscriber growth has a little bit of momentum now which should help maintain my growth rate into the future.
All the videos have been made with my mobile phone or a cheap desktop webcam and a video editing software program called ‘Camtasia’, sometimes with slides from Google Slides or Powerpoint and sometimes with just me being a ‘talking head’.
The greatest thrill, however, is being able to grow my solicitor’s business and my personal brand with the help of YouTube.
And underlying this growth is four fundamental principles I firmly believe in to grow a small business nowadays:
There are very few gatekeepers now-that is, I can pick myself and don’t need anyone else’s permission or approval to communicate with those I try to serve.
An attitude of “Here-I made this, you might find it useful. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t try to serve everyone, but you might find utility in it.”
Don’t like my video/blog post? That’s fine because I will make another one (video, blog post) tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next day, maybe you’ll find one of those useful.
Drip by drip, bit by bit, small step by small step.
One of the greatest pleasures I have discovered in the last ten years or so is the genius of Charles Dickens. It started with Bleak House as this was a book recommended as one that would interest anyone with an interest in the law and legal system.
It took a while to get into his wordy, florid, detailed style and it was, at first, a struggle. But I persevered and am delighted that I did.
At this stage I believe I have read every book Dickens has written, with the exception of Dombey & Son. And I am putting that right at the moment.
I am enjoying Dombey & Son via Audible audio books and the pleasure I derive from listening to a RADA trained English actor bringing all the diverse, interesting characters to life with their superb readings is tremendous.
Dombey & Son is about, among other themes, the pride that Mr. Dombey, a well to do businessman , enjoys with the birth of a long awaited son. It is said that prior to the birth of the son that “girls are given away in this house”.
However, things do not turn out as expected as the son grows up to be a waster and his older, ignored sister turns out to be a wonderful, caring person.
I have only listened to about 3 chapters so far but I am really looking forward to the rest of it.