Thought For The Week: “Do not whine… Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.” Joan Didion

A lot to think about for busy young lawyers. Do your own riff on it.

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Young Lawyers Need to Embrace Mistakes as Opportunities

The great jazz legend Miles Davis once said, “If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that determines if it’s good or bad.” Like all great jazz musicians, Davis was a master of improvisation. As such, he saw musical mistakes as opportunities — a philosophy he carried into the rest of his life.

Miles Davis’ words provide a valuable lesson. It’s how we react to so-called mistakes that determine whether the ultimate outcome will be negative or positive. As the great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock said, “Miles was able to turn something that was wrong into something that was right.” 

I play the piano, but I never took music theory seriously. I wish I had because it would make a recovery like Davis envisioned so much easier when I hit the wrong keys and start down the road to dissonance. Music theory teaches you how chords and notes relate to one another and how taking that next step from mistake to recovery is possible and creative.

You don’t have to be a musician to understand this. It is a theme that presents itself in so many different settings throughout our lives. Not dwelling on past mistakes and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by those mistakes is useful in all of those life experiences, including the practice of law.

Ask any seasoned lawyer and he or she will tell you that it was the mistakes that taught them the most. They learned to rebound and never forgot how that mistake was made and to avoid making it again. They grew as practitioners.

I hope that you will have those same opportunities and that you will embrace them. It will accelerate your success and your tolerance for the mistakes of others. It will make you a better lawyer and a better mentor. It will make you a better leader and a better person.

There is simply nothing to lose and so much to gain.

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