We’ve examined the five essential steps to achieving flow; we’ve put those five steps into action; now, in Part 3 on flow and the art of lawyering, we’ll conclude with the one thing that ties everything else together.
It’s what will keep you going when you hit inevitable obstacles.
It’s something—a mindset, really—that will insulate you from so-called “failure” for the rest of your days.
It is that there is no such thing as failure.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards
There is no such thing as failure if you’re focused on the activity itself, rather than what you might get out of it.
If the activity itself is what drives you, obstacles won’t devastate your life. Something you want but have not gotten (and might never get)—like becoming a judge or the next John Grisham or simply getting a quote about your case on the local news—will not have the power to devastate you.
I think of this when I watch American Idol and I see someone whose dream is to impress the judges and “make it to Hollywood” and get a shot at stardom—yet their singing voice just isn’t good enough. You can see the shock on their faces, as if they cannot believe that they’re not good enough, that their dream will always be just a dream, and you have to wonder whether some of the more passable ones (but who still didn’t pass the audition) will stop singing altogether.
So I wrote in Part 2 that I wanted to be a “good writer.”
If I am being honest with you, a big part of being a good writer means getting recognized for it, getting published, and in my dream of dreams, perhaps even make a great living and earn some level of fame for my writing. But if that is all I am focused on, I will never make it happen.
Because the truth is that I have to love the activity of writing even if I wasn’t paid to do it.
You’ve probably heard this before, but I mean it the way Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi means it in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Writing is hard work and at times quite draining. It’s not romantic the way I used to believe it might be for novelists.
But it is a flow-inducing activity, like lawyering, and worth the intrinsic rewards that come from pursuing an activity that I enjoy.
Failure is an Illusion
If I truly want to be a good writer, and if you truly want to be a good lawyer, you must shift your focus off the extrinsic rewards—money, fame, power, quotes in the local news—and consider that so-called “failure” is an illusion: you fail relative only to some extrinsic goal you think you want, or that someone else thinks you should want.
If the coveted extrinsic things never come, will you have considered your effort a waste?
If you never get rich being a lawyer, or you never argue a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, or you never become a judge, or (gasp!) you lose a case, has what you’ve done with your life been in vain?
Will it devastate you and cause you to quit? Or will you simply become a bitter lawyer?
Not if the activities you’ve chosen were chosen for the right reasons: to enjoy what you’re doing in a state of flow, not worrying about the past or the future, but being totally absorbed in the task at hand, for its own sake.