The phase approach to life

The phase approach to life

December 26, 2020

I think about life a lot like The Avengers Saga.

They had distinct phases leading to bigger things. Minor villains or struggles in those early phases. It’s the weaker struggles that allow the heroes to test themselves and grow into their role.

When I saw the first Iron Man movie, I had no idea where the saga would go. I honestly knew very little about Marvel until the movies starting coming out. I knew next to nothing about Iron Man. But they set the pieces on the board. They built Tony Stark up. He was tested with smaller villains until the fight in the first Avengers movie. Even then that would be a minor villain compared to Thanos.

This is what life can look like for many people. Except most people look at life in years. The things that happened in 2010, 2016, or now 2020.

People look up and have no idea how they got where they are. In a dead-end job. Resigned to a fate they never wanted.

That’s why I’ve always thought of mine as phases. Each one building to the next bigger challenge. Each one a part of the greater saga. 

This brings up the idea of second-order thinking. It’s how a trial lawyer has to think. The immediate decision is only one small part of the analysis. I’ve been trained and conditioned to think about what happens down the road in 6 months or a year on that case. But the even crazier analysis is thinking through how that decision will affect other cases and my reputation. Thinking through how that plays out in the legal community as they hear about decisions and moves I made.

I know that if I make the right decision in a case, it can positively impact entirely different cases years down the road. I’ve seen it happen. The funny thing about being a prosecutor is that the jail talks about you. The word gets around about how people shouldn’t mess with you. How when I say that this is the best offer, I mean it’s the best offer. When I say I’m ready to go tee it up at trial, I mean it.

It reminds me of the story about how Bill Russell was being bullied and his coach told him to find a moment in a national televised game and throw a vicious elbow. Throw it in the open. Throw it so there was no mistake he meant it. 

It would solve the bullying.

Now, I don’t know if that story is true but it was told in The West Wing. If it’s in The West Wing, I’m assuming it’s true. That’s some blind loyalty from me.

An annual review is on my agenda over the coming days. I have no doubt it will be a valuable exercise but I first wanted to map out these phases of life approach I believe in.

Photo by Vitalis Hirschmann on Unsplash

The first part of my career is what I call Phase I.

I went to law school with a focus on mock trial, persuasive speaking, and negotiations. Then 102 jury trials and all the nasty parts that come with being a trial lawyer.

One thing to note, trial lawyers are different than other lawyers. The level of gamesmanship, strategy, human psychology, negotiation, and manipulation in that world changes a person. It makes you see the world differently and make decisions differently. It helped me learn how to frame any narrative. If you give me a topic, I can argue both sides. I can do it against myself. I can do it against others and they believe that I think that side is right. It teaches reading people and using body language, mirroring techniques, empathy, and all the persuasion techniques available in order to win. In order to gain that slight advantage.

It taught me how to lay in waiting for the right moment. Prepare, wait, wait, react. It reminds me a bit of that scene in Gladiator when Commodus is learning about the eel that lies on the seafloor letting another fish pick at it as though it’s dead. Waiting until the right moment to pounce.

This is the reality of phase 1. I saw the worst of humanity. I also saw some of the best of humanity. I learned the rules. I used the rules. I figured out how to bend them and mold them. How many more pop culture references can I throw in? It’s a bit like choosing the Red Pill in The Matrix or walking through the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia.

The second part of my career is what I call Phase II.

This phase focused on building up the reputation and subject matter expertise around public speaking, communication, and storytelling. This is the phase many of you reading this will have come to know me. Luckily for me, I had been teaching persuasive speaking at SMU Law School for 3 years and giving thousands of speeches, talks, pitches, and negotiations as a trial lawyer. So there were already credentials before I even entered into this more public-facing world outside of just the legal world. 

I saw this phase coming in my second year of law school. I remember the conversation with my parents like it was yesterday. I told them I wanted to hit 100 jury trials. I knew if I did that, I could leverage those skills into something bigger. I wasn’t exactly sure what but I knew I would find it. This goes back to the idea of prepare, wait, wait, and react. I prepared with the trial lawyer background and teaching at SMU Law. Then I had to wait.

Covid presented the opportunity. It opened up my eyes to the online world. Basically, I was like Sam Flynn stepping onto the Grid. Seeing a new world that really did exist. So I pushed hard to give away the things I knew and help people. Phase II felt a little bit like Civil War in the Avengers saga. Many of my friends and family doubted me. They pushed back on these decisions. That’s okay. It wasn’t a surprise and I was prepared. Like the eel, I had to let them pick at me while I continued to wait.

Because now we are finally in Phase III. 

This is the phase that contains all the potential not just for me but also to help incredible people and in large numbers. I see founders with world changing ideas but struggling to articulate the story and use their narrative in a way to send up their bat signal. They tell me things like speaking is what stops them in their tracks and prevents them from the future they want. Now I get to bring all of these skills together to build with them. The trial lawyer and the public speaker. The strategist and the teacher. The athlete and the coach.

I’ve been building, preparing, and putting the pieces together for the past 10 years. In 2021 the opportunity is right in front of me. I won’t miss. 

I won’t lose.

It’s too important to me. It’s too important to help other people. I know what’s possible and I know how to make it happen.

Phase III is here. 


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