A mentor

April 24, 2022

If I had to describe what I do, I have a few things to choose from. A lawyer (once) and sometimes now a presenter, a writer and a consultant, but if I had to land on only one word, it would be mentor.

I have said before that the proudest achievement of my professional life was on 16 February 1987. It was the day I qualified and became a Solicitor of the Supreme Court. I qualified against my expectation, against my history, and against a world that was kind in many moments, but which had created structures and pathways with built-in obstacles and obsolescence for people like me.

I think I am most proud of that day because no-one can disagree with it, or qualify it, or downplay it. I became a lawyer on that day, indisputably. I was so proud of the moment, but more than anything, I was hugely relieved. The hopes I had for myself, and the hopes of those who loved me, could now rest at last. Hope had done an awful lot of heavy lifting, but like all emotions hope can be overplayed and become exhausted.

The moment was huge, but there followed years of wondering if I belonged. Perhaps climbing a mountain is not the same as wanting to live on one. There are great memories of course, and great friendships too, but I can clearly recall looking in on myself and wondering if the achievement of becoming a lawyer should have been an ending and not a beginning.

It was increasingly uncomfortable to find that at each celebration of career progression, the quiet feeling inside of me was one of trepidation thinly supported by hollow smiles. As my journey took me further away from myself, it felt lonely and added to the sense of the imposter coming ever nearer and soon to call me out.

In 2000 the millennium bug was not in software, but inside me. It was time to pause and to stop walking further away from myself. Time, perhaps, to stop climbing mountains and to find a place I wanted to call home.

The step away from being General Counsel was neither brave nor foolhardy, I was not giving up anything I wanted to keep. I had become lost. The energy to pretend that somehow this was the time of my life, and all my ambitions were being fulfilled, was simply taking me too far away from the man I wanted to be, and it was becoming unbearable. Some mornings I could not start the car and drive to work without crying. This was not fun, and it was not me.

My new business started in the year 2000. I knew very well that it might not be the answer, but it was a lifeboat. I could rescue myself and I could pause. In 2000 I had no idea what would happen next, but the decision to step off one career and to reflect on what I needed to do for myself, has empowered my working life ever since.

I have never lost my love for the values and importance of the legal profession. I love the people I work with, and I use that word “love” very deliberately. Love means I can give myself to the people I help. It means I can do so without expectation of something in return. It makes my life less transactional and allows me to find fulfilment in kindness, in valuing vulnerability, in simple acts of care, and in ensuring that the loneliness some feel is not as all-consuming as it might otherwise be.

In the twenty-two years that have passed I have travelled the world to have the most privileged access to people at their strongest and weakest, to listen and to share. I don’t have a technical definition of what I do or of what mentoring means, but I know what it feels like. It feels fulfilling.

To walk beside someone for a while, to care about them, to show them some kindness, and to help them believe that their unique gifts are all they need to make their wonderful difference in the world, is the privilege of my life.

The legal profession has never been more needed, and the people in it have never carried more responsibility to do the right thing; but size, power, and money do not guarantee that the right thing is done. Indeed, sometimes these things take us away from what is right.

We have to make our difference. We have to honour the talents, opportunities and experiences that we own. We have to be courageous too, because we are the grown-ups now. But neither must we feel overwhelmed with the weight of all that is sad, broken or unkind. The smallest first step is just as important as any grand plan. The smaller the intervention, the more compelling it becomes for us to make it. If we focus on the need in front of our eyes, the more we will see how we can make things better, and our confidence will grow to make an even bigger contribution.

I hope our difference does not just live in the clipped managerial tones of our immaculately curated biographies, but lives in the rise and fall of our heartbeat as we step into a real world that needs us more than ever. Let us therefore step into our difference, whatever it might be.

Take care

Paul xx

This is my last blog for a few weeks. Time to pause. Thank you for such kind and generous support each and every week. I am very lucky and appreciate everyone who gives up a little time for my words.

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