It may not have been the “Path” of least resistance when I decided to leave my well-established law practice in Ottawa to pursue my dreams in “The Big Smoke”. No matter what city I may reside in, however, my vision for living life has always remained the same. I see life as a journey and “an adventure of passion, risk, danger, laughter, beauty, love, a burning curiosity to go with the action to see what it is all about, to search for a pattern of meaning […] and to live to the end."
Perhaps some of you can relate to your career in law being similar to Toronto’s infamous “PATH”: it has many different routes that no one can ever truly navigate with ease; it may require direction, assistance and guidance; and, despite having a well-established plan, you may at times be filled with doubt, or encounter challenges and perhaps setbacks along the way. What may have initially seemed very simple and straightforward can actually lead you in circles before you finally reach your destination. Once there, however, you quickly realize it’s time to move on again. I’m sure that many of you who have personally experienced this have, at one point or another, asked yourselves: How does one navigate this complex and intricate path with ease and grace? Sorry to disappoint, but I cannot offer a clear answer for you here [I’ll be sure to write a further article once I do figure it out]. What I can offer you in this article, though, is a lighthearted account of my journey to Toronto, which will hopefully provide some tips on achieving your goals and cultivating resilience.
The backstory: Why make the change?
There are many reasons why I decided to leave the comforts of Ottawa, but believe me when I say it was not an easy decision to make. I knew I would be leaving behind many things that I find meaningful in life: the presence, comfort, and joy of my family who lived nearby; the close friendships I had developed over the years; the established relationships with my colleagues; and the relatively secure path of career advancement within the Ottawa Bar. So, why move?” you may ask. After all, it would be a hassle to pack up my life, say my farewells, start over again, and prove myself at a new firm. The answer for me was simple: personal growth and career progression.
Since my call to the Bar in 2011, I have practiced in the area of insurance defence which involved many early mornings, Porter lounges, and long commutes from the airport to my final destination in Toronto. These trips always left me feeling challenged, alive, and curious about the Toronto market. I was intrigued as to the opportunities a career in Toronto could offer, the benefits that come with living and working in a big city, and the social aspect of it all.
I believe it’s important to step back from our everyday demands to reflect on life, to consider our career goals and objectives, and to evaluate the projection and the desired destination we want for ourselves. By doing so, we can take charge of our own personal advancement, whether it be as an individual, in our careers, or our relationships. We often get stuck on auto-pilot, going through our daily routines without asking ourselves “Is this truly what I desire?”. The answer may very well be “yes” – which is wonderful – or it may be that one aspect of your life requires change. Perhaps you require a work/life balance, a new challenge, or a renewed sense of passion that only change can bring.
My thought process was that a new market could provide exposure to preferred substantive work, allow for diversity in clientele, and offer further entrepreneurial opportunities. Sometimes it's also about taking a chance. I was ready for a change in lifestyle; I was seeking growth and welcomed this new opportunity with open arms.
The Change: Cultivating Resilience
Change is essential. In fact, I believe it is a key ingredient to success, happiness, individual growth, and career development. However, along with change, we may also experience difficulties, barriers and adversity. While change can be exhilarating, it may also come with setbacks that can leave us feeling depleted, discouraged, and wanting to retreat to our comfort zone.
I anticipated that the move to Toronto would have its challenges, but there were (and are) things that I did not foresee. In full disclosure, there may have been a few tears shed along the way and an underlying desire to retreat back to my comfort zone at times. Despite the moments of doubt, I quickly learned that the key to dealing with change is to embrace it and endure the set-backs while focusing on the positive. In short, the most important thing is to carry on – to practice resilience.
But what is resilience and how does one develop, maintain, and practice it? A great article was released by Homewood Health | Sante titled “Building your Resilience” which resonated deeply with me. It outlines why resilience is an important quality in our fast-paced, stressful and ever-changing lives. According to the article, resilience is defined as the ability to face life’s challenges and cope with disruptive change; it is the ability to rebound from setbacks without responding in dysfunctional ways. Being resilient doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t feel sad, angry, or upset in response to difficult events; rather, it means that we must find a way to manage through the adversity. Resilience allows us to endure difficult and challenging situations - whether it is a move to a new city, overcoming a difficult task, dealing with a challenging client, etc. - and enables us to grow.
Because this concept of resilience may seem somewhat abstract, I have included some recommendations and tips for accepting change and cultivating resilience in our lives as we continue to work towards achieving our goals.
These can be easily remembered as the acronym CHANGE:
Create a Support Network
Never Accept Defeat
Give Yourself Credit
Exercise & Work/Life balance
1. Create a Support Network: This has been the most challenging part since my arrival to Toronto, most likely a reflection of the incredible support system in Ottawa – a wonderful and loving family, caring and supportive friends, and a team of truly amazing colleagues. Having a great support system with whom you can share your thoughts and fears, discuss challenges, turn to for advice, or simply lean on when you need a listening ear is an essential part of overcoming life’s obstacles. Life’s burdens can be too heavy to carry alone; we all need the emotional and psychosocial support of others to help us work through our challenges.
TIPS: Join an organization such as the Ontario Bar Association, volunteer in your community (e.g. lawyers feed the hungry), or organize a dinner among the associates at your firm. Take steps to ensure that you are part of a network and work on strengthening those connections.
2. Help Yourself: When faced with a challenge or set-back, learn to stay calm, examine the situation, and think rationally for solutions that will assist in advancing and moving you towards your goals. We are often great at solving other people’s problems and recommending well thought-out solutions but struggle when it comes to our own challenges. This likely occurs because we are more emotionally invested in our own lives and, at times of duress, our ability to think critically and rationally is clouded by our emotional state. Thus staying calm and emotionally grounded should be the primary focus – this will allow you to do what you, as a lawyer, do best: problem-solve.
TIPS: Try meditation or develop a mantra: “I am strong; I am focussed; I will get through this”. You can revise the mantra to any words or phrase that inspires you most.
3. Accept Change: Change is a part of life. Similar to law itself, life and a career in law is never static but rather vibrant and dynamic; it is continuously evolving and progressing. We can’t stop change from happening, and trying to do so will only wear us down. If we embrace change rather than resist it, we will feel happier, less stressed, and (ironically) more in control.
TIPS: Journal about the changes in your life. Document the peaks and the valleys and how you are feeling in those moments. Focus on the positives and the opportunities you wish to welcome into your life.
4. Never Accept Defeat: Instead, use difficult situations as a learning opportunity, to not only develop better coping and problem-solving skills, but also to strategize and implement solutions. This is also a great opportunity to practice asking for help, which can simultaneously strengthen your interpersonal relationships. Learning to take action will help restore balance by allowing you to regain control over your circumstances.
TIPS: In the midst of your day, a stressful situation, or a moment of uncertainty: stop, take a deep breath, go for a walk, change your mindset. If you are still overwhelmed, perhaps ask a friend or mentor for support.
5. Give Yourself Credit: Often times we forget just how far we have come and all the obstacles we have surpassed along the way to get to this exact spot. Positive reinforcement is crucial as it will give you that extra boost of energy necessary to keep going. Take a moment of recognition for yourself; be proud of everything you have accomplished and keep pushing yourself to be the best you can.
TIPS: Truly take a moment to celebrate your success by going to dinner, calling a friend to share the joys in your life, or having a glass of champagne. Make the moment special and focus on that feeling of accomplishment.
6. Exercise and Work/Life Balance: It is so important to take care of yourself. If our bodies and minds are not maintained, our ability to manage and work through challenging situations effectively will be impaired. This is one area where we have complete control in our lives: taking the time to rest, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly (according to a Time Health study, even as little as 15 minutes per day can have outstanding benefits), and making time to enjoy the simple pleasures that life has to offer. Toronto has so many wonderful activities when it comes to enjoying life: amazing restaurants, fine arts, a beach close by, cycling trails – the list goes on! It’s important to develop healthy ways to manage stress, to relax and to take a deep breath.
TIPS: Develop a routine that works for you. Try early morning workouts, going for a walk at lunch hour, or read for pleasure during your commute to / from work. Take 20 minutes each day to take care of yourself and schedule the time in your calendar. Physically setting aside time in your calendar will help you stay committed to “making and taking” this time, which is crucial for your health and emotional wellbeing.
The Journey: Keep moving forward
In my personal journey, a change in city, surroundings, and Bar may have been a step backwards in many respects, albeit temporarily. Each and every day, however, there have been improvements: I am developing a new daily and weekly routine, discovering new places, and meeting wonderful people. Overall, I feel challenged and I feel alive. In reference to personal accomplishments in an article by Lisa Iannucci, Diana Nyad said: “When you achieve your dreams, it’s not so much what you get, it’s who you become”. I happen to agree with her. While I did ‘get’ many wonderful things by moving to Toronto, they are simply the cherry on top. The most significant part of this journey is who I have become as a result. In the last year alone, I have had more personal growth than I have experienced in years, which to me is an accomplishment that I am most proud of.
This "Path", somewhat like the PATH that lays beneath the downtown core of Toronto, has always been about the journey and the growth which comes along the way. It's about continuing to move forward and embracing change; enjoying the peaks and working through the valleys. I am excited to continue my journey and am hopeful that my career in law will continue to flourish, develop, and grow no matter where this path may lead. Let us continue to cultivate resilience so that we may persevere in overcoming obstacles and succeed in conquering our goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marie T. Clemens is a senior Associate at Moodie Mair Walker LLP, practising in civil litigation with a focus on professional errors and omissions, product liability and insurance defence litigation.
Marie holds a LL.B. from the University of Ottawa (2010) and a Honours B.A. in Law and Psychology from Carleton University (2002). She speaks to legal professionals about self-awareness and mindfulness practices. Stay tuned for her launch of “The Power of Presence” for Legal Professionals.
 Alinsky, S.D. quoted In Saperston, E. (2012). "Live in Wonder: Quests, Quotes & Questions to Jumpstart Your Journey", 2nd ed. Live in Wonder Press: Venice, CA.