How to Stay at the Top of Your Game

By Vicki Voisin, ACP

Has this happened to you? You wake up one day and realize you’re no longer the youngest kid on the block. You’ve worked as a paralegal for a decade or more. You’re feeling a bit stale. You wonder if you’ve made the right career choice. You consider your options and see only limitations. You don’t feel quite at the top of your game.

It’s time to change your mindset! Staying on top of your game requires some work…and I don’t mean the kind of work that keeps you behind your desk from 9:00 to 5:00 (or later) every day. I’m talking about the work you must do to keep you and your mind fresh and energized. Here are some simple steps you can take to do just that:

1. Never stop learning. Always embrace change. Stay in the know! People who are always learning something new are not only more interesting, but also happier in general. There’s constantly something fresh and exciting going on: new rules, case law, and procedures, as well as new books, courses, technology, and vocabulary. Make a deal with yourself to learn something new every day to keep your motivation in high gear.

2. Credentials do matter. Credentials say a lot about you: your depth of knowledge, credibility, determination, diligence, and more. Don’t kid yourself…if you’re in competition for a job with a person who has the same amount of education and work experience, your credentials will give you the leg up you’ll need. Be sure to pursue all of the credentialing you can…then be sure to toot your horn. Let people know you have those credentials and how hard you worked for them. Also, put the designation on your business cards and firm letterhead. If you’re curious about authority to do that, see Peel v Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281 (1990).

3. Join an association…local, state and/or national. My mother always said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This is certainly the case with professional associations. An association will provide you with continuing education opportunities, as well as connections that will enhance your career. You will make lifelong friends that you can count on for assistance when you need contacts or information from their neck of the woods. This will happen more often than you might think.

4. If joining is good, being a contributing, hard-working member is even better. Just carrying your membership card isn’t enough. You’ll reap the benefits of belonging to an association when you jump in with both feet, get really involved, and take on responsibilities: write articles, speak at seminars, plan a retreat….be generous with your time, your ideas and your enthusiasm. When you do this, you’ll find your voice, you’ll make a difference in the profession, and you’ll be more ‘professional.’

5. Never say, ‘I can’t.’ There’s absolutely nothing you can’t do once you put your mind to it. When you’re offered a challenge at work, tackle it with gusto. Ask for help and guidance if you need to. Learn everything that will assist you in meeting the challenge. Dig in and work hard. Repeat the mantra of The Little Engine That Could: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Then change that to ‘I KNOW I can!” You WILL reach the top of the mountain…success is waiting on the other side.

6. Make yourself available to those who may be newer to the career field. If you’ve been in the profession for a while, you should welcome, encourage, mentor and praise those who are coming after you. They will look to you for advice and direction. Be there for them. They are the future but guidance from those with history is crucial. Ruth Conley of Houston, TX (a member of the Houston Paralegal Association) joined me for this picture. Ruth participated in NALA’s first LEAP Program. LEAP stands for Leadership Enhancement and Preparation. Ruth and all the others in the LEAP program spent the past year learning the ropes of leadership. Congratulations to all of you for meeting this goal!

Your challenge: Think about the steps you can take to stay on top of your game. Go new places, nurture your friendships, accept challenges, embrace goals. Never stop until you’re at the top of the mountain…I know you’ll like what you find on the other side.

© 2008 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence’ where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at www.paralegalmentor.com.