Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Choose The Difficult Path

Keith Lee

Yesterday I went for a run, my usual 5k. I had given some thought to going farther than normal but when I got to the point where I could keep going, the trail crossing over the creek was flooded. I was stymied. Guess I’ll be sticking to 5k. Time to turn around.

I made it two steps before I stopped. Was I really going to let some water stop me from pushing myself? Give up at the first obstacle I came across? I pivoted and made my way through the woods away from the trail and towards the road.

I had to run a few blocks on the road away from my usual route to get to a different bridge over the creek. Then back to the trail and on my way — 10k instead of 5. Double my regular run. My lungs burned, legs tired. I felt great. And I almost didn’t do it because there was a trickle of water in my way….

Frank A. Clark once said, “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” That has always rung true to me.

Anything that has been worth having in my life has been an uphill battle. Black belts, law degree, writing a book, starting a practice. The things worth having, the things that truly matter are worth it. You have to push through obstructions, push through the hardships, and fight for what you want.

It’s so easy to run into obstacles and be beaten back. There are so many things that will block your path, preventing you from pushing forwards. Your daily customs, habits, and ruts. Established patterns of behaviour. Family and friends. Your “routine.” Because if you are going to go after something worth having, some sought-after goal, you will have to alter your routine. You will have to set things aside and cut things from your life. It will involve sacrifice.

It’s so easy to give in and give up. And no one can help you push past it but yourself. No coaching, no mentors, no classes or workshops you take will actually force you to push past your perceived limitations. All these things do, all these people can do is show you a way. Not “the way.” All people can offer is “this is what worked for me.” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. And that is from the people that want to help.

Many people will see you striving for something and tell you to quit. They’ll tell you it’s not worth the time. That the pain is too great, the effort too great. Don’t shift practice areas. Don’t do that type of work. Don’t take that case. Don’t leave for a different firm. Don’t start your own firm. Other people will try and drag you down. That’s not to say that you should listen to the counsel of select people who you trust, but it’s likely that those people are few and far between. The majority of people who will attempt to discourage you will do so out of fear of change.

But as Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.”

You can’t please everyone. Especially when you choose a difficult path. Other people will view the attempt as futile or foolworthy. But you have to set their voices out of your mind. You have to set aside your own fear. Believe in yourself, believe in your goal, and put everything else aside. Doubts will still attempt to raise themselves in your mind, holding you back. You have to find a way to re-focus on your goal and set aside self-limiting thoughts and beliefs.

Yet there is no perfect path for quieting the timid voice in your mind. No surefire way to kindle a burning desire. No singular guide to forging the will to ignore pain. You’ve got to keep trying things until you find what fits. Then dig and and demand that you be better. Don’t take no for answer. Don’t let others drag you down. Don’t let anything stand in your way. If you want it bad enough, make it happen.

Impose your will on the world.

Keith Lee practices law at Hamer Law Group, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about professional development, the law, the universe, and everything at Associate’s Mind. He is also the author of The Marble and The Sculptor: From Law School To Law Practice (affiliate link), published by the ABA. You can reach him at or on Twitter at @associatesmind.

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