Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pride, Prejudice and Roses

As most Jane Austen lovers know, Pride and Prejudice was originally called First Impressions because it dealt with Elizabeth Bennett's first impressions of Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Miss Bennett's views undergo a significant change throughout the book, even as Mr. Darcy alters himself to some extent due to her criticisms.

Shakespeare also addressed first impressions.  Juliet said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  She was illustrating that only Romeo's family name was her enemy, not Romeo.  While this rang true for Juliet, it didn't for her and Romeo's community.  Other people's perceptions regarding what the family names and legacies meant caused great tragedy for the young couple.

It would be wonderful if most people were more like Eliza Bennett and thoughtfully reconsidered their first impressions, including those based on names or labels.  The reality, though, is we often don't get a second chance.  Labels matter, not just in literature but in life.  How we name or label things and people, including ourselves, often is not just the first but the only impression that stays in others' minds.  

As an attorney, I usually defend corporations.  But if I can help it, I never call my client "the defendant."  It doesn't sound warm and fuzzy.  Instead, I usually use a shortened version of the company name.  The lawyer on the other side is much more apt to write and talk about "the defendant," "the big corporation" or "the company" on the other side of the courtroom.

When I started my own law practice five years ago, I noticed that other lawyers and businesspeople reacted differently depending how I described what I'd done.  If I said I'd become a solo practitioner, which means a lawyer who practices without other partners or associates, people almost invariably made jokes about me starving and asked if I worked from home.  I wasn't and I didn't, but it sounded defensive if I pointed that out.  On the other hand, if I said I'd just started my own firm, people looked impressed and asked where my office was and whether I was hiring.  That made a much better start to the conversation.

Likewise, people are much more excited if I say that my thriller The Awakening is an Amazon Occult Best Seller, or even if I say I independently published it through Amazon, than if I say it was self-published.  All three things are true, but each conjures a different image.  The first sounds the most successful and exciting.  The second sounds brave and entrepreneur-like (to create my own word).  The last evokes a vision of poorly spelled stream of consciousness sprawled across a page -- or in today's world, an e-reader -- that sold twenty copies to the author's friends.

The words we use to describe ourselves and our endeavors matter not only to how people perceive us but to ourselves.  Some of the best advice I ever got was from a business development coach at my old law firm.  He encouraged me to tell my clients about my creative writing because he thought they'd find it interesting, and it was something they'd remember about me.  I was hesitant because I felt sort of apologetic about it.  I'd had some articles, short stories, and poems published, but also had gotten stacks of rejection letters for my five unpublished novels.  (The Awakening is the sixth novel I completed.)  The coach said to me, "Lisa, you are telling yourself this story that you're not successful because you haven't gotten a publishing contract for a novel.  You don't understand how few people who want to write have finished anything, let alone a novel, let alone submitted anything for publication or had something published.  Stop focusing on what you haven't done and instead focus on what you have."

He was right.  Not only did clients react positively when I spoke about my excitement about writing and what I'd accomplished, I felt better about it too.  Just like I feel more accomplished and professional when I tell someone I run my own firm.

What names and labels do you use to describe who you are and what you do?  Are there other more positive words that would create a better first impression?  If you're a rose, let people know!

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and author of Amazon occult bestseller THE AWAKENING, short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles.  She is currently working on THE AWAKENING, BOOK II: THE UNBELIEVERS.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly

Read sample chapters of The Awakening:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Three Things I Learned From My Father

Those of you who've read my DUI loss blog know that my dad died in a tragic way -- he and my mom were hit by a drunk driver, which led to both their deaths.  But I was lucky enough that my dad lived and was happy and healthy until he was nearly 89.  This year would have been his 95th birthday.  In honor of him, and of Father's Day, I'm writing on both blogs about three things I learned from him over the years.

Focus on what you can do.  Soon after I was born, my dad had a serious back injury and needed to be off work for more than a month.  But he never talked about how much pain he'd been in, instead, he told me how he'd enjoyed getting to be home with me when I was a baby.  (Dads didn't do that very often in the 1960s.)  When I was eight or nine, he had an even more serious back injury that required surgery and left him with a partially paralyzed leg and on-going back pain.  He had to retire ten years early.  He also had to stop doing many of the things he enjoyed, which was hard because he was a very active person.  But he didn't complain.  He pulled out his old aeronautics engineering books from college and spent the next two years designing his own airplane.  Later he built one of the wings out of scrap wood.  I still have part of it hanging on my wall.

Get involved.  For as long as I can remember, my mom and dad belonged to and volunteered with Amvets.  (My dad was a World War II aviator.)   Every third Wednesday night, right up until the week before the crash, my parents loaded their car with soda, no-sugar bakery, and bingo cards and took them to the blind ward at Hines Veteran Hospital.  Amvets members and volunteers helped the patients with their cards, and Amvets provided small cash prizes.  When my brother Tim and I were playing music, my parents organized groups of musicians to put on free concerts at the hospital.  My parents also became involved in a local citizens group to help stop corruption in village government, were volunteer literacy tutors for many years, and well into their eighties gave rides to people who could no longer drive to doctors' appointments, on errands, or to church.  My dad never told us we ought to volunteer, and I never felt he thought it was a big deal.  It was just part of who he was.

Think for yourself and respect others.  My dad always taught us we shouldn't assume whoever was in charge -- teacher, boss, president -- knew what she or he was doing or had all the answers.  If we thought someone in authority had the wrong facts, we should do the research ourselves to find out what was correct.  If we disagreed with a supervisor's viewpoint, we should stick to our own opinions if we believed them well founded.  He didn't hesitate to say an idea made no sense or a statement was wrong if he thought it was, no matter who said it (which perhaps didn't make him too popular with his bosses).  At the same time, my dad also taught us to treat everyone with respect.  He might question authority or criticize an idea, but I never heard him call anyone names or address anyone by anything other than the proper title.  And even if he had questions about someone's character -- for instance, a politician convicted of embezzling money -- he would say, "I don't understand why someone would do something like that," or "that's a terrible thing to do," rather than saying that person was a bad person.

I'm grateful to have had my father in my life.  I know many people who lost their dads early in life or had fathers who weren't there or who perhaps did more harm than good.  The main way that I try to honor my dad is by speaking at victim impact panels through the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) to first-time DUI offenders.  My hope is that by sharing what happened to my parents and our family due to someone else's choice to drink and drive, at least a few other people will make a different choice, and other deaths and injuries will be prevented.  I think my dad would appreciate that.

Please feel free to share thoughts about your dad below.

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and author of Amazon occult bestseller THE AWAKENING, short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles.  She is currently working on THE AWAKENING, BOOK II: THE UNBELIEVERS.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly