Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2005

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MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program

"You and Your Attitude"
By Carol P. Waldhauser

In response to Fred Astaire’s first screen test, a 1933 memo by a MGM testing director remarked, “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Astaire kept that memo over the fireplace in his Beverly Hills Home. On another occasion, an expert once said of famous football coach Vince Lombardi, “He possesses minimal football knowledge. Lacks motivation.”

Life deals its blows to each one of us. Whether the setbacks occur in our personal or professional lives (or both), they can ruin our dreams for success – that is, if we let them. It is said that our happiness and success depend not so much on the problems we face, but on how we respond to them. Have you ever noticed how some people not only survive personal setbacks but also emerge from them stronger and more capable?

David Brinkley, the famous news correspondent, once said, “A successful man is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.” Ironically, data suggests that people are more alike than they care to admit. However, one little difference usually makes a big difference in individuals overcoming setbacks both personally and professionally. That little difference is attitude.

Maintaining a positive, realistic “can-do” attitude is the key to resiliency when we are experiencing life’s bumps in the road; our attitude is what gives us the stamina to go traverse the bumps. No matter what the bump, a positive attitude enables individuals to move on when life has dealt them one or more cruel blows (i.e., a chronic illness, a missed promotion, a big loss, or all of the above at the same time). In other words, individuals who know how to bounce back have the ability to transform disappointments and personal tragedy into a positive experience. They know also that this ability to transform personal tragedy into a positive experience takes skill, determination and moxie. For some individuals this is natural, but for some it takes more.

Attitude is Everything

The amazing thing about this energizing quality is that it is within your control. You are responsible for how you react to disappointments and what you allow to influence your life. Ironically, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the past, nor can we change the inevitable. We can, however, change our attitude.

Accentuate the Positive

A positive outlook allows you to stand up and take control of your life. Of course, when an individual experiences a traumatic event, that person will at first grieve the loss and may even go into a “hole”. However, the resilient individual is determined at some point to crawl out of that hole by seeking additional support, if necessary. In addition, as time passes, the resilient individual manages to transform the traumatic tragedy into an oddly positive experience. He or she does this in three ways: (1) building faith in themselves; (2) finding refuge from personal troubles; and (3) believing in their own resilience.

Therefore, resilience demands optimism, and optimism is the ability to accept negative events without allowing them to destroy our resolve.

“Resilience depends on creating a life in which you are surrounded by positive forces,” says Frederic F. Flach, M.D., author of Resilience: The Power to Bounce Back When the Going Gets Tough. “If you work on developing a supple sense of self-esteem, you’ll recover more quickly from difficult times.”

Adversity Can Teach

When you have faced disaster, you can eventually learn from it rather than worrying about it; the challenge is in replacing worry with hope. “Worry is the most subtle and destructive of all human diseases,” a famous physician once noted. “Millions of people are ill because of dammed-up anxiety.”

Furthermore, “If you can get through one setback and remain intact, you’ll have the ability to bounce back from all sorts of other things,” says Curtis McMillen, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. In other words, you learn coping skills.


A passionate and unwavering belief in dreams and goals is a necessary rule for “resiliency”. This motivates and recharges the individual. Without belief in dreams and goals old or new, the opportunities to give up will look too tempting and you could easily take the path of least resistance and quit.

Limit Wallowing in Self-Pity

Every person going through a hard time should feel free to cry. The skill is to allow that time and then know when to quit wallowing. For all of us, the best-laid plans do not always work. Our lives are filled with potholes, roadblocks and detours. However, when times get tough, persisting with every fiber you can is paramount to resiliency. Moreover, surviving a major tragedy can also give you an indispensable sense of perspective.

To jump-start your attitude adjustment and cultivate your coping skills, try the following as stated in Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners:

The five guidelines to serenity in business and life are:

  1. Focus on the Present.
  2. Maintain Your Perspective.
  3. Control What You Can, Let Go of the Rest
  4. Feel the Fear, Succeed Anyway.
  5. Keep Your Cool.

Remember, you are the only person on this earth who can use your ability. Furthermore, if you make a habit of seeing yourself as a powerful force in your own life, not a victim of circumstance, then you will be a powerful force when you hit the bumps in the road. For more information work/life issues and/or other matters that influence your quality of work and quality of life contact or call (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3041.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2005

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