Compromising On the Road to My Horizon

“There’s been a load of compromising on the road to my horizon,
but I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me
– “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Larry Weiss, popularized by Glen Campbell

This song is on my iPod, thanks to Eric. During a recent workout, I got to thinking about what Glen meant by “compromising” and what sort of compromises I might have made on the road to where the sky has met the earth in my life.

The  word “compromise” has many different meanings. To compromise is to reach an agreement, find a middle way between two extremes, or expose or make liable to danger, suspicion or disrepute. I think Glen had the following definition in mind: a concession to something derogatory or objectionable;  a compromise of principles.

We have all made compromises in our life. It is a part of growing up to make concessions, to choose the least objectionable path, to focus on the positive and ignore the negative.  If you’re lucky and the road is smooth, you won’t have to give up too much of yourself to get where you want to be – whether it’s Broadway or the corner office.

So what concessions have I made in my life, prejudicial or otherwise?

Love: I have rarely compromised in the area of love, which I would define as dating, or even marrying, someone for reasons other than a sincere desire to be with that person. A classic example of compromise would be choosing a husband based on his perceived ability to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed rather than feelings of romantic love. I never felt the need to let economics play a role in choosing who to date.

Education: Not from my perspective. I went to one of the best undergraduate schools in Minnesota and the only law school in the community where I lived at the time. From my perspective, it would have been a compromise of my values to insist on going to a top tier law school at the expense of spending time with my family.

Work: Often. In private practice, I did not have a proper work-life balance and sacrificed time with my family to keep the partners and clients happy.  Chasing billable hours can also feel like trading your soul for money, but I learned how to provide value for dollar and always ensured the bill reflected the value provided.  As an in-house attorney, I very rarely feel the need to compromise.

Family: It depends. I have no regrets about choosing to have a child or choosing to have only one child. This is an intimate decision that is best worked out between the parents. I had to compromise though on where we lived when raising our family, which influenced how much time I could spend with my parents and siblings. Go hug your mother now.

Fun: Almost never. I have the pictures to prove it. I tend to lose all perspective on what is the right way to behave when there is wine and dancing. It’s just how we Brom girls roll.

Politics: Not intentionally. I have always tried to pick the candidate who can do the best job, and not the one who will further my own interest.  My Dad was a Democrat. We watched the 1968 election returns hoping Herbert Humphrey would make us Minnesotans proud. My mother was a Republican. She probably voted for Nixon in 1968, but I didn’t figure that out until I was in my 20’s.  In the past, I liked some of what I heard in both parties and have voted for both Democrats and Republican for President.   These days I am a registered Democrat and support Democratic candidates.

What compromises have you made on the road to your horizon?

My Birthday Should Be a Holiday

March 8th is a special day in the Smith family household. We celebrate two out of three birthdays on this day, mine and Katelin’s. Eric often jokes about how this makes things easier, as he only has to remember one date. In truth, trying to make the two most important people in your life feel equally special on the same day is a daunting task, particularly when one of them is a small child and the other is her mother.  He never disappointed either one of us.

Birthday with Kakey

Although Katelin has learned to appreciate our shared day, when she was a child, she did not give it much thought.  More often than not during her childhood,  we would have two completely separate birthday celebrations.  She was busy planning her own birthday party: who should she invite, where should it be, what would the theme be. You know you are doing something right as a parent if your child is allowed to be self-centered.

Now that she has learned to adult, she thinks it is great and has embraced the specialness of sharing her birthday with her mother.  We send each other birthday “gifs” and have at least one joint celebration. This year Eric booked us a Signature Escape at the Langham Hotel’s Chuan Spa: 5 Wu Xing Elements In-One.  It sounds heavenly and just what two busy women need to relax and unwind.

Our friends, family and acquaintances will usually exclaim “How neat” or “What a blessing” when they are told (or remember) that we share the same birthday.  So how rare is it? Ken Thompson, a researcher at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi calculated the odds of a baby being born on the same day as the baby’s mother and father (this actually happened in 2016):

“There are lots of variables at play,” he said. “To make it as simple as possible, let’s say that the distribution of birthdays throughout the year is uniform, that people are equally likely to be born on any given day of the year. This isn’t necessarily a true assumption, but it makes the interpretation much easier. I don’t know what the true distribution would be — babies are not likely to be conceived uniformly throughout the year — and let’s ignore leap years, which brings another level of complexity.”

“Given these ideal situations, the probability that a person is born on any given day of the year is 1/365, regardless of the day. The probability of being born on Dec. 18 is 1/365 for the mother, the father, and the son.”

“The probability of three independent events would be the product of the three probabilities. Thus, the probability of mom born on Dec. 18 and the probability of dad born on Dec. 18 and the probability of their son being born on Dec. 18 is (1/365)(1/365)(1/365), which is 0.000000021.”

The odds Katelin would be born on my birthday are 1/365, since I have already been born, and my birthday is known to be March 8.  These odds are a lot better than claiming the Power Ball jackpot (1/292 million) or being struck by lightening some day this year (1/700,000), but it’s still a pretty special occurence.

March 8 is also International Women’s Day  How perfect is that? Women from all over the world celebrating their womanhood and empowerment on our special day.  International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. It began as a women’s suffrage and workers’ rights movement, and is even credited with starting the Russian revolution. Although originally celebrated primarily in Socialist and Communist countries, the event has continued to grow and is now recognized in over 100 countries.  Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia have declared March 8 an official non-working holiday.

The United States does not officially recognize March 8 as International Women’s Day, not even as a working holiday. Maxine Waters introduced a resolution in 1994, but the resolution did not get an up or down vote. It is time we fixed this oversight.

This year women were protesting all over the world on March 8, and more people were talking about it because of the #MeToo movement.  Those of us who thought the battle was won, are waking up to the realization that women have a long way to go to achieve equality and be fully empowered.  #MeToo has changed the nature of the conversation, but even more importantly, it has increased our awareness of where the lines are currently being drawn and where they should be drawn. Real and permanent progress will come when women have more than a token seat at the table, and have the power to ensure our perspective is heard and the issues we care about are addressed.

I believe my daughter’s generation will make this happen and in the future, our special day will be celebrated as International Women’s Day in the United States.  Why not make it a non-working holiday like those other countries.  We need a holiday in March!

Confronting Disruption in Healthcare

The message is clear. Tech companies and others are determined to disrupt healthcare.  Payers think it is too expensive. Patients think it is too complex.  Meanwhile, physicians are getting paid less to do more and hospitals are providing care to more complex patients with fewer resources.  No one is happy with the inefficient healthcare system as it exists today.


Disruption brings opportunities, as well as challenges. Your healthcare organization  can meet the disruption head on if it pays attention to the following trends:

  • Importance of data analytics. Thriving healthcare organizations invest in the capability to use data analytics to manage the effectiveness and cost of health care. Mercy Health Network (MHN) developed a comprehensive data warehouse that aggregates data from over 150 sources, with plans to expand to over 500 sources.  These sources include electronic medical record clinical data, billing records, scheduling data, hospital demographic data, public exchanges, and payer claims data feeds.  MHN uses this data to anticipate patient needs and proactively engage patients in self-management.  This type of data can also be used for predictive analytics to determine needed interventions while the patient is in the hospital, such as determining which patients are at risk for falls or re-admissions and developing a care plan to address these risks.
  • Patient-Centered Marketplace. MHN is focused on putting its members at the center of its business strategy. Consumers are making more of the decisions on what  healthcare services to consume and which providers to use. Consumers are demanding more cost and quality transparency from providers.  Is your brand associated with high quality in the minds of your patients? Do you deliver an exceptional patient experience? Are you being transparent about how much the patient will pay for her care, or is she going to be surprised (and shocked) when she gets the bill? Are you aligned with your hospital-based providers so you can estimate what their charges will be?
  • Need for Cost Reduction. Purchasers of health care, including the government, employers and consumers, are increasingly cost sensitive. To be seen as the provider of choice in your market, your healthcare organization must deliver value to the community: better care and better health at a lower cost. Traditionally, cost-cutting efforts are focused on areas such as supply chain, revenue cycle, clinical documentation improvement, and labor productivity.  What is needed, however, are transformational changes to the cost paradigm in health care. Are patients receiving care in the lowest cost setting? Are nurse practitioners being used effectively? What controls are in place to ensure patients are receiving medically necessary tests and therapies? Are you using data to coordinate your patients’ care to ensure they receive needed interventions.

As General Counsel of MHN, I clearly see an important role for the legal team in these efforts. My priority as Mercy Health Network’s General Counsel is to ensure the Legal Department has the right culture and is appropriately staffed to meet the needs of our organizational clients.

To be effective, Legal staff must be responsive and understand their role in managing risk. If Legal is a “black hole”, the clients will find ways to work around them, which increases the risks to the organization and leads to litigation and non-compliance.  Legal staff also need to understand their role in providing proactive, strategic guidance. They need to be “yes” lawyers, without becoming rubber stamps, carefully gauging and advising on the risk of a particular strategy.

Employing outside counsel can be an effective way to add needed competencies.  I have used alternative fee arrangements to manage these expenses.  These arrangements include fixed-fee retainer agreements for ongoing needs and not-to-exceed fees on discrete engagements.  Active engagement and management is also key.  Outside counsel are most effective when they have an in-house lawyer advising them on who to interview and how to get needed information. This approach also eases the concerns of fellow employees who are not accustomed to being interviewed by attorneys or being questioned about what they did and why.

Iowa Lawyer

I was admitted as an attorney in Iowa on December 20. Before that date, I could not hold myself out as an attorney authorized to practice law in Iowa. After December 20, I can claim that distinction.

Iowa requires that every attorney admitted to practice law be sworn in by a Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, which is equivalent to the Court of Appeals in New York State. This means that 30 seconds after being admitted as an attorney in Iowa, I was shaking hands with a Justice from its highest court. Cool.

The three of us who were sworn in on December 20 had the honor and privilege of having Justice Brent R. Appel administer the oath. He took the time to explain why he thought the tradition of having Supreme Court Justices administer the oath had merit, and why it should continue. He stressed the importance of civility, public service and professionalism. Eric and Katelin bore witness to the ceremony and were duly impressed by his humility and sense of honor.

Below is the oath I swore to uphold.

I swear or affirm:

As an officer of the Court serving in the administration of justice, I will:

  • Support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Iowa
  • Perform to the utmost of my abilities and education
  • Maintain the respect due to the Courts and my colleagues
  • Faithfully and ethically discharge the duties required of Iowa lawyers

As a zealous advocate and counselor for my clients, I will:

  • Strive to be worthy of trust and respect
  • Counsel clients to maintain only those disputes supported by law and the legal process
  • Use only those means that are consistent with justice
  • Maintain the confidences of my clients as required by law
  • Support the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, pro bono publico

As a member of the legal community, I will:

  • Strive to represent the legal profession as one of justice, honor, civility and service.

I hope I can live up to these high words.

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Six): “So, How is the Law?”

“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, button, are none of those things.”  Legally Blonde (2001)

Our lovely daughter Katelin is studying cultural anthropology and business at SUNY Geneseo. Her friends are all nice, interesting people, and we have enjoyed spending time with them. It’s fun to see things from their perspective. During a recent visit, one of her friends surprised me with the title question: “So, how is the law?” I wasn’t sure how to respond. The law has been good to me. I am less sure it is a good career for twenty-somethings. I am not encouraging Katelin to go to Law School and did not want to encourage her friends to attend either. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • In 2009, the median salary for new Law School graduates was $72,000. In 2010, it was $63,000.  The national mean salary for attorneys was $93,454 in 2009, and $84,111 in 2010.
  • The average debt for Law School graduates is $75,500. That’s a lot of Cheetos.
  • The number of applicants to Law Schools was 83,400 in 2008 and 87,900 in 2010.

If you are considering Law School after graduation, please keep the following points in mind:

  • Law School can prepare you to do many things. You don’t necessarily need to practice law after you graduate.  We live in a society governed by the rule of law. Knowing what the rules are, or more importantly knowing how to figure out what the rules are, is a valuable skill in many areas.
  • If you go to Law School, you will want to spend at least some part of your career in the private practice of law. Three-fourths of Law School graduates are in private practice. It is where the jobs are and where the money is. Fortunately, it is also the best way to learn what it means to be a lawyer who zealously represents her clients. If you spend your entire career in government service or with a corporation as your client, you will miss out on this important perspective.
  • Avoid taking on too much debt. Apply to a number of Law Schools and pick the one that is the best deal. If you spend $40,000 per year to make $60,000, it will take longer for the investment to pay off.  If your third choice school is offering you a scholarship, it may pay off financially to accept it.  Student loans are easy money, until it is time to pay them back. You want to minimize your debt burden to give yourself flexibility after you graduate.
  • Don’t mess around once you start Law School. You need to graduate near the top of your class to get a great job in such a competitive market. I am 15 years out of Law School but still have my GPA and Law School ranking on my resume. You will carry those statistics around with you for the rest of your career.
  • Go to Law School near where you want to live. I went to Albany Law School. It is the best place to go if you want to practice law in Albany. There are some Law Schools that have a national reputation. You can go anywhere with a Harvard or Yale Law School degree.  A regional Law School is perfectly fine, though, if you know were you want to live.

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Five): Fire Up Your Dreams

It is college graduation season. New graduates are celebrating their achievements and giving themselves a well-deserved pat on the back.  I congratulate each and every one of you. Good job.

You are probably  thinking about your next step in life.  Should I get some experience in the “real world” or continue on to graduate school? Can I find a job that will allow me to be self-supporting or do I need to move back home with Mom and Dad? What can I do with a major in Canadian Studies?

I remember that feeling. My first step after graduating from college was to move from Minneapolis to South Florida. I didn’t have any job prospects, but I did have a place to live.  Moving back into my parents’ house was not an attractive option at that stage of my life. They were nice people but a little set in their ways at that point in their lives, which included playing the television at top volume through the prime time shows, The Ten O’Clock News and The Tonight Show.

In Florida, I worked as a waitress and then as a secretary.  After a year of struggling to find my way, I joined the Navy.

I could have benefited from some career advice at that point in my life.  These days, career resources can be found in print and online formats, and include  books, websites and people who make a living advising others on how to find their “dream job.”

But the point really isn’t to find your dream job. For most of us, the dream job is getting paid lots of money to think big thoughts, tell others what to do, and spend as little time in the office as we can get away with. That would be a boring disappointment though, because the real pay-off in life comes from experiencing your work as an extension of your dreams, hopes and desires, and not just as a paycheck. You are what you do. Make it count.

I see career resources as being grouped into six broad categories, which I list for you below, along with some examples in each category that are worth exploring:

1.      Figuring out what you should do with your life:

2.      Finding jobs that fit your interests and skill:

3.      Honing your job hunting skills:

4.      Learning how to network:

5.      Preparing to enter the real world:

6.      Succeeding at your first job:

Happy dreaming!

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Four): Go Make a Plan

If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’ll be part of someone else’s.”

American Proverb

I saw Go when it came out in 1999.  It is one of my favorite movies, mostly because it reminds me of what it felt like, to me, to be a twenty-something.

In the movie, Ronna is trying to make some extra money to pay her rent and agrees to work an extra shift at the grocery store for Simon on Christmas Eve so he can celebrate in Las Vegas. While she is working at the cash register, two guys looking for Simon ask Ronna whether she can score them some ecstasy. During the course of the evening, she comes close to getting arrested in a drug sting, shot by the drug dealer who thinks she duped him, and killed when she is run over by a car by the two guys who set her up.

In the end, Ronna is banged up but able to walk. She and her friends come out of their misadventures relatively unscathed and start making plans for New Year’s Eve.  They could have ended up in prison or dead, but instead it was just another wild night.

Like Ronna, I worked at a grocery store in my early 20’s. I was paying my own way through college and the unionized jobs at the store paid much better than most part-time jobs.

I wasn’t a wanna-be drug dealer like Ronna, but I did go out to clubs and party.  Doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do at that age? I certainly had my own misadventures, and I can think of more than a few nights where my life would have been altered significantly if things had taken a turn for the worse.

What I did not have at that age was a plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and because of that, I didn’t understand or appreciate that the thoughtless things I was doing could have had a significant impact on my future. Fortunately, looking back, I now know that I had luck on my side. But you can’t always count on that.

My friend Kevin, on the other hand, had a plan. He knew he was going to take over his father’s mortuary business and that we would be coming to him in the future after a loved one died. He handled both of my parents’ funerals.  He was fun to be with, but he never did anything that could have been perceived as inconsistent with his future role as respected businessman and grievance counselor.

Most of us cannot see that far ahead.  We aren’t sure what we want to do today, let alone for the rest of our lives. For those of you in your twenties, now is the time to explore the possibilities.  To get you started, here are ten questions to ask yourself:

  1. What motivates you to do something (e.g., financial reward, approval of friends, desire to help someone)?
  2. Are you willing and able to take on financial risk or do you need a secure income?
  3. Are you willing and able to obtain the degree, license or certification needed for a particular job?
  4. Do you want to work at home or outside the home?
  5. Do you like working by yourself or in a group?
  6. Do you want to travel or stay in one place?
  7. Do you want a flexible schedule that could include nights and weekends or would you prefer a set schedule (e.g., 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday)?
  8. How can you turn what you like to do into paying work?
  9. Do you want to “work where you live” or “live where you work”?
  10. Who do you know that likes what they do?

The answers to these questions will give you some idea of the types of jobs you should consider. But remember this quote from Peter F. Drucker: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Pick three jobs that you think would be a good fit for you and do some further research. Find and interview someone who does each of those jobs. Ask him or her what they like and don’t like about their job, how they got it, what training is needed, and what advice they have for you.  Research whether there will be high or low demand for this type of job in the future when are looking for work, and how much the job typically pays when someone is first starting out.  Look for a paid part-time job or unpaid internship in the field to get a first-hand look at what you would be doing.

Ultimately, a plan is simply a structure for finding and organizing useful information, and then crafting a course of action around it. Information may be power, but power deployed toward a purpose is far more productive than a random, directionless sizzle.