Earlier this week, I experienced my first Zoom court case. Because of my side gig, I’ve been to court about 10 times in the past 2 decades.
I believe in our judicial system. I don’t have an issue with standing in front of a judge and telling my side of the story. I’ve been both plaintiff and defendant. This is all part of owning a small business.
What stresses me out, and opens the door for the Inner Critic to slip in (because the Inner Critic is really, really good at sneaking into places I thought I had locked up tight) are the legal processes and procedures. One misstep, and my case can be lost or rescheduled. I’m not an attorney and I don’t know all of the required steps.
Part of going to court is sitting around and listening to the other cases while waiting to present your case. I have seen more than a few cases thrown out because proper procedure wasn’t followed. In one case, a police officer served a summons to a woman who was illegally living in her boyfriend’s apartment. The case was thrown out because the paperwork had to be served to a legal occupant. I’ve seen cases thrown out because paperwork was served on President’s Day or Veteran’s Day. Or paperwork was served a day late. Legal process is important, but it can be confusing for those of us that do not interact with the legal system frequently.
Hence my dance with the Inner Critic earlier this week. I felt that I had the proper legal precedent and followed the rules. The details don’t matter much – the entire dispute was over $175 that the plaintiff thought they were owed. The main point is that I really dislike going to court – this apprehension around not following the proper legal process kicks my Inner Critic into overdrive.
When my Inner Critic is in overdrive, I have trouble concentrating and sleeping. I was stressed out with that low level cognitive overhead that seeps into everything. I just wanted the court date to be over. When I noticed that I was ruminating (spending too much time thinking about the case), I knew I needed to sit down, reflect and kick the Inner Critic outside yet again.
Agile Best Self Principle #12: At regular intervals, reflect on how to become your best self, then tune and adjust.
I realized I need to do a quick cost benefit analysis. I could spend at least a day checking and rechecking my documentation, organizing evidence and putting together a really solid presentation for the judge.
- Option 1: Eight hours of diving into a counterproductive rat hole? Impact: It would wreck my day, and most likely cause a couple of sleepless nights.
- Option 2: Confront the fact that I may lose due to a procedural error or a missed deadline on my part. Impact: I would be out $175 but I would get to spend a day puttering around the house, working out, talking to friends and chilling out.
Although I selected option 2, I still had to remind myself that this was a purposeful choice, an intentional adjustment.
The intentional choice helped me tip my well-being balance back toward “healthy and grounded”, but I knew from past experience that I would not have this 50 lb weight lifted until the Zoom call was over. The best I could do was turn it into a 5 lb weight.
The choice helped me show up in the best possible way to the Zoom court case: focused, patient and curious.
There was one more case on the docket prior to mine. That plaintiff was not focused, patient or curious. He was upset. That case had been going on for almost a year and then stalled out during the court’s COVID multi-month shutdown. That case was thrown out due to a procedural issue! I’m laughing as I type this because I just realized that what happened in the other case was exactly what I feared due to a procedural error.
The procedural error? The plaintiff’s attorney worked for a very large law firm. The judge was being represented by an attorney from the same firm in a totally unrelated case. The judge had just discovered the conflict and had to recuse himself. What bad luck for the plaintiff who had already had his court hearing rescheduled once before!
Just to add to all the weirdness that is part of 2020, the judge looked like Santa Claus. He was a wonderful guy, patient and nice. Because I showed up centered and balanced I was able to state my case, explain that even though I had reason to countersue, I chose not to because I had had a good, 7 year working relationship with the plaintiff. I do my best to treat professional connections with respect.
I wasn’t able to totally shake the Inner Critic, but I was able to tune and adjust my expectations and attitude.
Oh, I got Santa’s decision in the mail today: I won.
Copyright © 2021 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson