In this episode, I had the pleasure of talking to Salem Afangideh. Salem is an Attorney at Law (also known as the Problem Solving Ninja) in Montgomery, Alabama. She practices yoga daily so she can stay sane while running her many roles, which include practicing law, running an organization, and coaching law students with grace and passion.
- Salem explains her story and how graduating from law school at the age of 20 helped shape and define her personally, spiritually, and professionally, as well as how she combatted the shame of being a young, black, female attorney in the U.S.
- The idea of belonging as a POC and immigration lawyer and the necessity of the conversation to make sure everyone feels a sense of belonging.
- Her thoughts on being a black yoga instructor, how teaching yoga and its practices have shaped the foundation of her law practice, and her experience with her series “Black Zen” that helps bridge the gap between women of color and the yoga world.
- How she learned to love meditation through yoga, how she remains in a place of mindfulness, and the stifling nature of perfectionism.
You can learn more about Salem and her work at:
Her Website : www.salemafangideh.com
For more information, visit: jeenacho.com
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Intro: [00:00:02] Today’s show is sponsored by Spotlight Branding. Spotlight Branding works exclusively with solo and small law firms to brand them as trusted, credible experts, and help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. Their services include web design, social media, video marketing, and more.
Salem Afangideh: [00:00:29] That space of allowing and becoming and just, with being a young lawyer I think one of the biggest things my yoga practice has taught me is just to allow; to allow things to happen, to become, to grow into what I want.
Intro: [00:00:44] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:08] Hello my friends, thanks for joining us today. In this episode I am delighted to have Salem Afangideh.
Salem Afangideh: [00:01:16] Yay you got it!
Jeena Cho: [00:01:16] It that good? Okay. Salem is an attorney at law, also known as “problem solving ninja” in Montgomery, Alabama. She practices yoga daily so that she can stay sane and able to effectively handle the many roles, practicing law, running an organization, coaching law students, with grace and passion.
[00:01:39] But before we get into the interview, if you haven’t listened to the last bonus episode go back and check it out. I shared a six minute guided meditation practice to help you let go of stress and anxiety. It’s also a preview for my new online course, Mindful Pause. So often (and I’m sure we’re going to talk about this today) we want to actually engage in activities that are healthy for our bodies and our minds, but it’s so hard to fit it into our really, really busy schedules. So I wanted to create a course that every lawyer can do, no matter how busy their schedule. And just little bite-size practices can make all the difference in the world.
[00:02:18] Head on over to jeenacho.com to learn more, or check out the show notes. And with that here’s Salem.
[00:02:25] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer show, I am so happy to have you here.
Salem Afangideh: [00:02:27] Thank you Jeena, I’m so excited to be here.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:34] And you have just such an interesting journey, so I want to start from the beginning, where were you born? And yeah, just tell us your story.
Salem Afangideh: [00:02:48] Yeah so I was born in Nigeria, that is in West Africa. My dad is a lawyer and my mom was actually in law school when she was pregnant with me, so I kind of was born into this legally-minded family. So law just kind of became the thing that I grew up seeing. And I really say that law chose me as a 5 year old because I just loved it and I pushed myself and I just could not wait to become an attorney. I just knew that it would be challenging and fun and good.
[00:03:24] And I just had that intuitive knowing and so even when my dad (is a practicing attorney) kind of cautioned me a little bit about law and said you know, this is really stressful. For me just always was like, this is one of the things that will really define me. And I think I knew that at a really early age, and so I just pushed myself into the legal field. I’m actually 22 years old as you know, but I have been practicing law for two years. So I really did like, speed through school because I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:01] Wait a second here, I have to stop you for a moment. So how did that happen, did you start college when you were like six?
Salem Afangideh: [00:04:09] Yes, well actually in Nigeria, I think this is something that I’m always so grateful for, in Nigeria our school systems are more ability-based than age-based. And so you’re allowed to skip grades, kids are allowed to like just test out of certain grades, depending on their abilities for those grades. And so, I was able to skip out of a few grades in elementary school and so I think I started our seventh grade equivalent when I was seven. And so I like, sped through elementary school, skipped out on a few grades, and then graduated from our 12th grade equivalent at 13 and started college at 14 here in the U.S. I finished college at 17, started law school at 17, finished law school at 20, and I’ve been practicing since 20.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:59] Wow, that’s such a wild story. I actually did not know that you were 22. I’m sort-of having a mind blown moment. That’s amazing.
Salem Afangideh: [00:05:11] Thank you, yeah. I don’t really talk about it a lot, but I think lately I’ve just been recognizing that it is a part of me. In some ways, my story has been like reclaiming the shame that’s associated with being a black female lawyer and young.
[00:05:26] I’m just saying, “Hey! This is who I am. I’m black, I’m female, I am a lawyer and I’m very young but I also am really professional. I know what I do and I know what I bring to the table.”
Jeena Cho: [00:05:36] I want to actually pause for a moment and just ask you about that shame, because I mean to me like none of those things are anything that should have shame behind it. So say more about that.
Salem Afangideh: [00:05:46] Well I grew up in Nigeria, so I grew up seeing lawyers that looked like me. But then I go to the U.S. and I moved to Alabama and I didn’t see people that were young in law, people that were black female in law. And so for me, coming out of law school or navigating that just felt like, because there are not many people doing it there’s something wrong with me for doing it. And so it was kind of an internal thing in my head that I wouldn’t have said aloud that that’s what it was. But there was just so much shame, especially in the fields of law that I practice, because I just often seemed to be the only person in the room that was black, female, young and also pushing in this field.
[00:06:33] So it just, for me that created a feeling of, “You’re not enough, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re lacking in some way.
Jeena Cho: [00:06:40] Yeah, and that feeling of not enough or that I don’t belong is so incredibly painful, especially when it’s your profession and we identify so much of who we are with what we do. And I can so relate to that.
Salem Afangideh: [00:06:57] I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way, because I’ve had to work really hard at it and just kind-of reclaim and not try to hide. I think like for people of color, there’s this thing we do where we know how to “sound white.” So you would “whiten” your resume, and this was advice that I got in law school which was whiten your resume a little bit, don’t make it too black, so that you can go to certain places and do certain things.
[00:07:28] And so like, even with being a woman, I would apologize for certain things. You know, if I was having a bad day I would go out of my way to make it feel like I wasn’t having a bad day so people would not assume that you know, she’s just on her period. You know, all the side comments that people make to female attorneys. And so, in so many ways I felt like I had to overcompensate because I felt like I began from a position of black in the profession.
[00:07:55] And I think that’s why traveling back to Nigeria is always so grounding to me, because there I get to see young, black, female attorneys and that’s the norm; that’s a norm back there. So for me, whenever I feel shame in that area I can go back to hey, this is this is where I come from, this is not my reality. Even though it feels this way, this is not actually the truth. So I can go back to the truth of you know, there’s nothing wrong with me.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:26] Right, I mean that must be such an amazing experience, to able to just be with other people that you know, look like you, can relate to your life experience, and just feel at home. Yeah I mean, I’ve certainly had the experience of walking into a courtroom and having the judge look at me and go, “Oh, you must be the Asian language interpreter.” Which by the way is like, the most ridiculous thing to ever say, right?
[00:08:50] Because there’s at least 50 main languages in the entire continent of Asia, and probably like 2,000 dialects. And it’s like, “Yes, Your Honor, I speak every single one of them.” And I just want to be like really? That’s so…yeah.
[00:09:04] And I feel like people say things like that and they don’t mean it to be cruel or unkind, but I’ve also been mistaken for the secretary. It’s like, you’re never mistaken for the lawyer. Whereas I think if you’re just a white male in a suit and you walk into a courtroom, everyone will just assume that you’re a lawyer. it kind-of really just puts you behind the starting line.
Salem Afangideh: [00:09:29] Yeah that was my experience. My first year (of course I look like a baby, I look young) I would go to the courtroom and in my first year out, I worked at a firm. And the attorney in the first six months made me go to over 70 court cases. Because she wanted to make me feel confident, and so she just put me out there. And a lot of those cases in a lot of rural cities where the judges knew the attorneys, and so I was the new kid on the block coming in. And I got mistaken so many times for the defendant or I wouldn’t be allowed to go to where the attorneys were sitting until I showed my bar card, like this small version of my bar I.D. card.
[00:10:08] There was just so much of that that just made me feel so out of place. And I think like relating that to someone like my dad, who’s been practicing law for 30-40 years, that was just never his reality, because he practiced in Nigeria. And so I would say those things to him, and he did not have the capacity to understand that this is what it was about.
[00:10:32] And he did not have the capacity to understand how that would affect me in my practice, because it just wasn’t his reality. And so that gave me empathy for some of the white males that I would try to talk to about these issues, who just don’t have any capacity to understand that reality because that’s not their reality. Like I could see where they were coming from because in the same lane when I told my dad, who that wasn’t his reality in law, he just couldn’t understand why that would be a big deal or why that would make me feel lesser or inadequate.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:13] Yeah, and I almost feel like what you’re talking about is such a poignant thing because I feel like that’s the thing that we’re all struggling with right now, just as a country. Trying to understand the experience of like, the other. I talk to people all the time about being an immigrant and just all the hardship that comes with it. Like coming into a country where you don’t speak the language and just trying to share the immigrant experience and a lot of people will be like, “I don’t know. I still think every undocumented immigrant should be deported.” And it’s like, let’s start the story all over again. Like, you don’t understand the hardship or just how hard my parents worked so that we could be here. And also just feeling like, do I belong? You know, do I belong in this country? It’s just an interesting time as people of color to live in this country.
Salem Afangideh: [00:12:15] And I think, okay I’m sure you’re familiar with Brene’ Brown and her work. So she just came out with a new book called ‘Braving the Wilderness’ and I’m maybe on the fourth or fifth chapter but it’s on belonging and I think it’s so relevant to having to navigate this topic of belonging because I’ve just always told myself, “You don’t belong.” Like you don’t belong “with”.
[00:12:41] And in her book she kind of spins it with the idea that you don’t have to find belonging in a place or with a group, you can find belonging within yourself and connect with other people. Belong “with,” but being okay with not belonging “to.” I think that was so comforting for me because as I’ve navigated the immigrant experience here you always come to the conclusion that there’s so many spaces where you don’t belong. So you either try to force -it finding belonging, or you just know that different parts of you will belong in different places. But all of you never fully belongs all the time in any one place.
Jeena Cho: [00:13:29] Yeah, yeah. And she talks a lot about a quote from Maya Angelou where she says something like, I don’t belong anywhere. But it also means, I belong to myself. And then she says like, I truly at the end of the day, I belong to myself; and I like Maya very much. And I got just choked up hearing that because yeah, it’s that sense of self-love and just feeling like you can ultimately belong to yourself. I sort of felt that way, I remember going back to Korea as an adult and being like, “Oh I don’t really belong here either because other Koreans can tell that I’m not a native Korean.”
[00:14:17] Even though I was born there, but I had spent like 30 years of my life in the U.S. And so I didn’t really belong there, but then I don’t really belong here in the U.S. either. Yeah and just reading her book made me, and I really think it’s such a great read for like every lawyer. I think every single one of her books should be mandatory reading for every lawyer.
Salem Afangideh: [00:14:41] Yeah I finished “Rising Strong” last month and I was like, every lawyer needs to read this! And every time I read her book I just always think that it should be mandatory law school reading.
Jeena Cho: [00:14:52] Totally, and her research on shame was profoundly impactful to me. So maybe we can shift gears a little bit and talk about your journey to yoga. Because you know, I mean I love to go to yoga and I love doing yoga, I love practicing yoga, it’s such a huge part of my life. And I can’t say that I’ve ever had a person of color that teaches yoga, I figured you might be the first person that’s a woman of color that teaches yoga. So tell me about your journey and how you ended up practicing and teaching yoga.
Salem Afangideh: [00:15:31] Yeah. So like I said, working with survivors of human trafficking really did it for me. While I was doing that work in Washington D.C., we had a studio to donate yoga services to our clients. And so part of my job was taking them to yoga every week. First I would sit out and watch them take the yoga classes and then we would debrief and talk about it. And seeing these survivors who had been through so much in life, and taking yoga and really watching how yoga was changing the way that they related with each other and the way that they view themselves and their bodies made me feel like, okay this might do something to me.
[00:16:10] And so one time when they went, I went in and I tried yoga. And I remember just in the middle of the yoga class thinking to myself (because I was the only person of color in the class apart from one of our survivors, who was a person of color) do black yoga? And in my head it was such a legitimate question because I just had never seen any people of color that did yoga. And so in my reality, it just wasn’t a thing that we did; it wasn’t for us, we didn’t really have access to it. I mean I had never heard of yoga growing up in Nigeria, it just wasn’t a thing. But I ended up loving it, I loved it so much. I loved being present in my body, I loved having my mind shut down. Because I think as lawyers we have this thing where our minds are constantly going.
[00:17:03] And so I loved that even though I was being trained in law school how to think differently, yoga was also teaching my mind to relax and to be present, and not to see the bad in every situation. Because I think as lawyers, that lawyer brain is always going to, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen? And then I get on my yoga mat and it’s like, okay, what’s the best thing that happened today? So it was a tangible shift and a way for me to get away from all the things that law was teaching me that was really challenging to me, to kind of debrief and get into a rhythm that was healthy.
[00:17:40] And so like that began my journey with it, and of course yoga led to meditation, led to mindfulness, led to the whole lifestyle. But yoga was the key that unlocked that space for me and I think it’s always going to be something different for different people, but yoga was just it for me. And so when I began to get certified, really I just felt like I want to take this back to my mom, I want to take this back to my sister; I want to take this back to people that would benefit from this but just don’t know how to do it.
[00:18:10] So that was my driving force for learning, was I want to take this back to people who need to learn how to calm themselves and suit themselves and be present, but just have never even known that that was a possibility. And to some extent that’s what I do now, so I host this series in our city called ‘Black Zen,’ and it’s for women of color. We come together, do yoga, talk about some of the issues that face women of color in the wellness space. We typically have a nutritionist talk about diet and just helping tangibly to get into this zen space for women of color. And that’s been really rewarding but I think there’s just not many women of color in the yoga space, there’s a little bit more now. I have connected with other women of color in D.C., New York, that are kind of infiltrating into that space, but there’s just not as much representation. And I do think that, especially now with the stressors that women of color face, with the stressor that is being black in America today, I think it’s definitely a necessary space that should be created. But there’s just not the resources or the manpower to do it.
Jeena Cho: [00:19:29] Right, and there’s almost a stereotype that the only people that can or are welcomed into that space of yoga is if you’re white. I’m sorry, I think that you have to be skinny to do yoga. That’s the other weird thing, you pick up any yoga magazine and it’s always like, beautiful white young women that are skinny. And I always kind of thought like, oh what if you’re not skinny? Like would you feel welcome in that space? Probably not.
[00:19:56] Yeah. I think that’s really important. And it’s just one of the things that saddens me, popular media’s perception of who gets to practice mindfulness, who gets to practice meditation and yoga and how it’s sort of become like usurped by this particular demographic of people and which has the, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, it has the impact of excluding different categories of people. I mean not just people of color, but also people that have different body sizes, shapes. Yeah and I really just want to emphasize that yoga belongs to everyone and no matter where you are in terms of your physical abilities or disabilities, you can do it.
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Salem Afangideh: [00:21:45] I think when I first started doing yoga I got toned really quickly, and I have always been on the curvier side, but I toned up really quickly. And I was very meticulous about toning; I was running and just lifting all the weights, doing all the other things. And then I realized that a lot of the people that were coming to my class didn’t look like me, they were not on the skinny side and they weren’t on the toned side, they just wanted to do yoga. And so part of my practice too was loving myself well enough to know that health doesn’t equal skinny, right? And then letting my body do it’s thing naturally, like being healthy but recognizing that my body at it’s peak healthy state is not skinny. And so as I’ve done that work with myself, I’m more able to say to people that are interested in coming to my class, “Hey look, I’m curvy I’m not skinny, and this is what I can do.” Like I can do a headstand; these are things that don’t come with being skinny, they just come with flexibility. And of course there are some things that you have to be strong to do, but as you do more practices, your body just gets stronger and you’re more able to do the things. But you don’t get to strong until you start the practices.
[00:23:01] And so, really just encouraging people. I mean, I say it on my fliers, I say it when I’m talking to people, I go ahead and address it head on – you don’t have to be a certain size to yoga. I say those things up right because I know that there are people that I thinking it, because I thought it before in certain classes. And I think that’s what a lot of the studios miss out on, they think that if they just put out a flier with a skinny white girl that a curvy person of color will say, “Oh, I’m going to come to this class and I know that I’ll feel alright.”
Jeena Cho: [00:23:34] Right?! Clearly I belong in that class!
Salem Afangideh: [00:23:37] Your yoga space should be a place where you feel welcome, where you feel that you can breathe and not necessarily just another workout. Like I don’t think of yoga as just another work out to lose weight, I think of it as holistically creating this safe space for people.
[00:23:54] And so that’s something that’s very important to me, is just putting it out there, creating representation in the flyers that I put out of my yoga classes of different body diversity in my clients that are practicing. Just creating those things that I know will make people feel welcome and feel like, if she can do this then I can do that.
[00:24:15] You know you don’t look a certain way to do it. So really being intentional and the goal is not (you know I hear you hear this a lot, you’re just trying to be politically correct) to be politically correct. The goal is to make people feel included, to make people feel welcome, to have more people find this space that could potentially kick start their wellness journey and make them live a holistically better life.
Jeena Cho: [00:24:42] Yeah, and it’s interesting how diversity and inclusion has become a “PC” thing now. It’s so weird. Like no, that’s what we’re supposed to do because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s politically correct.
Salem Afangideh: [00:24:56] Yes.
Jeena Cho: [00:24:57] So I’m curious, what is that experience like, to be able to practice with other women of color and people that come with different body shapes and sizes? I just want to hear more about that.
Salem Afangideh: [00:25:10] I think it’s been really fun, like we do a 50 minute flow series and then we it’s typically restorative. There are times when in the winter when it’s a little cold and we’ll do some more heat warming practices. But for the most part it’s mostly restorative and it’s just, it gives me creative license to use different kinds of music and just create a space that I know will be welcoming to people of color. So I typically, it’s very curated, we use a lot of like digital…like I typically know the people that are coming, so I incorporate music that I know they’ll love, sounds that I know they’ll love.
Salem Afangideh: [00:25:49] So it’s very much tailored towards the people that show up and it’s just, practicing itself has been really healing. Like I think there’s a lot of humor in it, just because when you get women of color together it is going to be a lot of humor. There’s humor and then there’s phases where people just cry and they let themselves cry. Every time it’s so different, but I just create the space and give them the freedom to express whatever it is that they need. Like I had a class where one of my ladies just did three poses, and for me that was so encouraging because I felt like I did a good job conveying that you can do what your body needs. And if that just means staying in child’s pose, getting to downward dog and then getting back on child’s pose; just getting, doing what your body needs and not feeling the pressure to do what everybody else is doing or and even do what I’m doing.
[00:26:43] But listening to your body. And so when I get to see women of color listening to their body or really connecting with the music because they know what this music is, or really connecting with a specific meditation mantra, it’s just always so powerful.
[00:27:01] One of the mantras that we did was, we had a whole series on your body not being an instrument of sin. And there’s a lot of messaging on you know, rape culture, what did women wear, just so much conveying that women’s bodies are sinful. And so when we had this series, the only mantra that we used in those classes were “your body is not an instrument of sin.” And because I’ve lived it and because I know how powerful that mantra was for me, I knew that it would be extremely powerful, but it was so powerful every time it came up and a lot of women really connected with it and were able to cry and feel the feelings, and just release shame from their bodies in ways that they didn’t even know they had. It was extremely powerful and I think for me, that’s what being able to teach that class allows me to do. It allows me to curate classes in the ways that I know people relate with and really be able to feel safe in.
Jeena Cho: [00:28:11] I want to come to your class! It sounds so amazing. One of the things that yoga has really taught me, which I think is so relevant for us lawyers, is that you show up on the mat as you are. Because that’s the only way you can show up. But this tension between striving and trying to get into a posture. But also like, relaxing into how you are in that moment.
[00:28:36] I feel like that’s such a great metaphor for practicing law, because you show up, you’re prepared or unprepared whatever, you’re sort of however you may be in that moment. And then there is that wanting to strive and wanting to get the right outcome for your client. But then also, needing to actually pay attention to what’s happening in the moment and actually relax in that moment because stress and anxiety does nothing but actually derail your performance.
Salem Afangideh: [00:29:03] Yes. And it’s actually been really helpful for me in practicing law because again that space of allowing and becoming and just with being a young lawyer. I think one of the biggest things my yoga practice has taught me is just to allow, to allow things to happen, to become, to grow into what I want.
[00:29:23] And I think of it like my journey to a headstand or just different poses that I’ve been working on for a while, like recognizing that I am not there, I’m not where I want to be. But every day I’m taking steps to be there, and just giving myself an open timeline to get there. Because I think with law school, we create these timelines for ourselves that work when we’re still in law school.
[00:29:48] But then out in the profession, I remember one of the first cases I tried I thought it was going to be done in three months, it ended up taking a year. And I was so overwhelmed that I kept trying to make the timeline fit what I wanted it to fit. But just again, understanding that okay, this is not going to be the timeline that I expect for myself. And so my yoga practice has really benefited from me being in law, and my law practice has also benefited from you being in yoga. Because they both kind of fed into each other to make me more holistic.
Jeena Cho: [00:30:24] So you talked about earlier how you went from yoga to mindfulness to meditation. So tell me about that journey.
Salem Afangideh: [00:30:30] So yeah, so from yoga I used to hate the meditation part of yoga. Because when I first started it was all about the movement. And then I think one day it just clicked and I kind of liked it. I was like, “Oh, this feels really good. Silencing and paying attention feels really good.” And so then I started to practice more, and it kind of was a flip that switched in my head for a second. Like I didn’t like it and then one day I was in class in a meditation pose and I just liked it. And so that for me has just grown my meditation practice. I use Insight Timer a lot, I know you do too.
Jeena Cho: [00:31:21] Mmm hmmm, I know, we need to connect in Insight Timer and be buddies.
Salem Afangideh: [00:31:21] But I get on there probably meditate on there every day now. I just love the silence of quieting and I think a lot of the reasons why I didn’t like quieting my mind or getting into meditation was because there was so much noise whenever I finally was quiet. What I realized and what I tell all my students when I teach yoga and meditation is, I think I realized this actually from my brother. So I have a 13 year old brother. And whenever I’m away from him and we don’t talk a lot you know, we don’t talk. But whenever I come back to him, he just he sits me down for like three hours and just goes into everything that’s going on with him. So he’s speed-talking, he’s jumping. He was very excited.
[00:32:12] And so one day we’re having one of those and I said you know, this is my mind. This is exactly what goes on in my mind when I haven’t meditated for awhile. It just goes and goes and goes and I’m overwhelmed because it’s like oh, my mind has finally been trying to finally quiet myself and pay attention but my mind is racing and all of these thoughts start coming up. So it’s really helped me to practice on a daily basis because I don’t ever want my mind to get too overwhelmed where I can’t stop. And when I finally stop there’s so much noise and chatter going on.
[00:32:45] And so that that has been really helpful to me, that analogy from my brother has helped me meditate more consistently, but also recognize that when I go for a few days without meditating and I come back to this space and there is just so much chatter, then that’s okay. Just paying attention to what comes up and writing them down or keeping them somewhere to come back to them. But just paying attention and allowing the thoughts to come. And I think meditation kind of led to this more mindful lifestyle of where, now that I’m paying attention to what’s going on in my brain, I had to pay attention to my body, I had to pay attention to where I was living, what I was eating, all the things that are mindful.
[00:33:30] So both of my grandmothers were gardeners, they loved to plant stuff. I grew up as a kid hating planting and just not wanting to be connected to the soil in any way. But I think living this more mindful practice has made me want to go back to the soil, want to go back to gardening. So it’s kind of been this holistic change in my personality, what started with yoga and continued with meditation has now led to me just making more mindful choices, just paying attention. And I think at the end of the day that’s how I describe mindfulness. Just paying attention to what’s going on. Paying attention to what’s around me, what’s fueling me, what’s depleting me, what’s depleting the planet, what’s depleting other people. And I feel like that’s an internal work and when we do that within ourselves we’re more able to do that with other people.
Jeena Cho: [00:34:21] Yeah, yeah, so true. Whenever I work with lawyers they’ll say, “I noticed that my mind is really distracted or I’m thinking a lot when I’m meditating. Therefore I’m not doing it correctly, and I’m not going to do it anymore.” Which I think is such the lawyer mindset, if I can’t do it perfectly I shouldn’t do it at all.
[00:34:42] And I think it’s also a great way to highlight or shine a light on our default mental mechanisms that say the only way I can do something is to do it perfectly. And when it comes to something like meditation or yoga, what does that even mean to do it perfectly? I think it’s a good time to pause and say where does that desire to do things perfectly come from? In what way is it helpful, and it what way is it harmful?
Salem Afangideh: [00:35:14] Ooh so I want to speak on that because one of my practices that I have that actually stemmed some mindfulness was I give myself permission to have two or three things that I really suck at. So I am really bad at painting, I suck at it but I let myself do it consistently and I think because it helps combat this idea that everything that I do has to be perfect. Because that’s very damaging. We’re not perfect as human beings, we’re never going to achieve perfection. But with our work, I think with a lot of lawyers there’s so much on the line if we make mistakes or we think there’s so much on the line if we make mistakes, so we don’t give ourselves room to make mistakes.
[00:36:02] And so we feel like everything has to be done perfectly and I think there’s room for excellence, but I think that when we put that pressure on ourselves to be perfect in our work and we spend so much time working then that naturally translates to, well then I need to have the perfect home, I need to have the perfect finances, I need to have all these things that are perfect. And so part of my ongoing practice to combat that is just regularly practicing things that I’m not good at, and without the desire to improve and get better, just to do it because it brings me joy, even though I know that I am not good at it.
[00:36:38] So it helps me because I think perfectionism is stifling and stifling to our profession and to our mental health. Just that idea of, well if it’s not going to be done perfectly it’s not worth doing at all. Because there’s so much that we won’t have clarity on and we won’t know until we take a risk. And so it makes you risk adverse, but you’re also just not living up to your full potential if you’re stifled by perfectionism.
Jeena Cho: [00:37:08] So I want to drill into that a little bit because when I think about doing something that I “suck” at (using my air quotation mark here) I actually have a physical reaction and I go, “Oh no I am not going to do that thing because I know I am going to suck at it. And why would I do that, why would I put myself through that when I can do that other thing that I’m excellent at it?” So how do you even begin? How do you go about overcoming, or maybe you don’t need to overcome it. How did you get over that, I don’t know that ick feeling like oh no, that feels awful I don’t want to do it.
Salem Afangideh: [00:37:44] Yeah. Because I think the reward for me was, I think in our brains we have this reward system, and so if you’ve been really good at doing certain things you’ve been validated for your good. And so changing that reward system in my brain to validating myself or an effort rather than validating myself for perfection. And so it took doing the mind work first to actually be able to do the thing that I wasn’t good at. But doing the mind work of saying, “Okay, today I showed up and showing up was enough. Today I showed up and I put in 10% of effort, and showing up and putting in 10% of effort was enough. So rather than waiting to do things right to validate ourselves, I think validating ourselves on just showing up and doing the work.
[00:38:32] And so and when I show up with a canvas and some paint and I know that this is going to suck, for me it’s like okay I’m validating myself for showing up because I know in my head that this practice is going to help me overcome perfectionism, which I know in my head is not me at my best.
Jeena Cho: [00:38:50] Right. You get an A just for showing up and doing that thing. Yeah, and I think so often we don’t reward ourselves for just showing up and doing the really hard thing.
Salem Afangideh: [00:39:01] Well we reward ourselves when we get the results that we want. And so even the idea of a lawyer thinking that they’ve failed at a particular case because they weren’t able to get the results that their clients wanted. I think you do have some clients who will be very upset at you for not getting the results that they wanted. But a lot of clients also recognize that they came to you with an impossible situation and I do care.
[00:39:27] And I think for me, even with clients where I didn’t really know what I was doing and they didn’t really get what they wanted out of it, they’ve still been appreciative that I cared. And that’s something I’m in control of. I’m not in control of what the other party will do, I’m not in control of what the judge will do. The only thing I’m in control of is what I do, and I know how to care and I know how to make them feel like they’re human and that I’m there with them in whatever process you’re navigating.
[00:39:55] And that’s something that I think is part of the collective human experience that we all appreciate. And I’ve even flipped that on other professionals that I’ve hired. They may be a disappointment if I don’t get the results that I desired from hiring them. But at the end of the day, I feel like I connect more with them if they care, if they were able to show up and be with me when I needed that service.
Jeena Cho: [00:40:21] I know there is just so much stuff out there that we should all be doing, we should be doing more yoga and doing more exercising and getting more walks in and taking more vitamins and eating more kale, and just sort of on and on and on and on and on. And I think sometimes we can feel sort of overwhelmed by just the list of the shoulds. So you know, suggestions on places to start or how to just integrate these little bits of practices into your daily life.
Salem Afangideh: [00:40:52] Yeah, so I would suggest just start with one thing and let that one thing build into another thing. Start with one yoga pose; start with one minute of breathing in and out, like start really small. I think the temptation for us lawyers is we are fixers naturally. And so you can analyze, okay I am not being mindful, I need to do better in this wellness practice. Give yourself a time limit of, this should take me six months. Then we try to do everything within the six months and then find that that’s not working out.
[00:41:24] But I think what’s more important is recognizing that this is a lifelong journey and it’s a practice. It’s the daily practices every day, and not the one two-hour long yoga session once a month that you do. This is a daily, and I think of a time when I had to take a break from teaching yoga and I just couldn’t practice because I was burned out. And so I set a mat at the foot of my bed. So I would literally wake up and get on the mat. And my challenge was just to do one pose. And I mean I’m a yoga teacher, I know all the poses, I lead like 90 minutes flows. How do I do just one pose?
[00:42:01] But for me I knew that to get back into this practice and for it to be nurturing I couldn’t lead a session, I needed to just do one thing. And so doing that one thing, like spending five minutes journaling, and it doesn’t have to look pretty, just bullet points. I’m thinking this, feeling this, thinking this, feeling this, upset at this; just writing it down. I think there’s so much that you could do, but what I found is things lead to other things. And when you create a little bit of room for one thing and kind of practice that one thing, when it’s time for the other thing to be added that will come more naturally.
[00:42:42] And I’m a big fan of just letting things flow with ease rather than trying to force things to happen. And so just letting it flow, like really recognizing that your body knows what you need and if you’re paying attention you will eventually know and listen and hear what your body is trying to communicate to you. But also just recognizing that it’s a journey, you don’t have to figure it all out in a year or day. You know, there’s still things within my wellness journey that I’m trying to incorporate. But I just know that that will take a few more years and that’s okay, because this is where I am at right now. So just recognizing that we don’t have to do it all. We don’t have to do all the wellness processes, but we can just pick one little one and practice it today and be consistent and then add something else.
Jeena Cho: [00:43:33] I love that, and I always tell lawyers don’t try to start meditating an hour a day. Just do like six minutes a day, that’s a great place to start. Yeah and that’s also why I designed my course in just six minute bite sizes. Because that’s really enough, like if you do six minutes every day for a month you’re going to be amazed at the difference that it makes.
[00:43:55] Same thing for yoga, I feel like you can literally just do like 5-10 minutes of yoga every single day, consistently, and see huge, huge changes in your life. And just like you said, then you can add on additional healthy habits and sort of link those pieces together.
[00:44:11] Awesome. Well thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your knowledge with us. But one final question before I let you go. The name of this part is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?
Salem Afangideh: [00:44:27] To me it means getting back up after you’ve been kicked down and I know that’s the most basic thing. But there’s always going to be things that kick us down, there are always going to be things that don’t go as expected. And rather than trying to prevent those things from happening, because that’s our profession right, we’re very risk adverse. You try to prevent the risk from taking place; not living from that space. Like understanding that professionally this is what I do, but as a person my job is to just allow. And if I allow and the outcome’s not favorable, I have what it takes to get back up and do something different.
Jeena Cho: [00:45:10] I love that. For the listeners out there that want to learn more about you and your work, what’s the best way to get that information?
Salem Afangideh: [00:45:20] So I have a website that is kind of a comprehensive account of everything that do. I do some coaching, I do some practice. But my website is salemafangideh.com and I’m sure you’ll probably put a link because nobody knows how to spell that. And I talk about mindfulness and I talk about practicing law, what it feels like to live in the skin and the reality that I live in as a black female immigrant lawyer.
Jeena Cho: [00:45:58] I love it. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Salem Afangideh: [00:46:00] Thank you, Jeena.
[00:46:07] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please tell a friend. It’s really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at [email protected] Thanks and look forward to seeing you next week.