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By: Jamie Collins

Last summer, my dad and I took a weekend trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Although my relentless attempts to secure that perfect piece of cream pie from “the South” somehow evaded me, the trip had some definite bright spots. Immersed in a moment of leisure, we sauntered across the sprawling greenery into an ornate mansion at the Belle Meade Plantation; a famous, thoroughbred stud farm that produced several racing greats. The bloodline included horses such as Secretariat, Funny Cide, Giacomo, Barbaro and Seabiscuit. Our trip to the plantation (and did I mention the winery…) got me pondering not only the competitive beauty of horse racing, but the way each of us chooses to run our own race, as we gallop through the track of life.

I’m sure you’re wondering how in the heck we’re going to make the leap from horseracing to paralegaling in today’s post. We’ll get there soon. But first, let’s talk about the legacy of a few of the racing greats.

A Bit of Background on Secretariat

The year was 1973. A sensational race horse named Secretariat was securely loaded into the gate. He was a captivating beast of a horse, confident, poised, and seemingly intent on winning the day’s race. When Secretariat made a charge full fury, there wasn’t another horse on the field that could catch him. Competitors who ran with him were offered clods of flying dirt flung from his four fast flying hooves as a consolation prize, and possibly a second or third place trophy if they ran well. Newsweek sports columnist, Pete Axthelm was quoted saying:

“Secretariat generates a cracking tension and excitement wherever he goes…Even in the kind of gray weather that shrouds lesser animals into anonymity…when he accelerates…he produces a breathtaking explosion that leaves novices and hardened horsemen alike convinced that, for one of those moments that seldom occur in any sport, they have witnessed genuine greatness.”

When Secretariat ran, all others took their place behind him on the track. He ran “his” race.

A Bit of Background on Seabiscuit

Now when Secretariat’s predecessor, Seabiscuit, ran “his” style of race, he would break from the gate at a somewhat dilatory pace, with most onlookers presumably believing him to be down and out before they became cognizant of his tremendous power to surge. Seabiscuit loved to run from the back of the pack. He was comfortable there. He knew he could make it to the finish, how hard he would have to run to get there, and when. He was a horse you needed to keep your eye on once he approached about 200 yards from the finish line. He would charge (and surge) to overtake the frontrunner in an astonishing display of guts, perfectly paced perseverance, and greatness.

When Seabiscuit ran “his” race, others had no choice but to acknowledge his place in history among the greats. He was a champion…whether you saw him coming or not.

The Days I Run Like Seabiscuit

When reflecting back on my career thus far, I realize that I’ve run both kinds of races. (My head begins to spin just thinking about it). That said, I can’t even recall the number of times I’ve felt a whole lot more like Seabiscuit than Secretariat. That is the type of race I run on most days as a paralegal. I find myself attempting to take down a long list of tasks or looking to muster up enough ambition to tackle a major project. On these types of days, I am running from the back. I break from the gate ready for a long sprint of endurance. This is true of most tasks; the overwhelming or less than desirable ones, and especially the ones that greet me in the middle of the legal track for the first time with no prior experience under my belt for handling that particular thing, whatever it may be.

I tell myself I’ll slowly and steadily stake my ground. I dig my heels in deep, committed to staking my ground, one carefully placed foothold at a time. I’ll make my way little by little, as I sift through boxes filled with documents or mounds of medical records, all the while attempting to evade my next paper cut. I formulate a plan and stick to it. I pace myself appropriately, and eventually, I surge toward the goal line; often once I reach about 200 yards from completion.

With these types of projects, I am Seabiscuit. You better believe I am. I’ll get there in the end, but don’t expect to see me surging at the first bend in the road because I would tire myself out, mentally exhaust myself in the process, probably break a heel, and end up limping my way across the law firm carpet toward the bandage station, rather than the crown of roses.

You with me here? This is most days for us as paralegals. This is most tasks. This is daily life as we know it.  We assess, hold out ground, cling to our ambitions, and run a slow but steady race until we’re just about there, then we kick it into high gear; we sprint.

The Days I Run Like Secretariat

Yet, there are those fleeting moments in my career when I find myself running my race exactly like Secretariat; confident, poised, and ready to surge. This often happens at trial or in a time of crisis; those times when something big and important is on the line. The stakes are high, the glory great. Something happens, doesn’t happen, we are waiting on it to happen, we learn something new, something bad, something is lost, something is found, something is missed…and sprinting away I go (at least in my head anyway, if not physically in my 3” black stilettos in lieu of hooves). Forget the 200 yard line. From the first step, I surge.

A few years ago, I found myself actively assisting with the input of witnesses during a jury trial in a small town.  It was a case against a police department in a wrongful death case. The stakes were high. I had a large binder full of highlighted depositions, witness outlines, and other key documents housed beneath my chair or sprawled across my lap. I had highlighted my way to preparedness the weekend prior to trial.

As each witness testified, I would intently flip through the binder (knowing precisely to which page I was headed), and would slip notes to my attorney to tell him what testimony he could elicit to slay the witness. I pointed out conflicts with his/her prior testimony, issues with what a witness said vs. actual facts presented, and every other thing that would possibly help to build our side of the case, one strategically laid, yellow, post-it-style brick at a time. A few dramatic lines of questioning later, the jury began to take notice of my note passing. You could literally see them watching and waiting to see what would be read next from those shredded yellow pieces of paper. I was “in the zone,” as was the attorney. We found ourselves immersed in a glorious moment of litigation gratification.

It was probably the only moment in my career where I felt like I was acting out a perfectly scripted scene from one of those court-style television shows. To this day, it remains the most significant moment of my career. That day, I was charging out of the gate, furlong by furlong, with each and every bend in the road. I was surging. I was intent on not just hitting the goal, but blazing past it with thunderous speed.

On these types of days, I run my race more like Secretariat. You won’t catch me, so don’t even try. Or do, in which case I’ll just run harder. These days are fewer and far in between, but absolutely magical.

What it All Comes Down to in The End

Your days will be filled with tasks – and lots of ‘em. There will rarely be a moment of down time or quiet relaxation spent while working within the fascinating confines of this fun world we call “paralegaling.” Yet, we make it through the multitude of tasks by deciding how we’re going to best execute each task. Day after day, we plot, persevere, charge, and surge through the day’s to-dos, and across that invisible finish line, we go. Most days we accomplish small things, little by little, bit by bit. On occasion, we accomplish big things.

Sometimes, we are greeted in the winner’s circle by a smiling attorney who acknowledges our greatness. But more often than not, we perform these tasks without a celebratory parade or victory lap. We do what we do best, the best way we know how to do it, and in doing so, we become better versions of ourselves. We win one more race. We become more confident for the next undertaking. Day-by-day, we earn ourselves a reputation. Race-by-race, and win-by-win, we create our own legacy.

In the end, it matters not which type of race you run to make your way down victory row. It doesn’t matter if, upon first sight, people view you as an automatic contender (poised in a designer, silk-lined suit and stilettos) or whether you enter the legal track as a less-perceived threat, much like Seabiscuit. It only matters that you run “your” race, the way you need to run it each day, as you make your way around that long and winding legal track toward that goal line. Set your mind to achieving greatness. Align your heart to the goal. Load yourself into the legal gate – not because you must, but because you can. Run to win, never back down, don’t give up, and surge toward success.

Whether you’re running like Secretariat or Seabiscuit, the only thing that matters is that you make it from the gate – to the goal.

I’ll see you in the winner’s circle.

_____ 

“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” – Haruki Murakami

“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” – Mike Fanelli

 “Only one person and one person only will determine how good of a runner you become. You will become as good as you let yourself be. That one person is you.” – Unknown