"Zen in the Art of LinkedIn" by Claire E. Parsons

Many lawyers know this trick with legal research: you know you’ve found the leading case when you see the same name cited over and over again. By following this judicial bread crumb trail, lawyers can find a lynchpin to leverage a transition from novice to proficient as they try to navigate legal issues for their clients. When I started down my own path of learning about mindfulness, I did the same thing. I didn’t know much about the subject, so I just started reading and listening to podcasts or watching YouTube videos. When a title popped up multiple times, I made a mental note to go read it. One of the first titles added to my mental list was Zen in the Art of Archery  by Eugene Herrigel, but it took me years to finally go read it. Reading the book didn’t make me want to try archery or change my meditation practice, but it made me consider how its lessons might apply to other aspects of my own life. In particular, the first thing that came to mind was how I use LinkedIn. This may make no sense to you at all, but please allow me to explain.

The book Zen in the Art of Archery  doesn't necessarily offer new concepts relating to Zen or Buddhism, but it introduced Zen concepts in a relatable way to the West. In the book, a German philosophy professor moves to Japan to teach and takes up archery as a hobby while he’s there. In particular, he takes up kyudo which emphasized spirituality as part of the training and, over the course of its evolution, has been affiliated with Zen. As you might expect, the teacher trains Herrigel not only in the art of archery but also of life.

 

The book is a short and enjoyable read, but this is somewhat surprising since the author spends a great deal of time focusing—almost obsessively—on the release of the arrow from the bow. This, you see, is the author’s great struggle. He can’t quite master it and his Western brain is, to be honest, befuddled by it. This is because his teacher’s instructions are seemingly paradoxical. One the one hand, he tells the man to exert himself fully in pulling back the bowstring and to control it as much as he possibly can. Yet on the other, he tells him to release it when the time is right and to just let go.

 

As you might imagine, the man struggles with this mightily. He looses arrow after arrow without success. He wades through a sea of doubt. But he can’t make himself give up and eventually he sees it. He learns that he can balance maximum control with the very minimum of effort. And, in finding this center, he finds the center of the bullseye as well. The key all along was in focusing entirely on the action and letting go of the “self.”

 

There’s a lot of talk in mindfulness books about “letting go” but it is a concept with which I, a type A lawyer, have wrested mightily. Let go? Really? I can’t let go and bill hours. I can’t let go and win cases. I can’t let go and find clients. How do I let go and practice law? And, even if that is possible, how do I let go and market my law practice?

If this is your struggle, Zen actually offers quite a lot. Another classic book that came up frequently in my mindfulness reading trail is Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind  by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. This book is full of wisdom but you may be surprised when you crack it open that a full third of the book is devoted to the procedures of meditation itself. Suzuki tells you how to sit. He tells you how to hold your hands. He tells you what your meditation should look like. Why all the emphasis on the procedures of meditation practice when the title has the term “mind” in it twice?

 

Here’s my take on it. I think Suzuki is telling us that beginner’s mind doesn’t come from a striving mind. It comes from an open and relaxed one. Much like the archery teacher, he’s saying that we should control what we can control to lay the right foundation and then let go of the rest. Indeed, seeing what is really there and accepting it as it really is are two critical components to the “beginner’s mind” of the book’s title. But, for most of us, beginner’s mind doesn’t just happen on its own; instead we need to learn to trust the process. Thus, Suzuki provides a roadmap to create a really solid meditation process precisely so you can trust it.

 

Now, before you think I am guilty of the same trick that Suzuki pulled by mentioning something in my title I never get to, I’ll get to my point. I treat LinkedIn like Herrigel learned to treat archery and like Suzuki treated meditation. No, I’m not arguing that the activities are similar in their worth or their impact on one’s life (I also meditate and exercise daily and don’t claim LinkedIn is a stand in for those). But, I try to follow the same guidelines. I aim to control what I can and let go—really let go—of what I can’t.

 

To anyone who consistently posts on LinkedIn, the algorithm can sometimes be as unpredictable as the changing winds for an archer. It can toss us around just like the thoughts swirling in our minds while we try to maintain composure during zazen. The algorithm is something we cannot control. While we may learn tricks and strategies to navigate the algorithm, those tricks are far from foolproof and are regularly upended by the continual changes to the algorithm. Yet, we know that, as with most things, frequency, consistency, and persistence is key for long-term growth on LinkedIn.

So, the challenge then becomes, finding consistency and staying persistent in the face of an immovable, but also constantly changing force. In the face of this, one cannot realistically avoid the algorithm altogether, but one must also maintain some distance from it lest it drive you mad. Thus, as the archery teacher advised, you must exert yourself fully on the things you can control and let go entirely of what you can’t.

 

This may look different for different people, but, for me, I let go of the numbers as much as I can. Instead, I focus on writing content that makes me proud, makes the world better, and reaches people who, though they may be very different from me in many ways, share my values. To do this, though, I have to let go of my ego. Specifically, I have to shift my focus away from concerns about how any one post performs. This is true whether the post bombs or goes viral. I’ve experienced both and neither situation has ended or changed my life. Instead, I look for upward trend lines and signs of progress.

 

For me, that means consistently (even if gradually) increasing followers, continuing to meet and build relationships with new people, and new opportunities, whether those come in the form of business partnerships, or writing and speaking opportunities. But, the ultimate test for me at the end of the day is: am I having fun? Am I proud of what I wrote? Is my content reflective of who I am and what I value? In this strange way, letting go of my ego’s desire for big numbers allows me to create and recreate myself through my content. It is thus letting go of the self that I find it again.

But, what about the discipline? Where does that come in? First, it comes in every time I don’t just give up and throw in the towel when a post inevitably bombs or does worse than I expected. Second, there are a several things I do to encourage the odds to be ever in my favor when it comes to the algorithm. I use hashtags and try to stick to well-followed ones (except for my personal one which makes me smile to use). I generally avoid sharing links to outside content, but instead try as much as possible to create my own. Though I am not a visual thinker, I have learned to add visual interest to posts with pictures, emojis, or simple contrived works I make on Canva. I also craft my posts with a good lead line to grab attention and a closing call to action that encourages the audience to engage. Finally, where possible, I post at a time where I can babysit the post and respond to comments for at least the first hour to help boost performance.

 

Importantly, though, these procedures have been developed over time, through trial and error, and with a lot of wisdom donated from friends and experts who share strategies that have worked for them on LinkedIn. As with legal research, when you see that the same strategy is recommended over and over again by the best thinkers, you can have some level of confidence that it may help you too. I’ve been consistently active on LinkedIn for about a year now, and these approaches have helped me drastically expand my network, resulted in a huge increase in opportunities, caused me to meet amazing people, and pushed me to experiment with new styles of marketing and content creation. Perhaps more importantly, I’m still having fun.

 

So, if you are thinking about starting on LinkedIn or want to get more active, I encourage you to try. By trying new things, you’ll learn what works. You’ll develop a process and you’ll find your groove. But, as you do, don’t try too hard. Let go of what you can’t control. Let go, as much as you can, of your ego’s need for validation and a constant flow of big numbers. While the algorithm has its own science, us users must find the art in it to make our way, build our brand, and expand our networks without driving ourselves nuts. In my case, applying the concepts I’ve learned through my mindfulness training helps me find this balance, hit my targets, and keep peace in my soul. No matter how you choose to go about it, I wish the same for all of you.

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Claire E. Parsons is an attorney with an active local government and litigation practice in Kentucky and Ohio. She is also the mom of two daughters, an active community leader, and a prolific writer. In 2013, Claire started a meditation practice to manage stress and it transformed her life and law practice. Since then, she has written and spoken for local, state, and national organizations on mindfulness for attorneys and other professionals and she is currently working to obtain a meditation teacher certification from The Mindfulness Center. Claire frequently posts on LinkedIn about mindfulness, networking, and everything in between and she welcomes new connections and follows. You can find her profile here https://www.linkedin.com/in/claireeparsons.


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