Sunday, September 14, 2008

The "Kobe Bryant" Effect

Anyone who is familiar with professional basketball has seen what happens when the L.A. Lakers are falling behind in a clutch game. At some point, Kobe Bryant -- an amazingly talented basketball player -- will "take charge". He will take the ball to the basket rather than pass it off to a teammate. More importantly, he will draw individual members of the opposing team into a game of "one-on-one". His ability to make the impossible shot is rivaled by his ability to reduce each member of the opposing team into one single player flanked by four non-contributors.

Whenever Kobe Bryant can succeed in this strategy and suck the opposing player into taking him on single-handedly, then most of the time, Kobe wins.

What does this have to do with divorce?

Only this: there are two possible ways to re-structure your family and move on with your post-divorce life. One is to engage a team full of people - professionals, such as your attorney, your therapist, your accountant; as well as non-professionals, such as your best friend, your sister, or your golfing buddy. Each of these team members has a role to play, and each can and should be trusted with specific aspects (notice I did not say "all") of your divorce experience. The other way to re-structure your family is to take on your soon-to-be ex-spouse, one on one.

This can happen in several ways. You may be hiding your head in the sand, hoping that all the divorce madness will go away if you don't acknowledge it. Don't seek for attorneys, don't address the emotional issues, pretend your children are "just fine".

Another way to play one on one is to hire an attorney with the hope that they will "fix everything", and protect you from getting ripped apart in the divorce. This is often the kind of attorney that you will later complain is unresponsive to you, doesn't answer your phone calls, or do what you ask them to do. Well... why would they, when you did not develop a professional relationship with them in the first place?

Like Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers, there can be times when it appears that two teams are on the court, when in actuality, their team power has been nullified.

And just like any team opposing the Lakers, if you attempt to go one-on-one in your divorce, you will probably lose. And by "lose", I don't mean the opposite of "win". Nobody "wins" a divorce. Nobody. By "lose", I mean to forego so much of your personal power, your dignity, your family, your emotional support, your financial control, that recovery from the devastation requires years - and perhaps even a lifetime - of rebuilding.

What can you do instead? Engage with the professionals in your divorce. Don't hand it all off to an attorney and say "wake me when it's over". Make your attorney a partner in the divorce process from the beginning. When interviewing prospective attorneys, steer clear of the ones who say "leave it all to me". As appealing as that sounds when you are overwhelmed, it will come back to haunt you later, when your attorney drives off with your divorce and you are no longer in control. You want to start right off with an attorney who engages as the legal expert, but who leaves you clearly in charge of the divorce itself.

Likewise, engage with a counselor or therapist from the start. There is simply no way you or your children can reasonably expect to get through this without some massive emotional upheaval. So recognize that you will need someone who is trained to listen, to provide support and counsel, to guide you and your family as you move into the next phase. Start right out with this person so that you can take advantage of their guidance before you make costly mistakes that will be much more difficult to fix later on.

If you can find a good coach to bring all of these pieces together, you will be light years ahead. During divorce, you are resource-depleted. You have neither the time nor the wherewithal to sort through all of the free advice coming at you; likewise, you may find it overwhelming to attempt a search for professionals that you know nothing about. However, a good coach can listen to you, hear the major elements of concern, and then recommend several professionals for you to choose from. Along with a recommendation, you should expect a good coach to tell you why they recommended that particular professional for you, as well as give you a list of questions you can ask, and the types of answers you should listen for, in that initial interview, before you sign a contract or pay a retainer.

A divorce coach is no different from the coach of any other team. Their job is to bring all of the players together, to optimize performance of each one to bring about a common goal. They can select which player needs to be in the game, and when. They can call the plays, while also leaving the ultimate decisions to the ones actually out on the playing floor. Most importantly, they can prevent a "Kobe" on the opposing team from engaging you in a deadly one-on-one match, that you will ultimately lose.

The best way to get through divorce is the most peaceable way. When a good coach is optimizing a professional team on your behalf, it not only brings the divorce conclusion around more quickly, it also minimizes the individual one-on-one conflict along the way.


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