Today, I interview Carl Ficks who grew up in a household where writing took precedence over speaking. His father held various positions where writing was a key role, and Carl learned to develop the habit of writing well and listening well. His parents communicated calmly and clearly without the need for shouting or excessive emphasis, and Carl learned to follow this model and attitude. His carriage and demeanor showed in his schooling also, where he believed that choosing the appropriate time to be silent was just as important as making the effort to be vocal.
Now as an adult, Carl has made the art of listening a priority. He recalls that when he practiced law, he observed numerous instances where he believed listening was the answer– that people simply wanted and needed to be heard. The depth of his communication is seen in his writing. Calling himself “the quiet lawyer,” Carl says that rather than show physical or verbal boldness in his field, he chose to let his writing and his work do the talking.
After many years of faithful service, Carl pivoted from law toward something that inspired him in a fresh new way: fitness. He founded a company called No Surrender, where he helps busy business professionals to thrive by harnessing the benefits of fitness. He thrives by serving others, helping them to improve their physical and mental health in every way, which in turn brings them success and happiness in life and in their pursuits.
Carl Ficks helps busy professionals get back in the fitness game so they can thrive. His “Ficks System” is a proven road map for endurance athletes and weekend warriors alike. His bi-weekly newspaper column and LinkedIn posts, both titled “The Friday Ficks,” provide strategies, tools, and inspiration to stay resourceful and resilient regardless of the circumstances. Carl was also a trial lawyer for 30+ years before starting No Surrender, LLC
Click to download Carl’s free guide, 10 Steps for Getting Back in the Game: www.carlficks.com/free
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode # 57 Carl Ficks
“Serenity in Serving Others”
(00:36) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I host the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I’m a Psychologist, so I’ve always been curious about how people get to be who they are and what blocks them. And oftentimes, I go pretty deep inside to find out well, what were those first experiences saying hello to the world? And did the world say hello back to you in a warm and welcoming way? Today I get to interview a guest who has his own story about being pretty successful in life asa lawyer, he could stand up and speak without fear. But he’s going to tell us a little bit more about what that experience was like, and how come he didn’t feel truly connected to his real voice. And I’d like to welcome you to Carl Ficks.
(01:37) Carl Ficks
Thank you so much, Dr. Doreen for having me today. I’m excited to be here and I’m grateful that you have invited me.
(01:44) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, wonderful. You sent in a little bio. So I always like to read that before we get started so people get a sense of who you are and what you’re doing right now.
(01:56) Carl Ficks
(01:57) Dr. Doreen Downing
Carl Ficks helps busy professionals get back in the fitness game so they can thrive. His Ficks System is a proven roadmap for endurance athletes and weekend warriors alike. His biweekly newspaper column and LinkedIn posts both titled the Friday Flicks– no, that’s called the Friday Ficks. I guess that’s a play on words, huh?
(02:30) Carl Ficks
Yes, it is.
(02:32) Dr. Doreen Downing
The Friday Ficks will provide strategies, tools, and inspiration to stay resourceful and resilient regardless of the circumstance. And as I mentioned before, Carl was also a trial lawyer for 30 plus years before starting No Surrender, LLC. Well, I’m ready to listen to you and to listen now whatever it is that you want to share today about first, not having a voice. I always like to start there first, and then we’ll have a conversation as it goes.
(03:13) Carl Ficks
Sure. Well thank you for that intro. I appreciate it. I am a bit of a paradox up until a short time ago in that I was a quiet lawyer. And I know the legal profession doesn’t always enjoy the greatest reputation. A lot of people in the profession are known as hired guns, mouthpieces, whatever pejorative phrase you want to use. I came at it from a bit of a different angle. So I was indeed a quiet lawyer. And I allowed written advocacy to do a lot of the work, so I was vocal, but not in the courtroom. And that really stemmed from when I was just a quiet child. And that’s how I grew up: as a quiet person listening more than talking.
(04:04) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, that’s so fascinating that somebody who grows up as or has an early origin as being quiet then takes a profession where he pretty much is required to stand up and speak. But let’s go back to early– It’s always so fascinating to hear a little bit about your childhood and what order you were in the birth order and what your parents were like. And just that early environment where we first come in and ask, who am I? Or we learn about who am I by the way people treat us.
(04:42) Carl Ficks
Well, birth order, I am the middle child. I have an older sister and a younger brother. My parents were both very soft spoken. My father, in fact, lived by the written word. That was his profession. He was in World War II, and then when he came out he was in various positions. He was a press secretary for a governor in Connecticut. He worked for a publishing company. And he was a public relations officer for a state agency in Connecticut. And that involved a lot of writing. And I picked that up from my dad. But he was also very soft spoken, very quiet like my mother. And just the middle child, I sat back and observed what was going on. It wasn’t chaos, but I just– I got more out of life looking and listening and watching. And that’s just the way I rolled. And in high school– you remember, under the photograph there’s always that pithy quote. People may quote Abe Lincoln, FDR, whoever, or rock lyrics. My quote in high school was, “Sometimes you must be silent to be heard.” That was my quote. I don’t know where I found it. I got out of high school in 1981. It was a long time ago. But at the time as a 17-year-old kid, that to me best summed up my life at that early age, that I thought I was being heard by my silence. And that’s why I chose that quote.
(06:16) Dr. Doreen Downing
My goodness. That’s so amazing because just today on social media, I posted a quote, something similar. I don’t know who it was by either. But it is about the silence within is where our strength truly is so that we can be out in the world. And if we are not true to that deep stillness inside, it feels like we aren’t able to communicate as effectively. So already I’m drawn into your story because it’s not one of trauma. It’s not one of being not heard. It’s just a way that you came in naturally into this world with a gift, the gift of listening. And I think you and I are similar in that way with me being a Psychologist finally coming into a profession where you really had to be present and listen to somebody. And I imagine that’s what you had to do in your early career.
(07:22) Carl Ficks
Agree, and I think the ability to listen is a gift. But also, I think the act of listening is a gift to the person that’s speaking to you. Because you really, you need to be present as you say. And I have a favorite Latin saying. I don’t speak a lot of Latin, even though I took Latin and I practice law. But there’s a saying that I’ve always shared with my daughters especially, “Audi alteram partem.” It’s an Augustinian phrase. It’s, “Listen to the other side.” And if you are not listening to the other side, you in fact, in my humble opinion, are not having a conversation. You just have people screaming at each other and nobody’s listening. And I think– the phrase active listening is very popular. And I agree with it, but I just love to listen to the other side because then you can have a conversation. And those are really, really important skills. I’d say one of the top three complaints about lawyers is that they are not listening. No matter where I went during my career, somebody would have an ax to grind with a lawyer. And they always want to tell me what their complaint was, which was fine. But chief among the complaints is he or she never listened. He or she never called me back. He or she doesn’t understand me. And I think a lot of that– calling back is an easy– it’s a ministerial act. But not understanding or not listening, those take a little more effort.
(08:59) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. And what you’re saying also I think, points to the fact of speaking. And if you’re going to be in a conversation, communicating with somebody, it feels like the kind of listening you’re talking to then has an effect on what you say, how you say it, the speaking in other words, your voice that comes out. And I know that a lot of– I used to teach at UC Berkeley active listening. And I have been blessed to find even a deeper kind of listening. Active listening was more about the words. And I think that there’s a sensitivity we as listeners can develop, which is tuning in to where the words come from inside of somebody. And I bet you as a lawyer were able to say that’s not true because you could feel it or sense it.
(09:54) Carl Ficks
Yes. I agree with that. And I can tell you that while during the practice of law, I went to many mediations. And a very, very good mediator– one of the skills of a mediator is listening. And a very skilled mediator at the outset of the mediation would allow the person who believes they are aggrieved to just tell the room what was on their mind. And after that happened, it was liberating for that person who felt aggrieved that people were finally listening to her or him. And then, and only then could we make some progress on perhaps resolving the case. So whenever I went in– many times, you could choose a mediator. But sometimes we’d mediated cases, and you didn’t get to choose the mediator. And when I went in and the mediator immediately looked at the person who had filed the lawsuit and said, so tell me your story, I knew, okay, we’re going to do some business today. This is a great way to start. As opposed to allowing the lawyers to start the fisticuffs, the verbal fisticuffs across the table, that was in fact a non-starter. It had a great chilling effect. Because at the end of the day, people simply want to be heard. They want to know that people are listening. And it’s just so important and seemingly absent from a lot of the discourse today.
(11:21) Dr. Doreen Downing
Absolutely. I love your word liberated and how a person who’s being able to tell and give space for a story to receptive listeners, that they feel liberated. I think that message to people today is really, really important. What you’re saying is the quality of listening, if you’re interested in having a real conversation, is pretty important.
(11:51) Carl Ficks
Yes. And it’s also again, a sign of respect because again, people can disagree. Again, that seems to be lost in a lot of the discourse today, but people can disagree. And they can respectfully disagree, and at the end of the day, still perhaps enjoy each other’s company. I was very mindful during my career to respect adverse witnesses because they’re just doing what they think is right. And I’m just doing what I think is right and advocating or representing my client within the ethical bounds. But you can still, even though the word adverse is in the mix, you can still respect that person. And I found that I was able to do a lot more business and in fact, better represent my clients when I was more respectful of my adversary.
(12:52) Dr. Doreen Downing
That’s pretty wise there, Mr. Ficks.
(12:56) Carl Ficks
Well sometimes, there was no room for that. But we don’t need to talk about that.
(13:07) Dr. Doreen Downing
What I like hearing is that it was genuine. And it wasn’t necessarily a strategy that you were saying, okay, in order to win this, I have to go listen to the other person and give them respect, the adversaries. But you really– it’s a belief. And you thought that this serves your clients better.
(13:28) Carl Ficks
Yes. And I will tell you. I learned a lot from my parents, just the way they carried themselves and the way they conducted business. But they got their point across. They weren’t verbose. You knew exactly where they stood. And I just learned a lot from them. And that’s how I tried to conduct myself in the legal profession
(13:56) Dr. Doreen Downing
Earlier when we had a conversation, and what you’ve already revealed to me, is that you were speaking using your voice, speaking up for your clients. And then there’s a difference between finding your own voice and there was some kind of shift, some kind of change, some kind of realization. Tell us about that part of your life.
(14:25) Carl Ficks
Well again, I represented my clients within– we are bound by the rules of professional conduct. And one of the rules is you zealously represent your clients. And that’s what I did, advocating their position. And which I adopted because I was their advocate. Did I always agree with it? As a person, I may or may not have. But yet, because you are representing that person, so long as it’s ethical and honorable, you can argue whatever that position was. But I never engaged in any hyperbole outside of the courtroom, or the four corners of a document that I filed in court. I was not a lawyer who stood on the courthouse steps, spouting pithy quotes and rattling the saber. It was not my personality. It was not my style. And frankly, I always found– I think at times, it does a disservice to the client. You’re advocating for the client, and therefore you’ve got to take a position in their best interest. So it wasn’t always Carl Ficks talking. It was Carl Ficks, the lawyer; Carl Ficks, counsel for blank. Fill in the blank with client x. There’s that saying keeping your powder dry. I kept my personal powder dry. And then when I pivoted out of the law last year, I decided to change that up a little and start speaking out. Not rebelliously, but there’s a few things I had on my mind that I wanted to share with the world. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
(16:13) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh good. I want to hear more about that. But first, what it is that you’ve wanted to tell the world, you came to realize something about the business you were in and had to, as you say, pivot. Can you tell us just a little bit more about that thing that you realized?
(16:35) Carl Ficks
Sure. I thoroughly enjoyed the practice of law. It’s a noble profession. It served me well until it didn’t. And then I decided to pivot. Because I was fully engaged in the practice, and you really can’t– you can’t cheat. And again, I don’t say that pejoratively, but you can’t cut corners in the practice of law. There are some that do. I chose not to. And then the bloom came off the rose after many, many years, I passed the bar in ’88. So I started thinking about what I could do in service to others because I’ve always been in service to others. It’s one of my mindsets. And I thought, how best could I reach those that are still in the profession and in other professions, and share some things that have worked for me or worked for me during my career? So I did some soul searching. I mixed some metaphorical paints on a pallet, and I founded a company named No Surrender, where I’m helping busy professionals thrive with fitness. So I think I am very passionate about it. And I’m reaching more people because the profession is at a tipping point now. There’s a mental health issue not only in society, but also in the legal profession that needs to be addressed. And exercise helps that, bottom line.
(18:12) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. What a fascinating name, No Surrender. Where did that come from?
(18:17) Carl Ficks
I will tell you. That came from my experience riding to law school on the city bus in Washington, DC. I did not have a car my first two years of law school. I took the city bus. Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen had just come out. I had the ubiquitous Walkman. And I played that Born in the USA tape on the Walkman to and from the law school. And No Surrender is a track on that album. And that song just resonated with me. And I’ve loved it since it came out. And when I founded this company, I wanted to pay homage to one of the things that got me to where I was, because there were days, Dr. Doreen, where I wanted to quit. And I had Springsteen looping in my head telling me, no surrender. That’s where it came from.
(19:11) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, I’m so glad I asked. I’m really touched by that story. And it’s also– who’s ever listening, I think will say, oh, yeah. And it’s inspirational. Thank you.
(19:24) Carl Ficks
Yes. I mean, again, it was a tough slog. Law school is not for the faint of heart. And it was– I found it hard, which is, I guess a good thing. But again, there was– I don’t want to say dark days. That’s being dramatic. But there were some days on the bus where I thought, what am I doing? Am I ever going to get out of this forest that I’m trapped in? And all of my friends from college are off earning money. They’re earning a wage, and they’re having some fun. And at the time it was a bit of a little pity party, but I got over that. But again in 2021, I thought back, wow, what would be a good name for this company? And it’s a bit of a double entendre. I mean, there is the No Surrender. It’s not a macho fitness thing, either. It’s really, again, the Springsteen nod.
(20:21) Dr. Doreen Downing
So since we’re moving forward here, tell us a little bit about this business that you do and your belief in whatever it is, full fitness.
(20:33) Carl Ficks
Well I just think it’s a cornerstone success principle in business that a little fitness and exercise will keep you in the game. You are an asset. You are in service to others. And you need to protect that asset. And if you think about financial planning, we all try to keep our financial house in order. And the financial planning is designed perhaps for succession planning, or to keep money legally away from creditors. So translate that, what is a creditor in your personal life? Well it’s a disease or it’s illness. It’s a comorbidity. Why wouldn’t you want to protect the asset, you, against those creditors that could attack you? So if you as a person in service to others are not upwards, you’re not vertical, you’re not healthy, the dominoes fall. If you think of the communities that you serve, you may have a partner, either domestic or business. You may have a spouse. You may have children. You may have elder care issues. You’ve got– you’re in service to your community. It could be church, a church group. It could be a not-for-profit. All of these, employees, colleagues, clients, customers, all of these people are in a way reliant upon you because you are in service to them. And if you’re offline, that’s problematic. So it’s all about you being able to show up and in fact, be in service to others.
(22:16) Dr. Doreen Downing
It’s a brilliant message. We are the most important asset to our business. And we need to protect ourselves. And one of the ways that you offer is this message about fitness. And so I get the sense that you aren’t trying to– because you said in the intro that it’s not about being an elite athlete. We don’t have to do that. But those of us who are weekend warriors, say a little bit more about that because that’s what I am.
(22:47) Carl Ficks
I’m just a big fan of people moving in whatever way, shape, or form that takes. There’s demonstrable evidence of the link between exercise and mental health, and how it lifts you up. And it makes you in fact more resilient to handle things that come at you. Folks are talking about the great resignation. I think this is kind of the great reckoning. This pandemic should open people’s eyes to perhaps we can focus more on people’s health to make them more resilient and perhaps less exposed to the next pandemic. We saw, and again, this is– I don’t speak as a professional, but we saw anecdotally folks with comorbidities had some real issues if you look at the numbers with the pandemic. If exercise helps take some of those comorbidities off the table, that’s a good thing.
So again, I’m all for exercise and movement. In my program, I have a slide deck which I tweak here and there, but I just did a presentation the other day. And I had a screenshot of– I was on a layover at Baltimore Washington International Airport, BWI, and they have a cardio walk. And I took a picture of that. The last time I was there, it’s got a person walking with an arrow, and it said one kilometer equals 20 minutes. So it’s just pointing you if you’re in a layover, where you can walk in the terminal. And so there’s some downtime there that people, in lieu of sitting around and eating pretzels from Aunt Annie’s, even though those are very good, they could get up and walk around a little. And again, I’m not talking about doing the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. This is just movement. Get more people moving, a less sedentary lifestyle.
(24:43) Dr. Doreen Downing
And I think that’s what the people can take, especially from you who’s travelled through this universe and has had lots of learning, and we’re talking about voice today. And this is where your voice is ringing out loud and clear because it’s from your heart. It’s from your life. It’s from your gut. It’s from your exposure to Bruce Springsteen, and No Surrender — and I love that it’s just move. Just move.
(25:15) Carl Ficks
And what I’m doing– you mentioned at the outset the Friday Ficks, and that’s something that I’ve been doing every Friday on LinkedIn. And then I do publish twice a month in a local newspaper. But these are little anecdotes that I share of my life, lessons that I’ve learned or that might be helpful. I come from the school of never tell a story without a point, never make a point without a story. And I try to stay true to that. But I also desperately try to stay positive. And the genesis of the Friday Ficks was this avalanche of apocalyptic news that we are faced with daily. It’s almost my Occupy Wall Street. It’s my little flag in the sand like well, wait a minute. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things out there. So why don’t we talk about that? And why don’t we lift people up instead of bringing them down? So the intent of the Friday Ficks is to just give a little dose of perhaps, inspiration that might get people up and moving around. I share what some things that have worked for me, some that I fell flat on my face, but that’s the learning process. But it’s really designed to be inspirational and not negative because I got really tired of this apocalyptic news cycle as I said a moment ago. Enough is enough. There are a lot of good things and there are a lot of good people out there. So let’s talk about that.
(26:53) Dr. Doreen Downing
You always come up with something that I want to go yes to, like enough is enough. And I have been reading every Friday. And I definitely look forward to it because your writing style, whether it came from your father or you’re a natural writer, but it is really well done. I mean, to me it feels like what people teach in storytelling is how to tell a story in which we feel like you can’t put the book down.
(27:22) Carl Ficks
And I’ve enjoyed it. Again, I think you can deliver a message in– you don’t have to pump out a 3500-word essay. I mean, those are good if you want to write a scholarly article, but something a little more than a soundbite. We do, unfortunately, live in a soundbite world. Something with a little meat on the bone — I want people to stop the scroll. That’s what I want to do. Just stop for a minute. This is a one minute read. And you might get something out of it. And I’ll tell you, it’s resonating with people. I get some neat comments, and I don’t do it for the comments. Those are very gratifying. I mean, it’s a little ego tug. But I don’t really do it for that. It’s nice to see. And I’m glad it’s resonating with folks because the last two years have been tough. We all know that. I don’t want to be captain obvious here, but it’s been a tough time. So I think using my voice to help lift folks up and not knock them down means a lot to me.
(28:34) Dr. Doreen Downing
Thank you. Well how do people find you other than LinkedIn?
(27:22) Carl Ficks
My website is CarlFicks.com, C-A-R-L-F-I-C-K-S.com. And my email is Carl@CarlFicks.com. And I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook. And I’d love to connect with anybody in your audience. It’s been a great experience. And I look forward to making it a greater one.
(28:34) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. Well you certainly are a contribution. You inspire me every Friday and any other kinds of posts and conversations we can engage in going forward. People who have listened today can say, wow, the way that you use words is something that I feel is a voice that has not just articulation, but I like where your voice comes from, your heart. So thank you very much. Thank you, Carl.
(27:22) Carl Ficks
Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure. And I appreciate your time and having me here.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.