Today I interview Claire E. Parsons, a successful lawyer who practices in Ohio. Both of her parents were lawyers, and her sister was born just 15 months before her. Growing up, Claire was quiet and introverted. Her sister, on the other hand, was very extroverted and enjoyed being the center of attention. Claire felt pressure to be the “good girl” and excel in everything she did.
This pressure to be perfect followed Claire into her adolescence and early adulthood, where she struggled with the belief that she had to be perfect at everything. However, this all came crashing down when she had her first daughter and faced difficulty in raising her due to being growth-restricted and having difficulty breastfeeding. Claire’s inability to do the most important thing in her life the way she wanted to led her to explore mindfulness, which ultimately helped her become a more balanced person.
Claire’s interest in speaking and teaching began at an early age. Despite her introverted nature, she never had trouble speaking up in class and always knew the answers. She even volunteered to try out for things early on and won awards for teaching speech. As an auditory learner, Claire processes information best when she hears it out loud. This has also influenced her writing style, which is often conversational and focused on helping others understand complex topics.
However, sharing her own personal stories and experiences has been a more difficult skill for Claire to master. It has taken her time to learn how to be vulnerable and share who she truly is with others. But with mindfulness and self-reflection, Claire has been able to grow in this area and become a more effective speaker and writer.
Overall, Claire’s journey shows that success is not just about being the most extroverted or the most talented person in the room. It’s about finding balance and learning to be comfortable with who you are, even if that means embracing your introverted tendencies. By doing so, you can unlock your full potential and achieve your goals.
Claire has devoted her law practice and life to building and serving her community. For more than a decade, she has guided and defended local governments, companies, and their officials through all manner of legal issues. Nothing gives her greater satisfaction than handling problems for her clients so they can serve students in schools, provide vital city services, or successfully manage relationships with employees.
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Transcript of Interview
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #103 Claire Parsons “From Introverted Perfectionist to Mindful Lawyer”
(00:35) Doreen Downing
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing, I’m a psychologist and I get to host the Find Your Voice change your life podcast. And the guest I invite here will always tell some kind of unique story. And today, it’s not really about being afraid of speaking up in public. So I want my listeners to understand that right away. But voice where does it come from? And what do we listen to? And what leads our lives? And what are we doing with this inner self-talk which is a voice right? So that’s what I think we’ll be exploring today with Claire Parsons. I’m going to read a brief bio so that people get a little bit more about who you are and what you do first, and then we’ll dive into the story and history and all of what made you who you are today. Claire E. Parsons is a practicing lawyer in the Cincinnati area, a mindfulness and compassion teacher, the founder of the brilliant legal mind blog, and the author of two new books, How To Be A Badass Lawyer, and Mommy Needs a Minute. I’m giggling because those sound like they’re totally opposite. But having read one of them, I bet they’re very similar in a lot of ways. And they really do connect. In addition to law practice, she speaks frequently to lawyers, and professionals about mindfulness, mental health, and stress management. So here we are, Claire. Hi. Hello. Yeah. Well, what I like to do is usually go back into history, just so people know that, gee, you know, she was a little girl at one point before she became a lawyer. So just a little bit about family history, where you grew up, and maybe like birth order, just little details in anything, since that’s where voice first comes alive right beyond the baby talk is that’s where we’re first listened to and heard and speak our first words, anything that comes up about those memories.
(03:02) Claire Parsons
It is totally irrelevant to my actual ability to speak, and then a lot of my history in my life. I was born in the early 80s, in Northern Kentucky, which is right across from Cincinnati. So I actually practice law in both Kentucky and Ohio because we’re right next to each other. And my parents were both lawyers. My sister was born just 15 months before me. So we grew up together. My sister is a very extroverted girl. And she was always putting on shows and being the cute one when we were growing up. She did have some own some struggles of her own. She eventually got diagnosed with bipolar disorder and things like that. So I grew up being the good girl, I was good at school. I was good at sports. I was very quiet, introverted, and a perfectionist. And I, you know, Audrey would make friends in two minutes. And it would take me a long time. And I was a bit of a nerd.
And so that history really kind of established sort of a lot of my adolescence, and even early adulthood, it wasn’t so much that my parents really pushed me to do really well or anything. But it was more kind of this inner motivation and belief that I had to be perfect at everything. And as I kind of talk about in my book, that all sort of came apart kind of kind of came crashing to a halt when I had my first daughter and I had difficulty growing her because she was growth restricted. And then I had difficulty breastfeeding her and so it all kind of came to a head when the most important thing in my life I kind of I couldn’t do you know, I couldn’t do the way I wanted to. And so that’s sort of where this whole process with me sort of began with the mindfulness and all of that.
(04:55) Doreen Downing
Well, as soon as you said a sister I realized that I can relate. My younger sister’s name is Jenny. And people could always pronounce her name but couldn’t say, Doreen. They forgot my name. She was a cute bouncy one. And so I have a sense of what it’s like to be with a sister who’s different. And then the attention they get is different than the attention that we get. I would say that the perfectionistic side of you, that’s interesting that you didn’t feel like it was coming from your parents. Did it come internally?
(05:38) Claire Parsons
Oh, yeah, no, it came internally. I’ve seen this even in my kids, I have two daughters now. And they’re four years apart. So not a lot of the same issues. But I do see when one acts up and has just their little moment, the other one will be “Oh, I’m sorry, mommy, let me help mommy,” and there’ll be the good one, right? And so I think it was more that kind of thing. I was pretty good at sports and I had some interest in music and theater and that kind of stuff. But I kind of gravitated away from that, and sort of just selected away from that, because that was sort of my sister’s thing, she was the creative one. And now you know, when we’re adults, you are able to process that and understand that that’s not really how things work. We’ve been able to repair those differences and realize that nobody deserves to be put in a box like that. And we certainly shouldn’t do it to each other. But as a kid, you know, you get these identities that kind of grow up, and you don’t necessarily have the ability to really reflect on it. And that’s why I think when I started practicing mindfulness, it was something that allowed me to be just a more balanced person. So I could be both a lawyer and really smart. And I could also be really creative, and sort of be my own person, too.
(06:54) Doreen Downing
Yeah, that’s something we’ll get into in a few minutes here. You said that you didn’t have public speaking anxiety and that is something that is just natural. “Hello, world! Here I am. And I can speak.” How did you know you were so comfortable doing that early on?
(07:18) Claire Parsons
I’m not going to say that I’ve never had nervousness around it. But I remember at an early age that I never had trouble speaking up in class, I knew the answers a lot. I remember volunteering to try out for things early on. And I remember, my parents sent me to a summer enrichment program. My sister picked all the arts and the theater and I picked a public speaking class, because I just knew that this is how I was as a practical little kid, even where I was like, that’s going to be a good skill later on. I remember getting the best award for teaching speech. So it was a speech about teaching. So I’ve always really liked teaching other people and explaining how things work. And I think some of this comes from the fact that I’m an auditory learner. So I really, I like prefer audiobooks, I understand things best if I really hear them out. When I write something, I have to read it out loud, because it doesn’t sound good. It’s not good. So I think part of my internal processing, although I am very introverted, I think part of that kind of compels me with that auditory processing, to push it out, and to kind of teach it out and talk it out and engage in a dialogue with others. So when it comes to teaching, especially practical stuff, I really know. It is no sweat at all, the difficulty I think has been and the thing I’ve had to stretch it and learn is the telling of stories and really the sharing of who I am. That’s something that took so much longer to master than just talking in public.
(08:56) Doreen Downing
I like both of what you’ve just offered us. The first is, well, there’s the speaking that you lined up with the teaching. And that was something that seemed to be what you were already gifted at. I think the idea of the different kinds of learners, the auditory and the visual, is what helped you see that what you were writing made sense. That’s fascinating. I’ve never heard that before about hearing your own voice. Reading what you’ve written. And then that’s how you hear your voice. That is so fascinating.
(09:38) Claire Parsons
Yeah, I think that is why some people tell me that they think I’m a good writer. I think some of it is that I think I’m writing and they hear it in their head the way that it might be spoken to them. And I think that’s kind of the way I write at least with blog posts and things like that. I don’t necessarily write briefs that way, but I try to be as conversational as I can. And so I think that hearing what I write, as I write it, I actually hear the words instead of really envisioning them or whatever. I think that really aids in the writing process. And I think that’s also how the writing has, in many cases turned into speaking as well for me.
(10:18) Doreen Downing
Well, as somebody who is read your book and is already close to you through that, I would say that there is a way in which I feel like before you even came on today that I already knew you and new layers of you. I have to say that I’ve learned so much about mindfulness, self-compassion, and breathing, there is meditation, and I’m learning all this from a lawyer, by the way, which is kind of ironic. But on the other hand, it seems like it’s right up our alley, those of us who are so professional, that we need a little help from another professional. Claire, there was something that you said in your book that how your voice and who you were, that I’m talking about the voice in your head, and what drove you was something more like competitive, aggressive, perfectionistic, those kinds of I would say those were probably some of what originally got you into feeling like you were, I don’t know, just kind of it seemed like you were maybe falling apart or stressed out, let’s say. So the realization that you needed something, let’s talk about that first.
(12:11) Claire Parsons
So the realization that I needed something, I think that that came after my pregnancy that I alluded to. So that was when my daughter was born. And I think I had some postpartum depression symptoms that are sort of showing up during the pregnancy itself, because she was growth restricted, and we didn’t know why. I had sort of a weird experience with one of the techs, who did my ultrasound, where she sort of cross-examined me for being a lawyer and suggested that it was my fault that she wasn’t growing well. I don’t think she really meant to do that. But the way she said it, and just sort of my personality, it took it that way. So I blamed myself automatically. And I felt like it hurt my daughter. I couldn’t do the one thing that women were supposed to do, right? And so that pregnancy, though, you know, I ended up going to therapy, getting some medication and stabilizing. My mom’s a family lawyer, and she was like, you’re going to an appointment, we’re going to go. My daughter’s about to turn 11 and now she’s doing just fine. But that was sort of a wake-up call. I don’t think I knew I needed something really consciously.
I think I kind of unconsciously sort of went to something because I knew I needed it. I had read about Buddhism and meditation and I finally started doing it when I was so busy that I couldn’t see straight. So I just needed to be steady. I wasn’t really trying to find self-improvement. I just needed some steadiness. But over the course of time, growth did come. So mindfulness was something that allowed me to sit and get a little bit more comfortable with the thoughts. So they weren’t so terrifying to me and hurtful that I couldn’t experience them. When I could see what the thoughts were, then I was in a position where I realized I was thinking I could challenge them and confront them and realize that often they weren’t true.
Now there was one retreat in particular that I attended. That was a really strong doubt reaction that I experienced at my first retreat where I had all these doubt feelings and thoughts about being at the retreat and being away from my kids for a weekend and all this guilt was coming up and all these things. It was one of the first times I recognized that doubting voice and I had this like, just realization of all the times in my life I had not done things because of that voice and how I would listen to it for so many years. I almost laughed when I saw it because it was immediately undone. It’s not to say that I don’t have that doubt anymore and that it doesn’t come up. But now I see it. And I can recognize it more often and take measures to care for myself to seek some support, to ask for help and so it doesn’t hold me back quite so much. So that’s kind of generally how the process unfolded did take years. But over the course of those years, there’s also conduct change that led to big steps forward. And that’s how kind of the process of confidence can grow over time.
(15:29) Doreen Downing
Yeah, it’s not just the light switch, we turn it on after a retreat and walk out all expanded. There is something also that you said in the book about the difference between mindfulness and meditation. And one of the things that I took away is that people think meditation means you have to sit for 30 minutes, and you have to have your back straight. And this is what I want listeners to hear. What I read in your book is that take one breath. And then you said, Hey, you just meditated. Tell us more about that approach.
(16:16) Claire Parsons
Well, it’s the building blocks, right? Honestly, when I started meditating, I started at one or two minutes a day. I mean, that was literally all I could handle. At that point, there weren’t the apps that we have today that have scalable, unguided, and one-minute meditations there, none of that existed. I was just randomly finding whatever guided meditations, I could find out on the internet. I use Tara Brock’s meditation a lot because that was one that was readily available to me. But at first, I was just sitting there with a timer for a minute or two. And that was all I could do. And I do think that the gradual approach really makes sense.
For a lot of us, we may have some past trauma, we may have some minimal ability to have inner resources to manage some of these thoughts and emotions. We experience everything at once. It’s time and some space that allows us to kind of parse these things into thoughts and emotions and bodily sensations and other things. And so I think the gradual approach, the small approach is the way to go. Even outside of meditation, I’ll say that almost every, like, important, healthy habit I have in my life. I started by starting incredibly small like I work out every day now. And I do pretty strenuous exercises. But years ago, I started out taking walks around the neighborhood and doing slow-flow yoga, because that’s all I could do. So I think starting small and gradual. That’s how you understand the fundamentals and build the building blocks. And then you can start to build some real structure around it, and have a really robust practice.
(17:54) Doreen Downing
Yes, I love what you’re saying, and guiding people to just take it and it is what you’re describing is one step at a time. I love the way that you’re explaining it, it feels like doing one step at a time is possible. And it can lead and I don’t know if we want to say enjoy the the journey. It’s not about the destination. But I do like that. You make it so small, it’s so doable. There was something else and that’s about breath. You talk you approach breath in a different sort of way than I’ve heard most people talk about breath.
(18:36) Claire Parsons
Okay, and I don’t know how you are kind of linking that up. So can you explain a little bit more?
(18:42) Doreen Downing
Well, you’re talking about it in the book that we can meditate. And that’s important, but we have to also come into our breath. And it’s not just it’s not just breath, any old breath. It’s like, it seemed like it needed to be more deliberate or more conscious and more with our breath. It that was my sense of how I took it.
(19:08) Claire Parsons
Okay, yeah. There are a lot of different ways to focus on the breath. When I was talking about breath in the book, I was often talking about that in the context of meditation. Now you can use the breath as a tool outside of that as well. But for that breath practice that I taught in the book, I was really trying to help people get a clearer focal point and a starting point for meditation. So when we meditate, there are a lot of different focal points that we can select. But getting comfortable with that breath and getting really clear about what it is you’re focusing on, is just an excellent life skill. So if you get nothing else other than the fact that you know how your breath feels, and you can get with it, and really not just cling to it, but rest on it.
And the analogy that I kind of like is you’re a child on a swing right? You’re not hanging on to a life raft. And you’re sort of going along with the flow, if you can build that skill, that is something that will serve you when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or sitting in line at the grocery or late in the airport, and you’re in a long security line, and all kinds of other applications in your life. But when you can develop that, that’s a resource. So over time, in meditation, if you start to have difficult thoughts or experiences, you might be able to use that breath to kind of guide yourself and anchor yourself. So that experience is not overwhelming. And obviously, if you have really, really powerful experiences, you might need to get some help with your practice. But that’s just a life skill that we can all use for coping with difficulty in life, or even something like preparing to go give a speech because those kinds of resources can be really, really useful.
(20:58) Doreen Downing
I was thinking as I was listening to you how the listeners are listening to you right now a lot of them do suffer from anxiety, and this kind of focusing on something other than the heart beating, or the throat constricting, or the thoughts that are cramming into your head, it feels like, “oh, we could take the breath, follow it and be with it.” Not only does it helps with focus, but it does take you down into the parasympathetic nervous system. And it goes to this relaxation state.
Oh, well, there’s more about your writing that I fell in love with. And I’m going to write something down in it, it’s going to lead to the next aspect of what I want you to talk about, and in terms of a voice, I think this is closer to what I want people to hear. You said power can come from the softest and gooey of our emotions. And I think you’re talking about loving kindness. To me, that’s the voice of loving ourselves and our experience. And like you say, it doesn’t have to be a good experience. It could be a really challenging, stressful experience. But still, this loving-kindness is what I learned from your book.
(22:30) Claire Parsons
I think that, for lawyers in particular, that is what can scare us. So I have done loving kindness for a long time. I’ve gotten some training to teach compassion as well. And one of the things that have just been mystifying to me about compassion, is that it can literally come out of difficulty. I have had experiences while meditating, I’ve had experiences in life where I sit, I have learned with my mindfulness practice to sit with a difficult experience instead of mentally fleeing from it, going into a fight mode to distract from it or, just checking out. I’ve been able to sit with that. If you watch that experience, at first, it will be difficult, and there will be maybe some resistance. There may be a hardship, there may be tears, but it can transform into something else.
I talked about that experience in my book, where I was in my second pregnancy, and had an emergency C-section. A thought came to my head while I was being wheeled to the operating room that I had to stay calm for my daughter. I did and we ended up both Okay, as well. This experience left me wondering, “Well, how did my first pregnancy destroy me when it was far less terrifying?” And this pregnancy didn’t when I felt like my life and my daughter’s life maybe could be in jeopardy for 20 minutes or so. I brought compassion to my second experience and didn’t have it in my first. So that response is incredibly powerful. It’s not to say that we can always do it. It’s not to say that we can always decide how we are going to react. But if we can bring compassion, especially compassion for ourselves to situations, it can really affect performance.
One of the stories I’ve shared on the blog, but not necessarily in the book is an experience I had with a litigation matter that really had big implications and was really scary. I kind of knew that I was going to lose based on past experience with the judge. So it was really hard when I got an important case that I really wanted to win. I was really scared for a few days. I’ll tell you, I sat and did loving kindness for three nights and I just wrestled with that fear. I finally admitted to myself that I was afraid and I just sent myself loving kindness and did that practice. And finally, on the third night, I realized, I can’t change the results, and I can’t necessarily win. But I can fight as hard as I can. I can be as kind to myself and my client as I can while I’m doing this. As it turned out, the next day I got up, wrote the brief, and got ready for the hearing. We got a pretty good result for the case overall. But I was so proud of how I handled that. And it came from acknowledging that fear and being with it, as opposed to treating myself badly or ignoring how I felt, or responding with a shameful response, which could have really made things much more difficult. And so I think that’s sort of the idea I was talking about in that passage.
(26:04) Doreen Downing
Oh, I think what you’ve just said, is resonating with so many folks about what it’s like to be in a traumatic moment and scared about, you know, standing up in front of others and giving a speech or just coming to a meeting to give a report, anything that has to do with being in front of a group and the spotlight is on you.
What do you say to yourself? What I heard was that it sounded like it was assurance, and acceptance of fear, it’s true, we’re not going to try and push it out or deny it, it really is there for you. So anything else you could say about what that voice sounds like what it says?
(27:17) Claire Parsons
And I’m going to try not to cry when I say it. Because when you said that I kind of thought of my parents. I think how I am when I’m with my daughters, right, and I need to keep them steady. So and I just wrote a blog post last week about what compassion feels like and you can’t really pinpoint it, because compassion is actually not an emotion, it’s a response. So it may have many emotions, as well. It may have a range of emotions, you might start out scared, and then you might find more of a stabilizing force. And then you might feel actually really good at the end. Because that’s actually the clinical sort of compassion response. So it may not just be one voice, there may be times when your compassionate voice might sound a little different.
I will say when I was doing meditation and I had to start leading guided meditations, I remember struggling with the voice piece because I don’t necessarily sound like some of the like women that I’ve heard talk in my yoga class or something. I don’t sound mystical and ethereal and all of that. And then I kind of realized, “Well, Claire, you’ve guided clients through difficult situations, you call them to deliver bad news, you have helped your kids when they’re scared. So your voice is that voice.” So I think what I would say for a compassionate voice is probably something like a good coach, a good mentor, or a good parent who really helped you during difficulty. And it’s that stabilizing force is the kind of force that I find most appealing in compassion.
I do think as you’ve said, acceptance is a big part of it. Which means we don’t fight against the fear. We don’t push it away but we allow it to be there. And we find ourselves stronger in the process as a result. But yeah, I think that calm, kind, non-judgmental voice is what you’re looking for when you’re talking about a compassionate voice.
(29:23) Doreen Downing
What I’m taking today, Claire is this word. You’ve used it several times today and that’s “stabilizing”. I’m thinking about people who have anxiety about showing themselves and being in front of people if there wouldn’t be a way to stabilize the body, and the mind. Just now when I started talking about it, my voice dropped a little bit, so that the voice has more of a deeper resonance that comes in. I love what you just said about yourself, and that the acceptance of the truth of who you are and the sound and that what’s most important is the quality and where it comes from.
(30:22) Claire Parsons
That’s actually something I talked about in my book, which is what I was a little bit afraid to talk about, right? Essential goodness. That’s kind of a hallmark principle of Buddhism. I know a lot of people that talk about mindfulness for lawyers don’t necessarily get into the philosophy. I generally don’t either, because I don’t want people to feel excluded. But I do think it’s so important. I think that when I teach about mindfulness, I do know that when I started meditating, I started out implicitly with this idea that I was going to fix or improve myself once I got stabilized with it, and started really going on. And the funny thing is what you’re going to find is that you’re basically a good person, you’ll start to see the consequences of maybe adverse conditions. You’ll start to see that, “Oh, on the day that I lost it with my kids or something that was a day I didn’t sleep well,” or “I’m worried about something,” or whatever. And you start to see those conditions, and how they affect your conduct. But you start to see that when you feel good and loved and safe, and well, you act like it.
So it’s understanding that goodness is there. It’s learning to manage some of those conditions and make wiser choices so that you’re not put in a position where you have to make bad choices. I think that’s a huge part of it because when you go and look into yourself, you find that good wants to come out and you trust that even when things go bad because they will, right? This is not a promise that everything will be great. You’ll go do the speech and you’ll get the work but it doesn’t mean you do the pitch, and you’ll win, it just means you’ll kind of build that skill over time that even when things don’t work out, you still trust yourself. And you try again. Because that’s life, that’s the important thing.
(32:36) Doreen Downing
I love that we’re ending on a note of goodness and that message I feel is something that, in the middle of all the anxiety that anybody ever feels or any of the trauma that they’ve had around speaking or when they look into the future and see really adverse situations or scenarios, they could remember these words about being good inside being that we create our own safety, I think for ourselves, and the wellness, the stabilizing. So I just want to thank you so much for the richness of what you’ve said today. How do people find you?
(33:22) Claire Parsons
The best place to find me personally is on LinkedIn, I hang out there a lot. And I love getting messages from people so feel free to reach out. Otherwise, the blog is “Brilliant Legal Mind,” and it is on WordPress as well as social media, the best places to follow are probably Instagram and LinkedIn which were on other platforms.
(33:49) Doreen Downing
Great. Any last words?
(33:52) Claire Parsons
We’ve talked a little bit about compassion and we’ve talked about stabilizing force. I just want to draw people’s attention to the idea that compassion and courage are actually related. They both come from the heart area. So recognize and accept fear. That’s what leads to courage. It doesn’t mean that fear has to go away to have courage or to have confidence, you can actually learn to care for it. And that’s how you cultivate courage and confidence over time. But if you’re afraid and you’re trying just keep going because I think the world needs to hear your voice.
(34:32) Doreen Downing
Wow, thank you.
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