David M. Brown
One year ago, Ascent Employment Law was not even an idea. In fact, in early June 2020, I can say that I was content with my career, my law practice and my professional trajectory. As fate would have it this quiet career satisfaction quickly transformed, as a series of events brought my partners and I to a cross-road. We had difficult decisions to make that would significantly impact us professionally and personally.
As luck would have it, in June of 2020 I was reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. This book, which is little more than a journal kept by the great roman emperor in the later years of his life, was heavily inspired by the philosophy of the ancient Stoics. It was a book that found me at precisely the moment I needed it, and provided me with calm and reflected wisdom at a time when I was having difficulty processing negative emotions.
One passage in particular was one of the most transformative and liberating thoughts I had ever come across:
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations 49a
It’s unfortunate that this has happened.
No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it – not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it. Why treat the one as a misfortune rather than the other as fortunate? […]
Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself?
So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain; the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.
This simple thought changed my life. The actions of others have no bearing on who we are. The actions of others cannot compromise our values or our principles unless we allow them to. To endure hardship with our principles intact is a tremendous opportunity. As the Philosopher King shows in this short passage, misfortune is nothing more than a mindset.
We were at a cross-road. The road to the left would have taken us on a path where outside forces were tolerated and accepted. On this road we would find victimhood. Pity. Shame. Regret. Anger. Resentment. On this road we would have allowed outside influences to limit our opportunities and our personal growth. The road to the left would have compromised what was most important: our principles.
The road to the right was a new path. This road begins with a mindset and the recognition that we can only control what is in our control. It teaches us that the challenges we face in life can bury us, or they can liberate us, if we allow them to. The road to the right acknowledges that actions outside of our control have no bearing on who we are, the principles that we follow and the values that we’ve enshrined.
In late June 2020, I clearly remember a conversation I had with Trevor Thomas and Richard Johnson, my soon-to-be business partners. In that meeting we consciously chose the road to the right. We recognized that the catalyst we needed to take control was directly before us, presented like a gift. We changed our mindset, and in so doing created positive emotions, which in turn changed our actions. Our positive actions reinforced our positive thoughts, and we transformed what could have been a negative spiral into a positive one. In turning right, I’m reminded of the teachings of another ancient Stoic philosopher, Epictetus: “it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”.
As it happens this cross-road appears for everyone going through workplace disruption. The experience we lived and lessons we learned in turning right has allowed us to better empathize with our clients and counsel them through their own challenges. Misfortune is a mindset, no matter where we find ourselves in life.
In the early days of Ascent, we talked a lot about our values and how we would integrate them into our practice. These core principles would be a promise to ourselves, to our team and to our clients in everything that we do. Ultimately, we came to the useful acronym CHHIRP:
Courage – We will not be intimidated or threatened by the actions of others. Every obstacle presents an opportunity.
Humanity and Care – Our clients are all going through unique challenges and we are privileged to assist them. We will offer our services with empathy, understanding and compassion.
Honesty – We will honour the trust being placed in us by being honest and transparent in all that we do. This includes timely and forthright communications and transparent billing practices.
Integrity – We will align our actions and words, and our integrity holds true. We won’t cheapen our principles through inconsistent application.
Respect – We respect our clients, our team, our communities, the environment and ourselves. We respect and celebrate our differences by acknowledging each person’s basic dignity, encouraging a diversity of opinions and validating individual contributions.
Professionalism – We will respond to all opportunities with poise, competence, quality and service. We practice in a constructive, interactive and highly ethical manner.
For Ascent, CHHIRP is more than a collection of corporate buzz-words. We review them at every staff meeting and we highlight how our team members embody these values. We talk about our mistakes and how we fall short of our ideals. We are imperfect, but CHHIRP creates accountability to a standard we control and that we project onto our community.
Our origin story started with a cross-road. We all knew where the path to the left ended. To the right was our opportunity. There have been other cross-roads in Ascent Employment Law’s remarkable first year, but the response has been the same.
We always turn right.
David M. Brown
Co-Founder + Partner