Ward has many titles—intellectual property lawyer, breakthrough coach, motivational speaker, and author. Through the self-founded Esteemable Acts Institute, Ward helps clients build self-esteem through positive action. Her books include Esteemable Acts: 10 Actions for Building Real Self-Esteem and 52 Weeks of Esteemable Acts: A Guide to Right Living. She also frequently presents workshops and keynotes on gaining self-esteem, combating fear, handling intellectual property in the Internet age, changing oneself for the better, and acting to fulfill one’s goals. Ward supports a number of service organizations, including the ASPCA, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Innocence Project, the San Francisco Bar Volunteer Legal Services Program, and KIVA. The bulk of her pro bono efforts are with Marin Services for Women, a treatment facility.
Q| What was your first job, and what lesson did you take away from it?
The job that really stands out for me was when I was in the tenth grade, and I was at the High School of Art & Design in New York City. Like most teenage girls, I talked a lot on the telephone. One day my mom got so tired of me running up the phone bill that she said, "If you're going to talk, you need to get your own phone." So I did. I got a part-time job across the street from my high school at the phone company, and was able to get my very first telephone.
Two lessons came from that experience: that nothing was impossible - even though it felt like it in the moment, and if you really want something, you must work for it. That was the bottom line.
Q| What was the inspiration behind starting the Esteemable Acts Institute?
It came from a desire to share honest and authentic information that goes beyond the hype. I think that too many of us, especially women, are sold a bill of goods. We're taught that self-esteem comes from being pretty, skinny, or smart. We're taught that it comes from wearing the right clothes, having the right friends, living in the right neighborhood, and having the right credentials behind our name. That's what we're taught on every level. We get these messages from the movies, television, music, newspapers, and even our parents. So we end up believing that that's how you get self-esteem, but it's really not true.
What I came to discover is that self-esteem genuinely comes from inside. It comes from doing esteemable acts, which are those things that really make you feel good about whom you are. Acts that build self-esteem include walking through fear, making right choices even when it's really hard to do; having the courage to walk away from a bad or unhealthy situation; living the life you really want to live, having the courage to pursue your dreams, and keeping agreements with yourself.
As women in particular, we're taught to be there for everybody else, for our kids, for our spouses, for our bosses, for our friends, and even for the neighbor's dog; we're there for everybody. After being there for everyone else, we have little time to tend to our own needs, and if we find the time, someone will tell us we are being selfish. You can never please everyone, and the more we try, the unhealthier we get. The Esteemable Acts Institute resulted from my discovering the hard way that self-esteem is not something that comes from the outside, but rather the inside.
I actually discovered it by accident. I stopped drinking 30 years ago, and as I was learning how to change my life, I decided to go back to school. It was a difficult decision since I was a high school dropout with a criminal record, and an overall sense of hopelessness. But with the help of a strong mentor, I became a lawyer. While becoming a lawyer was a gift, the real reward was the journey I experienced along the way. It was that process of putting myself through school: of just showing up a day at a time, walking through my fear, and having the courage to go for my dreams, that ultimately helped me feel better about me. I looked back and I realized I had done it for myself. The inspiration for the Esteemable Acts Institute was discovering that if we're willing to do those things that make us feel good about whom we are, we ultimately do feel better about ourselves.
Q| What do you mean by the term breakthrough coach?
I made that term up, because I like it.I see myself as someone who helps others break through the obstacles thatstand between them and the things they want.
Q| How do you think building people's self-esteem reflects in their capabilities as employees?
Good employees are hard workers and dedicated people who are able to see past problems to get to solutions.People who genuinely like themselves are productive, solution-seeking, and easy to get along with. They care about others, don't gossip, and are willing to see the glass as half full versus half empty.
Q| What are your thoughts on accountability and gratitude in the workplace?
It's honestly almost impossible to succeed in life as well as in the workplace without some sense of gratitude and without some sense of accountability.
Accountability is the ability to take responsibility for the part you play in your life - whether or not you like how your life looks. It's important because it's so easy to blame someone else for your mistakes. Whether you're blaming your boss, your co-worker, your customer, or your client, the person who goes around blaming someone else for everything that happens to them will rarely succeed. If you're so busy pointing the finger outward, you don't notice those three other fingers pointing back at you that would help you improve or change the condition that you don't like. I think a successful worker who could ultimately even become a successful leader has the courage to take responsibility for the things that he's done. I know that it's not easy.
We don't want to take responsibility because nobody wants to have to feel the pain that comes from dealing with the outcome. Courage is a key component to self-esteem.
With regard to gratitude, one of my mentors, Hal Marley, used to talk about an "attitude of gratitude." He said, "We always have a choice, even when we think we don't. We can choose to see the glass as half empty or half full, and our outcome is defined by that small decision." Sometimes it's really hard to see the glass as half full when you don't have the things you want and when you aren't where you want to be in life. At the same time, it's easy to be grateful when you have everything you want.
The truth is I think that gratitude is an action word. I think it's a verb, and I think it's something that has to be practiced all the time in order to really feel the benefits. That means that sometimes even when it appears that the glass is half empty, you have to work at seeing it as half full. What I think that does for people is it shifts the whole environment for them. Even if things aren't going their way, they have a brighter perspective on it.
Q| What are your thoughts on corporate social responsibility?
Simple: If you live on the planet and if you participate in any way in this society, then you have a responsibility to give back something. The idea is to not just be a taker in life, but to give back as a token of appreciation. The law of reciprocity means that if you take, then you must give, whether it's as a corporation or an individual.
Sadly, so few people buy into this belief, and if they do, they try to see what's in it for them. In my opinion, everybody should have the consciousness of giving simply because you can.
Q| What is one change you'd like to see in today's work environment?
I'd like to see people have a better work ethic. I think we've gotten away from working for what you want. We want so much for free.We don't value the concept of earning.We also take what doesn't belong to us too often, from stealing money, to paper clips, to content off the internet without permission. For example, kids who plagiarize in school grow up to be adults who take what's not theirs. Bad habits stay with us unless we change them.
What I would love, and what is part of my work with Esteemable Acts, is teaching the message of working for what you want, of stretching beyond your comfort zone to do better in your job.
I'd also like to see employers valuing the work that their employees do - and not just the rainmaker or the big-time sales person, but valuing the important work of the support staff and the receptionist.
Q| Are you working on any new books or projects?
Yes, I'm preparing a book proposal for a book about dealing with fear.
On the legal end, I'm focusing a lot on my business and intellectual property law practice. I'm working on television programming and the legal issues related to social media.
Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I travel for business all the time, but I also love to travel for fun. My husband and I take four vacations together a year, and every now and again, we throw in a fifth one. We're getting ready for a trip to Hawaii.
I used to say "I don't have time for this and that," but not anymore. Now I make the time for what's important to me: my husband, my girlfriends, and my cats.