Confessions of a General Counsel: Grabbing Goodness

A young woman invited me to tea. She told me that she knew the importance of networking, mentorship versus sponsorship, personal branding, leaning in and doing good work to build a career. She told me she was working on it. Then she asked a question that stumped me. She asked whether I would share the guidelines, or a framework, that I used consistently to sort specific decisions. I gave her an answer that I don't even remember, and our visit ended -- but her question lingered.

It lingered because I wasn't savvy enough to ask that sort of question when I was so early in my career; I was impressed. It lingered because I did not meet a thoughtful question with a thoughtful answer. So, I looked back through time at certain crossroads in my life and tried to pull to the surface the conscious and unconscious decision trees that I have used. Then I asked myself, "What decision-making processes have remained constant through time?"  

A few weeks later, I called her to invite her to tea. I gave her a proper response and then turned my answer into the topic of a keynote that I gave last month to scholarship recipients. Here is the transcript, edited for length.    

Grabbing Goodness

Goodness. How do we reach out and grab it for ourselves and for our communities?  

Goodness.  It often arrives in the wake of good choices, movement, resilience and tribe building.

I want everybody in the room to take a minute to think about that friend of yours who always makes good choices. Got it? 

Now imagine that friend of yours who always makes bad choices. Got that? 

Take another minute.

Think hard.

Now, let's focus on the choices that you make. Imagine one morning you get two phone calls, one from each friend. Each is inviting you to hang for the day, go for a ride and take care of some errands. What kind of "that-was-a-great-day" sunny joy memories might you create with the friend who makes good choices?  What kind of hot mess can you get into with the friend who makes bad ones?  Imagine a string of mornings where you have that choice. What opportunities, what challenges appear?  What if you string those mornings into months or years?  Is there more sunny joy than hot mess in your life?   

Make a choice

The first way to grab goodness is to make a choice to grab it. Now sometimes the only choices are bad ones. I get that. And yet, even when all options are terrible and you are tired and feel defeated, in that moment the trick is to determine the best choice possible. Then set a course where one good choice leads to a better good choice, which leads to an even better good choice.

It's also okay if others frown on your choice. What matters is that you make the best choice for yourself in the moment. Cutting class makes teachers and parents very upset.  Yet, I have no regrets about cutting classes in high school because I discovered the Museum of Modern Art.  Goodness.  


The second way to grab goodness is to move. Just move. Sometimes you won't know how to make the right choice. That's okay. Move anyway. Move in the direction that will generate abundance, or joy, or the grade, or love, or adventure or independence or financial security. Move towards what feels right. Or move away from the things that will strangle your opportunities. It's okay if you don't know what will happen next. You won't find out unless you start doing.

You can always course correct if you need to. When I moved to California, I asked my dad, "What happens if I miss the east coast?"  My dad said, "Then you'll move back east."  Course correction. 

Develop resilience

The third way to grab goodness is to develop resilience. You're going to need this because sometimes all your choices will be bad and you'll get beat up. Sometimes, you'll move in the wrong direction. Sometimes, the hot messes out there will land at your feet. You are going to fail exams, receive harsh feedback, be betrayed, miss deadlines, experience death, fight with your best friend. Resilience is dropping to a knee for a moment/a day/a month/a year to recover and get a feel for the next step . . . and then . . . getting up. We have a choice of how to respond when things get tough. We can curl up under the table and stop trying, embarrassed and defeated. We can also get angry, mad and belligerent. While there's a time and a place for both, the more interesting path is to try to walk the middle with grace.

We learn the most when things get tough, so move in the direction of challenge. Don't be embarrassed by a setback; learn from it. Don't get so angry that you make it hard for the person who is making you angry to say yes to you tomorrow. 

Gather your tribe

Finally, gather your tribe.  Your tribe isn't necessarily your network, which you also will need to build, but that's a different speech. Your tribe isn't necessarily your family, but often your family is part of your tribe. Your tribe is comprised of the people who have your back. You may need to search for them through the years. They are the people who are in your corner, even when they don't know what you're fighting. They are the ones who will forgive the hurt that you cause them when you make horrible nasty choices. Your tribe-folk may not always like you, and they may not even want to talk to you regularly, but they will demand that you stand on their shoulders beyond the point of their own fatigue when you need a boost -- and you'll do the same for them.

Go Grab Some Good

You are about to embark on a new adventure. You are here because you have already grabbed goodness and you're on your way to continue your education.  One of the most precious gifts that you can give to yourself is the habit of grabbing goodness. It will carry you through school, through your first jobs, through your careers.  It will be the gift that you give to the generations who will follow you.  

So, when you get those two calls from those two friends just stop and think:  do you want sunny joy memories or hot mess? Then, grab the good.  Bring it into your community. Take it with you. Reach for it with every choice and every move. Look for challenges so that you can develop resilience. Gather your tribe and hold them tight.  

Do you know your tribe?  Let me know in the comments below.  


Delida Costin is the former general counsel of Pandora Media and  She is also a proud alumna of Boston University School of Law. She frequently speaks about leadership, legal practice and diversity.  

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This is such greatness! I have to re-read and think on it before I can give a proper response.


This is beautiful.  It sums up so perfectly many of the decisions I’m making, and helps me feel more confident that they’re the right choices after all.
Thank you!

Julie Cummings

Very well-written. I love your writing style. I think Resilience is essential, so I’m glad you offered that here. I have to admit that based on your description, I’m not sure I know my tribe-folk. But you’ve prompted me to begin thinking about that. And when something makes me think, and say “Hm,” I know it’s a good thing. So I guess I’ll keep thinking and see who I identify in my life. Thanks for the insight.

Julie Cummings

Also, you should read Nicole Abboud this month. She also writes about tribe!


Julie:  I just read Nicole’s article.  Go tribes!!!  Lisa:  I’m following your column so I KNOW that your choices are the right ones for you.  It’s been a pleasure to get to know you.  Kellyn:  you’re cool.  Ciao!


Delida: I love this piece.  You bring together so many lines of articles on Ms. JD’s website from Resilience which we’ve spoken about before in terms of Grit and Growth Mindset ( and also Tribes which we often say that you can find through your Ms. JD community.  Please keep up the fantastic articles.  I look forward to reading them every month!

Bari Burke

Delida:  such a great column.  It gives me lots to think about, especially because I find decision-making so difficult.

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