Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Radical Thought for Stressed Out Lawyers (and Other Professionals)

I'm a recovering lawyer.

That line usually gets a laugh, but I'm perfectly serious when I say it. Because so much about the legal profession is about win lose, about competition, about doing more and more and not seeing an end to that. It has taken me a lot of years to learn that there is a different way. And I still find myself tossed back into that win lose way of thinking from time to time.

Many years ago, new lawyers joined a firm knowing that for a few years they would work pretty hard.  And then they would become a partner, reaping the rewards of that work while regaining a sense of balance and meaning in their work.

That time is long gone. There is always more work to do. There is always more business to develop, no matter where you are in your career. And if you have a bad year in a bad economy you have to worry about not just your job, but even if your firm is going to make it.

There have been times when my lawyer friends lose sleep, lose hair, lose connection to their friends and loved ones because of the incredible demands of the profession.

I've lived it. I've been in that environment, where I saw that the only way for me to advance was to work harder, to bill more, to give up more and more of my evenings and weekends getting things done. And while I was cranking out hours and giving up my life, I was watching my work quality decline (another source of stress!) while recognizing the whole set up wasn't about meaning or mastery or feeling good about how my career was coming along.

It was about money.

So here's my radical thought--

All that pressure you feel, all that stress about measuring up, about making it, about getting further down the legal path, and even about what house you're going to buy and where you're going to send your kids to school when you make partner, is just a bunch of thoughts.

Your thoughts. Your thoughts about what you want and what other people want for you and from you.

And just like you can change your habits, you can, with some effort, change your thoughts.

The first step is to stop regularly, if only for a few moments, to notice what you are thinking and what impact it has on you. How your thinking makes you feel.

Just that noticing, done regularly, can completely change your life.


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