I am a lawyer coach who specializes in helping professionals deal with attorney fatigue, lawyer burnout and lawyer depression.
We can either focus on what we are losing during this brief interlude, or we can take the time to realize where we are on the path to success.
Practicing law can be stressful even in the best of times. Adding a pandemic to the mix can make it seem impossible. Lawyers are having to be even more nimble and retrainable in order to keep in contact with their clients, colleagues, and the courts. We can either focus on what we are losing during this brief interlude, or we can take the time to realize where we are on the path to success.
To be completely honest, the secrets to success apply to any endeavor in human life, not just practicing law. However, for some reason, attorneys seem to focus on things that have nothing to do with success, namely (1) financial reward and (2) accolades. We all want that big paycheck and the reputation that goes along with it. We want the acknowledgement of our clients and peers of a job well done. The irony is that after years of toil and sacrifice, when we achieve those goals, we may still be left wanting.
And why is that? The answer is we have not had the advantage of learning some of life’s most basic principles. These principles are generally not taught in law schools nor chiseled in the halls of justice and instead up to each individual to learn on their own.
It begins with the realization that we are hard-wired to connect with other people. We are social creatures. We confuse competition with social connection and simply do not understand that sacrificing our life to make more money has damaging consequences to our well-being. Social connection sometimes means interacting with people without reward, other than the interaction itself.
So how do we engage in social connection when we have isolated ourselves in our law practice? I recommend that we get involved with community projects involving other people. Get a group of people to pick up litter (with proper social distancing, of course). Join social groups (even if they are just digital at the moment) that have projects for the good of the community. You can contact your client list to check on how they are doing. Your imagination is your only limitation.
It is also imperative that we focus on what we can do, instead of obsessing about the unknown. This is a great time to review your life and decide what is working and what is not working to make your life more valuable. Are there any bad habits you want to change? Now can be the time to reevaluate who we are and what we are doing. This can start with reassessing what it means to be successful.
Ultimately, what defines success comes down to the individual. We can shape our idea of success any way we want. Another way of being successful, for example, is being grateful. I admit that when I felt burned out it was very difficult to find anything to be grateful for. Sometimes we have to be disciplined and force ourselves to find something to be grateful for. What we all are looking for is reasons to be grateful. We tell ourselves we will be grateful when we get the big check, win the big case, be the biggest rainmaker. We don’t have to do all of that, we can be grateful now.
Regret is a jail cell that is hard to escape. One of the best habits of super-achievers is to learn from our mistakes, but not regret them. Going back to the gratitude solution, it may seem counterintuitive, but if we can be grateful for our mistakes (and not repeat them) we are more successful than those mired in regret.
It is also important to remember that we are all works-in-progress. While we are trained to compare ourselves to others, which can be a debilitating practice. We need to focus on how far we have come, not how far we have to go. Ultimately, when we realize that we are doing the best we can, we can feel successful.
Write down your achievements. Keep them handy to look at when waking up in the morning and when going to bed at night. When we start and end the day with our successes, we are able to fill in the middle with success as well. We have to realize that the quality of our life depends on how we feel about it. When we feel successful, we are successful, no matter where we are on the food chain.
We often forget that being a lawyer is a special thing. It is a success in and of itself. When we use words like good or bad, we put artificial lenses on what we are seeing and feeling, and it is largely counterproductive. When you say (to yourself or out loud), “I am a lawyer”, never put an adjective in that sentence. The sentence is a source of pride and accomplishment, not a complaint. The only person that gets to decide whether you are successful is you.