In the rough and tumble world of the law, it’s easy to become jaded; our classmates and colleagues are competitors for grades, jobs or victories. Clients can be tough and demanding; judges unyielding. Life being what it is, things can and do go wrong despite our most valiant efforts.
Not surprisingly, lawyers are pessimistic thinkers – problem solvers extraordinaire. People come to them in some sort of trouble and want solutions. Dr. Martin Seligman writes that the law is one of the few professions where pessimistic thinking is rewarded. We are trained to see potential problems and pitfalls lurking around every corner and cubicle. And this skill helps us to plan, prepare and strategize — good stuff. But we often take it too far.
In an article he wrote for Lawyerswithdepression.com, Dr. Richard O’Connor states:
Because of their experience with the law, most attorneys have lost their rose-colored glasses some time ago. (Or else they never had them and chose the law as a career because it suited their personality). Attorneys know that life is hard, and doesn’t play fair. They’re trained to look for every conceivable thing that could go wrong in any scenario, and they rarely are able to leave that attitude at the office. They see the worst in people (sometimes they see the best, but that’s rare). They tend to be strivers and individualists, not wanting to rely on others for support. They have high expectations of success, but they often find that when they’ve attained success, they have no one to play with, and have forgotten how to enjoy themselves anyway.
Pretty glum assessment, don’t you think? It’s unlikely that we can change the difficult nature of our craft, but we can mitigate its stressful effects on our bodies and brains.
We must take time to reaffirm the goodness in our lives. It’s just as important to recovering from depression as a hot bowl of chicken soup on a frigid day or lexapro in your lunch pail. There are lots of books on gratitude. To me, this is a reminder that all of us –some more than others – are ungrateful much of the time. I am not so sure that we can be taught to be grateful. But I do believe we can be reminded. I believe that we all have within us a deep need to express thankfulness – we just need to open the shutters.
It’s hard –very hard—to be grateful when one is depressed. In a deep depression, it’s not only unlikely — it’s impossible. Let me be clear, this piece is not written for those in a biochemical free fall. It’s writte for those who want to prevent relapse, remain or get healthy, or for the lawyer who is simply stressed and unhappy.
Depression can obscure our vision and prevent us from seeing the goodness in our lives – especially the kindness and decency of other people. This may be colleagues and friends, or maybe family members. We need to identify these people and cherish their goodness. Their lights are like homing beacons in the fog of our struggles. Like a good laugh, they are like salves that can heal our wounds.
The humorist Garrison Keillor, in his book We Are Still Married, wrote:
To know and to serve God, of course, is why we’re here, a clear truth, that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard. But a little faith will see you through. What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word. What is the last word, then? Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.
The goodness of others is grace. It’s the universe’s way of reminding us not to fret too much, that things will work out, that our important jobs are just a part of life and not all of it and that uplifting fortune cookie messages sometimes do come true. If I could, I would stick this quote by author Anne Lamott on one of those skinny wrappers:
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it greets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.
Think of the kind people you’ve had in your life from your past and today; the everyday saints who were dropped into your life for no other reason than to remind you that life can be good, that you are special and that life is worth living.
These people always leave us feeling better than when they found us.