There are the demands that hurtle at them from the lives they occupy – the boss that’s yammering for more billable hours, families that feel upset by all the hours they spend at work or you-name-it-crap from this frenzied world.
Then there are the demands that emanate from somewhere inside of them; the part of themselves – their true selves – that wants a life with less stress, more meaning and a sense of connectedness to other people. While they pine for such a life while looking outside their law office windows, such reverie gives them a brief respite from the grind. But after the moment has passed, there’s an abiding sorrow. A sense that something has been lost that can’t be found.
Perpetual stress can keep lawyers from ever dealing – in a constructive and persistent way – with what they really want in life. They check their Blackberry’s more than check in with themselves. They don’t really know what they want most of the time; they just know that it’s not this. Emotional pain may be leaking out of them; for some lawyers, this has been going on for years. The pain might be mitigated in healthy (e.g. exercise) or unhealthy (e.g. drinking, drugs) ways. But, it will not go away – until they turn around and face themselves.
Lawyers need to become conscious of the choices they’re making during their waking hours. Of course, there’re exceptions, but the majority of lawyers have choices. They aren’t victims that are being forced to stay at their jobs. They’re choosing to stay at their jobs and do the work they’re paid to do.
Most lawyers, however, just don’t see it this way. They feel stuck in their jobs and lives with few viable alternatives. As odd as it may sound, they feel like victims. Friends of mine who aren’t lawyers scoff at my observation: “Lawyers victims? Give me a break.” Nonetheless, it’s true on an emotional level for many lawyers.
Lawyers can feel this way because (a) the “golden handcuffs” in which they’re just making too much money to quit; (b) they’re in too much debt; (c) they’d rather complain than face the abject fear that comes with making tough changes; or (d) they’re simply paralyzed by stress, anxiety or depression.
However, by turning from a stuck-victim status to a choice-maker posture they can begin to awaken to their true potential. They might have to make small changes in their lives or maybe a closet full of whoppers. Perhaps they’ll have to go back to the drawing board of their lives and sift through and separate what’s really important versus what’s trivial. This will take time; let nobody fool you on this one. People in our country are basically impatient; we want relief from our distress NOW. But, meaningful and realistic changes never seem to unfold this way. That’s just the facts-o-life.
Turning your life around may come down to this: What are you willing to do to change your life? Lots of people — not just lawyers — know that their lives aren’t working. The same group approaches their lives with all the right intentions of changing it for better. Most, however, will not change despite the chorus of voices from within telling them to do so.
I had a friend who would call me once a month and lament how unhappy he was. I’d listen for thirty minutes and then he, having discharged his discomfort, would say goodbye only to repeat this weather pattern about thirty days later.
Finally, six month in this telephonic waltz, I said “Tom, what are you willing to do to change your about life?” The question must have stunned him like a taser because there was silence — a dead silence — on the other end of the line. He evaded the question, said we would have to get together soon for lunch and hung up. Tom never called again.
Tom didn’t really want to change – – he wanted to bitch, a common past-time for many lawyers. He wanted my sympathetic ear to appreciate just how much he’d been screwed over by opposing counsel, an irate judge or his cranky wife. I had sympathy for Tom, but also a good deal of frustration because I realized that I wasn’t really helping him.
I would ask you the reader: “What are you willing to do to change your life” Are you willing to the feel the free floating anxiety that’s inevitable if you are to start changing your life? The longer the discontent goes on, the bigger the changes will have to be. The longer we delay, the bigger the kick in the pants from Life to wake us up.
Yes, work is only a part of life and many lawyers no doubt find outlets of meaning and joy along other avenues. However, as Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, such sizing up of our days miscalculates the energy and time we must invest in our daily jobs:
“Work is merely one of the arenas in which you play the game – the one the Gods are watching from the press-box atop Mount Olympus while sipping mint juleps. It is only one of the arenas in which you express your humanity, search for meaning, play out your destiny and dreams, contribute your energies and gifts to the world and spend your precious nick of time. It is also an arena in which you spend two-thirds of your waking lifetime and it is legitimate to love your work! Life is a thousand times too short to bore yourself. If someday your life does flash in front of your eyes, the very least you want it to do is hold your interest.”