Walking Into a Better Law Life

I really hate how much a 25-minute walk in the morning turns my mood around. There, I said it! As a coach, I’m all about tools to improve your life and get you moving forward toward your dreams. I feel like I should be enthusiastic and positive about the ones I know that work, like exercise,

professional woman walking on city street

I’ll bet she sees something more interesting than whatever is on your screen at the moment! Though I might suggest taking the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street.

I’m just not that into walking. The movement itself does not thrill me. Unlike my new love, tai chi, which is graceful and flowing; I just adore it. Or like some of my old loves, horseback riding and dancing. All about flow and grace and harmony, some of my most favorite things.

But this morning, it was finally sunny and heading toward warm for the first time in a while, my mood was crashing, and I knew I needed to rebalance those pesky perimenopause hormones by moving. So I did. I went for a walk.

I am very fortunate that my street is pretty interesting for me. I love gardening, and there are lots of nice gardens along the way to admire and inspire. Plus the singer in me loves hearing the birds chirping like mad to catch up on their chatter lost to nasty weather lately. It is a feast for some of my senses, and I do try to really observe, notice and appreciate what’s around me. In other words, I am present as I walk.

Which brings me to the actual point: Be present in your life, even during stuff you don’t love. And find ways to embrace the good things in your life.

Shift Into the Present and Out of Worry

The more ways you find to be present in your life as it happens, the less time you spend on energy-sucking things like worry. You also make your life richer, by being in the moment and adding to your experience library.

I usually see the opposite of being in the moment at health clubs: People are plugged into TVs, music, or audio books so they can avoid the feeling of being in their body, and also to avoid contact with those around them.

If your workout is so unpleasant that you need to numb out to get through it, maybe it’s time to choose something you inherently like the feel of.

Fight Perfectionism With Your Body

Especially for lawyers, many of us love, love, love to be in our heads and not so much in our bodies. Maybe we were the klutzy kids in school. Maybe we haven’t found the form of movement that brings us actual pleasure. Maybe a lot of pounding physical movement is simply too much stimulation for most introverts. Whatever the reason, many lawyers tend to avoid the physical. Exercise is usually one of the first things to go when the work demands really ratchet up.

Lawyers also tend to bring their perfectionistic tendencies into their views on exercise. Shocking, right? If they can’t do a full hour of a complete and demanding workout, they won’t do one at all. This is one of they myriad ways that lawyers are brittle and not resilient. The all-or-nothing attitude leads to important but not urgent stuff simply not getting done. You don’t make progress toward your dreams, because you can’t have the whole enchilada right off the bat, instead of getting started with the tortilla chips and salsa.

Might I suggest a short walk, without a phone or other distractions? Look for at least 5 things that interest your eyes, catch your ears, or offer an interesting texture (and touch them if possible). Pay attention to anything that delights your soul, even if it’s no more than a violet. Practice being present in your own life. Just ten minutes a day can really make a difference. And yes, you can actually spare ten minutes. Whatever grind-away time you lose, you’ll make up for in increased efficiency. I promise.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy lawyers find joy in their present, whatever its challenges. And, she coaches them on how to increase that joy in their life and work. Contact her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com for a discounted sample session to see what that’s like.

How Lawyers and Everyone Else Blew 9/11

Ten years ago, when September 11 became September 11, I felt that deep, shared national longing to find meaning in the senseless and horrific acts of violence. And, like so many, it motivated me to find more meaning in my own life. I was living in the D.C. area then, and was so struck by how gently we treated each other in the aftermath, with kindness and compassion. For about 2 weeks, anyway.

sad shopper sitting in park

All that post-September 11 bling, and still the sadness deepens.

Our leaders may have felt that longing to find meaning, too, but they caved instead to their many fears. We weren’t called upon to reflect on what had brought people to such a level of hatred. We weren’t asked to find a way to give meaning to all those deaths by being courageous ambassadors of peace and beacons of hope to the world—you know, living out the American ideals of democracy, tolerance and freedom? No, we were called upon to . . . shop.

Yeah, that was an effective way to heal spiritual wounds and honor the dead—get all materialistic. Worked like a charm, didn’t it? Because now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11, our country is a happy, peaceful, fulfilled place, and most of the world wants to be like us. (Insert irony emoticon here.)

Lawyers, Desperate To Numb Out

It amazes me how deeply embedded that response—pursuing solace through materialism—is embedded in our culture. After 10 years, it still hasn’t worked: We are a people in agony Continue reading

Workaholic Lawyers, Avoiding Life

So did you actually take any time off during Memorial Day weekend? Maybe even the whole (gasp) 3 days? I hope so. Too many lawyers have no boundaries about holidays any more. Well, actually they don’t have any boundaries when it comes to work, period. Never mind that constant work makes the work that you do suck big hairy donkey, um, parts.

man sick in bed with laptop

If you've ever worked in your sickbed, you might be a workaholic.

But did you know that overwork, aka workaholism, is a way of numbing out? I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so rampant among lawyers: Lawyers are so often depressed (3 times more so than the general population, remember?) or perfectionists, or both. One way to avoid feeling or dealing with pain is to work. Because then you have something to focus on besides those horrible, painful feelings.

Trust me, I’ve used that tactic. It works—for a little while. Eventually, though, the work novocaine wears off Continue reading

Who Am I to Demand a Happy Job?

“Who am I to think I deserve a fulfilling job? I’m lucky to have a job at all in this economy. I just need to suck it up.” I hear versions of this question and statement all the time. It makes me sad to hear it, because I know the speaker somewhere along the way got the message that they weren’t worthy. So they think they’re obligated to take a soul-destroying legal job, because after all, who are they to think they’re entitled to happiness?

light bulb wrapped in kraft paper partially torn off

Rip off your shroud of a soul-deadening job and let your talents shine.

Problem is, it’s the wrong question. The question you should be asking is “Who am I to deny the world the talents I was given? How can I justify squandering my gifts in something as useless to me as law, just because I’m afraid of the unknown?”

The right question is everything. See how you view yourself and your wants differently with that second question? Your heart, soul, inner being, or whatever you want to call it, yearns to be fulfilled by using your gifts. That’s where your light and energy are.

So let your light shine. Throw off what you’re hiding under, and brighten the world around you. The world will thank you for it.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on finding their true talents and light and then unleashing it on the world. Find out what coaching can do for you by scheduling a discounted sample coaching session. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to set one up.

Reframing Your Lawyer Life, aka Gratitude Rantings

One of the keys to happiness, in life and career, is valuing what you have. Everyone in our society forgets this from time to time, but lawyers do seem to have a special knack for it. That’s because we lawyers are trained to deconstruct, to find the flaw, to figure out what is wrong.

burst of light inside head

Focus your mind on what you can be grateful for, and you'll have more to be grateful for.

That kind of mindset can make us lose sight of what’s good in our lives and work. Even if, to quote a friend of mine from law school,  your life feels like “a whirling, sucking vortex of despair,” there are still things about it to be sincerely grateful for. You might need to reframe a bit to see that.

I haven’t been in whirling-sucking-vortex mode for a while, and I’m deeply grateful for that. But I do let life’s annoyance and shortcomings get to me, and a post from a high school friend on Facebook reminded me of that (see #1 below, and thanks, T!).

So below, another completely random gratitude list. I know, you’re thinking all Oprah and dissing it, Continue reading

Feeling Your Way to an Alternative Legal Career

If there is one thing that most of us hate during a job search, or in almost any aspect of our lives, it’s feeling vulnerable. Lawyers, as a group, particularly despise vulnerability. After all, lawyers spend their time defending against attacks, right?

business man clone on conveyor belt

This is your soul, numbed out. Any questions?

Even those of you looking for an alternative career to law, you don’t want to feel uncertain, unsure, or unsettled—trust me, when you talk to me, you all want the magic map that takes you to the instantly empowering, successful career that just happens to be not practicing law. You definitely don’t want to feel open to damage (from exploration that doesn’t pan out) or attack (from people around you judging).

One of the ways we combat vulnerability is by numbing out, according to Dr. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are (Hazelden, 2010). I recently stumbled upon her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, and truly, it will be the best Continue reading

What You Know About Your Legal Career Can Hurt You

I talked last time about how blinders of knowing can keep you from seeing what your heart really wants to do. Lawyers, even unhappy lawyers, tend to have industrial grade blinders, because in law, there’s one dominant career path: Get a job as an associate, and make partner.

hand reaching images streaming

Pick your new career from your wildest dreams.

Sure, there are variations, but all of those variations have the whiff, if not the stamp, of alternative legal career. As in, deviating from the norm. That’s a pretty narrow mindset with heavy-duty blinders.

Here’s how “knowing” how things are works against you, from my own personal vault of experience: I knew that I should try to be more like other lawyers, because then I would be successful at law. And I didn’t question that I wanted to be successful at law, because why the hell else would I have gone to law school?

Why You Might Suck at Law

But the truth was, I often sucked at law and therefore at working in general, Continue reading

Faking Law

If you’re unhappy practicing law, I’ll bet you’ve had this feeling before: You’re a total fake, a fraud at being a lawyer, and someday soon somebody is going to catch on.

Professional man holding up word "fake" on post it.

Feel like you’re walking around with a flashing Fake Lawyer sign?

I experienced that feeling, oh, pretty constantly my first few years of law practice, and fairly often from year 4 until I finally wised up and quit after 8 years of trying to be something I wasn’t. I remember a more experienced attorney and friend telling me that everyone feels that way the first few years. She meant well, I know she did.

But my friend was wrong, at least about me and law. When I finally, finally started doing something I had actual inherent abilities and genuine interest in, writing for a living, WOW. Suddenly I understood Continue reading

Recovering Lawyer, Having Fun: Oooh, Shiny!!

You know those tips and tools I suggest you use on your journey to becoming a recovering lawyer? Well, I’m not just blowing smoke up your skirt (or pants, as the case may be). I use them, too. They are the only thing that keep me in the recovering lawyer category, as opposed to say the mere former-lawyer-who-is-still-miserable category.

gears turning

Planned fun time gets the important wheels in your brain turning.

If I stop using the tools, it shows up really quickly: I get crabby, pessimistic, and depressed. My inner lizard, Guido, starts gaining the upper hand. Guido is a judgmental thug, so I can’t have that.

One of those tools is a weekly date with myself. I’ve written about these before (here and here), but I thought rather than tell, I should use that old writer’s trick of showing you an Artist’s Date (as Julia Cameron calls them). This past week, my Artist’s Date (AD) was Continue reading

What Color Is Your Wardrobe?

When I started the process of leaving law, one of the gazillion things I did was declutter my closet. I had been practicing for about 6 years at that point, but I still had many pieces from my law school days. They didn’t fit, and it was time to purge a lot of things that didn’t fit in the life I wanted.

abstract image of fire

Pull some joy talismans into your life, and watch yourself catch fire and move toward your dreams.

As I started to sort through my clothes, I noticed something: My clothes from law school and my first couple years of practice were bright and colorful. There was the red wool sheath that looked awesome until I gained weight. There was the Monet-looking blue, purple and pink print party dress that I loved. Alas, outgrown and too young-girl looking.

But the clothes I had bought from about my third year of practice and beyond were increasingly safe and boring. Dark suits, grey dresses, cream and white blouses. I don’t remember pink of any shade—and it’s my favorite color. Nor was there any shade of teal or red, my other go-to colors.

So there it was, the physical evidence of what law was doing to my soul. Continue reading