How Do I Even Start? A Power Tool for Unhappy Lawyers

Lots of you have hit that part of the year when you know, deep in your soul, that you do not want to be a lawyer any longer. And maybe, you’ve realized that you should never have started down the law path. But law is pretty much all you know; you’re floundering in the uncertainty of what you want to do instead.

Many of my clients are in this boat when they contact me. I encourage them to explore past interests, especially those from their younger years, regardless of whether those interests seem to have career potential. Knowing yourself, and listening to your likes and dislikes, is key to figuring out a happy, fulfilling future.

Fog on the AlpsBut some clients, like many of you, don’t have any hobbies, outside interests, or even a faint inkling of what else they would rather be doing with their time. They can be so burned out that their highest and strongest desire is to sleep for a week, go on a massive Netflix binge, or take a vacation to somewhere that utterly lacks an internet connection. I get that, because I’ve been there, too.

But once you’re tanked up on sleep and stopped your incessant thinking about work, numbing out isn’t really helpful. You need to head toward something, somehow.

A Really Powerful Tool: Strengths

One tool I love using with clients is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths and Values. It is a nifty, free questionnaire that has been scientifically validated. It measures character traits that

are universal across all aspects of life: work, school, family, friends, and community. The 24 strengths fall under six broad virtues (wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence) and encompass our capacities for helping ourselves and others.

The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete, and gives you your very own, individual ranking of the 24 strengths. Most of the time, clients look at their list and tell me, “Yes, that is totally me.”

Sometimes, clients see themselves in a whole new light.  One client, who had worked in a big law firm and then in an attorney general’s office, found that “creativity” was one of his top, or signature, strengths. At first, he thought, “but I’m not artistic!” When he read the description of creativity, though, his world changed Continue reading

The Space Between Wanting Out and Getting There

December is a hard slog even for round pegs job-seekers who are looking for a round-peg jobs. It’s an exponentially harder time for those who want to make a dramatic change. Like, all you unhappy lawyers who want to get out of law and do something that makes your soul sing.

Feeling hopeful.Society, whether it’s media, parents, friends, spouses, colleagues, or your cat, puts enormous pressure on job-seekers to look productive. How many resumes have you sent out? How many interviews have you gotten? How many recruiters have you contacted? Have you let all your friends know you’re looking? How is your LinkedIn profile? Are you sure you’re looking at all the right websites for job postings?

The truth is, you can answer all of these questions perfectly, and still not get a job. Or, not find one that you really, actually want. To get that kind of job, you might just have to wait it out.

That is not the kind of truth that you or anyone around you wants to hear. Our culture worships at the altar of certainty. The idea that you are not the captain of your destiny, and that you can’t steer inexorably toward that destiny in a lovely linear line, makes more than a few heads explode in impatience. Sadly, these explosions don’t alter the truth.

I Don’t Want To Wait!

The path to a fulfilling job for lawyers who want to become ex-lawyers usually requires Continue reading

Simple Tips for a Less Stressful Lawyer Life

I have been just the teensiest, tiniest bit totally sucked into some local school board politics for the last month or so. And for the first time since maybe 1991, when I graduated law school, I have been channeling my inner, loudmouthed idealist daily. It’s been awesome!

Relax ConceptWhat this has looked like is me attending a lot of board meetings, plus smaller meetings among like-minded parents, lots of emails, and throwing together a totally new blog in 12 days. Plus the other parts of my life, like, oh, work, parenting, singing in the choir, and such.

I mention all this because all this interaction and activity wears me the hell out, frankly. I also have been pretty obsessively thinking about this stuff in every spare moment, plus a lot of moments that aren’t spare.

In many ways, it has felt like I’m right back in the corporate and legal world overload. But this time, I’m handling it better than ever before. I chalk this up to 3 or 4 practices Continue reading

Lawyer’s Lament: But I Don’t Have a Calling

I suspect that many unhappy lawyers walk around with the unexamined belief that they will know what their calling in life is when they get hit by a bolt from above. Sometimes, this even happens: a traumatic event triggers some big realizations; a therapy session cracks open some baffling behavior pattern; maybe even a career coaching session leads to a big Eureka!! moment.

A few of us get callings this clear and obvious. The rest of us have to work a little harder to discern it.

A few of us get callings this clear and obvious. The rest of us have to work a little harder to discern it.

More often, callings don’t emerge with trumpets and fanfare. They fall into the still, quiet voice category. They are always with us, but we have to be willing to hear what they have to say.

Usually, we don’t listen, at least not for a good long time. Listening to a calling often means upending a lot in our lives that doesn’t seem so bad: that job with the steady income; parental, spousal or peer approval; following the smart, safe, low-risk course.

The trouble is, when you ignore your calling, you ignore the core of who you are, and what you are meant to do.

When you ignore your essence, you open the door to depression. When you ignore your gifts, anger
at life takes root. When you ignore that thing that fires you up and makes you feel alive, you start to die inside.

Many lawyers are, basically, dead people walking.

Why Don’t I Know My Calling By Now?

As someone who works with miserable attorneys, and as someone who ignored her own calling for a good long while, I can tell you that not following that call exacts a steep price indeed. Physical ailments, chronic illnesses, Continue reading

Perfection, Depression and Lawyers

Perfection, Depression and Lawyers

There’s been a lot written about depression and suicide in the wake of Robin Williams’ death. But nary a pixel of that coverage about depression and suicide has been devoted to lawyers’ struggles with these demons, with the notable exception of Lawyers With Depression.

What's your favorite mask to wear when you're feeling depressed, anxious, and wishing you could get out of law?

What’s your favorite mask to wear when you’re feeling depressed, anxious, and wishing you could get out of law?

The complete blind eye in the legal press about lawyers and depression mirrors the wholesale denial among most lawyers that we have a whopping problem, Houston:  (Skip ahead if you know these statistics by heart.)

  • 18% of lawyers exhibit signs of clinical depression, 3.6 times that of the average population;
  • 25% of lawyers exhibit symptoms of anxiety, the close cousin of depression;
  • 18% of lawyers who practice 2 to 20 years have substance abuse problems (nearly twice that of the average population); after 20 years of practice, the substance abuse jumps to 25% of lawyers; and
  • Lawyers are 4th on the list of professions whose members are most likely to commit suicide.

Indeed, a therapist I know once told me that between the elevated depression, anxiety, and substance abuse rates among lawyers, he estimates that 80% to 90% of the profession is suffering from Continue reading

Choosing the Right Job Match for Your Lawyer Personality

I just spent a week teaching art camp to children between 6 and 11. We did some super-cool projects, and the kids got to do real art. As in, the non-Pinterest Perfect kind, with room for experimentation and failure, and the kids’ own brand of creativity. No one’s projects came out looking alike. It was all the things I love to teach about creativity.

But by the end of it, I was a an exhausted, irritable, impatient mess.

How can that be? you’re probably thinking. She’s doing something she loves and believes in. And, what does any of this possibly have to do with being miserable in law?

Only everything, grasshopper.

What’s in a Personality?

Let’s start with some personality basics. I’m an introvert, like 3/4 of lawyers. Introverts not only process life primarily in their heads, they also get overstimulated and thus overwhelmed by constant noise and action. When you’re dealing with a bunch of 7 year-old boys, trust me, the noise and action are non-stop. Every year, I walk away from this art camp in awe of pre-school to 2nd grade teachers, who every work day step into what feels to me like chaos. I could never, ever do their job and expect to stay out of the looney bin.

Bolting the wrong job to your personality feels even more uncomfortable than walking around with staples in your skin.

Bolting the wrong job to your personality feels even more uncomfortable than walking around with staples in your skin.

So if you’re an introvert and in a job that demands regular, sustained interaction with others, you’re going to feel stressed. Ditto if you are subject to constant interruptions. While it may not be 7 year-olds whining. asking for help or acting out, you may get constantly pinged by emails, texts, phone calls, or even actual humans appearing in your office. This creates a lot of stress, because you just can’t finish a thought or a project. It’s very stressful to many introverts.

On the other hand, if you’re an extravert and work constantly behind the computer, and don’t have much interaction with others, you will feel equally stressed and out of sorts. Lack of stimulation can be a very serious problem for extraverts, particularly if they’re in law. It can make them feel flat and depressed. Moreover, extraverts tend to be misunderstood in law. Their need to process out loud can be viewed as irritating, and as wasting their colleagues’ time.

Either way, being in an environment that pushes you way past your default personality traits can make you hostile Continue reading

The Summer Reading List for Miserable Lawyers Who Want to Change

It’s officially summer, though here in the South, it has been dripping hot for at least 6 weeks, probably more. The heat and particularly the humidity long ago fried my brain. But I digress.

If you’re working on a big deal, big case, or big project, you probably don’t much care that it’s summer. It’s not like you’re going to get to enjoy it, right?

Even if getting away to the beach isn't in the cards, a book could take you there, or lots of other places uninfested by lawyers.

Even if getting away to the beach isn’t in the cards, a book could take you there, or lots of other places uninfested by lawyers.

Yet even if that’s true, you can pretend, to a certain extent. One way I’d suggest doing that is creating beach reading time for yourself, even if your only travel plans are to and from the office for the foreseeable future. If you really want to embrace the idea, put on your bathing suit and find an umbrella to sit under. At the very least, get a cold drink, stick a tacky paper umbrella in it, curl up on the couch, and put your nose into a book for a few hours.

Most of the books listed below aren’t new, and aren’t necessarily bestsellers. But they’re absolutely worth your time.

1. Be Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown.

If you really want to crack the code of your unhappiness, Continue reading