I once read that the traits most necessary to be a good lawyer were the ones that made it unbearable to be around such a person. For example, questioning the strength of evidence. Lawyers are drilled from day one not to accept as proof anything that cannot be demonstrated in some tangible way. Torts and emotional suffering leap to mind here. Victims of intimidation tactics cannot collect a penny if they simply say they felt very scared. Those victims have to demonstrate a physical manifestation of their fear and suffering, such as inability to sleep or perform tasks they used to perform, or seeking medical or psychiatric treatment, if they expect to get any redress from the law.
That kind of thinking seeps into lawyers’ assessments of themselves, but it manifests itself in reverse. My second summer of practicing law, I was sucked into a huge document review project to assess potential environmental liability of some Midwestern utilities. Like any document project, it was ghastly. I cried every single morning driving to work, I hated it so much. Not once, however, did it enter my mind that I might have something else wrong with me. Not until I was seeing my doctor for something else entirely did I confess my daily crying. She looked at me and gently said, “You know that’s not normal, right?” Trouble was, I actually didn’t.
In some ways, I was right. Your soul does despair when it is sick and starving, and in many ways crying is a pretty rational response to that. It’s designed to get your attention. But I ignored that cry, as it were, for attention. It was just the document project. Then it was just the BigLaw firm filled with assholes. Then it was the soulless partner I worked for at the smaller firm. And so on and so on, like the shampoo commercial. Until, several years later, I finally, finally, decided to do something about feeding my soul and fixing the core problem: I wasn’t doing my soul’s work, or anything close to it.
Since that day in the doctor’s office, I’ve taken anti-depressants off and on. It may well be that in working for two decades for various assholes, on top of growing up in an alcoholic household, I’ve so damaged my adrenal, fight-and-flight system that my body can no longer balance itself, even when I am engaged in my soul’s work. That remains to be seen. But if you need some motivation, some tangible reason to get working on your exit plan, consider whether you want to have cancer, or take anti-depressants the rest of your life, or have some other condition that keeps you tithing to CVS every month.
Kind of makes the worries about money and status seem less important, doesn’t it?
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on getting what they truly want out of work and life. She offers discounted sample sessions so you can try out coaching and experience its unique power. Email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours today.