Track the Good Stuff, Change Your Life and Legal Career

Did you learn anything surprising from my earlier quiz designed to discover your fear flavors?

blue smiley holding paper and pen

Make a list of Good Stuff, and you'll start smiling more.

Did you find out, for example, that you think having money equals happiness? This is often a deeply rooted belief of attorneys (think dandelions on steroids), not to mention our larger culture. And it’s fascinating because for thousands of years, various spiritual disciplines (Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, for starters) have taught that money has little to do with your level of happiness. In fact, there’s current research that shows richer countries frequently boast higher levels of unhappiness than poorer countries. The happy peasant and the miserable millionaire, to borrow Dr. Carol Graham’s expression. Interesting, isn’t it?

Or maybe you found out you harbor a deep-seated belief that pursuing your dreams means committing yourself to a life of poverty. So, there’s a tacit belief that we’re here on this earth to suffer if we dare seek genuine happiness. And notice also what a double-bind that puts you in: pursuing dreams=suffering, and current job=misery. It gives you a convenient excuse for staying stuck. I hope you feel your soul rebelling at that prospect. That’s actually a great sign!

Did you perhaps see a pattern of believing that you are not enough? That if people knew your true wants, beliefs, and desires they would not like you, want to hire you, or want anything to do with you? We get that message from the legal work environment unceasingly, if we are the slightest bit different from our colleagues who value billable hours above all. Law firm are littered with partners who bill 3,000 hours annually and openly admit that they dread vacations because it involves family time and time away from work.  Oh yes, I worked with that partner, miserable and highly inefficient sod. Yet according to law firm standards, he was a raving success; lawyers got measured against him, and were found lacking. This kind of thinking rubs off and infects the sane in law firms.

Believing that you are enough is one of the keys to curing both a money addiction and a suffering complex. When you feel you are enough, flaws and all, you stop trying to fill that hole in your soul with distractions like tech gear, beautiful clothes and jewelry, expensive meals, shiny cars, impressive homes—all the trappings our culture tells us aspire to. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but if you use them to hide from your unhappiness, they just chain you to a job that makes you miserable. Vicious, vicious cycle, this American dream becomes.

Shifting a deeply rooted belief system is hard. I tell clients to start small, but keep working on building those mental muscles bit by bit.

So one strategy might be to keep a running list of things you appreciate about your daily life, or things you did for yourself that didn’t involve money. I dubbed mine the “Good Stuff” list. My Good Stuff list would look like this on some days:

  • Got up even though I wanted to sleep in, and wrote my morning pages.
  • Walked my son to school, even though he was pitching a fit about even going to school and we were running late and I really wanted to take the easy way out and drive the two freaking blocks. Turned out great—as we were walking up the school driveway, son’s best friend was arriving so they got to walk into school together.
  • Appreciated the sparkle of dew on a spider web.
  • Visualized getting new clients on walk back. I still have a tough time with maintaining positive expectations, so this was good work for me.
  • Stayed off email until I got blog post drafted. Psych! That email siren song was really hard to resist.
  • Picked up cat and enjoyed his purr for a minute.
  • Went outside to take a break and enjoy the sun on my face for a minute.
  • Listened, with eyes shut, to Beati Quorum Via on YouTube. Cause it’s beautiful and I needed to practice it for choir.

Now, don’t think that my life is one of unalloyed joy. Many teeth-grinding irritations also happened on the same day. But the beauty of keeping this list is that while not one thing on it is earth-shattering, writing it gave me a good feeling—a feeling of wholeness and peace that I didn’t have before I started keeping track. That kind of feeling will move mountains, eventually.

Some logistics: keep a 4 x 6 notecard or half sheet of paper with you, tucked in a pocket or purse. Or keep a simple note file on your PDA. That way you can record your good stuff as you move through your day. You’ll end up with a more complete list that way. Then read your list at the end of every day. It’s OK if you start out with only a couple things on your list at first; you’re retraining your thoughts, and it can take a few days to even start noticing your good stuff. Keep at it, and you’ll be amazed how much better you feel about everything.

Oh, I can hear the skeptics muttering about how silly this exercise is. My challenge to you: Prove me wrong. Keep a Good Stuff list for a week, and let me know how it goes. I’ll even give you a free coaching session if you keep the list faithfully for a week and it doesn’t help shift your thinking at least a little.

Jennifer Alvey coaches lawyers out of their fears and into their dreams, whether it be a new career or better work-life balance, or something else entirely. Let her know how the Good Stuff list worked for you by emailing to jalvey AT

3 thoughts on “Track the Good Stuff, Change Your Life and Legal Career

  1. For me, it’s not so much that money = happiness, but rather that the driving force in my early life was competition (coupled with being more intelligent than everyone else).

    My purpose in life was easy. Life was a competition and my purpose was to win. Graduate valedictorian, get a full scholarship, get a 4.0 in college, etc.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to transfer the ease of winning in early life (by simply being significantly more intelligent than all of my peers, not by putting any effort into anything) to any victories in adulthood (where apparently some effort and interest in a subject is required).

    I went to Duke for law school and became a lawyer becuase I failed in college, not because I succeeded.

    I acuire money for one purpose these days, to compete.

    In fact, that’s my driving interest in finance and economics. Victory through the aquisition of more financial assets than other people.

    Spend nothing. Save everything.

    Sure, it’s a black hole, but it’s better than sleeping all day and playing computer games (which is what I did in college and law school).

    • Have you ever done any reading about giftedness? Many times gifted children, if not nurtured and encouraged properly, check out of their true interests in life at an early age–certainly by high school. Might be worth contemplating what was important to you before competition became your raison d’etre. Like, say, when you were 5 or 6.

      Or, you could work on what look like important questions for you: what are you avoiding by competing so hard? what’s the payoff for competing if you can see it is doing you harm? These aren’t easy questions, but they could yield some really useful insights for you.

      Hope these are helpful suggestions for you.

  2. Pingback: Gratitude–A Random List « Leaving the Law

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