I’m often struck how lawyers’ attitudes toward money have not evolved past the Monopoly belief system: Whoever has the most wins.
And yes, I mean even some of you who want out of law and into something else more satisfying. The ones who say to themselves, or to me, how they cannot possibly look for a job that would pay them significantly less cash than they rake in now.
Money is a huge bugaboo for many lawyers. They really lock themselves tightly into those golden, shiny handcuffs because of their beliefs about money and its substitutes. For example, here’s one thought train I hear:
Client: I need a job that pays close to what my law firm job pays, because I have a huge mortgage.
Me: Why did you decide to tie yourself to such a huge mortgage?
Client: Because we need to be in the neighborhood we’re in because of the schools.
Me: Isn’t there another nearby neighborhood that’s cheaper with schools that are still pretty good?
Client: No, we couldn’t do that—our kids won’t have a future if they go to a lesser school.
Right. Because there can’t possibly be better personality or learning style fits in schools with slightly less glowing test scores (the measure of all human knowledge and worth, after all), and kids can’t possibly go to fairly crappy public schools in Eastern Kentucky and still go to a top 10 law school. Just sayin’.
Selling the McMansion Lifestyle
What if you got off the prestige/ conspicuous consumption/ externalization train, and thought about your life through the lens of the things that are important to your soul, rather than the things that you make important out of fear?
I ask this kind of question of clients all the time, but I thought I’d bring it up because of this great story that ran in the New York Times recently. An Atlanta family sold their house, which sounded McMansionish, substantially downsized, and put half the proceeds toward charity.
You want to know the really astonishing thing? They did it because their then-14 year old daughter wanted to and basically pestered them into doing it. She and her family were driving in Atlanta, when she saw a homeless man on one side of them, and a shiny Mercedes on the other. She was struck by how if the person with the Mercedes had spent less money on the car, he could have easily fed the homeless man.
And then, consistent with that value to help others in this world, she bugged the living daylights out of her parents until the family collectively decided that they could downsize their stuff and give a large chunk of it away.
Just Do It, For Crying Out Loud
If you start looking beyond what your lack and attack monster spouts, you might see some startling things. You might start valuing things that are important to you, and acting in support of those values, rather than worshipping at the altar of money.
As Martin Seligman and others (link to TED talk, 24 mins well spent) have shown, money does not lead to happiness. Connecting with your authentic self, and living that self’s purpose, does.
You can start anywhere in your life with this process: health, family/relationships, spirituality, leisure/hobby time, renewal/rejuvenation, or mind. Or, since you’re here, maybe you could start with a career that makes you glow first. The money you need will follow. Just don’t try to lead with it.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches lawyers on connecting with what they truly value, and then helps them chase after it. Are you in the race? Contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discounted sample session to see if coaching with her will help you get out of the rat race and onto a meaningful path.