Attorneys, whether or not they want to leave law, get really caught up in what Martha Beck calls “lack attacks.” This is when your lizard brain, the ancient structure of our brains that broadcasts fear messages, really cranks up the volume about how you don’t have enough money. And that if you leave law, you’ll starve. For unhappy lawyers who start to get serious about leaving law, the lack attacks can become acute.
The best way, maybe even the only sustainable way, to derail a lack attack is to focus on what you do have, and be very genuinely, consciously, grateful for it. I heard a powerful story the other day that helped me realize, yet again, that I have so incredibly much to be grateful for. I’ve heard versions of this before, but the recent telling of it really hit me. Maybe it will do the same for you.
There once was a church that was raising money to fight world hunger. They sold $50 tickets to 100 people for a dinner.
When the guests arrived, the tables were not the usual rounds of 10, but a variety of sizes. There was one table for 2, another couple tables for 4, a table for 25, and two gigantic tables for 33. Guests were told to pick whatever table they liked.
Once everyone was seated, the table for 2 was served a lobster and caviar appetizer and expensive champagne. The tables for 4 received a shrimp appetizer and some very nice wine. The table for 25 got some rolls, butter and soda. The tables of 33 got . . . empty cups.
The servers checked in with the table for 2 frequently, enquiring whether they enjoyed the appetizer, did the champagne meet their expectations, and would they like more of anything? The servers also enquired of the tables for 4 whether their appetizers were acceptable. Their wine glasses were refreshed. A server walked past the table for 25, seeming to look at the nearly empty bread baskets, but not stopping to ask if everything was OK. No server went near the tables of 33.
The denizens of the largest tables were increasingly incensed. The occupants of the table of 25 weren’t thrilled, either. They went to complain to the priest and the other dinner organizers, but were utterly ignored. Backs were turned on the complainers, and instead the powers that be went to the tables for 2 and for 4 to make sure everything was OK for them.
As the dinner progressed, the table for 2 was served Kobe steak, more champagne, and other delectable side dishes. The tables for 4 received grilled fish and vegetables, plated individually. The table of 25 received a bowl of 15 very small portions of rubber chicken and one large bowl of rice, a stack of 25 plain bowls, some chipped and cracked, and a couple pitchers of water. The tables of 33 received a bowl of rice half the size of the one that the table of 25 got. The tables of 33 didn’t get any individual bowls or utensils. They also received a bucket of brownish water. The rice and water were plunked down roughly on the table without comment or care, and the server scurried away quickly.
The complaints mounted—indeed, there were some lawyers at the tables of 33, so you can just imagine how vociferous those were—but the priest and the organizer pointedly turned their backs on those from the tables of 25 and 33. Instead, they walked over to the table for 2 and tables of 4, but especially the table for 2, to make sure that everything was to their liking, giving refills at the slightest hint of emptiness on plate or in glass.
By now, even the dimmest attendees got it.
By world standards, most lawyers in the United States, even recovering lawyers who aren’t pulling down lawyer salaries any longer, sit at the tables of 4, and many BigLaw partners at the table for 2. When your lack attack starts, you might think about this story.
I don’t tell this story to make anyone feel guilty, though I’ll admit it does have that effect on me. I tell it mostly to point out that we all have so very much, we often take it for granted, and we would be happier if we simply lived in appreciation instead.
So even if your inner lizard is quiet for the moment, it might be a good time, right now, to start noticing all the things you have to be grateful for, whether material, emotional, spiritual, or something else.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who deeply appreciates the richness of her world, particularly when it includes air conditioning on a 98-degree day. She coaches unhappy attorneys on valuing the worthwhile parts of their lives, and how to increase the meaning, and therefore the richness, of their lives. If you need help appreciating and being happy in your life, schedule a discounted sample session with Jennifer. Email her at email@example.com today.