Lawyer (De)Fault Lines

Some alert readers—all 11 of you—may have noticed that my posting frequency has been steadily dropping over the past year. It hasn’t exactly escaped my attention, either. I’ve spent a lot of time soul-searching about why: Am I tired of dealing with lawyers? Am I just scared to say what I think? Do I want to do something other than career coaching? What problem am I avoiding by not writing? Etc. (One of the perils of being a life coach is that you ask yourself the same questions you ask your clients, except in much more concentrated doses!)

broken pavement on rural road

When your life starts feeling this jumbled, it might be time to check out your mental and physical default lines.

The only consistent thing I observed was that I was tired. Exhausted, actually, quite often. To the point that going to the grocery store sometimes seemed a huge mountain to climb. And I know that the mind and the body are linked and reflect each other. My mistake, it turns out, was focusing on the mind influencing the body, and ignoring the return pathway of the body influencing the mind.

Mind Over Matter—Not So Much

My mind was convinced of a number of things: I have an energetic little boy to tend to. Plus a business. Plus trying to write a novel. Plus taking care of my own emotional, creative and spiritual needs. It’s a lot, but I really didn’t think it was too much. And maybe if something physical hadn’t been going on, that would be true.

It’s kind of like Caroline Myss says, “The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.”

So it turns out that all the lectures I was giving myself about “You’re sleeping enough, diet is fairly good (except all the coffee and chocolate), you’re even exercising. What the hell, do you think you really have to nap 4 or 5 days weekly? What is wrong with you that you can’t be as energetic as other coaches/moms/friends?!” were, um, pretty mean to myself. Because the problem is that my stored iron reserves (ferritin, for all you lab geeks) had been tanking hugely. And I kind of knew it was, but since my PCP said that my other iron labs were OK, I took her word for it that iron wasn’t the problem. Until another doc with iron expertise took one look at my latest labs and said, “Oh, what we usually do with people who have your conditions and these kind of iron numbers is give them iron infusions.” I now have a new favorite doctor. And I am one of those weird people who is totally looking forward to getting an IV. Here’s hoping for liquid energy over the next few weeks.

The point of this isn’t to educate you about iron deficiency (though drop me an email if you’re interested!) but to talk about what lawyers often do when their bodies are sending them signals: They ignore the hell out of them. And then blame themselves for some dire character flaw instead.

Know Your Deep Defaults

Here’s the thing. When you’re tired, under stress, or ill, you revert to your deep defaults. You know, the ones you’ve carried along with you for years, like withdrawing, doubting yourself, blaming yourself, plummeting into pessimism, and the like. Because it takes energy to be brave and act in new ways.

I’m not saying that you can’t create new habits and new defaults even when the conditions aren’t ideal. The conditions are never ideal, so if you wait for them, you’ll never change and grow. You can, and need to, work on those new defaults, because that’s how you craft a more satisfying, fulfilling life.

Rather, my point is that you need to be aware that you will, often without noticing, default to a toxic belief system, unhealthy behaviors, or other ways of being that have not served you in the past. For example:

  • Drinking every night when you get home because it helps you unwind, rather than addressing the source of stress in your life;
  • Clinging to the belief that you are only worth what you bill or earn, rather than the sum of your daily acts of kindness;
  • Berating yourself mentally for not being enough: organized enough, energetic enough, rich enough, attractive enough, grounded enough, calm enough, motivated enough.

I’m sure you’ve got your own unique ways to beat yourself up. Care to share in the comments? Or drop me an email—I won’t share it with anyone.

Particularly if you’ve been trying, with some success, to create new defaults, this slide back to your old normal might take you by surprise.

Forewarned is forearmed, my friends. Watch out for those sneaky defaults when you’re feeling beset by life’s outrageous slings and arrows. Maybe even make a list of them before you get into an uber-stressful period, and consult that list when you’re starting to feel exhausted, hopeless and depressed. If you recognize negative thought patterns swirling around, it can help you step back and re-assess what’s really going on. Maybe you need more sleep. Maybe you need to pay more attention to some pesky physical symptoms. Maybe both. Maybe something else—you’ll know what, I’d be willing to bet.

And since I’m on a Caroline Myss kick today, remember this:

It goes without saying that not every healing crisis will have a ‘fairy-tale ending,’ but every effort you make, regardless of how insignificant it may seem to you, will always bring you closer to a state of spiritual and physical health.

Go forth, listen to your body, bravely hang on to those newer, healthier defaults, and embrace some health and well-being. Your career and your body will thank you.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy attorneys explore the connection between their spirit and their ailing bodies. If you want help changing your mind and improving your health, try a discounted sample coaching session. Email Jennifer today at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule your session.

10 thoughts on “Lawyer (De)Fault Lines

  1. I just did a hearing this morning on an anemia guy. He gets iron infusions *and* transfusions. Got 11 units several months ago. Wow.

    Anyhow…

    “Rather, my point is that you need to be aware that you will, often without noticing, default to a toxic belief system, unhealthy behaviors, or other ways of being that have not served you in the past.”

    The great thing about practicing law is that it doesn’t give me the time to play computer games 20 hours a day like I did from age 14 through age 26 instead of actually engaging in life. I exaggerate a bit. I also did a lot of reading and sleeping.

    Did you know that your body really starts to hurt after you’ve tried to sleep for 36 hours straight? I mean, it gets really achy.

    Also, did you know that if you stay up for 36 hours straight playing computer games, the world gets really shiny and sparkly because of sleep deprivation? And then you can’t go to sleep right away.

    However, that was what got me stuck in law in the first place. I trashed my GPA in undergrad and had no actual experience in anything, so the only reasonable option at the time seemed to be law school. And it worked! It enabled me to spend another three years doing not much other than playing computer games and avoiding life.

    But, there’s a positive from law. It *prevents* me from doing that since it’s physically impossible to practice law and play computer games 20 hours a day.

    Partially because you have to meet with client and attending hearings.

  2. Reblogged this on Balancing the Bar and commented:
    This post on another blog really hit home to me. I spent years ignoring my health and pushing my mental and physical limits. My body has reacted to this and well I have the high blood pressure to show for it among other things. So I am sharing this authors wisdom. I hope it rings true for others as well.

  3. Reblogged this on Balancing the Bar and commented:
    This post on another blog really hit home to me. I spent years ignoring my health and pushing my mental and physical limits. My body has reacted to this and well I have the high blood pressure to show for it among other things. So I am sharing this authors wisdom. I hope it rings true for others as well.

  4. Thank you Jennifer for sharing this – I appreciate it. I will be sharing it with others.
    Best wishes for your liquid energy sessions!

  5. One of the really difficult things about being a lawyers is that an essential aspect of it is that people transfer their problems to you, and expect you to fix them. Everyone you see, at least in some legal fields, is in trouble, and they all expect you to carry the burden for them. Many will transfer as much of that burden as possible to you.

    You, here, have accepted the burden of those carrying the burden. That’s a heavy load indeed.

    • You know, the only time my work feels like a burden is when I’m especially tired. And then it’s not about the work, it’s about feeling like I’m not helping enough because my brain is in a fog. Most of the time, I find a lot of joy in working with clients.

      You are right, Yeoman, that the hard thing about law is dealing with the wickedly hard problems and burdens that clients bring in. There’s often not a joyful solution, just a lesser of some evils. That is very difficult indeed, and something law schools and firms need to acknowledge and help their people with processing.

    • This is a good example of why you need to actively decide to go into law as a profession rather than just selecting a profession out of a vending machine because it pays well and requires intelligence.

      “What does it actually feel like to practice law?” is probably a good question to ask. This is why lawyers tell people to not be lawyers.

      • That would be an excellent question to ask. I’ve never heard anyone actually ask it.

      • JP, I *adore* the phrase “selecting a profession out a vending machine because it pays well and requires intelligence.” If I credit you can I use it some time? Pretty please???

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