After much thought, I’ve realized what the solution is to many of the woes rocking the legal profession: Lawyers all need to learn how to knit. Seriously. Everything you need to know about pursuing goals, having a satisfying career, and making changes in your life can be learned by knitting.
After a brief 30-year hiatus, I have taken up knitting again this year. I had been hearing the call for a while, since knitting folk kept popping up in my life. But I resisted, even though I knew the good things that working with my hands and fibers did for my brain chemistry. Why the resistance? Mostly, because I feared the addiction.
What? A life and career coach worried about addiction? Hell yes. A meme that was going around Facebook says it best: Keep Knitting and Ignore the Cleaning. I was worried I would do pretty much exactly that—ignore all my responsibilities that I didn’t care for (cleaning is WAY up there), and just have fun. Heaven forbid.
Isn’t it interesting how we worry so much that we might neglect the crap we hate, that drags us down and makes us miserable, and rarely really helps us along our path in life? The stuff that is, incidentally, never on our deathbed regrets list.
But we don’t worry with any of the same intensity about what being miserable is doing to our souls and the world around us.
It Feels Good, So Do It, Dammit
Knitting is awesome because you are creating something yourself. Something that gives you pleasure because it’s pretty, or the yarn feels soft and comforting, or just that you made it and can hold on to it and use it to keep warm. It’s tangible, unlike so much of legal work. And you don’t have to negotiate with a bunch of unreasonable assholes about the color, type of yarn, or even the kind of project you work on. You get some autonomy and control. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that many of you could use some autonomy and control over part of your life and work.
You can pick a project just because it pleases you, not because it has some higher or profitable purpose. Like right now, I’m making a wonderful scarf that’s fern green with a purple border. It matches absolutely nothing in my wardrobe. I don’t care. It just makes me happy to work with the colors and the yarn. Maybe I’ll keep it and get at least one shirt to match it. Maybe I won’t, and I’ll give it away. Regardless, I’m the creator and I get to decide. It’s pretty heady stuff!
Knitting Teaches Faith
Beginning knitting can be intimidating, because even those with good eye-hand coordination feel like they have 5 thumbs as they learn how to hold 2 needles, balance the yarn tension, and then actually persuade some yarn to stay on a needle and move in a particular direction on command. It takes a leap of faith that you will, in fact, be able to learn this. (Hey, if this guy can knit [“it’s OK, it’s just tape/staples/glue”], so can you!)
Knitting teaches faith because you have to trust your teacher, and the fact that millions before you have learned to knit. You have to have faith that you are not a special snowflake unable to learn. You get to let go of the idea that you can will yourself do something well, if not perfectly, from the word go. And that lack of brilliant knitting from the git-go does not, in fact, portend a bleak and horrifying future in knitting.
Knitting gives you perspective. Yes, it would be glorious to be able to knit those gorgeous, complicated sweaters as your very first project, revealing your hitherto undiscovered-but-prodigious knitting talent. It would be nice indeed to have the admiration of strangers.
Yet the truth is, knitting is done stitch by stitch. Each stitch is important. Knitting helps us focus on the here-and-now, and not get so caught up in the heady distractions of glory and adulation.
When It All Goes Bad
One thing about knitting I’ll guarantee: You will screw up, maybe even spectacularly, as you learn. You have lots of choices about how to deal with that. You can, like many beginners, allow frustration to take over, and simply throw your work away and move on to something else. You can get online and see if there isn’t a tutorial on YouTube, or a blog, to help get you through. Often, you’ve made the same mistake that roughly half a zillion other knitters have made, and someone has kindly written or videoed the solution. Knitters are generous about sharing their knowledge.
Often, though, the best way to fix your screwup is to have a real, live person help you. Sometimes people get stuck here, too. They think, “The online stuff has failed me. I don’t know anyone who knits. There’s no one to help me. I guess this wasn’t meant to be.” This is the point at which I want to shriek BULLSHIT!!! in people’s faces. I usually restrain myself. Usually.
Because the wondrous thing about knitting is that any yarn shop, even the big chain stores, usually have a class or a sit-and-stitch time, where you can get real, live, 98.6-degree human beings to help you out. They won’t judge you, mock you, ignore you, or any of those other things that make lawyers hate asking other lawyers for help. They love knitting, and they love sharing that with others.
And Then, There’s Mastery
Once you get past the initial bumps on the learning path, you’ll start to discover that what you thought might be tedious—repeating the same stitch or stitch pattern row after row—is actually weirdly calming and soothing. Knitting gives your brain a break from the frenzy of digital life. While many knitters like to watch TV and knit, I’m not one of them. I like sitting somewhere quiet, or maybe, if I really need some stimulation, I’ll go to Starbucks and knit. Yeah, I’m that person.
Better yet, you can actually socialize while knitting. Really! You can go to sit-and-stitch. You bring whatever you’re working on, sit around a table, and chat as much or as little as you like while you knit. You can simply enjoy the conversation, or you can get help with what you’re working on. It’s kind of heaven for introverts who like people, just not having to talk to them nonstop like at a networking event. You don’t have to be “on,” you can just BE.
And you can just practice your art. Because it’s the practice that makes you good at it. You learn how to be resilient, to pick projects that don’t overface you initially. One that uses simple stitches and uncomplicated yarn until you can cast on, knit, purl, and bind off almost in your sleep. Then you can move on to something more challenging. Or, you can do like I did, and ambitiously pick projects that are gorgeous and too complicated. Then you can realize that it’s WAY above your pay grade, and decide to concentrate on projects that are a little easier and more focused on skill development. I’m just sayin’.
Knitting Away the Raveled Sleeve of Care (or whatever mixed metaphor you like)
One of the reasons that I love having clients knit or do any other creative endeavor is that they can move along at their pace, and learn to ask for help. It’s a rusty skill for most lawyers, because legal environments trash you for not already knowing, oh, everything. New lawyers usually learn quickly that on the job, asking for help produces a lot of things—say, mockery, eyerolls, and bad advice—but very rarely anything helpful to solving their problem. So they stop asking. Which is why the legal profession is in the trouble it’s in: Too many people relying on their own extremely narrow experiences as the only truth of the situation, because they’ve been conditioned not to ask others for help. That’s some crazy shit, people.
In creative environments, help is usually good and plentiful. Rediscovering that people actually like being helpful was one of the best things I did as I started my journey out of law. And mostly, it was in things like crafting, needlework, and writing that I found helping spirits.
So as you think about your own transition to something better, to take up knitting, or an equivalent. As you create your handiwork, you will also create something even better: a new, improved outlook on life. And maybe even a scarf to show for it.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who is working her way up to knitting an actual sweater by the end of 2013. (No, that’s not a typo.) If you need some help knitting together a better career and life, try a sample coaching session with Jennifer. Contact her today at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours today!