All those happiness experts often talk about confronting fears as a way to happiness and resiliency. I don’t disagree with that thesis, exactly. But lawyers are so completely fueled by fears, small and large, that it’s helpful to learn how to discern what flavors your fears come in. That way, you’ll know which ones are worth tackling.
Some fears are actually useful. The ones you have when a car is heading straight toward you at 40 mph, or when a gun is brandished. Those are real, direct fears that require immediate action for your safety and survival.
Then, there are the ones that we rationally know aren’t deserving of the level of fear we give them, like my fear of spiders, or someone else’s fear of heights. We know we’re being a little (or a lot) crazy, but still, we’re scared.
Or, maybe we’re scared of having to do something that we are actually really bad at and don’t have any interest in doing. Like, my deep-rooted desire to never, ever again get into a roller coaster simulator at the science center. While some 10 year-olds think it’s awesome, I did not find it awesome to have to hold my nose, squeeze my eyes shut and pray like hell I didn’t throw up before the end of the simulation.
But mostly, these kinds of fears don’t keep us from finding a fulfilling life and career. The fears that keep us from a satisfying life seem completely rational and logical. You could probably explain them to your best friend or maybe even a therapist, and you wouldn’t sound like a nut-job. Heck, you might even get some enthusiastic nods of agreement.
But the truth is, most lawyer fears are nearly always critic-created fears—that’s why they sound so convincing! Confronting those myths we’ve created for ourselves is indeed an integral part of creating a life and career that you love.
The Confusing Tastes of Fear
When you’re starting out on that path of self-discovery, after hiding from your true desires for a long time, it’s really difficult to hear the difference between a critic-driven fear of not wanting to try something new, and a genuine disinterest in that something new.
Martha Beck talks about using your gut, aka your body compass, to discern what the true flavor of your fear is. If a path is true for you, you may well be afraid of it. One trick to divining whether it’s a real fear or just disinterest is to hold the idea of following a certain road in your mind, while checking in with how your body feels. If you feel a lightening of your gut, a release in the shoulders, or a relaxation in parts of you that are normally knots of tension, that’s the sign you are looking for. Your body really does know more than your mind alone.
The right path tastes of freedom. Freedom can be terrifying, but it’s always the true path.
Add Essence of Resistance
The key is, strangely enough, how much resistance you have toward trying that thing. Let’s take writing, since many of you struggle with it. First, many lawyers confuse their true desire to write with their loathing of legal writing. “I hate legal writing, so I must not really be meant to be a writer,” is roughly how the thought process goes.
Here’s a newsflash: Legal writing is nothing more than highly paid technical writing. It bears about as much resemblance to expressive writing as a cardinal does to an ostrich. Fearing or disliking legal writing makes sense; if you’ve mistaken legal writing for expressive writing, no wonder you have deep fears about exploring writing.
But if you’ve made it past that hurdle and still don’t want to write, maybe it’s time to discern the flavor of that dislike. Is it fear, or true dislike? Some questions to ask:
- Do I keep returning to the idea of writing, but dismiss it for various reasons, like lack of talent, nothing to say that hasn’t been said, it’s too late, etc.?
- Have I ever gotten indignant or even angry at someone who suggested I might want to try writing? Have I insisted that they were crazy to think that?
- Have I conjured up a whole year’s worth of reasons why I can’t carve out a few minutes daily for writing, yet spend embarrassing amounts of time on Pinterest, Facebook, watching my DVR’ed shows, and such?
- Do I know that I want to write, but think that I could never be as good as [fill in favorite admired writer], so what’s the point?
- Does “But I’ll never make a living as a writer” convince you to not even try?
All of these thoughts (and more) lead to feelings of fear. But the fear isn’t about writing itself; it’s about feeling vulnerable, of having to expose something about yourself that you fear others may not value, appreciate or validate. And I know whereof I speak, since I recently figured out that this kind of fear is the big block I’m currently facing as I try to write the novel.
The more energy you put into fighting a certain path, the more likely that it is, indeed, the path you need to pursue. As Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4 Hour Workweek says, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who listens for what’s behind her clients’ fears. If you’d like some insight into your own fears, schedule a discounted sample session by contacting Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.