Why Unhappy Lawyers Think They Aren’t Creative (but really are)

Lawyers, as a group, are a really brittle, unresilient lot. This isn’t always obvious, because in their substantive work, lawyers can be highly tenacious. They will pursue a cockamamie theory to the ends of the earth, if it serves their client’s needs.

But when it comes to anything they aren’t naturally pretty good at? Not so much. In fact, one tiny setback, and they go running for the hills, never to try again.

creative process memeFor example, what about that time you tried to network into a new job, and after 1 or 2 informational interviews and no job offers, you declared that networking doesn’t work for you? Uh-huh.

The belief that you aren’t creative springs from the same dynamic. Unless you took a ton of art, dance, music, acting or writing classes somewhere along the way, you probably walk around with the belief that creative people have something that most people don’t.

In particular, I’d be willing to bet, you likely believe that if you were truly creative, your first efforts at a creative project should have been incredibly much better than they actually were.

Which brings me to the meme that accompanies this post. Let’s walk through the truth of it. Because believe me, no matter how long you’ve been engaged in creativity, this dynamic occurs. Experienced creatives just know that, and know to push on through.

  1. This Is Awesome!

    This is the phase that we all adore. It feels so spectacular—the world is brimming with possibilities, and horizons open up before us. Some highly creative people end up staying here, due to nos. 2 and 3.

  2. This Is Tricky.

    Ah, this is when we actually try to execute the idea in some fashion. Reality rears its ugly head. Suddenly we realize that we might have to put quite a bit of effort into this idea. Possibilities suddenly contract quite a lot. For many, the clash between vision and having to adjust ideas to a situation or environment feels too horrible to bear. So we give up, preferring to stroke our idealized vision, and often grousing about how others lack vision. Like little kids, we take our ball and just go home. Many, many highly creative lawyers fall into this category.

  3. This Is Shit.

    If unhappy, yet creative lawyers haven’t crashed and burned on no. 2, this is usually where we founder. Comparing our fledgling efforts to the final product of masters runs rampant. All the warts of reality scream at us, and we are keenly aware of how much distance there is between our original vision and where we are. Oh, how agonizing that distance is! And we have little, if any, idea of how to fix it. Our usual bag of tricks, whether paltry or plentiful, has failed us.

  4. I Am Shit.

    This is the part of the process where self-doubt really takes command. We are feeling incredibly vulnerable and uncertain. Our inner critics come out strongly for a fantastic field day. Most of our original vision feels pathetic and infantile, just like we know we must be. Usually, only some kind of dire necessity (a deadline, a promise to someone, or some other shame-inducing dynamic) will move us past this, at least if we are inexperienced creatives.

  5. This Might Be OK.

    This lovely realization hits when we’ve worked on our idea just a little more, and start to see some kind of path through the morass. Hope starts to slide back in.

  6. This Is AWESOME.

    Finally, we’ve made it through! Maybe our idea changed, but we persevered, and what we got in the end isn’t so bad. Not so bad at all. WE DID IT!! This feeling is more lasting and satisfying than No. 1’s “This Is Awesome!” because there is work, persistence and accomplishment behind it. Those are worth savoring, my friends. This stage of the creative process makes your life feel amazing, no matter how small the project.

If you see yourself in any (or all) of this dynamic, you may want to check out a couple books that are perennial favorites of mine.

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. This book got me started on my path out of law nearly 20 years ago. Cameron digs into what keeps creatives blocked, and offers wonderful exercises to help you get over your fine self. Unlike me, she does this in a very loving, non-snarky way. I re-read (and re-did) TAW about 5 years ago, and it was just as eye-opening the 2nd time around, but in different areas. A classic.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. This book is especially good for writers, or those who have had a least one passing desire to write something, anything. Lamott is wicked funny, and will have you in stitches several times throughout. You’ll hardly even notice the very sage advice she offers, until it’s too late.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer, recovering perfectionist, and is highly experienced in the “I am shit” phase of the creative process. If you are looking for ways to tap into your innate creativity, drop her a line at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to set up a sample coaching session.

3 thoughts on “Why Unhappy Lawyers Think They Aren’t Creative (but really are)

  1. Wonderfully written. As a law student who is about to graduate soon and should start looking for jobs before it’s too late, I am barely finding time to write nowadays. Finding the time to write has always been one of the biggest issues for me and i do agree with the fact that reading or writing law for a long period of time tends to draw out your creativity and totally ruin your sense of imagination according to my experience.

  2. I concur that Bird by Bird is outstanding. I listened to the audiobook and it was wonderful to listen to Lamott read the book in her own voice. It adds an element of personality and unique wit that might be lost if I voiced the book myself.

  3. Pingback: Now the Hard Part | INFJ.D.

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