Lawyers are WORRIERS. Despite the fact that thousands of attorneys commit malpractice daily (you know they do, because you’ve seen their work), you spend countless minutes and hours worrying that if you don’t get something absolutely and exactly right, you will be sued for malpractice, lose, get disbarred, and ultimately have to live under a bridge.
How am I doing?
While I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate things you need to be concerned about, including malpractice, worrying endlessly about them does not, in fact, do anything to prevent the bad thing you fear from happening.
In fact, worry robs you of a clear mind. It focuses you on the one star that may, or may not, be going supernova in your world, and shuts out more useful thoughts and perspectives. Such as, is this a true threat, and if so, how am I going to solve that problem?
A good synonym for worry might be mental myopia, because you’re depriving yourself of the whole picture. You literally can’t see it when worry takes the wheel.
Epic Worriers Are Epically Creative
All that said, I sort of enjoy listening to clients’ worries; many of them are very detailed, dramatic, and entertaining if you don’t buy into the fantasy. Which of course, I don’t.
Now I know to my clients, these worries feel very real and present. (As do yours.) I respect that they emerge from great fear. That’s the part I help them deal with.
The good news is, if you’re an epic worrier, chances are that you are also pretty creative. Think about what you are actually doing:
- Constructing an entire alternate universe, complete with a cast of evil characters;
- Making up rules about how that world functions;
- Constructing a plot of grand, dramatic and tragic proportions; and
- Casting yourself in a starring role.
Trust me, few people are as good at this as a stuck creative lawyer.
Imagining a Better Life IS the Hard Part
Rather than indulge your creativity to create doom-and-gloom scenarios, harness your creative power for your own damned good. Start imagining possibilities. Start dreaming.
In other words, start using that creativity to get yourself somewhere you want to be.
By engaging your imagination to create a pleasant, even joyful fantasy about your life, you do a couple very sound things, psychologically speaking.
- You remove your focus from negativity, and therefore stop the enormous drain of energy from your life and work. Constantly thinking about bad outcomes wears people out. If you line up a bunch of random people off the street, you can likely pick out the worriers without even speaking to them. They look like they feel ill, and consumed. Because they are.
- When you focus on the larger picture, rather than your own tiny, dark corner, you see more opportunities. With some practice, you can turn your fear into curiosity. A good way to do this is to simply ask “What if?” as many times as possible. Rather than, “I just know that everyone will think this idea is impractical and mock me,” you might ask yourself, “I wonder what I could do to show Donna Doubter that this really can work?”
I know, the thought that simply imagining a better life can work some kind of magic probably offends your rational, logical brains deeply. I get it. But remember that every change in the world was once somebody’s crazy-ass dream.
I mean, in 1995, I had a petite brick of a cell phone. With, yanno, 12 whole keys. That you had to press firmly. In the late 90s, I worked on a patent case in which the fight was over—get this—whether a clamshell-style phone could be protected by patent. Also, Palm Pilots were a big deal.
Today, because the creators of Star Trek, and later some techies, had the dream of phones that would fit in our palms, while sporting more computing power than any home computer had in 1995, we have iPhones and Android phones, with the knowledge of the world available in 10 seconds.
Logic and reason are ultimately tools for changing your life, but they’re not the only ones. More importantly, they are not your first stop. Logic cannot dream, or create your vision of an ideal life.
You first need to tap into all that creativity that currently parades around in your head in drab rags. Let it dress up with a crown, robes and scepter and parade around a bit.
Worry Repels Potential Helpers
When you let your creativity work for you, your energy changes. This is vitally important for transformation.
Negative energy from people, including you, is palpable. It makes people not particularly eager to help you. We like being around more cheerful, positive people.
If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment, which I got from Steering by Starlight, by Martha Beck.
Pick a coffee shop or similar venue. Make sure you can visit on two separate days at roughly the same time of day. (This experiment works better when it’s not the height of the coffee rush or otherwise really crowded.) If possible, enlist a friend to help you with your observations.
About 5 minutes before your first visit. have your friend go in and find a vantage point from which she can see you in line. Then, walk in. As you walk in, think intensely about how you need a job, and you need to find one right away, or you will soon be out of work and have to go live under that bridge. Let this idea consume every corner of your mind. Drench yourself in desperation. Don’t make any particular effort to speak to anyone, but if they approach you, feel free to converse. Maybe even talk about how desperately you need a new job.
Notice the reactions of strangers and clerks. Do they look your way, or smile at you? Do they give you the side-eye? If so, for how long? (Count the seconds.) How big a berth do they give you? Is their back to you, or their side? If you have a friend observing, make sure she observes the same things. Record the data.
Go back another day. This time, though, you’re going to focus on the thought that you are so lucky. You’re alive, and you have all kinds of opportunities before you. You just have to decide which ones you are the most curious about. It’s really exciting to be on the cusp of a great change. You are smiling. Deeply believe, for a few moments, that the world is your oyster! As before, notice looks, smiles, body language, and personal space. Is there a difference in the number of people you interact with? Have your friend do the same, again. Record the data.
Then, compare notes. Was there any noticeable difference between the two visits?
Of course, I expect there will be, or I wouldn’t suggest this exercise. And I hope you’ll do it.
Think about it: Do you engage scowling clerks, or smiling clerks, at the grocery or drug store? Unless you really adore helping the hard-to-love in the world, you’re likely to choose the smiling face. It’s simple human nature.
So get out there and re-imagine your life and work. What have you go to lose, except an albatross of worry?
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who misused her creativity for the better part of 8 years, while practicing law, and for a while after that. If you need help using your own creativity to imagine a better life and career for yourself, book a sample session by emailing Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.