Mid-February marks the time that most New Year’s resolutions have bitten the dust. Most likely, that also means that by now, many unhappy lawyers are beating themselves up about a whole host of things:

  • Not sending out any/many/enough resumes;
  • Not networking;
  • Not saving enough money so they can just quit already and go live on an island;
  • Not figuring out what they want to do when they grow up;
  • Not working out (enough), not eating better, or not getting enough sleep;
  • Not starting that novel;
  • Not—well, fill in your own particular blank.

If all these regrets don’t come with at least a tinge of “If I weren’t so lazy, I would have done this stuff,” I’ll eat my bra.

dog pink bra

That’s because attorneys tend to be plagued with guilt that they aren’t doing enough. I could write a few (dozen) posts about why that is, but that’s for another day.

The truth is, I don’t believe in lazy.

I particularly don’t believe in lazy when it comes to people who managed to make it through an academic career with the grades to get into law school. Also, I don’t believe it because lawyers make it through 3 years of grueling reading loads, killer exams, and a 2-month cram to pass an exam that determines their future.

What I do believe in is fear, because we’re human and we are wired to be on the lookout for threats. One way or another, fear is the root of behavior that we misguidedly call laziness.

scared kitten
Poor little kitten, paralyzed by fear.

I recently ran across a superb article by Dr. Devon Price, “Laziness Does Not Exist. But Unseen Barriers Do.” I love the lens that Price uses to look at so-called laziness, because it meshes completely with my own experiences, and what I see my clients struggle with. He writes:

[W]hen it comes to behavioral “laziness”, I’m especially moved to ask: what are the barriers to action that I can’t see?

There are always barriers. Recognizing those barriers—and viewing them as legitimate — is often the first step to breaking “lazy” behavior patterns.

The real crux of the problem for lawyers, particularly, is viewing their barriers as legitimate.

  • Didn’t catch an error because you had been working too much and were exhausted? That is not an acceptable excuse! says Lawyerthink.
  • Didn’t follow up with that woman you met—and actually found interesting—at the brown bag CLE? It’s only a short email! Quit checking social media and stop being lazy! says Lawyerthink.
  • Never found time to work on that novel for even 10 minutes/day twice a week? If you really wanted to be a writer, you would find the time. The truth is, you’re more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually doing the writing, because you’re lazy! says Lawyerthink.

None of this berating yourself is helpful.

If It’s Not Laziness, Then What Do I Do?

All of your mental tirades become part of the hidden barriers to creating the life and career you want. They are literally the last thing you need.

Instead, step back and ask yourself, “If my BFF were in this situation, what would I say? What barriers would I see that are plain as day?”

Rather than insist you uphold some dysfunctional, outdated concept of “toughness” to avoid that “lazy” label, maybe you could be kind and compassionate to that part of you that doesn’t thrive under pressure (hint: not a prerequisite for success in most jobs!).

Maybe you can give that part of you that feels lonely, trembling, and unsure a mental hug, and whisper, “it’s OK. We learned to walk, once, and we can learn this, too.”

Or perhaps you can admit that you just don’t want the money, prestige, status, or whatever your current job offers, if the price is your health, mental and physical. Maybe you can look at it squarely and say, “This is something that costs too much of my soul, and it will never hug me back, let alone have my back!”

Whatever you do, though, don’t call yourself lazy.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who occasionally still finds it easier to call herself lazy, rather than confront the underlying problem–such as her addiction to true crime shows. If you want help sorting out what’s behind your current inaction, drop her a line: jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.