Get Out: I Hate People!

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Dear Jennifer,

I became a lawyer entirely because I needed more schooling to get a job that would pay enough for me to pay my child support, kids needs/fees, and still survive.  My hope was regular pay and possibly health insurance at some point.  After 4 years in private practice, I closed shop, because my mental health was shot and my clients weren’t paying anyway.
While I did find a job working in-house corporate, I’m really just Done with people.  And other lawyers.  Who I mostly despise (with limited exceptions).  I do love helping people, but it stresses me out to the point of badly affecting my mental health.  Still. Again.
I will finally be able to live where I want to once my baby graduates from high school in a year and a half.  Problem is, I don’t know that I can find work where I want to live, so I’m looking at exclusively online employment.  There are a thousand and one posts on Pinterest about “not a scam” “work from home” jobs, but seriously…which/what/where does one find one of these jobs that actually pays, that I can use those skills of brief writing, or reviewing documents…that’s an actual real work from home job.  Not that I don’t totally trust Pinterest, but ya know…
Thanks,
Done With People

Dear Done,

You seem very certain that telecommuting will solve your dissatisfaction with work and law, but I’m not convinced.

I’ve worked from home for a decade. In addition to coaching, I have also kept my hand in freelance writing and editing. Trust me, you will be dealing with people. Often, it’s harder to do that remotely, because you can’t always soften a message with just an emoji. Also, isolation can be a real problem, even for introverts.

Care and Feeding for Introverts

Introverts do not achieve nirvana simply by exiling people from their lives. We all need connection with others, even if the amount of it varies. Reading between the lines of your letter, you do seem fairly introverted.

So I’m wondering if you are neglecting your legitimate introvert needs, and that neglect is making your miserable?

Lawyer Susan Cain discussed in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, that introversion is about stimulation levels. Introverts can get overwhelmed quickly by noise, movement, and ideas, for example.

pink water lily against backdrop of leaves, with reflection of it on water in the foreground

One big key to introvert happiness is managing those stimulation levels to prevent frequent overwhelm. We can’t completely avoid overstimulation, but we can recognize where it routinely happens, and plan accordingly.

The bottom line: Make sure you get the alone time you need, starting today. I don’t care if you feel like you need “too much.” We wouldn’t tell water lilies they don’t need so much water; it’s the same for our own nervous system wiring. We can’t change our wiring, but we can find strategies to function better and more happily.

Really Helping People

As one helper to another, I’m going to share an important reminder: It is not your job to fix people!

Helper types tend to believe that if we just fix people’s upsets, everyone will relax and be happy. (I’m a charter member of that club.)

But fixing emotional upset for people—instead of helping them learn to self-regulate—often does them a disservice. We steal their chance to grow and learn, in favor of calming things down for us in that moment. Because conflict stresses us the hell out!

Yet what if the impatient head of marketing needs to learn some patience and self-reflection to be both better at her job, and at her life? Taking on the job of diffusing her impatience does neither of you any favors. She doesn’t learn to self-regulate, and you will deal with her impatience again and again.

vivid blue door with yellow sign saying Visitors must stay within designated walkway bounded by yellow lines

If colleagues and clients (and friends, for that matter) try to make their emotional work your problem, decline. Setting a boundary like that usually makes people even more persistent for a while, i.e., they become a huge pain and you wish the ground would swallow them.

Eventually, if you are firm and consistent, they will either learn what they need to, or find someone else willing to do their emotional labor. Either way, you are out of the crosshairs.

Logistically Speaking

I’m not saying telecommuting isn’t a good plan. But the leap from “I don’t know if I can find work where I want to live” and “I must therefore telecommute” ignores a lot of possibilities.

For instance, are there any kind of writing jobs, not necessarily legal writing ones, in your new locale?  If yes, but you lack experience/training, there are plenty of online courses that can get you up to speed.

close up of hands typing on Apple laptop

If you enjoy law practice, but not the people, what about handling local attorneys’ overflow? Many small/solo practitioners don’t like writing briefs; maybe you could take that off their hands.

It’s easy enough to set up searches on Glassdoor or LinkedIn for telecommuting jobs, too.

The point is, there are many avenues you can explore.

I see some wonderful opportunities for you to add some magic and zest to your life with this transition. Open your eyes and heart to them, and see what happens. You got this.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has never taken a psychology class, but knows a thing or two about being an overwhelmed introvert and switching jobs. She has been coaching unhappy lawyers on career change for a decade. You can email your question, or set up an individual consultation, by emailing her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com

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