I sometimes forget that most lawyers are burned out from lawyering by the end of their second year of practice. At least, in my observation they are. Yet because law firms and many other legal environments are so incredibly toxic, the symptoms of burnout get normalized and therefore overlooked until lawyers are hanging on by their fingernails.
Then, I run across something that smacks me upside the head with just how hideous Lawyerland really is.
The list that follows is from Dr. Andrea Bonior, who runs a fabulous mental health chat on Tuesdays on the Washington Post website. She wrote this in response to a reader who reported back that they had successfully taken some steps to lower their job stress level.
[I]t’s always better to act in prevention of burnout than to be forced to act as a response to it.
Some more factors that contribute to burnout—on my mind because I was just speaking about this—
- being micromanaged,
- unclear boundaries about home versus work,
- an unspoken understanding that people don’t use all their leave,
- a lack of autonomy,
- lack of clear rationale of how your tasks connect to the big picture,
- conflicting demands,
- lack of trust in the workplace,
- unclear expectations,
- a sense that you are supposed to sacrifice your own well-being for the greater “cause,”
- a lack of a sense of purpose and meaning,
- lack of positive social relationships in the workplace,
- a culture of blame and lack of ability to be vulnerable and take risks,
- and my favorite—hypocrisy about workplace wellness (CEOs who think that because they started a yoga class in their workplace, they have checked the box, and that will somehow erase the toxic hellhole they are creating for their employees through the problems above.)
After reading that, I had to sit and take a moment. That list is literally life in every law firm I ever worked in.
What about you? Do you see any of these attitudes in your own workplace in this list? How many?
If it’s more than a couple, I’m willing to bet a fairly hefty amount that you are in some stage of burnout.
So give yourself a gift, and resolve to step away completely from the madness for as long as possible during the holidays. No work phone calls, emails, or texts. Really.
Remember: Just because someone will be displeased that you aren’t available does not mean it’s impossible to take some time off. The unspoken assumption may be that you are a serf who must always please the law masters who employ you, but that doesn’t make it so.
Your goal isn’t to blindly sacrifice your wellbeing for the sake of some meaningless project you won’t remember in a year or two. Your goal is to save yourself: mind, body, and spirit.
I am rooting for you to be kind to yourself. You can do it!
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who hasn’t practiced law for 20 years, yet still has occasional dream that she hasn’t entered her time in 2 months, and is fearfully waiting for someone to notice. But then she wakes up, and thanks the heavens above that it was just a dream.
If you need help with burnout, looming or fully formed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a sample session, and get going on finding a better career.