A few months into the nightmare that has been 2020, a lot of you unhappy attorneys were making plans. You realized that life was short. You were done with all the intolerable, dysfunctional nonsense of law practice. And you were not going to spend your wild, precious life being miserable.
So how is it almost the end of this oh-so-memorable year, and you haven’t figured out what you want to do instead? Or you have, and you don’t know how to get there? Or you just haven’t sent out any resumes, even though you’re pretty sure you know one or two things you’d like to try?
Welcome to Club Paralysis–We Have Hot Towels and Drinks
I hope you’re not beating yourself up for not being on top of your new life quest. For starters, even if you didn’t suffer from depression and anxiety (at least a third of you did) before last spring, the chances are that you do now. Rates of depression among the general populace has tripled since the pandemic began. I haven’t seen data about lawyers specifically, but I would be gobsmacked if our industry’s rate hasn’t at least doubled. That means at least 65% of lawyers (probably way more) are in the throes of mental illness while trying to work during a pandemic. And there was an election that was far from normal, just to ratchet up the stress level.
Depression and anxiety often result in paralysis and inaction in our lives, making getting the dishes done or clothes washed a real albatross. Things that are difficult to tackle, like figuring out a whole new career and life path? Exponentially harder.
I’m not saying that you should give up on making a change. In fact, I’m begging you not to give up on yourself.
But if you are berating yourself about laziness, or questioning whether any job exists that you would enjoy and be good at—STOP. We are all struggling. People may be posting stuff about how they have embraced a new yoga practice, or started a cool new side gig giving virtual workshops, or whatever. But remember, people post their highlights reel, and that highlights reel may or may not be completely transparent.
Plus, even if these folks are brutally honest about their success, so what? You have to start where you are, not where Karen or Chad say they are.
So give yourself some grace. Take that warm bath if you need it. (Just not during a Zoom meeting, K?) Binge watch that series that makes you laugh so hard you need adult underwear. Eat some chocolate or other dopamine enhancers. Get some movement from the chicken dance instead of something serious and “good for you.”
Don’t Go It Alone
From law school onward, we have been so very conditioned to figure things out by ourselves. Once we’ve been practicing for even a few months, we aren’t all that used to asking people for help. Even if we desperately need it, we have been shamed so often for not knowing something, that we hate to ask for anything.
Now, though, is the time to start overcoming that rugged independence—at least in some areas. Regardless of how self-starting people are, they usually do better with some kind of accountability to another person when they are trying to make a big change. There’s a certain magic to telling another human how you’re doing, and why you are or aren’t doing what you said you wanted to. Checking off to-do lists just isn’t the same.
Selecting Your Sounding Board
So find someone you can talk to about your quest to escape law. Spouses, family, friends, maybe even colleagues, are all potential accountability partners. A good brainstorming session with them could do wonders for your quest.
Some tips on picking a good sounding board:
- Look for people who don’t have an agenda for you. Some people are great at setting aside their own wants and needs to focus on what you need. Others, not so much. Be honest with yourself about who those people are in your life. Your spouse may be wonderful in hundreds of ways, but maybe not when it comes to taking an objective look at an idea that is new to them.
- Avoid other practicing lawyers. While they will intimately understand your constraints, they may not be very gifted at understanding what is really holding you back. (Perhaps because they have their own struggle there.) Or, they may just be too judgey for this stage of your journey.
- Seek out people who have broad interests, work experience outside conservative industries, or who are just quirky thinkers. You don’t need someone just like you. You need someone who can complement you, and help you see situations in a different light.
Of course, if you try an accountability partner or two and still aren’t getting anywhere, you can always reach out to a career coach who works with attorneys.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer with diverse experiences or a checkered past, depending on how you frame it. Pro-tip: It’s always about the framing! You can set up a sample session with her by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.