Feeling Anxious? Put Down Your Screens and Improve Your Life, Creative Lawyers

Lawyers are some of the most anxious people I know. As I’ve written about before, high anxiety is so common in the profession that many attorneys don’t even understand that there are other ways of being.

If you feel like this most of the time, it's past time for a digital fast.

If you feel like this most of the time, it’s past time for a digital fast.

While the anxiety levels have been a constant for as long as I’ve been around law, it has become harder than ever to for most lawyers to decompress. That’s because the rampant addiction to screens has stolen those pockets of time that we used to have to mentally wander and process all the crap in our lives.

If you have a creative streak you want to start tapping into, screen addiction is even more damaging.

Screens encourage focus on that thing immediately in front of you. When your attention is fixated on flickering pixels, even funny ones of cat videos, there is no space for off-topic thoughts to saunter in and gad about.

Make no mistake, for creative types in and out of law, this is a death knell.

The Peril of Rollercoasters

If we don’t cultivate time without our beloved screens, we don’t even allow ourselves to think about the information that we pick up from them, let alone anything else. It’s the thinking, and mind-wandering, which make up the base of the creativity pyramid. When creative minds wander, they often put together disparate, seemingly unrelated ideas. Without that time of contemplation and unfocused pondering, creativity nosedives.

Picking up a screen is the mental equivalent of getting on a rollercoaster: All of your attention is focused on the ride. The chances are not good that you will notice the lovely stray patch of daffodils growing near the base of the coaster’s structure. Which is too bad, because that could have been the inspiration for a painting, or a musing about beauty in the midst of industrial decay, or a short story plot about how did that stray patch get there, anyway?

We are living in the midst of one of the biggest historic shifts the world has seen since Gutenberg. Rather than Continue reading

Perfection, Depression and Lawyers

There’s been a lot written about depression and suicide in the wake of Robin Williams’ death. But nary a pixel of that coverage about depression and suicide has been devoted to lawyers’ struggles with these demons, with the notable exception of Lawyers With Depression.

What's your favorite mask to wear when you're feeling depressed, anxious, and wishing you could get out of law?

What’s your favorite mask to wear when you’re feeling depressed, anxious, and wishing you could get out of law?

The complete blind eye in the legal press about lawyers and depression mirrors the wholesale denial among most lawyers that we have a whopping problem, Houston:  (Skip ahead if you know these statistics by heart.)

  • 18% of lawyers exhibit signs of clinical depression, 3.6 times that of the average population;
  • 25% of lawyers exhibit symptoms of anxiety, the close cousin of depression;
  • 18% of lawyers who practice 2 to 20 years have substance abuse problems (nearly twice that of the average population); after 20 years of practice, the substance abuse jumps to 25% of lawyers; and
  • Lawyers are 4th on the list of professions whose members are most likely to commit suicide.

Indeed, a therapist I know once told me that between the elevated depression, anxiety, and substance abuse rates among lawyers, he estimates that 80% to 90% of the profession is suffering from Continue reading

Choosing the Right Job Match for Your Lawyer Personality

I just spent a week teaching art camp to children between 6 and 11. We did some super-cool projects, and the kids got to do real art. As in, the non-Pinterest Perfect kind, with room for experimentation and failure, and the kids’ own brand of creativity. No one’s projects came out looking alike. It was all the things I love to teach about creativity.

But by the end of it, I was a an exhausted, irritable, impatient mess.

How can that be? you’re probably thinking. She’s doing something she loves and believes in. And, what does any of this possibly have to do with being miserable in law?

Only everything, grasshopper.

What’s in a Personality?

Let’s start with some personality basics. I’m an introvert, like 3/4 of lawyers. Introverts not only process life primarily in their heads, they also get overstimulated and thus overwhelmed by constant noise and action. When you’re dealing with a bunch of 7 year-old boys, trust me, the noise and action are non-stop. Every year, I walk away from this art camp in awe of pre-school to 2nd grade teachers, who every work day step into what feels to me like chaos. I could never, ever do their job and expect to stay out of the looney bin.

Bolting the wrong job to your personality feels even more uncomfortable than walking around with staples in your skin.

Bolting the wrong job to your personality feels even more uncomfortable than walking around with staples in your skin.

So if you’re an introvert and in a job that demands regular, sustained interaction with others, you’re going to feel stressed. Ditto if you are subject to constant interruptions. While it may not be 7 year-olds whining. asking for help or acting out, you may get constantly pinged by emails, texts, phone calls, or even actual humans appearing in your office. This creates a lot of stress, because you just can’t finish a thought or a project. It’s very stressful to many introverts.

On the other hand, if you’re an extravert and work constantly behind the computer, and don’t have much interaction with others, you will feel equally stressed and out of sorts. Lack of stimulation can be a very serious problem for extraverts, particularly if they’re in law. It can make them feel flat and depressed. Moreover, extraverts tend to be misunderstood in law. Their need to process out loud can be viewed as irritating, and as wasting their colleagues’ time.

Either way, being in an environment that pushes you way past your default personality traits can make you hostile Continue reading

The Summer Reading List for Miserable Lawyers Who Want to Change

It’s officially summer, though here in the South, it has been dripping hot for at least 6 weeks, probably more. The heat and particularly the humidity long ago fried my brain. But I digress.

If you’re working on a big deal, big case, or big project, you probably don’t much care that it’s summer. It’s not like you’re going to get to enjoy it, right?

Even if getting away to the beach isn't in the cards, a book could take you there, or lots of other places uninfested by lawyers.

Even if getting away to the beach isn’t in the cards, a book could take you there, or lots of other places uninfested by lawyers.

Yet even if that’s true, you can pretend, to a certain extent. One way I’d suggest doing that is creating beach reading time for yourself, even if your only travel plans are to and from the office for the foreseeable future. If you really want to embrace the idea, put on your bathing suit and find an umbrella to sit under. At the very least, get a cold drink, stick a tacky paper umbrella in it, curl up on the couch, and put your nose into a book for a few hours.

Most of the books listed below aren’t new, and aren’t necessarily bestsellers. But they’re absolutely worth your time.

1. Be Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown.

If you really want to crack the code of your unhappiness, Continue reading

Stop Sucking It Up, You Miserable Lawyer You

You may think, since I no longer practice law, that I lead this idyllic life and never struggle with shit. Particularly since I’m a career and life coach. Let me let you in on a secret: I struggle all the time! I struggle especially when it comes to things that sound or look right, but my gut says “No Way, No How.”

If you're not saying no to things that make you feel boxed in, you're doing it wrong. Crawl out of your box and into freedom.

If you’re not saying no to things that make you feel boxed in, you’re doing it wrong. Crawl out of your box and into freedom.

I was asked to be part of a new group forming in my area, whose purpose is to help give women in transition the tools they need to empower them. Sounds right up my alley, right? Of course it does. So I went to an organizational meeting. We decided to have a big, brainstorming, white-boardy meeting this month, to flesh out ideas, put a schedule together, etc.

The closer the date got, the more I felt myself not wanting to go. I didn’t move a client call that conflicted with the meeting. I started fixating on what I didn’t like about some of the people involved. I started rationalizing that I really needed to go to they gym regularly, and this group’s schedule conflicts with my gym time.

But part of me kept on: What is wrong with you? This is a great opportunity to make a difference! You need to get out and meet more people, this is perfect! And, I felt guilty because I’d made a commitment. Plus, I really like the woman who asked me to be part of it, even though she does financial services and I usually have a severe allergy to people who focus on money for a living. She had in fact said to me, “We really need you. We need someone with your skills.”

Well, trust me, flattery can get you pretty damned far with me. I become a total sucker Continue reading

Jumping Without a Parachute: The Lawyer Approach to Getting Shit Done

When the work starts to pile on, lawyers not only fail to put on their oxygen masks, they head for the cabin door, rip it open, and jump out. From 5,000 ft. And then they wonder why they end up drained, dispirited and depressed about their jobs and their life.

What lawyers envision their 80-work weeks achieving . . .

What lawyers envision their 80-work weeks achieving . . .

You think I’m engaging in just a teeny bit of hyperbole? Possibly. But I swear there is a secret lawyer code of conduct that requires adherence to this routine. Nearly every lawyer I know instantly shifts to this behavior when they get that big, time-suck of an assignment, or when that looming deadline breathes down their neck with noxious, warm fumes. Yeah, been there, done that.

5 Steps to the Loony Bin

So in case you never got the secret memo, here’s what you do:

Step 1: Immediately start working much longer hours. Ignore any fatigue or feelings of being overwhelmed. Do not let yourself slack off. You have shit to do, and lots of it!!

Step 2: Within a few days, and certainly within a week, slow down or stop any exercise. You don’t have time for that kind of self-indulgent luxury.

Step 3: At the same time you’re scaling back or stopping your exercise, also start skipping lunch. Or at the very least, do not under any circumstances take a break and leave your desk for 45 minutes to get lunch and let your mind rest. You can make a quick pit stop by the vending machine Continue reading

Why Are There So Many Asshole Lawyers?

When people ask me why I left law, I usually tell them that my personality didn’t fit into law, that I found it excrutiatingly boring, and that I really wanted to do something I liked. Which is all true. I also sound less bitter than if I l tell them that frankly, I couldn’t deal with all the asshole lawyer behavior. That was the bottom line for me.

The most consistent complaints I hear from clients about law firms are the toxicity and dysfunctionality of firms, and billable hours. Those two things are actually related, but for now I’m going to focus on the asshole side of things. Fun!

Probably not the most emotionally intelligent way to interact with colleagues.

Probably not the most emotionally intelligent way to interact with colleagues.

For the 25 or so years I’ve been in and around law, the disdain the majority of law firm lawyers have for feelings and values has done nothing but grow. I recently read that as far back as the Stone Age, aka the 1950s,  this has been a problem for the legal profession. No less a luminary than Erwin Griswold, Dean of Harvard Law School in the 1950s, said, “Many lawyers never do seem to understand that they are dealing with people and not solely with the impersonal law.”

One of the big drivers of lawyers’ inability to appreciate and deal with emotions stems from a core skill of any competent lawyer: the ability to analyze problems in a detached, objective,  and logical manner. This is the Thinker default, in Myers-Briggs personality terminology. In other words, being dispassionate and logical is the default, the comfort zone for the vast majority of lawyers. (The opposing end of the Thinker axis is the Feeler, who are primarily concerned with values and what is best for the people involved.)

According to research of Dr. Larry Richard, a legal consultant, psychologist and former practicing attorney himself, about 70% of lawyers are Thinkers. Some place that number even higher, near 80%. I’d take a wild guess that for law firm leadership, it’s more like 90%. The high percentage of Thinkers controlling law firms, and the almost universally dysfunctional work environments of law firms, are not just an accident or coincidence.

Lawyers Are Emotional Idiots

Just because people default to Thinking as their preferred problem-solving tool doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings, or that they cannot use a Feeler approach to solve problems. But what it does mean is that they often are not very adept at situations that require facility with managing feelings.

Another way of looking at the source of law firm dysfunction and toxicity is via the Calpers Personality Profile. I’m not any kind of expert on it, but Ronda Muir, author of The Unique Psychological World of Lawyers (an excellent read), is. She pegs something important about law firm dysfunction when she says:

[S]kepticism is a trait that ranges from being cynical, judgmental, questioning, argumentative and self-protective on the high end to accepting, trusting and giving the benefit of the doubt on the low end.  The general population has an average score of 50 on skepticism, while among lawyers it is consistently the highest scoring trait, averaging 90.  This trait can be very useful in the practice of law, particularly litigation, tax and M&A.  However, most people tend to use their strongest traits in every arena of their lives, so this high level of skepticism is also carried over into partnership meetings, team deliberations and committee work (as well as personal relationships) that may call for more trust and collaboration. (emphasis added)

Also, when it comes to emotional intelligence, Muir points out that lawyers often don’t perceive their own, let alone others’, emotions. So “the emotional data that they are analyzing day in and day out is likely to be incomplete or inaccurate Continue reading

50 Days of Joy—Yes, Even for Lawyers

A lot of you may remember that I sing in a church choir. It’s one of the most joyful things I do. But every year, during Lent, I’m gritting my teeth. To put it very, very mildly, I do not like Lent. It tends to turn into a lot of hairshirt-wearing, about seeing who can give up the hardest thing. And often, posting about it on Facebook. A spiritual competition, oxymoron that THAT is.

Yes, you can find joy even when you're holding a frog.

Yes, you can find joy even when you’re holding a frog.

From a coaching point of view, hairshirt-wearing is toxic because people spend a lot of time focusing on their shortcomings and beating themselves up about them. And I know from years of experience, both personally and with clients, that where your focus and energy goes, so goes your life.

People who feel awful about themselves rarely accomplish anything close to what they’re capable of, and (bonus!) they’re really unpleasant to be around. They drag everyone down with them, whether they mean to or not.

So when, during Easter Vigil, Mother Tracy said we should spend the 50 days of Eastertide before Pentecost being joyful, I was all ears.

The Kind of Joy That Counts

Lawyers, for lots of reasons, tend to overlook, dismiss, or minimize the little joys in life. For something to count as truly joyful, it has to be BIG. Overlooking the Grand Canyon, rather than Continue reading

Saddest Lawyers: “I Don’t Even Know What I Like Doing”

Doing what the teachers say may not put you in touch with what you should do with your life. But hey, at least there's iPads for distraction, right?

Doing what the teachers say may not put you in touch with what you should do with your life. But hey, at least there’s iPads for distraction, right?

A lot of you know you hate law. But a lot of you also do not know what you would do if you had free time, except maybe sleep. I’m not talking about taking any steps toward making a career change, mind you; I’m talking about the basic concept of doing something purely for fun.

People who have no idea of how to have fun have been marching along to society’s, parents’, and teachers’ idea of what they should do for a very, heartbreakingly long time. They have become numb to their own desires and their own voice.

Far too many lawyers fall into this category. One-third to one-half of my clients usually fall into this category when they initially contact me. It’s often the result of being a smart kid who does well in school. Those around you think all those A’s should be encouraged; after all, those grades will be terrific on your college application.

And that may be just fine with you, because great grades sure look like the start of the path to a good life, and you like school anyway. In fact, you internalize all this and don’t explore non-academic things that won’t help that college application, like art, dancing, writing poetry, ultimate frisbee, or making goofy videos. Because unless you have some unbelievable gift in a non-academic area, these things aren’t likely to win you awards and praise. They are, sadly, usually viewed as time-wasters.

Except, they’re not. Exploring stuff simply because you’re interested in it is how you get to know yourself and honor Continue reading