Walking Into a Better Law Life

I really hate how much a 25-minute walk in the morning turns my mood around. There, I said it! As a coach, I’m all about tools to improve your life and get you moving forward toward your dreams. I feel like I should be enthusiastic and positive about the ones I know that work, like exercise,

professional woman walking on city street

I’ll bet she sees something more interesting than whatever is on your screen at the moment! Though I might suggest taking the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street.

I’m just not that into walking. The movement itself does not thrill me. Unlike my new love, tai chi, which is graceful and flowing; I just adore it. Or like some of my old loves, horseback riding and dancing. All about flow and grace and harmony, some of my most favorite things.

But this morning, it was finally sunny and heading toward warm for the first time in a while, my mood was crashing, and I knew I needed to rebalance those pesky perimenopause hormones by moving. So I did. I went for a walk.

I am very fortunate that my street is pretty interesting for me. I love gardening, and there are lots of nice gardens along the way to admire and inspire. Plus the singer in me loves hearing the birds chirping like mad to catch up on their chatter lost to nasty weather lately. It is a feast for some of my senses, and I do try to really observe, notice and appreciate what’s around me. In other words, I am present as I walk.

Which brings me to the actual point: Be present in your life, even during stuff you don’t love. And find ways to embrace the good things in your life.

Shift Into the Present and Out of Worry

The more ways you find to be present in your life as it happens, the less time you spend on energy-sucking things like worry. You also make your life richer, by being in the moment and adding to your experience library.

I usually see the opposite of being in the moment at health clubs: People are plugged into TVs, music, or audio books so they can avoid the feeling of being in their body, and also to avoid contact with those around them.

If your workout is so unpleasant that you need to numb out to get through it, maybe it’s time to choose something you inherently like the feel of.

Fight Perfectionism With Your Body

Especially for lawyers, many of us love, love, love to be in our heads and not so much in our bodies. Maybe we were the klutzy kids in school. Maybe we haven’t found the form of movement that brings us actual pleasure. Maybe a lot of pounding physical movement is simply too much stimulation for most introverts. Whatever the reason, many lawyers tend to avoid the physical. Exercise is usually one of the first things to go when the work demands really ratchet up.

Lawyers also tend to bring their perfectionistic tendencies into their views on exercise. Shocking, right? If they can’t do a full hour of a complete and demanding workout, they won’t do one at all. This is one of they myriad ways that lawyers are brittle and not resilient. The all-or-nothing attitude leads to important but not urgent stuff simply not getting done. You don’t make progress toward your dreams, because you can’t have the whole enchilada right off the bat, instead of getting started with the tortilla chips and salsa.

Might I suggest a short walk, without a phone or other distractions? Look for at least 5 things that interest your eyes, catch your ears, or offer an interesting texture (and touch them if possible). Pay attention to anything that delights your soul, even if it’s no more than a violet. Practice being present in your own life. Just ten minutes a day can really make a difference. And yes, you can actually spare ten minutes. Whatever grind-away time you lose, you’ll make up for in increased efficiency. I promise.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy lawyers find joy in their present, whatever its challenges. And, she coaches them on how to increase that joy in their life and work. Contact her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com for a discounted sample session to see what that’s like.

Reframing Your Lawyer Life, aka Gratitude Rantings

One of the keys to happiness, in life and career, is valuing what you have. Everyone in our society forgets this from time to time, but lawyers do seem to have a special knack for it. That’s because we lawyers are trained to deconstruct, to find the flaw, to figure out what is wrong.

burst of light inside head

Focus your mind on what you can be grateful for, and you'll have more to be grateful for.

That kind of mindset can make us lose sight of what’s good in our lives and work. Even if, to quote a friend of mine from law school,  your life feels like “a whirling, sucking vortex of despair,” there are still things about it to be sincerely grateful for. You might need to reframe a bit to see that.

I haven’t been in whirling-sucking-vortex mode for a while, and I’m deeply grateful for that. But I do let life’s annoyance and shortcomings get to me, and a post from a high school friend on Facebook reminded me of that (see #1 below, and thanks, T!).

So below, another completely random gratitude list. I know, you’re thinking all Oprah and dissing it, Continue reading

The Golden Handcuffs Excuse

I’m often struck how lawyers’ attitudes toward money have not evolved past the Monopoly belief system: Whoever has the most wins.

golden handcuffs on red background

Does the shininess make up for the hole in your soul?

And yes, I mean even some of you who want out of law and into something else more satisfying. The ones who say to themselves, or to me, how they cannot possibly look for a job that would pay them significantly less cash than they rake in now.

Money is a huge bugaboo for many lawyers. They really lock themselves tightly into those golden, shiny handcuffs because of their beliefs about money and its substitutes. For example, here’s one thought train I hear:

Client: I need a job that pays close to what my law firm job pays, because I have a huge mortgage. Continue reading

Recovering Lawyer, Having Fun: Oooh, Shiny!!

You know those tips and tools I suggest you use on your journey to becoming a recovering lawyer? Well, I’m not just blowing smoke up your skirt (or pants, as the case may be). I use them, too. They are the only thing that keep me in the recovering lawyer category, as opposed to say the mere former-lawyer-who-is-still-miserable category.

gears turning

Planned fun time gets the important wheels in your brain turning.

If I stop using the tools, it shows up really quickly: I get crabby, pessimistic, and depressed. My inner lizard, Guido, starts gaining the upper hand. Guido is a judgmental thug, so I can’t have that.

One of those tools is a weekly date with myself. I’ve written about these before (here and here), but I thought rather than tell, I should use that old writer’s trick of showing you an Artist’s Date (as Julia Cameron calls them). This past week, my Artist’s Date (AD) was Continue reading

No Creativity = Lawyer Depression

It’s winter, most of us can’t get outside much to do stuff, and so we end up pondering things instead. Like, the meaning of your life, and whether your life is anywhere close to where you want it to be. Depressed people often go overboard on this pondering.

Kid art in purple marker

Get in touch with your creative side and smile as broadly as this, er, well whatever it is!

For depressed lawyers, the stakes involved in this pondering can seem very high indeed, if they suspect (or know) that their daily work and life has little meaning for them. The idea of a career change or life change can be deeply frightening, and act like a trigger or a multiplier to an existing depression.

Meaning is one of those things that depressed people usually feel they lack in their lives. “Feelings of worthlessness” is always on those checklists of depression symptoms. A life that feels meaningless, feels worthless.

And while that feeling of a meaningless, worthless life is often the illusion that depression projects, with many lawyers, there’s some hard, cold reality behind it. The objective, logical, detached thinking that law demands often silences Continue reading

6 Quick Steps To a More Balanced Lawyer Life

It took getting cancer for me to start looking at my work-life balance, more than a decade ago. Yet even that jarring diagnosis didn’t catapult me into an immediate transformation. That’s because lasting transformations must grow at their own pace, and often that pace is much slower than the Hollywood images we have in our heads.

stone staircase

Six quick steps can lead you to some interesting places.

The good news—actually, great news—is that you can start very small. As long as you keep at it, you will make the big changes in your life eventually. Think of Apollo 13—they only needed to change their trajectory in cold, dark space by a few degrees, and by doing so, they saved their lives. Finding work-life balance, or a whole new career, can be just like that.

I hope you’re not reading this and thinking, “Well, I don’t have anything serious like cancer wrong with me, so my work-life balance problems aren’t that bad.” Yeah, and denial is more than a river in Egypt.

It is amazing to me how our culture, particularly our corporate culture, likes to pretend that the body and the mind are two completely separate entities, like they’re unrelated tenants of the same building. That same culture likes to pretend that there is no consequence to treating people badly. Continue reading

Dealing with Crazy Lawyers at Work

Law firms, I am convinced, house one of the highest concentrations of crazymakers of any work environment. There are lots of reasons for this: valuing rainmaking above all else, severely undervaluing how much more productive a positive work environment is, the horrid management skills of most lawyers and their predominant personality type (Meyers-Briggs ISTJ)—those are among my top candidates. Doubtless there are other contributing factors, too. Feel free to chime in about those in the comments!

Sign with crazy machine warning.

Don't you wish crazymakers came with warning labels?

But really, if you work with one, the why of how crazymakers rule the roost matters so much less than the how of dealing with them until you can make good your escape.

But before I get to coping strategies that work, let’s back up for a second and define what a crazymaker is.

Although she talks about it in terms of artistic recovery, Julia Cameron (you know, my idol!) in The Artist’s Way (pp. 46 – 49) hits the nail on the head of several crazymaker traits among lawyers:

  • Crazymakers destroy schedules. Like, your long-awaited vacation, due to the partner’s lack of planning.
  • Crazymakers expect special treatment. You know, the partner whose work is always the most important. Continue reading

17 Things To Do During a Digital Fast

I realized that I said “no” to quite a few things in my previous post about going on a digital fast for 3 days. Things that might seem fairly important to your non-work life, like email, FaceBook, the interwebs, television, movies, and all those i-Gadgets.

In fact, many of you may be thinking, “Great, yeah, I’m gonna stop doing the few enjoyable of the things that I do when I’m not working. Right, what am I going to do instead, stare at the walls and sing Kumbaya?”

address plate with 17

17 ways to have a great time

Well, no. A digital fast isn’t supposed to be punitive, it’s supposed to be different and fun.

With that in mind, here are 17 things you can do instead:

  1. Go out for coffee, lunch, dinner or dessert with a friend. Bonus points if you can explain you’re experimenting with a media fast and get your friend to agree not to check her/his email, texts and FaceBook during the time you spend together.
  2. Get to some of those home/apartment to-do’s you never have time to do. Cause now, you have some extra time.
  3. Sleep in, or take a long, luxurious nap. Or both. Continue reading

Whaddya mean, unplug from all things digital for 3 days?

Regular readers (all 6.7 of you) know how I love it when all my blathering is subsequently borne out by actual studies.

A few days ago, it happened again: Unhooking from your digital pacifiers makes you more productive and probably happier. At the very least, you’ll feel less tense and be able to process information better.

panoply of digital devices

Are your digital devices disconnecting you from yourself?

That’s the conclusion of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Michigan, as reported in the NYT (Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime) on Aug. 24, 2010. The bottom line:

“when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.”

New ideas like how to find an alternative legal career, maybe? I’m just sayin. Continue reading

Recovering Lawyer, Recovering Perfectionist

Lawyers are perfectionists. Admit it—you have often thought to yourself that if you had done more research, thinking, writing, arguing, digging your heels in, or just plain old tried harder, you would have had a better outcome, either at work or in your personal life. And even if someone else doesn’t, you come down on yourself like 20 monkeys on your back for not being better. More perfect.

If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, you might want to skip the rest of this post.

offering candles burning in church

These candles aren't perfect, but they get the job done. Image courtesy freefoto.com.

But there are times when perfectionism derails your life in less obvious ways, as I realized this morning. I’ve decided I need an altar in my studio. I want it filled with beautiful, meaningful objects and lots of candles. But I don’t have any of those beautiful, meaningful objects that I’ve collected on pilgrimages, for example. Heck, I don’t even have a robin’s eggshell or a feather. Continue reading