Unhappy Lawyers Book Club: Join In July 6!

So how did you celebrate your freedoms on July 4, unhappy lawyers? Did you actually take time away from the office? I hope so, but I fear that many of you BigLaw and not-so-BigLaw folks were chained either to your office, your laptop, or your Blackberry, rather than enjoying time with family and friends, or pursuing happiness in some other way.

U.S. Declaration of Independence

Come to the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club, and declare your independence from misery and unhappiness.

(Remember that good old Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness bit from the Declaration of Independence? Even long-dead white guys thought it was a self-evident truth that we all deserve it, and that it was important enough to fight and die for. )

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Bréne Brown says that connection is the most important ingredient to happiness and fulfillment. Not money, not security, not status or prestige. Connection. And she’s not talking about an Internet connection to the office, folks.

If you spend most of your waking hours not connecting, but doing things that drive you batshit crazy, that you don’t even like (let alone love), things that drain you—you really need to read Brown’s book.

Happily enough, there’s a group of unhappy lawyers who will be talking about the wisdom of  The Gifts of Imperfection, and how you can use it to find a happier career, on July 6, 2011, from 1:30 – 2:00 pm ET. It’s free! And you can even schedule it as a conference call in your calendar, since all you need to participate is a phone and that half hour of time. Just call (209) 647-1000. The access code is 535240# (yes you need to enter the # sign).

The Gifts of Imperfection is available on Kindle, and at bookstores. Or, you can get the highlights by watching Brown’s TED video on The Power of Vulnerability, which is 20 minutes very well spent. Even if you can’t do any reading or video watching before the book club, come anyway. Get inspired, and get connected to others like you who want something better for their lives.

I hope to connect with you on July 6. Until then, happy reading!

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys to connect with their deepest loves and values to claim their lives and meaningful work. Join her on July 6, 2011 at 1:30pm ET for a virtual book club to discuss Dr. Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s free!  Or email Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com for more info or to set up a sample coaching session.

Reclaim Yourselves, Soulless Lawyers

There’s a shit ton of empty-feeling souls in law firms and in law generally. Much of that is, as I talked about last time, because lawyers don’t actually feel like their daily work is meaningful. Those feelings of emptiness can be soul-crushing and paralyzing to those who want an alternative to a legal career.

Soulless business man with cigar

If your work makes you feel like the devil incarnate, you might want to figure out a better gig.

That’s a big reason lawyers get a rap—mostly deserved—for being soulless. When you’re not doing your meaningful work regularly, your connection with the Universe, the Divine (however you conceive of that) suffers enormously. As Dr. Bréne Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with [the Universe].”

“Yeah, but,” you say. “I don’t have any talents or gifts. Or if I do, they certainly can’t pay the bills.”

Just in case you’re new here and don’t know, let me make it clear: That voice that tells you you’re not enough, that you have no talents? That’s a gremlin, aka your inner lizard.

Remember the Inner Lizard?

A brief recap on inner lizards: That’s shorthand for the amygdala, one of the most ancient physical structures in the brain. (Hence the “lizard” name: A lizard’s brain, which evolved well before human brains, has this structure as well.)

The job of the lizard brain is to broadcast fear messages, or what Martha Beck calls “lack and attack” thoughts. Lack thoughts sound like “I don’t have enough food/money/control so I need to get some to survive.” Attack thoughts sound like Continue reading

Unhappy Lawyers, Find Your Meaningful Work

Most lawyers, especially the ones reading this blog, do not have a sense of accomplishment and purpose from their work as lawyers. Unless you define accomplishment as “not committing homicide and otherwise making it through the day without a trip to the ER for a psychotic break.” (If that is your definition and you work in BigLaw, then I’m betting you feel a big sense of accomplishment daily!)

happy face on businessman's thumb

You'll know it's meaningful work when you don't need to Sharpie the happy face on. Or if you Sharpie it on just because!

When you don’t get a sense of accomplishment and purpose from your work, you feel empty. The Wholehearted, as Dr. Bréne Brown calls them, have meaningful work in their lives.

Yet there is no one-size-fits-all definition of meaningful work. Sure, it sounds like we should all find meaning in working with drug addicts, inner city youth, or the rural poor, but the reality is that not all of us are going to find our unique definition of meaningful in that work, either. Meaningful work can be found in raising a family, gardening, painting, and yes even lawyering. As Brown puts it, “Culture doesn’t get to dictate” what meaningful is for you.

Meaningful work, as Brown outlines in The Gifts of Imperfection, contains several key elements:

  • Your gifts and talents
  • Spirituality
  • Making a living
  • Commitment

And, there are a couple of things that crop up in the search for meaningful work that are distracting, but very, very common, like “supposed to” and self-doubt.

Lawyers’ Gifts and Talents

Gifts and talents are usually the hardest single element for unhappy attorneys to grapple with. Frequently, they think the only gift  they have is one for analysis,

Continue reading

What Lawyers Can Learn from Dragonflies

Lawyers searching for an alternative legal career are a lot like dragonflies, it struck me this morning.

Maybe you don’t know the story of the dragonfly. I only heard it about 2 years ago, likely because I took all those social science classes instead of hard sciences in college. Those of you who know it, feel free to skip down a couple paragraphs.

red dragonfly on leaf

The dragonfly becomes more colorful and enters a new world when it leaves the water that no longer serves it.

The dragonfly hatches from eggs laid under water. They grow into nymphs, swimming merrily through their pond, waiting for prey to come near, and living the teenage dragonfly life.

But then, after a few years, it’s time. Dragonflies are compelled to follow a deep, instinctive urge to go somewhere they’ve never gone before: above water. Because their bodies are morphing, and they aren’t going to be able to survive much longer under water. And so, they find a branch or a stem that they can climb up, to get into the air, to meet the future in which they can survive and thrive. So they can dry out their wings, then spread them and fly.

Lawyers, Divorced from Their Natural Instincts

With lawyers, the problem is their instinct for who they truly are and what they need to do to follow their unique path gets Continue reading

The Magic Perfectionism Turn-off Switch

Perfectionism is a really hard beast to defeat, particularly for lawyers. We’re surrounded by a culture of “no mistakes,” despite the fact that lawyers are people, people are not perfect, and people therefore make mistakes all the freaking time.

Creative experiments may not turn out perfectly, but they can magically turn off the awful perfectionism switch.

It’s easy to confuse perfectionism and striving to do your best. The outward appearance often looks the same: a good, or better yet, stellar result. In fact, most perfectionists attack the idea of not trying to be perfect as an idea of settling for failure, of settling for much less than can be achieved.

But that’s not it at all. As Dr. Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.” (emphasis mine) It’s the toxic idea that you are your performance.

The opposite of perfectionism is what Brown calls healthy striving. Striving asks the questions “How can I improve?” and “How can I do this better?”

If the question you’re asking is “What will they think?” that’s a red, Continue reading

Tips for Lawyers To Exorcise the Perfectionism Demon

One of the hardest things about battling perfectionism as a lawyer is that you are surrounded, nay drowning, in other perfectionists. Law is about conforming, after all, and that is the heart of perfectionism: The more perfectly I conform (my thinking, my reasoning, my writing, my desires), the better I am regarded by others in my profession.

cartoon of demon emerging from man's mouth

Begone, you demon of perfectionism! I now have tips for getting rid of you . . .

At least, that’s how the thinking goes. It doesn’t necessarily match reality. When you think of the brilliant lawyers, what makes them brilliant is actually their ability to put together reasoning and arguments that haven’t been made before. That, my friends, is not conformity.

But for those of you who are faking law, who are not lawyers at heart, trying to appear like other lawyers is crucial. Because if they find out you’re not really one of them, you are out on your bum. You just know this. You might have to actually figure out that alternative legal career thing on a less leisurely schedule.

First, Accept Your Authentic Self

As Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, perfectionism is driven by the fear that we are not enough, and by the belief Continue reading

The Lawyer’s Demon: Perfectionism

Perfectionists love to say that they’re not trying to be perfect, they’re just trying to do ________ right. Semantics, people.

Perfectionism is about trying to stave off blame and shame. And as we all know, lawyers have superpowers when it comes to inflicting shame and shifting blame, and they use them for evil in a nanosecond.

businessman and devil figures

Perfectionism makes all kinds of deals with the devil, including in your career and worklife. Maybe it's time for an exorcism.

The reason this shaming behavior works so well in the legal profession is that almost all lawyers grew up living to other people’s standards, not their own. They bought in early to earning approval and acceptance through achievement and performance.

As Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, those are things like:

  • Grades
  • Rule-following,
  • Sports,
  • People-pleasing
  • Appearance, and
  • Manners

The foundation of this belief system is that “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.” That’s why BigLaw attorneys, for example, can’t cope with the idea of moving to a small firm that isn’t a prestigious, high-profile boutique. Brand-name law firm equals accomplishment, Continue reading

The Conditions Are Never Ideal

You know what a lot of resistance to getting an alternative legal career boils down to? The conditions are not ideal. That’s it, really.

man looking over hot pepper plants

If you keep waiting for the perfect career change conditions, you'll miss the spice that life has to offer.

That’s what “I need a high-paying job (that just isn’t law)” is about. That’s what “But my parents/spouse/  inner critic /dog/society won’t approve” is all about. That’s what “I need a steady paycheck, not the risk of entrepreneurship” is about. That’s what “I don’t have time to look for a different career right now because my life is so crazy” is. Conditions are not perfect, so you convince yourself you cannot move at all toward your dreams.

These are all dodges. As Patti Digh puts it in Creative Is a Verb, many of us, especially the perfectionists, are convinced Continue reading

Feeling Your Way to an Alternative Legal Career

If there is one thing that most of us hate during a job search, or in almost any aspect of our lives, it’s feeling vulnerable. Lawyers, as a group, particularly despise vulnerability. After all, lawyers spend their time defending against attacks, right?

business man clone on conveyor belt

This is your soul, numbed out. Any questions?

Even those of you looking for an alternative career to law, you don’t want to feel uncertain, unsure, or unsettled—trust me, when you talk to me, you all want the magic map that takes you to the instantly empowering, successful career that just happens to be not practicing law. You definitely don’t want to feel open to damage (from exploration that doesn’t pan out) or attack (from people around you judging).

One of the ways we combat vulnerability is by numbing out, according to Dr. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are (Hazelden, 2010). I recently stumbled upon her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, and truly, it will be the best Continue reading