The qualities that make you a great lawyer also feed anxiety, chronic stress, and burnout.
You’re a professional worrier and pessimist. You’re trained to look for risk and see all the ways something can go wrong. After a while, it’s hard to see the world in any other way.
You think ahead. You’re always looking down the road at all the things that might go wrong, and finding ways to mitigate risk. That means it’s very hard to be present, in this moment. Your mind is trained to build and run mental simulations all day long. Being present becomes increasingly difficult, whether with a client, friend, or spouse. And the present moment is where all the good stuff is: connection, relaxation, the pleasure of a meal or a moment.
You’re always thinking about other people’s problems. People come to you when things go wrong, or when there’s a crisis or problem. You put your client’s needs first, and are always considering their best interest. There’s rarely time or energy to think about your needs, and share your problems and worries.
You keep your own thoughts and emotions closely guarded. Not only are you keeping your client’s problems confidential, you’re also good at keeping your own inner thoughts and emotions close to the vest. This makes you a good lawyer — only revealing what you want when you want. But the habit of keeping a tight lid on your true thoughts and deep feelings means you end up isolated, and can forget how to share yourself with others. You’re used to being the safe space for everyone else, and you’re used to feeling not quite safe letting down your guard. You might just feel too tired to share your own thoughts and feelings with well-intentioned friends or loved ones.
You’re competitive. Being competitive makes you a zealous advocate, dedicated, hard working, and good at your job. But when the only metric of competition is the number of hours you bill or the size of your bonus. . . then you find yourself in a game you can never, ever win.
You know that joke, “Being a lawyer is like being in a pie-eating contest. . . where the winner gets more pie.” The more hours you bill. . . the more hours you bill.
If that’s your only measure for success, you’ll find yourself on the fast-track to burnout.
Some hard truths about being a lawyer.
You probably know lawyers who have burned out, or have had stress-related health problems. Maybe you know a lawyer who is struggling with their marriage or relationships because of stress and the demanding schedule of legal practice.
Maybe you’ve experienced some of that, too.
Here are some hard truths about the risks that come with being a lawyer:
Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer depression than non-lawyers.
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among lawyers (after Cancer and heart disease), compared to the 10th leading cause of death among the general population.
I’m not saying this as a scare tactic. But I do want you to know what some of the risks are, so that you can take steps to prevent them.
If you were going to climb a mountain and you knew that there was a risk of falling off the side, you’d probably want to know how to reduce that risk, right? You’d want to have the right gear, a good map, provisions, and maybe a guide.
The legal profession is the mountain you’ve chosen to climb
It’s time to start caring about the climber.
Self-Care is key.
You’ve already invested so much time and money in your legal career. Law school, the Bar exam, annual dues, CLEs. . . You know how to learn and you know how to work hard.
You are the key-stone of your career. If you’re not taking care of yourself, it all falls apart.
Self-care is key to creating sustainable success in your legal career. If you want to be a rockstar in your profession and not burnout along the way, or if you’re asking yourself whether being a successful lawyer means sacrificing other things that matter to you — like your health, or family — then you’ve come to the right place.
I can help, and I’d love to help you.
For the last few years I’ve helped thousands of lawyers through my coaching and CLE programs. Emotional support, help with developing self-awareness, designing a self-care practice that fits with the demands of your already-full life, mindfulness and meditation. . .
You must care about yourself.
Here’s another hard truth I learned. No one has compassion for lawyers. As a society, we make fun of lawyers and vilify the profession. As soon as I decided to go to law school, I started to really notice this. Law school? But you’re such a nice person. Lawyers are jerks.
Within the profession, the attitude tends to be “suck it up” or ask your doctor for meds. Toughen up, suck it, or get out if you can’t handle it. When it gets bad and you can’t sleep, just tell your doctor and get a prescription — anti-anxiety and some sleep meds should help. It’s what everyone does. It’s just how it is.
In a profession of advocacy, the one person lawyers never advocate for is their own self!
It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean it has to be normal for you.
I want to tell you that your work is important and you must care for yourself. Lawyers play such an important role in our society, and in the lives of so many people. It matters that you remain energized and thriving, today and for as long as you want to be practicing law. We need seasoned attorneys who are fully human, healthy and passionate about their work and their lives.
More and more attorneys are leaving the profession, choosing to suffer in silence or burnout in a long slow grind.
I want to ask you to make a different choice. It is absolutely possible to create a life and career in law that feels amazing.
It begins by caring about yourself.
What you can do about it.
There are a few ways I can support you.
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