Happy Lawyers is Not an Oxymoron Redux
I've written about happy and unhappy lawyers before - here and here but I've rarely framed the issue as succinctly or as well as Chere Estrin at the Organization of Legal Professionals. In the sidebar to her article The Secrets to a Stress Free Career, Estrin says work does not give you stress. Feeling bad about work gives you stress.
What does Estrin know?
Quite a lot.
"I used to be the most stressed-put person I knew," says Estrin.
I averaged 90 hour weeks in the legal field as an executive in a $5 billion corporation, traveled three weeks out of four, answered to some big shots who thought they owned the planet, and managed hundreds of people. It wasn’t much different when I was a paralegal manager. There were critical deadlines to meet, difficult attorneys to juggle, anxious clients to handle and something called a “minimum billable hours” requirement, now referred to as “suggested” hours in a more politically correct and less actionable environment. I recently looked at a picture of myself during that era. I was holding my new-born niece, Cristina, a joy to behold and I looked like I just escaped from a train wreck and stopped by to say howdy.
Sound familiar? After debunking some stress myths (you should go right over there now to read them) Estrin suggests the following:
You can’t change things if you don’t acknowledge them. Ok, so I’m quoting a TV psychologist. But he hit it right on. When it was first brought to my attention that I was stressed out, I was in total denial. Because I was fearful of being accused of failing and I wanted to do a great job, I denied I was stressed-out. To me, it was a sign that I couldn’t deal with the job. What I really needed to change was my responses. Acknowledge what is. Without that acknowledgement, you cannot take action.
Learn to really laugh. How long has it been since you laughed out loud, long and hard? I mean a good belly-laugh. If you’re stressed-out, it’s probably been awhile. Laughter releases endorphins, natural pain-killers. It boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and disease-destroying antibodies called B-cells. In short, it’s great medicine.
Make a friend at work. When you have someone you can confide in, someone with whom you feel secure, trust, can share the ups-and-downs of the workplace, you feel better. The environment somehow doesn’t seem all that bad.
Make a decision. The only way to transform your life is to make a decision to change and honour that decision.Decide how you want to live your life and then set about with complete certainty to create it. The most critical time in my career came when I decided that I wanted to create the environment that was right for me. I no longer wanted a fancy office in a Class A building in the middle of a prestigious district. I wanted to own my own business, work from home and call my own shots. I haven’t looked back. I’m happier than a clam.
Love ‘em or leave ‘em. Recently, a good friend mistakenly thought I was encouraging paralegals to abandon their jobs without demonstrating any loyalty to employers. What I do emphasize to anyone who will listen is: you have to love what you’re doing. You absolutely have to get up in the morning and be excited about the workday. There is no better career booster than a job that you love, thrive in and remains fun and stimulating. That’s what actually changed me around. I created a situation where I am passionate about what I do; feel appreciated, challenged and excited just about every day. (There is no 100% avoidance in the war against stress.) With that attitude, it doesn’t matter if I work 30 or 90 hours a week. I am thrilled by what I do and the time I spend doing it.
I personally followed nearly all of this advice, but it took me a long long time to do so. I still work a gazillion hours a week, but I'm doing what I love. And if your legal education and training qualifies you to do anything, it should qualify you to do what makes you happy.