Get satisfied… Or get out.

Monica Parker (author of The Unhappy Lawyer) and I recently hosted a teleclass entitled, Should I Stay [in the Law] or Should I Go?  Nearly 100 people registered for the free preview call, and we ended with a lively discussion. We named the call  Should I Stay or Should I Go? because that’s the question that we both hear all too often from clients, potential clients, and lawyers who just want to release a burden by talking for a few minutes.  And all too often, the answer becomes, “I really want to leave practice but I can’t because…

This morning, I read a story  on the ABA Journal website, in which a former Baker Botts associate left practice and became (after a few interim steps) a Dunkin Donuts franchisee.  His turning point came after several years of frustration when he asked a colleague about to make partner whether it’s true that practice gets better with time:

“The colleague responded, ‘No, it doesn’t really get better. You just resign yourself to [the notion that] this is what you do, you resign yourself that this is an easy, safe way to make a living,’ ” [Michael] Weinberg recalled in an interview with Texas Lawyer.

Weinberg said the advice “was just one of the most depressing things I’d ever heard. And I remember thinking, ‘I gotta get out of here.’ “

Talk about a turning point.  Here’s what I’d like to remind dissatisfied lawyers: law isn’t for everyone, and choosing to remain in a career in which you experience only minimal satisfaction is a waste.  Many frustrated lawyers can improve how they feel about practice by making changes that range from small tweaks  (learning to use time more effectively, for example) to seismic shifts (such as changing areas of practice).  I specialize in working with lawyers to develop successful, satisfying, sustainable practices, and there are two moments I especially relish in my work: when a lawyer finds satisfaction and chooses to stay in practice, and when a lawyer decides that law really can’t be the right fit and chooses another career instead.  Get satisfied or get out: life’s too short to tarry in misery.

The next two or three posts here will focus on how to make the decision of whether to stay or to go, along with the changes that may improve your satisfaction.

Avoid overwhelm: hit reset!

A client recently called me, and I could hear the tension in his voice right away.  Too many projects coming due at the same time (and thus, another long weekend in the office) combined with sheer exhaustion to make Rick an unhappy lawyer.  “I just don’t know how I’m going to get it all done.  I always do, but you know, I’m thinking maybe I’m not going to pull it off this time.”  We started listing out exactly what Rick needed to do and, while it was a lot of work, the truth was that he could accomplish all of it within about 30 hours, which would leave him some time free over the weekend — if, and only if, he was able to stop worrying about the work and start doing it.

“So, Rick,” I ventured, “you sound completely stressed out, and your brain seems to be going in six different ways at once.  Why don’t you hit the reset button?”

Rick took a few seconds before speaking, and when he did his voice was incredulous, laced with frustration-bordering-on-anger.  “And how would you recommend I do THAT?”

We all fall into periods of overwhelm, frustration, malaise, boredom, and so on.  Sometimes it’s a few minutes, and other times the feelings can last for weeks.  Hitting the reset button is a simple technique I recommend.  Every person I’ve ever talked with has something that serves as the human equivalent of Ctrl-Alt-Delete.  (Sorry, Mac users, you’ll have to translate that into Mac language or remember your PC days!)  And most people have a variety of strategies that may work, depending on the situation.  A few that clients and I have used:

  • Going for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or other solitary exercise
  • Playing music that pumps you up or soothes you
  • Yoga
  • Calling a friend or loved one for a short conversation
  • Flipping through vacation photos
  • Meditating, praying, or deep breathing
  • Getting a cup of coffee, tea, or other beverage of your choice and savoring it
  • Using smells (essential oils, for instance) to trigger relaxation
  • Stretching
  • Making a “gratitude list”

Although each of the activities listed above are fairly quick and designed for run-of-the-mill circumstances, hitting reset can also mean taking a weekend trip, taking a weekly class, or something else that’s sufficiently out of the ordinary to break your routine.  Each year, I spend a week alone in Wyoming, walking and thinking in nature.  When I return from my retreat, I see my business and my life through new eyes.

After Rick and I explored some ideas, he decided that he would take a quick walk around the block while listening to a favorite “power song” as soon as we hung up, and that he would make time to play ball with his son for a few minutes in the evening.  He was skeptical but willing to give “the reset” a shot.  And he discovered that it worked well enough that he now “hits reset” regularly, as soon as he starts feeling overwhelmed or otherwise on edge.

What might you do when you need to reset your system?