Lawyer happiness doesn’t have to be an unattainable goal, even in our pressure-filled lives.
I practiced law for 17 years while living a personal life and raising a family. So I understand how being a lawyer can lead to a lot of stress and pressure. It is difficult to handle it all. Everyone knows this. Even Lin Manuel-Miranda of “Hamilton” fame knows it.
In the Disney movie “Encanto,” with lyrics by Manuel-Miranda, there is a song about lawyers. OK, it’s not actually about lawyers, but it could be if you substitute a few words. It’s called “Surface Pressure.” As soon as I heard the song, I thought: “This is what being a lawyer feels like.” Here are some of the lyrics:
Pressure like a grip, grip, grip, and it won’t let go, whoa
Pressure like a tick, tick, tick ’til it’s ready to blow, whoa, oh, oh
Give it to your [lawyer] and never wonder
If the same pressure would’ve pulled you under
Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?
No cracks, no breaks
No mistakes, no pressure
Exactly, right? No breaks. Pressure and work that just keeps building. No mistakes. And the lyric that many lawyers relate to: “Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?”
What Can We Do About All the Pressure?
How can we handle all the responsibilities? How can we enjoy the time of our lives when we have so much to do?
Here are the four keys to enjoying our lives, even when we are busy.
- Clarify what matters most to you.
- Be realistic with time.
- Leverage others by delegating.
- Embrace change.
1. Clarify What Matters Most to You
Why is clarity so important? Because it helps us get from where we are to where we want to be.
Sometimes we go along without really thinking about where we want to be, without getting clear on what we want our life to look like. I did this when I was an associate in BigLaw. It wasn’t until I was on the fast track to partnership that I really thought about what I wanted. After six years of working toward partnership, I realized I didn’t want to be a BigLaw partner.
The problem for me was that I didn’t take the time earlier on to think about what I really wanted my life to look like. I spent a lot of time and energy on the road to achieving something I didn’t actually want.
Action item: Take time to clarify what matters most to you. This clarity will guide you when making decisions and setting priorities. When we know what matters most to us, we can say yes to opportunities that are aligned with our personal and professional values and no to opportunities that move us away from our values.
2. Be Realistic With Time
We lawyers often like evidence and our rational brains want to know the facts. What are the facts about time? The reality of time is that we have quite a bit of it, even though it doesn’t usually feel like it. Each week has 168 hours! That’s a lot of hours. If you sleep eight hours each night (which you need), that leaves 112 waking hours each week to work and live your life!
When we think about what we want and need to accomplish, we must be realistic about how much time exists. If we try to do more than 168 hours of tasks each week, we will fail.
Action item: Think of everything you need to do in a week and quantify the amount of time it will take. If all the items add up to more than 168 hours (don’t forget to count sleep), then you’ve set yourself up to fail. At the end of every week, there will be things you did not accomplish. You may feel like you are failing when really you are trying to do the impossible.
3. Leverage Others by Delegating
We want to live aligned with our values, making time for things that matter to us. But there’s all this work to do! And let’s not forget that we need to make money to feed ourselves and the people we care about. Thankfully, we can achieve more without working more by leveraging others.
Delegating is the most effective time management tool, especially for leaders. When there are tasks that you do not enjoy, do not do well or don’t want to do, those are red flags letting you know to delegate.
Action item: Think of tasks that someone else can handle for you. It could be personal or professional tasks. Start delegating those tasks to others: colleagues, assistants, paid help or outside services.
4. Embrace Change
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “The only constant in life is change.” Change can be hard, especially when we like the way things are going. If we want to enjoy life, we must embrace change. The best way to embrace change is to think of life like your career — it is “practicing.”
Lawyers don’t “do” law, we “practice” it. The reason is that the rules and circumstances change. So even if a lawyer knows seemingly “everything” there is to know in one moment in time, as the laws and facts continue to change, we must continue to learn and adapt and change our approach. This is why we “practice” law. The same is true of life, which continues to change so that we must continue to learn and adapt. As you go through your day, remember it is all practice. What works one year may not work the next because your circumstances — or even you — will have changed.
In his amazing book “The Practicing Mind,” Thomas M. Sterner writes:
“Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions.”
He goes on to say that we need to approach life with a childlike attitude. When we are little kids, everything is new and challenging. When we learn to walk, we try, we fall, we get back up. Sometimes we cry and seek out comfort from caregivers. Then we try again, and again, and again. Each time we learn a little more as we continue to practice and adapt and improve. When we are adults and have children, we encourage them to practice, to not be discouraged when they cannot immediately master something. Keep playing the piano. Keep trying to ride your bike without training wheels. Keep learning to read. Keep practicing.
Action item: Practice. Learn from practice. Enjoy the process.
My hope for you is that you will make deliberate choices in your life and craft a present and future that is meaningful to you and the people you love. Keep an open mind as you journey through this life, as things change. Most importantly, remember to keep trying, to keep practicing, and that perfection is not required.
Have You Read Jamie Spannhake’s Bestselling Book?
In “The Lawyer, the Lion, and the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos,” lawyer and certified health coach Jamie Spannhake helps you learn how to CHOOSE, ACT and THINK in ways that will clarify your desires and set priorities so you can reclaim your time and enjoy your life.
Available in the Attorney at Work bookstore, here.