I am working on a speech that I’ll be giving at a local law school to 3Ls. It’s a workshop on solo practice and the dean asked that I talk about mindfulness and other strategies I’ve utilized to build a sustainable career. As I work on this speech, I feel both sad and hopeful. On one hand, I feel sad because so many lawyers rarely consider factors like sustainability, thriving, resiliency, or happiness in the context of a legal career. On the other hand, I feel hopeful that these words are entering the lexicon of legal profession.
As I reflect on my previous 10 years of legal practice, the question that comes to mind is “what would I tell my first year lawyer self – knowing what I know now?”
- Redefine “failure.” I lived for so long with an intense desire to avoid failure. Failure came in many different forms, shapes and sizes and oftentimes, what I defined as “failure” wasn’t a failure at all. Every unpleasant experience, unkind words, annoyance, criticism, ruling against my client, each of these became deep wounds. Living in fear of failure meant that I closed the circle of possibilities. Of thinking outside the box, of creativity, and fun. Failures, making mistakes, are natural life experiences and no human is free of flaws. For more information on ways of redefining and coping with failure, I recommend this book: Fail fast, Fail Often, How Losing Can Help You Win.
- Be kind. Do you berate yourself for every little thing? Does it feel as though if you gave yourself a break, you’d become a failure? During my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class, the teacher gave us an assignment to ask ourselves this question “how can I be kind to myself?” The question itself scared the heck out of me. I mean, what if I became a couch potato eating pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? Despite the fear, I tried the exercise. What I learned was that I would never speak to anyone the way I spoke to myself. The constant inner dialogue of ranting and belittling was shocking. You deserve to have your own mind be kind to itself!
- Have fun. I took a class at Stanford by the author of the book referenced above. One of the things they stressed was the value of having fun. Pause and consider for a moment – when’s the last time you had fun? There are a long list of research which suggests that regularly experiencing fun and joy in your life allows you to be better at your work (and of course, a better human being.) Why? When we have fun, it activates different parts of our brain and allows you to be more creative and less anxious. I regularly meet lawyers who are considering quitting law but also have no idea what they want to do with their life. My #1 advice to these lawyers? Commit to spending time having fun each day.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to see the moments of our lives as is. For example, we all intuitively know that everything is temporary, yet, it’s so easy to get stuck in the moment. We can get stuck continuing to be angry long after the call is over. Long after the fight has ended. Living in the now allows us to savor each moments of our lives. How often do we live on autopilot, living in the past or the future?
- Breathe. So, how do you live in the now? One way we can practice being in the moment is to follow our breath. When you notice yourself in the past, future, or otherwise disconnected from the now, pay attention to the air as it moves in and out of your body. The breath is always with you and it’s a constant reminder that you’re alive.