A great number of accomplished professionals walk through life thinking the world revolves around them. And why wouldn’t they? It takes a lot to become a lawyer. Given all of the achievements and prestige bestowed on lawyers, it feels natural to take everything that happens personally. The world does revolve around us.
So we fume when someone honks at us or cuts us off in traffic. It rubs us the wrong way when an unreasonable client, an irritated spouse or a disrespectful senior attorney snaps at us in frustration and leaves us wondering what we did to deserve that. We automatically conclude that we were the cause of their outburst. “It has to do with me” seems like the only likely explanation.
It doesn’t feel particularly good to be treated that way, especially when we are convinced it was uncalled for. Our mood is ruined. The blood pressure skyrockets. The negative internal conversation that gets us all worked up and angry finishes the job. So we lean on the horn at the overly careful driver in front of us, snap at a junior associate at the slightest hint of incompetence or get impatient when a barista is taking too long with our change. Everyone in our path had better watch out!
Without thinking, we have just extended the chain of frustration and anger – paying it forward, so to speak, with bad deeds instead of the kind ones.
I used to be caught up in that cycle of negativity myself. Then it dawned on me that none of other people’s angry behavior is actually about me. When someone cuts me off in traffic, bumps into and swears at me, or loses their temper because of a mistake made at work, I remind myself: “This is not about me.” “She is having a bad day; she is just taking it out on me.” Or, if all else fails and I am about to stoop to that person’s level, I will to myself: “His ‘stuff’ will not become my ‘stuff’.”
Miraculously, it works. I no longer need to go from 0 to 60 on the irritation scale and let it ruin my mood. Someone else’s bad behavior, even if directed at me, is not about me. What a liberating concept! It doesn’t hurt the ego or undermine any professional importance. For me, it just takes a second to take a breath and remind myself that this is not about me. I can then calmly move on with my day without taking anything out on the next person who will jump on the bandwagon of angry outbursts along with me.
There are lots of things I can’t control, but not perpetuating the vicious cycle of negativity – that I can.
Guest blogger Dasha Tcherniakovskaia is getting her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Lesley University. She is changing careers after devoting 10+ years to corporate law. She has worked as a paralegal at a major financial institution and an associate at a large Boston law firm.