Recently a comprehensive report was published by the ABA titled “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change” (find the full text here). Within its pages you will find numerous recommendations for how to increase the well-being of the legal community from multiple sources (law schools, judges, attorney regulators, bar associations, employers, etc.). The report starts, as any report on well-being should start, with the definition of lawyer well-being.
The report defines well-being as “a continuous process whereby lawyers seek to thrive in each of the following areas: emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, physical health, and social connections with others.” An important distinction that this report makes is that “complete health” is not just the absence of illness or problems, but it is the presence of a “positive state of wellness.” So in addition to addressing, treating, and alleviating problems, spend time cultivating a positive state of wellness in these areas.
- Emotional Health: Develop a greater awareness of the various emotions you experience, communicate those emotions to others, recognize and validate the emotions of those around you, and seek mental health care when needed. Neglecting your emotions is great way to exacerbate any problem.
- Occupational Pursuits: Whatever your job, make it a priority to increase personal satisfaction, encourage growth, and look for ways that your job can enrich your development and professional experience. Develop financial stability and contentment so that your career pursuits are not solely motivated by a larger paycheck.
- Creative or Intellectual Endeavors: Engage in creative activities to enrich your personal life and to exercise different parts of your brain. Creative thinking can help with problem solving. Strive toward continuous learning and challenging intellectual activities. Foster a growth mindset and focus on developing resilience.
- Sense of Spirituality or Greater Purpose in Life: Search for meaning and purpose in all aspects of life.
- Physical Health: Prioritize healthy activities, good diet, sufficient sleep, relaxation, and fun hobbies. Even amid a busy work week, look for opportunities to increase healthy activity and set boundaries to protect time to take care of yourself.
- Social Connection with Others: Establish, maintain, and cultivate close connections with others (both in and outside of the legal profession). Create social support networks that allow for the give and take of healthy social interactions. Look for ways to volunteer and give back to others.
If you feel like the above list is a pipe dream for your current circumstances, pick just one area of wellness to start with and build from there. Every bit of investment in your personal and professional well-being will have ripple effects on the other areas of your life. Start today. Don’t wait until you feel like you have the time to dedicate to self-care. That time will never come. Start now. Your future self will thank you.
Shawn Healy, PhD