With the work force aging and baby boomers moving toward/entering retirement, there has been an increase in dementia in the workforce. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease that worsens with time and impacts the person’s mental functioning in multiple areas. Symptoms often include declining memory (difficulty remembering common words, people, recent events, etc.), declining mental functioning (difficulty doing simple math, disorganization, confusion, etc.), and changes in mood and behavior (mood swings, agitation, social withdrawal, personality changes, etc.). Alzheimer’s disease is usually thought of as a disease that occurs in older adults (onset after 65 years old), but a small percentage of cases occur in those in their 40’s or 50’s (called younger-onset).
Many times throughout the day, I make an automatic comparison of my present situation to a desired future outcome. Perhaps at the start of my day I have not written a new blog post and I want to have written a post by the end of the day. This makes me aware of what I want to accomplish, keeps me striving toward goals, and helps me to know if I am progressing toward those goals or getting further away from them. This, in and of itself, does not seem like a negative exercise. However, the words that I choose to use have quite an impact on whether I feel encouraged about my goals for the day or weighed down by the lack of progress.
Many lawyers went to law school hoping to make a contribution to justice by working on behalf of the unfortunate, oppressed, and vulnerable, inspired by figures like the fictional Atticus Finch or the real life Jan Schlichtmann. Some actually end up doing this kind of work, where the demands may be less about billable hours than about dealing continuously with human pain – cases, for example, of domestic violence, tragic events, tales of torture in those seeking asylum, child neglect, and more.
Like others who work with traumatized individuals (e.g., physicians, nurses, mental health professionals), these lawyers are subject to a particular kind of stress – hearing the details of traumatic experiences in the presence of the individual who has experienced them and is still reacting to them. Often compounding the situation is a degree of relative helplessness to fix the problem in the face of various entrenched systems, very limited resources, and having to repeatedly confront some very bad realities.
I spent over five years working as a corporate associate for a premier Boston law firm. I was ambitious and determined to climb to the top. I naively thought that I was making choices and taking charge of my life, all in the name of success, whatever image of success was driving me at the time.
Unfortunately, the definition of “success” for a big firm associate is very narrow: you say “yes” to every assignment (even if it means working all-nighters), you become a coveted associate (which means more all-nighters, working weekends and ruined vacations), and you politely listen to the raving annual reviews, waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop, and cringe at the obligatory constructive criticism, no matter how forced it sounds.
It makes perfect sense to think that the way we think about ourselves and our environments determines what words we choose to use to describe them. If I think today is going to be a difficult day, I use words to describe it as being difficult. However, the reverse is also true. The language that we choose to use also has a direct impact on how we think and feel about ourselves and our environments. The words we use to describe something can either encourage us to think rigidly about that thing or to identify alternative ways of looking at that thing. One example of this is the impact of descriptors on our capacity for creative problem solving. In a study by Dr. Ellen Langer examining mental sets (or mindlessness as she describes it), participants’ ability to solve a problem was greatly influenced by how their resources were described. When an object in a list of resources was described in terms of “this is a dog’s chew toy”, the participants had difficulty seeing it in any other way (this is known as functional fixedness). However, when an object was described in terms of “this could be a dog’s chew toy”, the participants were able to see it in a variety of ways and hence encouraged creative problem solving (and used it as an eraser). Mental sets are rigid ways of thinking about something (e.g., an object, a solution to a problem), usually tied to expectations that previous experiences with that particular thing will be repeated. If I think that “the way to deal with my boss when she is angry is to remain quiet and let the storm pass” because that’s what I did last time, then I am more likely to think that my previous solution is the only way to approach that issue.
Many lawyers and law students have learned early on that the world of law is often a harsh world, filled with conflicts and high-levels of stress. Whether it is direct disagreements, criticisms, or perceived attempts to manipulate, interactions between lawyers can often feel contentious and many individuals react defensively to protect themselves. Many individuals find it difficult to separate the professional activities from the personal feelings which result from being criticized, or disagreed with. However, an attorney’s job is to be objective and realize that these interactions are not personal attacks. If you find that you overly personalize your work, then you need to find a way to step-back to an objective view to better serve the client and to have less high-level stress. Is it possible? In short, yes.
I have been riding motorcycles for many years now. And in addition to it being an amazing activity (I understand I am biased), riding motorcycles has been very informative in terms of how to approach fear in my general life. But before I get into that, I have to give a little informational background on how motorcycles work.
As you know, motorcycles are two-wheeled motorized vehicles, which means that they are influenced by gyroscopic forces that help the motorcycle stay upright when it is traveling forward (above 5 miles an hour). Now the forward momentum (and gyroscopic forces) of the motorcycle maintains its balance and direction. In order to change directions while moving (steering), the motorcycle has to be tipped over in a controlled fashion. The way you tip over a motorcycle in motion is to turn the front wheel in the opposite direction that you want to go. Turning the front wheel to the left will start to tip the motorcycle over to the right, and hence change directions to the right.
A major factor in the way we feel about (and get along with) other people we encounter is how we explain their behavior. The way in which we explain a particular behavior (our own or someone else’s) is called an attribution. We constantly try to explain why things happen around us. We are hardwired to fill in the blanks in the world so that things make sense to us. We observe what someone does, but we don’t know why he/she did it. This bothers our brains. Our brains want explanations, they want the blanks filled in, they want to be able to feel comfortable explaining why things happen so that they can identify patterns and predict things in the future. Feeling like we can predict things makes us feel better (even if we are completely wrong). We do this all day long, every day. And since we do this so much, in order to do this as quickly as possible, our brains take shortcuts. Given the complexity of trying to explain behavior, shortcuts are not the most accurate way to go about it. But unfortunately, we want it done quickly more than we want it done correctly. So often times these shortcuts become erroneous habits, or biases (aka an attribution bias).
This is my third blog post on the subject of alcohol/drug rehabs. I pointed out in the first that with few exceptions insurance no longer covers rehab (meaning the month-long version that most people think of), though they may cover detox (a few days) followed by a day program (sometimes with optional self-pay lodging). Rehabs (like some of the best known and most reliable ones, such as Hazelden and Caron) cost well over $30,000 or $40,000. I have also cautioned about sorting out fact from hype when reading impressive claims about success rates when you attempt to choose among the many, many rehabs with glossy brochures and web sites (most of them outside Massachusetts).
This topic has come up a number of times this year. Some of my clients have left the practice. Deans of students for local law schools have retired. Some of my family members have moved to Florida, to escape the New England winters.
I know that closing the door on your practice life is a significant decision — one that is not to be taken lightly. Lawyers often have only one career path; and, the idea of walking away from it is unsettling, at best.
Retirement means different things to different people, based on their work experience and the meaning that they have attached to it. Witnessing your own family members transitioning into retirement: what they said about it, how they felt about it — that all has a significant effect on your conception of what your own retirement will be, or should be.