The holiday season is not unique in terms of the various hot topic conversations that often come up between friends and family members. However, this season may provide more opportunity for such discussions given the nature of getting together with people you may not see on a regular basis and therefore having less of a track record with said people in terms of successfully discussing difficult topics without ending in a knock-down-drag-out brawl that embarrasses Aunt Shirley’s sensibilities. Popular topics that ruin family events include such classics as politics, world events, religion, sex, and of course the ever-controversial issue of whether a food can be considered a side dish if it has marshmallows on top. Don’t get me started.
In our work with the legal community, we see a fair number of law students and lawyers who are somewhere in between the precontemplation and contemplation stages of change. The precontemplation stage is when the person is unaware of the need to change a particular behavior, has no interest in changing, minimizes the negative aspects of changing, and highlights the positive reasons for the status quo. The contemplation stage is when the person is aware that something needs to change, they might not know exactly what they need to do or what it will entail, but they have a desire to make a change in the near future.
Springfield – 3rd Tuesday – 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel
1414 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01144
A fun little game to stir up regrets is to ask yourself what you would change from your past if you had a time machine. Would you take an opportunity that you missed? Would you refrain from doing something that had negative consequences? Would you face a fear? This exercise can highlight events in our past that, through hindsight, seem to be a detriment to our present life as we experience it. Regrets can uncomfortable, and at times downright painful. The major flaw of this game is that it devalues regrets, makes us wish for an impossible alternate reality, and often increases shame and helplessness.
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.
Despite the widely held belief that standing firm in your positions is a sign of strength (the image of certainty, confidence, and success), strategically embracing ambiguity can be the secret to overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Specifically, the way we think about our circumstances and the potential future outcomes of our efforts can be greatly aided by keeping an open mind about various possibilities. Instead of relying on the certainty of having only one path to arrive at your goal, embrace the options of a network of paths that will increase your chances of arriving at your desired destination.
Anxiety lives in the future. It cannot exist in the present moment. If something bad is happening in the present moment, you might not like it, but you are not anxious about it. Anxiety requires the ambiguity of the future. The never-ending “what if” questions. You cannot ask “what if” questions about what has already happened, or what is currently happening. Anxiety thrives in the unknown.
Among the numerous factors that seem to contribute to the greatly amplified rate of depression among lawyers is the fact that the sense of mission, of using a law degree to make a positive contribution to the world, which motivation many people to go to law school, can evaporate in the context of real-world ways to make a living and repay those humongous student loans. Some studies suggest that those lawyers whose work lives focus on doing good for society (typically lower paid jobs) are actually in better moods.
It’s annoying, isn’t it, how the news (and not only in the popular press) about how to stay healthy keeps changing? Some years ago, we began to hear reports that consuming alcohol (sometimes it was red wine, sometimes alcohol in general) was associated with living longer, or at least with less or later death from coronary disease and other things. That was a little disconcerting to many nondrinkers (those in recovery and also some of the many Americans who abstain for other reasons), and some even wondered whether it was their medical duty to manage a drink or two a day. (No studies ever suggested that heavy drinking was good for you.)
In our world of individual achievements and the importance of a stellar reputation, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you need to do things on your own. Be independent. Handle it yourself. Take care of business on your own. Make it happen. And the pep talk continues. The truth of the matter is that none of us have learned to do anything in a vacuum. We all have needed and benefited from the support of others. Whether it was learning to talk and walk when we were wee ones or learning to make a compelling oral argument, we did it with the help of many people in our lives.