Stress and attorney are two words that seem to go together naturally – so much so that it seems impossible to separate the two. But it can be done, and it’s useful to make a distinction between what it means to be an attorney and what causes stress in our lives. This article looks at a few stressors and what you can do about them.
A few features I’ve identified that lead to stress (in no particular order) are
- Feeling that you have to put on a mask when you walk into your office – that you can’t be yourself;
- Dealing with problems that often take years to be resolved;
- Feeling as if you either are going to win or lose at any given time;
- Deadlines ( I love the name)
- Having to get clients;
- Working with people in the worst circumstances of life;
- Having severe consequences for your client if you lose the case;
- Working such long hours there isn’t time for a personal life.
The first step is to be aware of the stressors that bother you. What do you like about practicing law? What don’t you like? Then, once you’ve identified what bothers you, two coaching concepts can help you reduce the stress. These two tools that clients have found to be useful are identifying your saboteur and changing perspectives.
Something that is a stressor for one person can be exhilarating for another. One thing that causes stress in a variety of situations is the self-talk I like to call The Saboteur. The Saboteur is that gremlin that sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear why you are not going to succeed. It can be the voice of a family member, a grade school teacher, or your alter ego. It says things such as, “who do you think you are?”, “you know you’re no good at _____”, “be careful!!!!!”. The ability to hear that voice when it’s tormenting you and separate it from reality (because it’s not reality) is useful. It helps to personify this voice, picture what the nasty thing looks like, and then send it away. With the saboteur gone, it is easier to distinguish an adverse ruling from being a judgment about what kind of lawyer you are.
We all have points of view about everything. Why something can’t be changed, why that person is the way she is, what makes a good lawyer, what that judge is like, what my kind of law demands from me . . . . These are all perspectives. Every point of view is a perspective we have chosen, and chosen to believe. Once we realize that we have chosen our perspectives, and can choose other perspectives, we have found a powerful tool for being in charge of our thoughts and our choices. When I feel stuck in a particular place, I know it’s time to look at my perspective. If it seems that the situation is “just the way it is,” I make myself think of a different perspective. Instead of thinking that my co-worker doesn’t trust me and is trying to micro-manage my work, I can see that person as caring deeply for the end product.
These are just two tools you can use in reducing the stress in your work life. There are many other stressors and many other tools to deal with them. Most lawyers have learned a number of coping techniques and ways to deal with stress. It’s important to start with ourselves and what we CAN do to reduce stress. Often it’s just what we’re thinking.
What does your saboteur say that stresses you out? How can you change your perspective about a co-worker, opposing counsel, or work situation that will make it less stressful for you? Answering these questions can reduce stress in your life.