Happiness Comes from Stripping Bare

Get Down to Bare Essentials

Let me guess – you’re pretty busy, right?

I know – I’m pretty busy too.

In fact, in any given day I could think about 9782 things that I might have done, but didn’t end up doing.

But, more often than not, I’m not too worried by that.  Do you know why? It’s because I’ve strategically eliminated a huge number of things from my “must do” list, and focused on the things that really matter.

In doing that (and it’s not that easy – sorry to break it to you) I can focus more on the things that I genuinely enjoy, which advance me towards my goals, and which provide for a sane and functional life (most of the time).

Peeling away everything but the essentials is critical to the well being of any lawyer

Wellness in Law Stems from Focusing on the Essentials

Recently I took a fairly detailed look at the many mental health problems lawyers face, and a number of the core reasons that lawyers leave the profession, suffer from issues, and ultimately end up hating their job as a lawyer.

Let’s remind ourselves what some of the most common complaints are:

  • I’ve got too much to do
  • I’m stressed up to my eyeballs
  • I don’t get to do anything I enjoy
  • Things are out of control

Any of that sound familiar?  It should – it’s what most lawyers experience at some point – sometimes they never experience anything different.

All The Issues Have a Common Denominator – There’s Too Much Going On

When you look at your own life, what level of clarity do you have about its purpose?

Where are you headed? Can you describe it with only a few words, or is it a complex jumble of goals, aspirations, future plans, and desired outcomes?

Stripping down involves taking you, your legal career, and your life back down to the bare bones.

To do it, you need to be prepared to be honest with yourself. Most people aren’t, until something catastrophic happens.

But if you’d rather sort things about BEFORE your heart attack, your anxiety issues or your mental breakdown – then read on.

It Starts with Discerning What you Actually Want

Essentials Cull GraphicThe problem that many young lawyers have is that they actually haven’t figured out what they want, why they are here, or what they are doing.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we need to solve all of life’s intricacies by the time we’re 23 years old – after all, what would be the fun of the next 60 years if we did that?

It is something we need to think about though, otherwise the events of our life are simply going to happen to us, rather than being an outcome of your choices.

Here’s what many young lawyers find their lives to be made up of:

  • go to work
  • drink coffee
  • work hard
  • try to get promoted or paid more
  • go to a party, a function, some drinks, a ball or something else
  • stay up too late, get too little sleep
  • repeat.

Know anybody like that?

Of course for a time, for many young lawyers, this kind of life is exciting. After all, hard work, late nights and parties is what you signed up for, right?

But over time, you realise that you’re not actually headed anywhere. In fact, each year starts to look like a slightly more expensive version of the one before it.

The problem is that, much like your law degree and your training, you were hoping that your career would just happen provided you turned up and ticked the boxes.

But that’s not going to work.

You need to figure out what it is that you want out of your career.  That’s step 1.  You can’t skip it, and you can’t lie to yourself in the process.

Of course it’s harder than many people think.  Do you want:

  • A top end salary
  • Flexible work hours
  • A good maternity/paternity program
  • Interesting work
  • Complex work
  • Simple work
  • Great people to work with
  • Partnership
  • Not partnership
  • To avoid public speaking and marketing like the plague
  • More time with your family

If you’re paying attention you’ll immediately see the problem – some of these common goals don’t actually go with other ones.

So you need to decide – what’s the MOST important thing to you?

Until you know that, how can you possible make decisions that lead towards that outcome?

Next – Audit your Life

If you’ve done the above properly, you’ll have a good idea of what really matters to you.

So what’s next?

Just having this vague idea of what’s important to you is hardly good enough to achieve anything meaningful in your life.

It’s time to audit your life, your career, and your everything.

Keep the thing you identified in step 1 as the core of this exercise.

If you have a journal – now is the time to start writing things.

Take a week or so – write down everything you do in a day (just briefly – it’s a reminder, not an essay). Then next to it, place a “tick” or a “cross” to see if it is something that is contributing to your core goal.

Here’s my bet – you’re going to be horrified.

Sure, “making dinner” probably won’t make the cut, but since eating is not going out of fashion any time soon, it’s probably best not to get too frustrated by that.  But write it down anyway – the point of the exercise is to do a complete look at your life and find out just how much dross there is crowding your real goal out of the way.

The Hard Part – Cullingtime for a cleanout

This is usually where people give up on this exercise.

The problem with that is once you’ve identified your goal, and you’ve realised that 50% of your day to day life is NOT working towards it, you are in trouble.

You’re in trouble because you’ve actually identified now specifically the things that are crowding out your goals, losing your focus, and making your life a ball of stress and misery.

Here’s a a practical example to bring home this point in stark reality for you:

  • Jane is a married young lawyer who wants to start a family early
  • Jane has no desire to become a partner of a firm, but wants to simply be a good technical lawyer
  • Jane’s primary aspiration is spending greater time with her family
  • However, she realises that:
    • she works in a top tier firm with fierce competition
    • the area she works in requires frequent trips interstate and long hours
    • she is the top billing lawyer in her group, and has a great deal of pride caught up with that.

Jane has a problem.

Jane’s problem is that nothing in her career aligns with what she actually wants out of her career.

Culling Causes Freedom – But Comes at a Cost

So – what should Jane do, assuming her desire to spend more time with her family is real, not fictitious:

  • First, Jane needs to look at her firm – if the whole firm is like her current group, she needs to look for a new job
  • Next, Jane might need to re-evaluate her practice area. In turn that might mean she needs to take a salary hit to get into a new, less travel-intensive, space
  • Finally, Jane needs to really take a look at her own competitive streak – is it getting in the way of her life, rather than helping her?

As you can see, this is hardly the land of easy decisions.

But then, if this was easy I guess the profession would have far fewer issues.

So what are you going to do? Got anything to cull? Got any challenging issues you need to face?

In the long run, it’ll be worth it.

Happy Lawyering!

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