The first time the words, I am really unhappy entered into my consciousness, I quickly hushed the voice harshly. “You have NO reason to be unhappy. Stop it!” I told myself. Yet, that nagging voice kept returning, over and over again.
Outwardly, I didn’t have any reason to be unhappy. I had a wonderful law practice. It was challenging, I was constantly learning, I enjoyed the work (sort of), and it was meaningful. I was married to an amazing man who is not only my partner in life but also, my law partner at JC Law Group. Life felt full, I had enough of everything, and it was everything I had aspired to achieve. I travelled to the end of the rainbow, gotten to the pot of gold and I didn’t feel the contentment or the joy I had expected. What I found was dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
In working with lawyers over the years, I now know my experience isn’t unique.
Here’s the thing they don’t teach you in law school (even if they did, it probably wouldn’t have made sense). Life is full of unexpected surprises and constantly evolving. You are not the same person who started law school. Just because law is something you thought you wanted to do when you were 21, does not mean it’s right for you when you’re 31 or 41.
There’s no class on life management. How to have self-awareness, recognize the shifts in the self and pivot accordingly.
We’re taught (falsely) that what you major in during college or graduate school is what you’re destined to do for the rest of your life and if for some reason, you don’t, you’re a — failure. A label lawyers fear desperately.
Sadly, I see too many lawyers who deny and ignore the yearning for something different. I regularly meet with lawyers who share they feel dead inside. It feels as though she is going through life on autopilot. She can’t remember the last time she felt happy. She feels tired all the time. Silently, she suffers and chastises herself for feeling this way.
I am reminded of David Whyte’s poem, “Sweet Darkness.” He writes:
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
It’s not an easy journey to find the way out of darkness and confinement. Yet, I believe for us to fully express the complexities of who we are, to live in the world made to be free in, we must be willing to be with what is.
Often, when that tiny voice whispers a yearning for something different — the need to feel alive, the natural reaction is to silence it, as quickly as possible.
We lie to ourselves and say, we don’t have the time to deal with this, we are being “selfish,” it’s childish fantasies, irresponsible, and so forth.
If we continue to deny that voice, that yearning, eventually it starts to die and decay, having a toxic effect on our mental, physical emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Be a Good Friend
The first practice is to be a good friend to that voice. That yearning for something different whether you choose to act on it or not deserves to be heard. It deserves a place in your heart and mind. It deserves a place in your psyche.
It’s helpful to name that yearning. Initially, you may not know what it is that you should do or will do. This practice of being with the unknown is alien to most lawyers and can feel terrifying. These feelings are also okay.
The practice is to be a good friend to whatever may arise. This might be feelings of sadness, frustration, feeling stuck, not knowing which direction to turn, not knowing what to do, anger, or desperation. This is a “come as you are” party. All emotions are welcomed.
Your job as a friend is to practice listening with patience and kindness. Not to try to logic your way out of it. Don’t argue with it. Don’t diminish or judge it. Just practice being.
Humans are hardwired to focus on what isn’t right. We’re far more likely to notice moments of unhappiness and misery than happiness and joy. A simple practice that I’ve found to be very helpful is to note the experience as pleasant or unpleasant.
For example, I’m standing in line at the grocery store. I check-in with myself and notice. In this moment, I feel content. I’ll silently say — pleasant. Then I get into the car, start the ignition and remember that tomorrow is Monday and I have a hearing. My stomach tightens and I feel anxious. I’ll notice that and silently say — unpleasant.
Notice that by doing this, I am short circuiting the narrative. I could spend minutes, likely hours fretting about the hearing. By acknowledging the thought and the experience as unpleasant, I am opening up the possibility of a different response.
Another practice that might be useful is to color code your calendar. As you go through the day, note what you did hour by hour and code it. I used yellow to mark pleasant events, red to mark unpleasant events and green for neutral.
For example, let’s say from 9:30 – 10:30 AM, you have a meeting with a partner. After the event, pause, reflect and ask yourself — how was this experience? Then code it with the corresponding color.
This made it really easy to look back on the weeks and months and quickly see, how much time did I spend engaged in pleasant, unpleasant and neutral experiences? Also, you may start to see patterns of what events are pleasant and unpleasant.
Finally, having someone — a friend, therapist or a coach can be very helpful in this process of finding your way to wholeness and to joy. If you would like a coach to guide you through this journey, you’re invited to schedule a 15-minute call with me.