The one theme I see that comes up repeatedly with lawyers is unhappiness and discontentment. I often hear lawyers say, “I’m so unhappy at my job but I can’t afford to quit. I’m working constantly so I don’t have time to explore alternatives.”
You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness and well-being. If you’re unhappy, it’s up to you to do something about it. No amount of feeling sorry for yourself, or complaining, or blaming is going to fix the deep sense of dissatisfaction and discontentment.
That’s obvious and most lawyers I work with will easily admit that this is true. Then the next objection is some external reason for why she can’t find the time to cultivate her own happiness — I work 60 hours a week, I regularly sleep at the office, my boss emails me at 2:00 AM, and so on.
She thinks the only way to “fix” her situation is to take some radical step. Quit immediately. Become a nomad, a writer, an actress, or whatever that secret dream may be.
One client I’ve been working with has always wanted to write fiction. She decided to go into law because she figured she would get a lot of opportunity to improve her writing skills and also do what she loves — write. Now in her fourth year in BigLaw, she loathes writing. She also has zero interest in reading because that’s what she does, all day long.
During our first coaching session, she says, “I think I have to quit my job if I’m ever going to be able to write.” She then explains to me all the reasons why she can’t quit — her kids, the mortgage, the car payments, personal sense of identity, and the fear of the unknown.
I ask her to tell me what she does to cultivate joy and happiness in her life. She tells me before she had kids, before the BigLaw job, she used to take writing classes, meet with other writer friends, get massages, manicure/pedicure, go to yoga, jogs, and hiking. I ask her what’s stopping her from doing these activities now and she tells me she doesn’t have time.
I used to believe this myth of not having time. But here’s the thing — she doesn’t have any less time than she did previously. She always had and still does have 1,440 minutes per day. What has shifted is how she’s allocating those minutes. She’s choosing to allocate absolutely all of it to her work and her family. That’s understandable but this is causing her deep distress, discontentment and unhappiness. She can continue to tell herself that she has no time, this is the only way, or she can choose to look for small but incremental changes.
Often, when we’re in despair, it’s difficult to do anything because everything feels overwhelming. I get that. Yet, the only way to get unstuck is through movement.
These activities to bring pleasure, joy and satisfaction back to life, to restore balance need not take a lot of time. It’s surprising how even small changes can make a huge impact. The difficult part is commitment and sticking to it. It’s showing up for yourself that’s hard. To know that you are worthy, and deserving of “me time.” That practicing self-care does not make you “selfish.”
If you’ve been feeling stuck, unhappy, or experiencing lack of contentment or balance in your life, here are some practical suggestions for finding your way out.
Choose ONE of these activities and practice it DAILY (or as as close to everyday as practicable) and see for yourself.
Practices For Finding Balance and Contentment
1. Practice gratitude
Buy a beautiful journal and grab your favorite pen and jot down three things (or people) you’re grateful for. Don’t just THINK about it. Write it down.
Even if it’s just two minutes a day, do it. Everyday. Here’s a short meditation practice:
3. Move the body
Move a muscle, change a thought is a commonly repeated phrase and for good reason. Notice I didn’t say exercise. Choose some activity that requires you to move your body and do it with intention every day. This might be yoga, walking, gardening, playing with your kids, riding your bike or showering.
4. Send a thank you card
Buy a pack of beautiful thank you cards. Write one everyday and drop it in the mail. Not only is this a great way to practice gratitude but also a wonderful way to let someone know that you care.
5. Morning pages
This is one of my favorite practices to do in the morning. It’s from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. The book is full of practices and exercises to connect with your creativity. Morning pages is a practice where you just allow yourself to write, without editing or filtering — longhand for 3 pages. You can watch a video with the explanation here.