Last week, I was in Owensboro, KY at the Kentucky Bar Association’s Annual Meeting where I gave a talk on practical ways of increasing our inner sense of well-being to about 200 lawyers. I always lead a short (0.1 hour) guided meditation at all of my talks and each time I do this, there’s a part of me that is giddy with joy. It’s an incredible feeling to travel across the U.S. and talk about the topics I’m passionate about — wellness, well-being, finding a sense of purpose and meaning, mindfulness and meditation.
Over dinner with few of the conference attendees, the inevitable question came up — how did I go from being a lawyer to being a legal mindfulness facilitator? It’s a question I get asked often, especially from lawyers who also want to consider leaving the law but aren’t sure what to do after.
It’s an incredible feeling to be able to do the thing I am good at — making mindfulness and meditation accessible and approachable to lawyers. Because of my lived experience of suffering from overwhelming anxiety, chronic stress, and burnout, I am able to talk about the tools for reducing stress with honesty, warmth and humor. I love offering small, practical tools lawyers can use immediately in their day-to-day and teach actionable change strategies.
This journey from lawyer to consultant didn’t happen overnight. As I look back, I can see the path was windy, often full of detours. I couldn’t always see the full picture and I often felt lost. However, what I did have was a deep knowing that I can make a difference in the lives of lawyers — to teach the tools of self-care, mindfulness and meditation for a more joyful and satisfying law practice.
Interestingly, the one thing I feared the most — public speaking is the very thing that opened up the possibility for the work that I get to do today. For as long as I can remember, I struggled with anxiety. Specifically anxiety around social interaction. The thought of speaking in front of 200 people and give a talk would make my heart race and I’d feel lightheaded.
When I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, I went through two treatment programs: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). During CBT, each person in the group therapy was asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 the amount of anxiety various social situation triggered. For example, a telephone conversation with a stranger might be a 6, talking to a stranger at the grocery store checkout line might be a 7, and giving a talk to 200 people would be a 10.
The key to overcoming social anxiety is practice. Each week, during the group therapy session, each person would be asked to practice in the safety of the group one thing that triggered anxiety. For example, I was asked to roleplay with another participant and pretend we were standing in line at the grocery store and I’d have to engage in smalltalk.
Initially, it was excruciatingly painful. My body would go into fight-or-flight mode, I’d break into a cold sweat, I’d fumble for words, and feel incredibly awkward. However, over the 10 week program, the anxiety started to loosen its grip over me. I felt more free to experiment, put myself in situations that I’d avoid previously, and I learned some tools for managing the anxiety.
I also got better at public speaking and sharing my ideas with others. At the end of the 10 week treatment program, I was asked to commit to continue the journey of doing the very thing that scares me on an on-going and consistent basis. So, I committed to doing at least one speaking engagement per month for the next year. That year, I reached my goal of 12 speaking engagements and the next year, I did 34.
At some point, I realized I was spending much more time traveling and doing speaking engagements than I was practicing law. So, I made the decision to fully devote my time to building a consulting practice.
I started to run workshops at law firms, speaking at law firm retreats, bar association meetings and in-house legal departments.
It’s unfortunate that we’re taught to think about our careers in such limited terms. Growing up, I only aspired to be a doctor or a lawyer. As a bankruptcy lawyer, I got to see the fullness of the many different career choices people make and the incredible array of possibilities. I once met a client who was generating 7-figures from leasing ATMs to convenience stores.
Once I gave myself the freedom to let go of the identity that I so desperately clung to, the title of “lawyer,” I realized the only thing that kept me from seeing all the different possibilities of what I could do with my life was just myself.
So, my dear readers, if you too have that inner knowing that you’re meant to do something different with your life, if you too have that longing to make a bigger impact in your life and take the road less travelled, know that you’re in good company.
Often, the hardest and the scariest part of the journey is the first step.