When You’re Miserable Despite Success

 

“I feel so miserable and the feeling of misery is making me feel guilty.” In speaking with hundreds of lawyers from across the country, this feeling of discontent — when there is every indication that you should feel happy — is a common one.

The lawyer will tell me a list of her accomplishments. Always thriving in academics, going to a good law school, getting the right job, accomplishing career success, making partner, buying the three-bedroom house (or maybe buying a vacation house), earning a good living. Yet, there’s a persistent and disturbing voice inside that says, “I am really unhappy.”

That is a scary feeling. Having spent so much time following the rules, checking off the to-do list, measuring yourself by some external yardstick for success only to realize it doesn’t deliver happiness. In fact, just the opposite. The more you follow the prescription, the worse you feel.

I was in my 30’s when I started to have that nagging feeling that perhaps this dream I had all of my life of being a lawyer was no longer right for me. To be clear, that voice scared the hell out of me. When those thoughts first started, I gave myself a very stern pep talk. After all, the law had been a great career up until that point. I loved being a lawyer. I had a thriving small law practice with my husband (it doesn’t get much better than that). I was my own boss.

Yet, deep inside, I knew I should do something different.

But here’s the thing. I had no idea what that something was. I felt as though I was cheating on The Law even by entertaining these ideas. It felt unfaithful somehow.

Law was all that I had aspired to do since I was a child. It was all that I knew how to do. I couldn’t imagine not having the title of a lawyer. I also believed there was nothing else I could do.

Eventually, that nagging voice turned into anxiety, sadness, and depression.

Lawyers frequently ask me how I started teaching mindfulness and meditation to lawyers. I didn’t set out to do this work. The work found me.

I went through an intensive 8-week program and learned the tools of mindfulness to manage my anxiety and depression. What I got out of it was so much more.

What it taught me was to slow down, stop reacting from a place of fear, embrace uncertainty and reclaim a sense of wholeness. I learned to let go of all the negative inner dialogue about not being good enough, not being smart enough, all the variations of “not enough.”

This wasn’t an easy journey nor have I reached the end.

One of the things I enjoy the most about my work is helping lawyers find joy and satisfaction in their life — in or out of the law. The ultimate question isn’t just about whether you stay or leave your current job but rather, gaining a greater understanding of yourself, to cultivate a life filled with curiosity and creativity.

If you are interested in joining me for a 6-month Lawyers in Transition workshop, please complete this short survey.