Laura Mahr is the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing mindfulness and neuroscience-based coaching, training, and consulting for attorneys and law offices nationwide. I had the opportunity to sit down and interview her about how to use the tools of neuroscience to navigate career changes
Q: What are the common challenges you see lawyers struggle with when navigating career transitions?
I work with many lawyers want to leave behind the unhappiness and overwhelm of their current job and are desperately hoping to find a career where they can feel more balanced.
The most common challenges I see lawyers struggle with are fear and doubt. Doubt that what they most want to happen—like having greater ease, satisfaction, and freedom in their lives–won’t. And fear that the things they don’t want to happen—like destabilization and more
Whether we are contemplating changing jobs, leaving the law, or retiring, making career transitions can feel risky, especially for lawyers.
As lawyers, we are trained to protect our clients by sussing out the worst-case scenario for every situation. While this trait helps us to do our jobs well, it can create problems when we want to make a career shift. “Worst case scenario thinking” can replace our hopes about a better future with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy that can prevent us from taking action. This often leaves us feeling trapped in our current situation.
When we feel trapped, we often criticize ourselves for being stuck and ruminate on self-defeating thoughts that lead to everything from insomnia to anxiety and depression.
Q: What’s one thing lawyers can do (using neuroscience tools) to overcome feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy?
While it’s normal for all of us to grapple with some level of self-doubt, it’s important to learn tools to help us move through the doubt so we don’t stay stuck. Self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy are generally motivated by fear—fear that we can’t handle the unknown situations that await us if we make a change. The antidote to fear is reassurance. Providing ourselves with reassurance is key to navigating transitions with greater ease, moment by moment.
Neuroscience research indicates that one of the most important ways to influence positive change is to alter the way you talk to yourself. I help clients to develop what I call their personal “compassionate coach”—an inner voice that understands and encourages instead of criticizes and resists.
The more often your inner “compassionate coach” encourages you, the more confident you feel about your abilities and the more empowered you feel about handling the transitions ahead.
Q: Can you describe a practice you have your clients do if they are struggling to decide whether to stay in law or leave?
One of my favorite practices weaves together the modalities that are at the core of my resilience philosophy: mindfulness, meditation, emotional intelligence, and neuroscience. It can help bring perspective and calm in reactive moments. You can do it any time, including at work when you may need it the most.
Here’s how it works:
- Notice when you have a negative thought about your job. For example, you read another frustrating email and think, “I’m over this! I’ve got to get out of this job now.”
- Pause and take a breath…or two or three—focus all of your attention on breathing.
- Notice anything you feel. For example, noticing you feel frustrated and tense.
- Think of what you would say to someone that you’re trying to encourage who’s in your situation now; then say it to yourself (your “compassionate coach” voice). For example, “This is rough. You’re juggling a lot right now. Of course you’re frustrated. But you’ve got options. And lots of skills, like your ability to write. If this job doesn’t improve, lots of other places need your skills.”
By taking a moment to notice your thoughts as they are happening, and to calm yourself by breathing, you can prevent negative thoughts and feelings from escalating. You can use this calm and clarity to help you discern if you’re ready to make a career transition. As you feel calmer at work, you may notice that you enjoy your job more, and feel less drawn to making an immediate change. Alternatively, as you feel more calm and confident, you may feel more energized and equipped to find a better professional fit.
If you would like to experience this practice with Laura
Laura Mahr is a resilience coach, consultant, and trainer at Conscious Legal Minds LLC. Her cutting-edge work to prevent burnout and build resilience in the practice of law is informed by over 25 years as a student and teacher of mindfulness meditation and yoga, and a love of neuroscience. She authors the Pathways to Wellbeing column for the North Carolina State Bar Journal and the Mindful Moment column for the North Carolina State Bar Lawyer Assistance Program’s Sidebar publication.