Editors Note: This article was originally published in GPSolo, May/June 2015 issue. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
(This is the second half of the article. You can read the first part here.)
5. Consider That This Experience Will Make You More Resilient
Resilience is your ability to bounce back from adversity. Life will throw many challenges at you, both in and out of law. How you’re able to overcome these obstacles is key to your success.
There is a growing body of research indicating that resilience is something that can be cultivated. Some ways of doing so include:
- Practice cognitive restructuring. Recognize that your thoughts are not facts. Let’s imagine you’re at a hearing and the judge says, “Well, what about the decision in Smith vs. Jones? Why shouldn’t that apply in this case?” Assuming you have no idea what the judge is talking about, your mind might think, “I didn’t prepare enough. I’m a bad lawyer.” You can use cognitive restructuring and challenge your thoughts by saying, “I spent all the time I possibly could to prepare for this hearing. I did the best I can. And I am a good lawyer.”
- Reaction vs. response. When things don’t go according to plan, it’s easy to have knee-jerk reactions. Everyone can recall a time when we said or did something we later regretted. Learning different tools to moderate our emotions so that we can choose a wise response is part of cultivating resilience.
- Build your self-confidence. Mastery helps to build self-confidence. I recommend doing something outside of the law where you can experience a sense of mastery. This may be signing up for a class such as painting, pottery, improv, yoga, martial arts, etc.
Think back to difficult experiences from your past and see what helped you overcome those challenges. Bring these tools into your life and fill your toolbox full of different tools for increasing resiliency.
6. Recognize That Everyone Experiences Failure
One way you can cultivate resilience is by recognizing that difficulties, adversities, failures, and suffering are part of every human experience. When you’re in the middle of going through the experience, it can feel incredibly isolating. This is especially true in the law, where emotions aren’t always welcomed and we spend a lot of time creating a facade, justifiable or not, that everything is just fine.
Recognizing that many people face similar obstacles — or have faced and overcome them — may give you some comfort. Consider sharing what you’re going through with a trusted friend or mentor. Often, having someone truly hear you is enough to help you feel better about the situation.
7. Reframe Failure as Experience
What if you can reframe this experience not as a failure but simply an event in your life? It may be an unpleasant, undesirable event, but why label it a failure? When I think back to those events that I considered to be failures, they actually weren’t. If I didn’t fail the New York Bar, I probably wouldn’t have moved to Florida. If I didn’t get fired from my job, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in California where I met my husband. Now we have a successful bankruptcy practice together.
We are so trained to fear failure. Is there something that can be celebrated about the experience? Is there something positive that you can take away from the event? What if, instead of seeing these experiences as “failures,” you can reframe them and see them as experiments? This way of thinking is common in Design Thinking, an approach in which you’re encouraged to come up with an idea, make a prototype, and test as many ideas as possible. There is no such thing as a failure in Design Thinking — just the verification or disproving of an idea or theory.
8. Feel the Emotion, Then Move On
When we experience these challenging life events, it’s perfectly natural to experience a whole host of emotions including shame, anger, sorrow, sadness, frustration, and doubt. These are very uncomfortable emotions, and we naturally want to avoid them.
However, avoiding your emotions is as useless as trying to shove a beach ball into the swimming pool. Soon or later, it will bounce back with more force. The way to work with these emotions is to allow yourself to be with them.
Here’s a healthy way of working through your emotions:
- First, identify the emotion. Notice how it feels in your body. Does your stomach clench? Does your heart rate increase? Do you notice tension in your arms and legs? These somatic experiences give us a lot of information about what we feel. Instead of thinking about the emotion, for example, “I feel sorrow,” notice how sorrow feels in your body.
- Next, set a timer for five minutes, lay down in a comfortable position, then notice whatever sensations you feel in your body. You can gently bring your attention to how you feel and practice diaphragmatic breathing. We tend to try and work through our emotions by thinking about them. However, thinking about how sad you feel will rarely help you to not feel sad. Being with your body sensations, experiencing sadness, and releasing the physical sensations will go a long way in helping you resolve your emotions.
There is a saying in psychology: “move your body, change your thought.” If you find yourself trapped in your mind, unable to break away from the thoughts or emotions, do something to move your body. Consider practicing yoga, qigong, or other similar practices that combine movement with meditation. If that’s not for you, hit the weight room, go for a run, or swim some laps.
9. See Failure as a Preparation for Delight
Whatever setback you are experiencing today, you can’t possibly know the full extent of the long-term impact of your experience. Yes, it’s possible that getting fired from a job might impact your legal career negatively, at least temporarily. It’s also possible, however, that a job that’s perfect for you is waiting around the corner. As a young lawyer, you may feel as if every bump, every obstacle, every setback will bring a premature end to your legal career. Try to have a broader perspective. Your legal career will be long, and it’s highly unlikely that any single setback will permanently define who you are as a lawyer.
10. Find Support
The practice of law can be a very isolating experience. It can feel as though you’re the only one experiencing setbacks and everyone else is doing just fine. If you do not have people in your life with whom you feel comfortable sharing your difficulties, consider seeking professional help from a therapist.
Remember, your law career is a life long journey. It’s not a linear experience. Being a lawyer is hard! Practice being kind with yourself. Find healthy and constructive ways of practicing self-care.
This article previously appeared on Above the Law.