Have you been practicing awhile but don’t find that your income is rising in proportion with your age?
If so, you might be suffering from what economists call a decline in your “return to experience.”
“The return to experience is a way to describe what you get in return for aging,” says this article. “[It] tends to be higher for more skilled jobs: a doctor might expect the line between what she earns in her first year and what she earns in her fifties to rise in a satisfyingly steady upward trajectory; a coal miner might find it depressingly flat.”
According to traditional economic theory, the longer you do a job, the more skilled you become at it – and the more you get paid for it.
But globalization, technology and an information economy have changed all that. Jobs have disappeared and wages are stagnant. Workers – particularly blue collar laborers lacking a college education – have been hardest hit.
The trend was highlighted in a famous 2015 study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who showed that over the past 25 years mortality has soared for middle-aged white Americans while falling or staying flat for other groups.
Working-class whites, they concluded, were succumbing to “deaths of despair” from suicide, opioid overdoses and chronic alcoholism.
Now the pair has published follow-up research suggesting their despair comes from the realization that their years of experience are no longer paying off.
Could the same phenomenon apply to lawyers as well?
Beyond Dollars and Cents
If we determine our personal worth according to external circumstances – such as income or job title – we fall into a trap. A pay raise or promotion will provide a temporary boost. But when the sugar high recedes, we will crave more and more. Over the long haul, this is not sustainable.
On the other hand, if we derive our self-worth from who we are and not what we do, we can make ourselves invulnerable to outside forces.
This was made clear in a landmark study at the University of Michigan. Researchers found that students who defined their personal worth according to external factors (such as grades, class rank, physical appearance, approval of others) reported higher rates of stress, anger and relationship conflicts. They were also more prone to eating disorders and substance abuse.
By contrast, students who based their self-worth on internal sources had better grades and fewer health problems.
Tapping Into Internal Sources of Wealth
Here are six ways to make sure you always receive a positive return on your experience in the law.
- Don’t lose yourself in your job. Seek balance in your life. Spend time with your family. Take a vacation. Try a new hobby.
- Let go of expectations. Stop listening to your inner critic who says you aren’t good enough or successful enough.
- Let go of competition. Stop comparing and contrasting. There will always be others who are richer, smarter or more beautiful than you are.
- Surround yourself with healthy people. Avoid people whose friendship comes with strings attached.
- Be present. You are where you are. Accepting life as it is – not as you wish it would be – is a pathway to inner peace.
- Step away from the madness. Choose one or more from the following menu: meditation, silence, exercise, yoga, prayer, music, coffee with a friend, a walk in the woods.
What do you do to keep your sense of personal value intact? Send us your insights.
- The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/news/benjamin-wallace-wells/the-despair-of-learning-that-experience-no-longer-matters
- Brookings Papers on Economic Activity https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/6_casedeaton.pdf