Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then assist others in putting theirs on.
This isn’t just good advice for air travelers, it’s important for lawyers as well.
Google the phrase “put your oxygen mask on first” and you’ll get hundreds of thousands of hits for websites on yoga, leadership, career coaching, parenting, nursing care, avoiding a heart attack, Buddhism, publishing a novel, treating addiction, raising children, fighting fires, surviving college, succeeding in business, having a great marriage and learning to love yourself.
But you will find few if any links to law firms or law-related sites.
Which is odd.
One would think attorneys – who have sworn a professional oath to help others – would instinctively start by helping ourselves.
And yet many of us – far too many, judging by the number of attorneys struggling with stress, alcohol and substance abuse, family dysfunction, malpractice claims, Bar complaints – put Number One at the back of the line.
Following are some suggestions for making sure your mask is securely attached and the oxygen is freely flowing:
- Pay yourself first before paying others. This is a cornerstone of any successful personal finance program. Whenever a dollar comes in, a portion should be set aside for yourself first. Too many lawyers and law firms operate the other way. Everybody else gets paid first, and the attorney keeps what is left – if anything – at the end of the month.
- Finish your own to-do list before complaining that others never finish theirs. The act of completion is empowering. It brings closure and boosts confidence. It clears the deck for the next assignment. Do yourself a favor: roll up your sleeves and tackle those problems – and cases – that you find most repellant. Odds are they aren’t nearly as awful as you imagine.
- Schedule time for yourself before giving it all away to others. Treat yourself like a good friend. Take off early and see a movie. Go to the gym. Get a massage. Brew a cup of tea. Sign up for dance lessons. Ride a bike. Drink lots of water. Take a nap.
- Show up yourself before demanding that others do so. Stop inventing ways to avoid showing up in your professional life. Procrastination, rationalization, ceding key decisions to others. So what if you sometimes swing and miss? Everyone does. The key is to grab a bat and step up to the plate.
- Don’t let little problems grow into crises. Is there a particular case that’s keeping you up at night? Contact Lawyers Mutual and rest easier. Be proactive. Be fearless. Take a trusted colleague to lunch and talk about things that really matter. Don’t be afraid to contact BarCARES or the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program for professional help.
“We cannot be a source of strength unless we nurture our own strength,” says Scott Peck in “The Road Less Traveled.”
So strap on your oxygen mask and start breathing.
Enjoy your life.
And stop apologizing for putting yourself first.
Jay Reeves is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He survived the seventies. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.