But often we make it even harder by forgetting to use one of the most effective Sanity Maintenance Tools (SMT) in our professional toolbox.
I’m talking about Gratitude.
Now hold on just a minute. Before you go running for the exit in fear of yet another motivational psychobabble pep talk, take note:
More than 600 North Carolina attorneys are loving life at this very moment, and each and every one of them – from Benjamin Holland Able to Agnieszka Teresa Zmuda – is filled with Gratitude.
They are among the lucky group of bar applicants who’ve just found out they passed the July bar examination. Their freshly-minted licenses have been carefully packaged, placed in the capable hands of a professional parcel truck driver and are on the way.
Oh joy, oh bliss, oh wonderful UPS carrier!
I don’t personally know any of these new lawyers. I wasn’t there when they got the good news from the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners. But I’ll bet their reactions ranged from “Woo!” to “Woooooooo!”
And I’m sure more than a few said, “I’m so glad that I have that behind me, or … I’m so grateful law school is over … or (fill in the blank here).”
Remember The Feeling?
Gratitude pops up in all sorts of different places: from the courtroom where a death sentence is being commuted, to the break room where you’ve thrown a surprise birthday party for your paralegal.
There are lots of different reasons for Gratitude. In fact, everything is a reason. The sun is out, the sky is blue, your medical scan came out fine, your team won the big game, you finished a case, you collected a fee. You got out of bed today.
And though the circumstances may differ, the feelings of Gratitude are more or less universal: happiness, relief, appreciation, humility, a sense of connectedness. We feel lighter, unburdened. We feel good.
This happy feeling is reason alone to bring Gratitude into your law office.
But there is an even better reason. Gratitude will make your job easier.
Some of the jobs that made the list are: Coal Miner (#1), Lumberjack (#8), Ice Road Trucker (#16) and Crime Scene Cleaner (#20).
Under this criteria, it is not surprising that the law did not make the list. After all, reclining in a leather upholstered chair beats running into a burning building any day. And even the worst messes you are called upon to clean up are probably less awful than a routine day for a Calcutta Sewer Cleaner (#6).
Sure, your stress is high and your future uncertain. But you’re not an Embalming and Grooming Mortuary Specialist (#14). So there’s that, at least.
Putting Gratitude to Work Today
Even so, practicing law in a mad, mad world is no picnic. That’s why it is so important to keep all your Sanity Maintenance Tools – starting with Gratitude – sharp, ready and within easy reach.
Here are some ways to use Gratitude effectively:
Start small. Little gestures mean a lot. A smile, a kind word, a nod of appreciation will brighten someone’s day – and leave you feeling empowered. You don’t have to be an Offshore Oil Rig Worker (#15) to appreciate a sincere “attaboy.”
Count your blessings. Each evening, write down three good things that happened that day. Having trouble coming up with any? Here’s one you can borrow: “I am really, really glad I am not an Alaskan Crab Fisher (#3) and don’t have to drag half-ton nets across icy boat decks in freezing rainstorms.”
Stick with it. Practicing gratitude is like practicing law: the more you do it, the better you get. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Remember: it is always a choice. You can choose to be irritated because your worst client keeps calling. Or you can choose to be grateful that you have at least one client – and a working phone to boot!
Shift your focus. An optimist says the glass is half-full. A grateful person stops obsessing about the glass and gazes instead out the window at the endless ocean on the other side.
Say thank you. Gratitude is a gift that costs nothing, yields quick results and keeps on giving. Send thank-you notes to your clients. Tell them you are glad they came to you. Clients who feel appreciated will pay their bills and come back again.
Embrace the difficulty. Having a hard job is not the worst thing in the world – in fact it might be an advantage. “Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage,” says Scott Belsky on 99U. “Ideas don’t happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the 99 percent perspiration that has become this site’s namesake.”
Congratulations = Gratitude
So congratulations, new admittees! This is your moment.
Your initial euphoria may well fade like the September sunset when you put in your first 80-hour week, or when you have to deal with an especially unpleasant client, or when you realize that while you might well be licensed you are still unemployed and owe a quarter-million dollars in student debt.
But hey, you passed the Bar exam!
And that – along with the fact that you’re not a UN Negotiator (#7) – are two things to be grateful for.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.