Laywers: Do more stuff you love!

Changing your internal values to be happier and do more of the stuff you love. I have a family member who loves to talk about how busy they are. On and on and on about how busy their life is. This person doesn't get a lot done. They're disorganised. They have to redo everything. But, they love to feel busy and tell everyone how busy they are. If only they knew how busy I was! Uh oh... Maybe we're not so different!

Many of us fall into this “busy” trap. Valuing ourselves on our apparent output. Self-assessing how we spend our time against a personal standard. A standard that means nothing to anyone else. A standard we have created in our heads and that no one else judges us on. We then project our ability to live up to this standard out on the world, so we can feel better about ourselves.

Why does this matter to you? Well, so many lawyers are “too busy”. Too busy to look after their health. Too busy to do a meditation, or go for a walk, or hit the gym, or do a photography class, or spend an hour in the bath... We use this "busy-ness" to justify missing out on doing the things we love. It ends up playing a part in losing your motivation to try new stuff. New things that could actually make you happier.

Conditioned to be a work bot

For many of us, the problem starts (and ends) between our ears. We are conditioned to believe nothing in life matters more than our work output. For some of us, the only achievements we have ever really been proud of are in study and work. It's the Protestant work ethic; valuing your work higher than other things in your life. This can lead to real imbalance.

For me, it tends to materialise as guilt about finding time to do other things that I love. It's crazy when you think about it. Why would I be guilty finding 5 hours a week to workout, when I spend ten times that sitting at my desk and double that commuting? Clearly, if I'm feeling guilty about these small indulgences, there is something wrong with the value I place on work.

This way of thinking is pervasive in society, not only for us lawyers. It manifests in everything, from the way products are sold to us, to the way we are supposed to “keep up with the Joneses”. In the legal profession, there is a real sense of ego around what some lawyers do vs. what other lawyers do. There is a huge amount of status around going to the best firm, or doing the best clerkship, or being the first to get that promotion. I got wrapped up in this status as a law student and young lawyer. I wanted to “be the best I could be”. But, the way I defined that, and the status I wanted from it, meant that a top-tier firm or Supreme Court Associateship were the only options. I never even saw anything else outside of that.

Upon reflection, this is crazy. There are so many options that are just as worthy. But, I had the status sold to me through the law school job fairs and firm marketing, and I didn't know any better. This is not to say you don't want to always do your best. Doing your best is critical and something you should pursue throughout your life. But, what is actually your best? The best value you can give? The best stuff you can get? The best thing that can lead to something else in 5 years' time? What makes you feel the best? These are the questions to be asking yourself and reflecting upon honestly.

How did I get here?

So much of it begins with the way we are brought up and the way we attribute value to things. I was always that kid that had comments on my report card saying “Michael has so much potential”. Obviously, I wasn't living up to it! The thing is, these comments build up.

Ultimately, we create this gigantic straw man out of being “successful”. Society, and our own actions, brainwash us about what that success looks like. I say brainwash, because it is clear from studies on happiness, fulfilment and contentment, that a lot of these “success” goals don't make us happy.

Look at the recent “What Makes Lawyers Happy?: A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success” study. What actually makes lawyers happy isn't the big promotion, the law review or the prestige. What makes lawyers happy is autonomy, relatedness and competence. The big take away from this study is that we are conditioned to pursue things that ultimately don't make us happy!! No wonder so many people get to a point in their career when they “have it all”, but still feel hollow and unfulfilled.

That said, I'm not saying work doesn't make me feel good. The point is that it doesn't make sense that I would put things I love doing so far down the list and place so much value on work.

How can you fix it?

It has to start with asking yourself some difficult questions. Have I been pursuing things that don't make me happy? Is my ego so wrapped up in being something that I don't want to be? Do I have enough opportunity to do the things I value?

Maybe you don't have an answer, and that's ok. Sometimes getting to that answer will require some work and some experience. I'm a big fan of trying new things and trying to see if I feel different by approaching things in a different way. This might mean you go from not walking at all to doing two a week. Or, from never sleeping in to allowing yourself one morning a week. See how it feels. Think about how crazy it is to feel guilty for these small things, and build on it.

Give yourself permission to do more stuff you love.

Being more thankful and self-reflective is a huge part of beating this mentality. Give yourself a break. You're doing very well; better than 99% of all the earth's population. Learning to be thankful can relieve so much of the stress.

Finally, smell the roses, look up and breathe... Simply being more present and mindful is powerful.