No, It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Many of my clients are well-respected attorneys, educated, and successful. They seemingly have it all but they are constantly grappling with the question

Is this sustainable?

Do I want to live like this forever?

They dream of a practice with better culture, fewer hours, a place that is more women-friendly, family-friendly. A place where the co-workers and clients act like civilized humans rather than tantrum-y children and junior high bullies.

Early on, many of us realize that working 70 hours/week does not create a happy life, no matter the paycheck. It is not exactly the life you dreamt of. We hate that having a family is often seen as a detriment to our career. We struggle with the notion that our personal lives must be planned taking consideration where we want our career to go. We stew and we ponder:

How can I make practicing law more live-able?

For many women, these thoughts eventually get drowned out by the rest of life. They continue their precarious balance, never truly happy or comfortable with the life they have chosen but willing to just keep going. They are good at it. They know that life. It is familiar. And it pays well. Leave it alone. Some weeks it’s okay, some weeks it’s hard to get out of bed. So be it.

We are not wired to voice our needs or ask for something better.

Our brains are designed to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and maintain efficiency. This means that whenever we begin to wonder and question why things can’t be different, what can I do to make this work for me? We are forcing our brain to take a pit stop and examine these matters. Our brains promptly remind us that

We make plenty of money.

We are well-respected.

This is just how it is.

You aren’t going to change it.

Don’t rock the boat.

Don’t be a trouble maker.

Your brain reminds you why those worries and thoughts and dreams aren’t important. Your brain wants you back on the hamster wheel, running the same routine we are so good at. This is your brain playing it safe. Keeping you in the cave. The very notion of rocking the boat triggers two of your biological responses–stay safe and be efficient. Don’t challenge authority and keep doing what you know. Stick to the plan, kiddo.

When we decide to do something new or scary, our brain’s survival mechanisms kick in.

While we may be saying to ourselves, I’m going to start leaving the office at 4:30 everyday, our brains start screaming

RETREAT! Stay with the herd! Don’t challenge the norms! Don’t rock the boat! You’re going to get in trouble. They will cut your pay. The Board will hear about it. You’re going to have to explain this!

I recently had a mini-session with an attorney and her big dream was to start her own firm. In response to her ambition, her brain was telling her

You can’t do this. You haven’t practiced long enough. No one will hire me. You won’t figure it out.

Those thoughts were her brain’s version of “Retreat! Stay in the cave.” None of those thoughts were true. None of them were factual. They were optional sentences her freaked out brain was offering her.

This is normal. This is biology.

This does not mean you are doing it wrong. In fact ,when you experience fear or anxiety while you are taking action toward your dream, you can rest assured you are doing it right. That discomfort is proof that you are forcing your brain to run a new pattern–no more of this lemming crap, forge your own path. No more of the old thoughts and routines.

This is not how is has to be. You can stimulate change and ask for what you want.

If you want to start leaving a 4:30 every day. Ask for it. If you want to be allowed to run your own cases. Ask for it. If you want to take the big deposition on your own. Ask for it.

It’s going to be awkward. It’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to force you to use muscles you haven’t used before. Decide what you need to do to grow your practice, to develop, to make your life more manageable and start thinking

How can I make this work for me? How can I ask the firm to support me in making this sustainable for me? What do I need to do to develop?

What is the alternative?

Waiting for someone to read your mind and offer you exactly what you want and need? When do you suppose that will happen? Why are you giving them all the control?

If there was a way for me to teach you how to get law firms to give us what we need, I would teach it to you but it doesn’t exist.

You are going to have to find your own voice.

If you have a big goal and your brain is not freaking out, your goal isn’t big enough. If you aren’t uncomfortable as you are building your practice and making your dreams a reality, you are not trying hard enough. You are not dreaming big enough. You are just a hamster on a wheel with a brain that is content in the cave.

Change is supposed to be hard. Change requires you to do things and think things you never have before. It requires you to evolve. It requires you to become a different version of yourself.

Are you choosing to be stuck?

Are you choosing a life of comfort and familiarity?

What is that costing you?

Is this what you want your story to be?

We must set big goals to grow. Doing this will make us uncomfortable. It will trigger our biological responses to run away. Anticipate that resistance and do it anyway. It doesn’t “have to be this way.” Let’s shake it up a bit.

Life is whatever you choose to make it.

What are you choosing? Do you like your reasons?


Photo by Semina Psichogiopoulou on Unsplash