I am, by nature, an optimistic person, but it turns out most lawyers aren’t. The pessimistic lawyer is never hard to come by. No doubt, they excel at their job given their natural ability to find problems well before they arise. The challenge for the pessimistic lawyer is not to turn that pessimistic mindset to their life beyond the cases on their desk.
Some of us are naturally more ‘glass half full’ than others, but optimism is something you can create. This is the beautiful thing about how we think. You are in charge of your own thoughts and you can change them, training your brain to think in a particular way and changing what you are doing. I don’t mean in the career sense; I mean in the day-to-day, living your life, caught up in the hustle and bustle sense. If you can change your mind and be present, and change your actions to be consistent with that, you will be well on your way to achieving an optimistic outlook. When we feel rushed or disorganised, it is much harder to maintain optimism. By focusing on the moment – slowing down and being mindful – you give yourself the best chance to find the good in the challenge.
Sometimes, we lawyers expect too much of our careers when it comes to our happiness. Work as a lawyer is hard – it is a profession where we spend our days getting people out of chaos, conflict and often life-changing situations. We are a profession that’s there to help, but, sadly, the people we help are rarely happy at the time we are working with them. We are often a part of them finding happiness again, but we rarely see the impact of our hard work.
When it comes to being a happy person, lawyer or not, a positive, optimistic approach is key. Optimistic people handle stress better, get sick less and even live longer. Now, why wouldn’t we want that?
An optimistic attitude is affected by three things- how you think, what you do and how you feel. It is much easier to change how you think or what you do than it is to change how you feel. But where so many of us get stuck is that we focus on trying to change how we feel without making any shift in how we think or what we are doing.
Those lawyers whom I consider happy have a particular attitude towards their life. They have a positive mindset. They actively practise kindness, gratitude and empathy and, when faced with a challenge, they are able to take a deep breath and tackle it head on. These happy lawyers are quick to take responsibility when they haven’t lived up to their own expectations, but they rarely judge the decisions or actions of others. They are compassionate, well-meaning and very mindful.
We are in control of our own thoughts and, as such, we can choose to be more positive, more optimistic – to see the world as if it is always a glass half full. Here are a few ideas to kick-start your positive attitude:
Each day, I take a moment to count my blessings, to pause and reflect on those things for which I am grateful. When things are going well, this is easy, but when things are tough, it is hard even to want to be grateful. Those are the times I find I need it most. Positive psychology research consistently associates gratitude with greater happiness. Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, see the good in any experience, manage adversity and, importantly, build strong relationships. So why not give it a go? Make gratitude part of your daily rituals. It will take no more than a minute but can be a lot of fun, particularly if you get your kids and partner or friends and colleagues involved. A great way of starting this is using a gratitude journal or jar. At the end of each day, write down three things you are grateful for. I do this with my daughter each night as I put her to bed, saying simply, ‘Tell me three great things that happened today.’ The answers always bring a smile to my face. Try it with yourself, your partner and your kids, and you might be surprised at the fun you can have. Writing it down means you will have a lovely record to look back on when times are not so easy.
Kindness is a trait I live and breathe. It takes so little to demonstrate kindness and it is certainly something I cherish in return. Kindness and happiness go hand in hand for me. Kindness may be different for each of us, but I sense it comes back to good, old-fashioned values – having good manners, treating others fairly and with respect, being curious but not judgmental, and remembering that we never really know what is happening in another person’s life. When people are challenging me, I adopt the motto ‘kill them with kindness’, and it works. Research has also shown a link between kindness and happiness. Happier people are kinder and kinder people are happier. By engaging in random acts of kindness, you can improve your own happiness levels. So go on, get out there and be kind to everyone around you!
Find opportunity in difficulty
We lawyers are not great when it comes to making mistakes. In fact, I have worked with many a lawyer who will swear to you they have never made a mistake in their life. Now, for one, that is just not possible, and for another, mistakes aren’t a bad thing – they are the breeding ground of great opportunities. Look for the silver linings. You will make mistakes and you will face periods of challenge in your life, but if you can train your brain to look for the learnings and the opportunities, you will start to deal with these moments differently. Working with divorcing couples every day, I have seen the wonderful opportunities that come from such periods of challenge. So many of my clients go on after their divorce to form great new relationships, start new jobs or even build new businesses, and but for their divorce – that moment that shook their life and turned it upside down – they would never have ended up where they are.
Perhaps you or someone around you has found themselves making an error of judgment. If you take the time daily to reflect, to come at the world from that place of curiosity, you will find yourself much better able to deal with challenges. We have all done things from time to time that we are not proud of, and we will all do more things in the future that may not come from our best selves. The action is not the issue; it is our ability to pause and reflect upon, take responsibility for, and learn from these moments that will keep us pushing forward on our path of happiness.
Surround yourself with positive people
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the people you spend your time with will have an impact on how you think and feel. If you can’t find great, positive people in the law, then look outside it. Reconnect with old friends or find new ones; just try to find positive people to spend your time with. Optimism is contagious. The other side of this coin is just as important. Negative people, those who just want to pull you down, will prevent you from finding that optimistic attitude and overall happiness. This means we might need to say a kind ‘goodbye’ to some of the people in our lives, or at least be aware of their impact on our mindset and limit our time with them.
Manage your own expectations
Let’s be realistic, the life of a lawyer is hard work. It often involves long days at a desk, little positive communication with others and many thankless tasks as we go about trying to mop up the mess in other people’s lives. I have come to believe that many young lawyers struggle because their expectations of what ‘lawyer life’ will look like are a little too far removed from reality. I encourage you to ‘run your own race’. Don’t worry about what those around you are doing – focus on you, set your own goals and manage your own expectations accordingly. My test for myself is what I call the ‘Am I proud?’ bar. When it comes to my life, when all is said and done, can I honestly look at myself and what I have done and feel proud? As long as I feel proud, I don’t mind what anyone else thinks. I am running my own race, in my own time, at my own pace, and at the end of it all, I only have myself to answer to. Law is full of high achievers. Many students go into law school having been top of their class, only to be surrounded by hundreds of others who are brighter, smarter and faster than they are. In the workplace, you are surrounded by people who are better than you at all sorts of things. This can be a little soul-destroying, if you let it. But just think – our Judges didn’t rise to the top of their trade in the first two years of their careers. They worked hard for many years and are still working hard, learning and getting better and better. Manage your expectations and follow their example if you want to reach the top. If you are new to this career or perhaps still studying, try to be real with yourself from the outset. There is so much to learn. Embrace that and enjoy it. Don’t be disappointed if you’re not made partner by the time you’re thirty.
Have a sense of humour –
The happy lawyers in my life are always the first to have a laugh, particularly at themselves. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They appreciate that life is full of bigger issues and use humour as a great tool to get themselves through. Never underestimate the power of a good laugh. Remember that, aside from exercise, laughter is one of the quickest ways to get a release of endorphins into your body.
If you change how you think and what you do on a daily basis, you will change how you feel. A happy lawyer has a positive attitude. They aim to be mindfully present. They live in the moment and look for the good in any situation. They appreciate what they have rather than always looking for what they don’t.
Health is the first building block of a happy lawyer and attitude is the second. Without your health, all the positive thinking in the world won’t make you happy. But once you have your health under control, your mindset will make all the difference.
Clarissa Rayward is a Divorce Lawyer and the Owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. over the past 14 years, Clarissa has worked with over 2000 families during separation and divorce. She specialises in assisting her clients to experience a dignified divorce- staying away from the Court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future. This past year Clarissa has begun to tackle the challenging issue of unhappiness in the legal profession through her writing and weekly Podcast ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ where once a week she interviews lawyers who have found a way to maintain a successful career in the law while not giving up their life outside of their career.
In January 2017 Clarissa publisher her second book, ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to the be Happy in Law and Life’ and launched the first ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ online course, helping lawyers nationwide to better understand how they can drive happiness in their careers.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 15 minute phone appointment with Clarissa or one of her team here.
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