I am so curious about how others might respond to title of this post. I suspect more than a few would simply dismiss the topic viewing it as irrelevant. In fact, there was a time in my own life where I would have felt the same; but times have changed. Life has a way of doing that if you really start to listen to what it’s trying to tell you.
I’m a road warrior and have been traveling for years. During this time, I have had the privilege to consult with well over eleven hundred law firms of all shapes and sizes. The opportunity to work with thousands of lawyers in this and other settings has taught me a thing or two, one of which is that happiness matters.
When I made the jump away from practicing law and first hit the road as a risk manager, I was forewarned. “It may be a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, but at some point you’re going to hit a wall. At that point you’re going to need to make a decision. You will need to find a way to keep going or call it quits.” I did hit that wall about a year in and I had to find a way to make the time away work. It is easier now that our five kids are all grown but my continued regular absences still means that my wife and I don’t have a social life that is as active as many of our friends.
Truth be told, I still have my hard days, even after all these years. If too many hard days pile up it can start to feel like my work life is taking too much of a toll. For years when that happened, I pulled out of it by remembering what someone once told me. They worked to have a life as opposed to devoting their life to work. I always valued that comment because it helped me get through some of the tough times. I was able to put things back into their proper perspective. This helped; but ultimately it wasn’t enough. Perhaps it was due to age, but the day came when I started asking questions. Questions like “Is this crazy work life I have really what I want,” “Is this really working for me,” and “Am I happy?”
In my head I hear some readers asking “Fine, so what’s the point?” Before I answer, let me share a bit more about my experiences visiting with firms. I have had staff tell me more times than I can count that the attorney they work for is in over his or her head. I’ll hear things like the attorney never takes a vacation or has too many clients. There is a real worry about the attorney’s overall well-being. I have also had a similar number of conversations with attorneys who all have shared something along the lines of my practice stopped being fun years ago. It was quite clear that there was no real joy in their life anymore. I could only assume that they just never had the courage to do anything about it.
We’ve all heard the lines “Law is a jealous mistress” and “If being an attorney were easy, everyone would be doing it.” So here’s the point. The practice of law isn’t easy and everyone has hard days. That’s normal. When we do, however, the trick is in knowing how to respond to the hard days in a healthy way, particularly if those hard days start piling up. It would be easy to now tell you about how failing to take care of yourself can lead to malpractice claims and whatnot, but that’s not where I want to go. With this post I am trying to encourage you to simply listen to your life and it starts with the question I asked in the title of this post. Are you happy?
If the answer is yes, I think that’s awesome. I truly do. If your answer is no or I’m not sure, I encourage you to take some time and think about what you might do to get to a yes. When those hard days hit, or never seem to go away, look for ways to bring a little more happiness into the picture. This basic step can help keep you in the game over the long-haul. For me, I have been truly blessed to be married to my best friend. Yes, we spend a lot of time apart, but we also prioritize couple time be it a phone call from the road, enjoying cooking a meal together when home, or taking time off together to travel to places we both long to experience. When it gets hard I simply take a few moments to remember who I get to be married to and that makes a big difference because even that thought makes me happier.
While I have been successful in working to have a life, in recent years it’s become more important for me to prioritize making the life I have as fulfilling and enjoyable as it can be. Life’s too short as it is and there is still so much I want to experience. Finding happiness and joy in what I do is fundamental to that equation because my career is so much of who I am as a person. If anyone is truly unhappy in their career, odds are high that they are also truly unhappy in their life. Not good. If you can’t say yes to my question, your life is trying to tell you something. Now is the time to start listening and trying to figure out what to do about it.
There is no one right way to accomplish the task, no one right answer, and no one can do it for you. This one’s your responsibility. All I can do is ask the question and let you run with it or not. That said, I can offer a small place to start thanks to this Pharrell Williams YouTube video. Yes, perhaps it’s a bit silly; but if you have never viewed this before give it a listen and really look at everyone’s face. What they have is contagious. Regardless, do something. Find a way because happiness matters.
As a Risk Manager for ALPS, Mark Bassingthwaighte. Esq. is responsible for developing and delivering new risk management and CLE products and services, risk management consulting, law firm risk evaluations, and writing content for the ALPS 411 blog at www.alps411.com. In his tenure with the company, Mark has conducted over 1,000 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented numerous continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States and written extensively on risk management and technology. Mark received his J.D. from Drake Law School. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org