I have seen the legal profession from many sides: I grew up in a family of lawyers, became a lawyer myself, worked in private practice and in-house, and now I coach lawyers on their career and life goals.
I have found that most lawyers have brilliant minds, often earn exceptionally well (although they would disagree!) and enjoy high social status.
Yet we lawyers are cursed.
We are cursed with negativity.
This can make our lives pretty miserable if we do not learn how to manage it.
I am obviously generalising heavily here. If you are a lawyer, check out whether the following resonates with you:
Lawyers are drilled to think negatively
Lawyers are first trained and later paid to think negatively. We excel in criticising, enjoy arguing and take intellectual pride in spotting problems and risks. But what starts as a necessary skill over time becomes our default way of engaging with the world.
By the time we realise that negativity does not make a good lawyer, it’s often too late: the negativity has been hardwired into our brain.
How does this work? Well, our brain is constantly reorganising itself by forming new neural connections. A certain way of thinking, like being critical, equates to specific neural pathways that allow us to think this way. The more we cultivate this way of thinking, the stronger those neural pathways become. Suddenly, being critical becomes the default way our brain operates. Our negativity runs on autopilot.
How I used to be a grumpy lawyer
This certainly used to be me, until I cracked the code of my habits. There was a moment when I realised that I had taken on a habit of deconstructing all sorts of pleasures in life with my negativity. A good example is how I tended to be highly critical of theatre plays. When my friends praised the performance of a play we saw together, I was always the one who focused excessively on negative criticism, tainting the experience for everybody.
There was an intellectual pleasure in finding flaws. A part of me believed that it was evidence of my cultural sophistication that I could see flaws that others did not. What nonsense! I blush now when I think of me back then.
The effects of negativity on mental health
Negativity may not be a problem for every lawyer. I know a few very positive and happy ones. For many, though, it seems to be an issue. If you constantly focus on the negatives at work, it’s quite likely that you will bring this pattern into your private life too. You cultivate a distorted, one-sided perception of reality which is rather gloomy – even more so as most lawyers are working in stressful, high-performance jobs.
If we don’t take care of our mindset, the stress at work combined with our focus on negatives can quickly turn into an emotional downward spiral. It can lead to irritation, grumpiness, even depression or physical health issues.
Let me be clear: I don’t advocate focusing solely on the positives either, because this comes with its own challenges. Instead I recommend cultivating a balanced outlook on life by embracing positives and negatives in equal measure.
Negativity does not make a good lawyer
The paradox is that all that negative thinking does not even make a good lawyer. The more senior a lawyer becomes, the better she understands this: a “trusted advisor” applies pragmatism and creativity. She spots opportunities and solutions. Rather than advising that something is not possible, a trusted advisor explains how something can become possible.
This becomes even more important when we transition from being a subject matter expert to a leadership role. Read more on this in my article From Lawyer to Leader: Three Challenges of an In-House Career.
How do you lift the curse?
The obvious antidote to negativity is positivity. But that’s easier said than done when you have practised negativity throughout your career.
Here is a step-by-step growth path for developing a more balanced view of life:
- Explore your patterns of negativity and how they impact on your wellbeing.
- Make a conscious decision to change your mindset.
- Create a list of negative beliefs that you hold about yourself, the world around you and your future. Challenge those beliefs and, where appropriate, create a list of more resourceful ones. Practise those new beliefs as affirmations.
- Make it a sport to catch yourself when you are unnecessarily negative. Then balance your thoughts by adding positive ones.
- Cultivate balanced thinking regularly; for example, by meditating, using affirmations or maintaining a gratitude journal.
Sounds complicated or too much work? Let’s make this simple for you: Book your free Strategy Call here to discuss how negativity may be affecting you and what do do about it.
You can keep all the good aspects of being a lawyer while adding an upgrade of positivity and resourcefulness. How’s that?_________________________________________________________________________
Hans Schumann is an accredited coach and NLP Practitioner offering Executive Coaching, Career Coaching, Stress Coaching, Confidence Coaching and Life Coaching in London or via Skype. He is also the author of the bookFalling in Love With Your Job – How to create more fulfilment and excitement in your career. Click here to request a free Strategy Call.