Reflecting on what's important

Carpe Diem

(Photo credit: Duncan Creamer)

As I sat down to write this post, I found that I couldn’t simply write one of my more typical pieces about technology and law practice management. Not today. Not after last week’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Like everyone else, I was horrified by the loss of so many innocent lives and felt such tremendous grief on behalf of the loved ones of those lost and of those impacted by this terrible tragedy.

When my children came home from school on Friday afternoon, I was overwhelmed with emotion and held back tears as I told them how much I loved them and held them close. My ten year old rolled her eyes and replied “We know, mom. We know.” And despite her eye rolling, that was what was truly important: that they know how important they are to me.

Even so, over the course of the weekend I found myself repeatedly tearing up as I learned more of what transpired in that small New England town that was so similar to my own. The details were heart wrenching and horrific, serving as a stark reminder of how fragile and fleeting our lives are, how precious happiness truly is, and of how important it is to ensure that you are living a life full of joyful, fulfilling moments, both personally and professionally.

Because you only have one life to live. And you never know what’s right around the corner. So it’s so important to do everything you can to make the most of this life, to ensure that your days are filled with happiness, that you have a passion for your job, and that your job allows you the flexibility and time to spend with your loved ones.

Unfortunately, for lawyers, finding happiness and balance is often a difficult proposition, as evidenced by our profession incredibly high rates of depression and suicide. The Abnormal Use blog offers these startling–and sobering–statistics:

A study by Johns Hopkins University found that among more than 100 occupations studied, lawyers were three times more likely to suffer from depression than any other profession.  Ted David, Can Lawyers Learn to Be Happy?, 57 No. 4 Prac. Law 29 (2011).  According to this piece,  “a quality-of-life survey conducted by the North Carolina Bar Association in 1991 reported that almost 26 percent of the bar’s members exhibited symptoms of clinical depression. Almost 12 percent of them said they contemplated suicide at least once each month”…

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among attorneys, after cancer and heart disease.  Thus, the rate of death by suicide for lawyers is nearly six times the suicide rate for the general population.

Why are so many lawyers depressed? Well, in part, it’s because only a very narrow majority of lawyers are satisfied with their legal careers, as explained by Roy Ginsberg in a recent post at Lawyerist, where he explained that according to a  “2007 American Bar Association survey…only 55 percent of lawyers (are) satisfied with their careers.”

For  my fellow lawyers who are unhappy with their current career path, my message is simple: you have a choice. Make a change so that your days will be filled with happiness and a passion for your work–the sooner the better.

You have a choice. You are not trapped, whether you’re an associate or a partner in a firm, an attorney in a governmental agency, in-house counsel, or a solo practitioner. Your law degree is not your prison and your career options are not limited to your current position– or even to the legal field.

You have a choice. Law school and your first (and possibly second and third) legal job(s) may have caused you to lose sight of the person you used to be, the person you always wanted to be, and the person that you now wish you were. Realize that this  may be happening and fight it. Be true to yourself, to your ambitions and your goals. You define who you are and you control your future and your choices. Don’t let anyone else take that control from you.

You have a choice. Take advantage of the new world order. We’re in the midst of a major societal transformation, the likes of which we’ve never before seen. The Internet and technological advances greatly expand your ability to practice law (or not) on your own terms, so do it. Create the job you’ve always wanted.

You have a choice.  Consider the path less traveled. Understand that only you define what constitutes “success.” Never forget that.  If you let others do that for you, then you’re dooming yourself to an existence of lifelong unhappiness. You control your expectations.

You have a choice. You don’t have to “stick it out” if you’re absolutely miserable on your current career path.  Enduring an unhappy, day-to-day existence is pointless at best, and torturous at worst.

So, take this opportunity to reflect on 2012. Examine your life, your career path, and your decisions over the past year. Are you one of the 55% of lawyers who is happy and content? If not, make a change. Seize the day. Make sure that you’re living the life you want to be living.

We’ve all been handed just one life to live, and, as we were tragically reminded last Friday, it can change quite suddenly, when you least expect it. Make the most of this life while you still have it.

–Niki Black

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