Last year, I gave a talk at Golden Gate University School of Law on Cultivating a Joyful Legal Career. When the dean for law career services invited me, I secretly panicked. "What do YOU know about joyful legal practice?" said my inner critic. I felt tremendous amount of pressure to come up with the "right answer." Oh, and I had 30 minutes to do this.
I shared my dilemma with my friend, Linda Alvarez. In Linda's typical wisdom, she suggested that I shouldn't be focusing on giving "the answer" but rather, suggesting questions for the audience to consider. Of course! I thought. That makes perfect sense. Each of us has our own idea and definition of a joyful legal career.
For most lawyers, misery is the default. I was no exception. So, how did I go from misery to joy? It was pain. The pain got to be too great. My body was slowly breaking down. My life felt unbearable. It was this pain that brought me to joy.
My secret to finding joy? I made a conscious choice to cultivate a joyful legal practice. It didn't happen overnight and it wasn't easy but what could be more important? Here's how I found joy in my legal practice.
Five Tips for Cultivating a Joyful Legal Career:
Earlier in my career, I spent a lot of time chasing other people's joy thinking it would bring me joy. I was also very strongly driven by a list of things I was "supposed to do." It was when I paused long enough to listen to myself that I started tuning into my own sense of joy.
In today's rapid paced life when we're constantly distracted by external noise, carving out time in your day to pause and listen is critical. When I started listening to myself, I realized all those somatic symptoms -- chronic insomnia, headaches and backaches were all messages. It was giving me clues on the parts of my life that wasn't working.
Keep looking at the bandaged place. That's where the Light enters you. --Rumi
Listening means to cultivate a sense of acceptance to both positive and negative thoughts, emotions and experiences. Often, it's the painful experiences that lights the way.
In my journey to cultivating a joyful legal career, I asked myself the following questions.
How can I be kind to myself?
This was the question Mark Abramson, the instructor for Mindfulness class at Stanford posed. He suggested asking the question then simply allow the question to resonate in your mind -- without demanding answers.
Our brain is amazing at solving problems. Oftentimes, we pose questions like "Why am I such a failure?" When you pose such questions, it reinforces the idea that you are in fact a failure. The question "How can I be kind to myself?" gives the brain an opportunity to rewire itself in a positive way.
Why am I here?
You can pose this question narrowly -- why am I here at this job? Or more broadly -- why am I here on this earth? This question asks us to consider the deeper meaning of our existence.
When do I feel most alive?
This is the ultimate data gathering question. Paying close attention to those moments when you feel most alive can give you a lot of data on what makes you happy or unhappy. When considering this question, look for both positive and negative experiences. Emotions such as anger, frustration, hatred, may be on this list of when you most feel alive.
3) Practice non-doing every day.
With almost constant distraction: email, Twitter, instant messaging, Facebook, Instagram, iPhone, just to name a few, our mind is working overtime continuously. When's the last time you sat silently and practiced non-doing? It's interesting to note that in every religion, there's a practice of sitting silently. When I sit to meditate, it's a practice in simply being.
4) Practice patience.
This is probably one of the hardest practice for me. There is a natural cycle. Balancing my life so that I have the right amount of work and play requires daily effort. I have found gardening and cooking to be great teachers of patience. You can't rush the seed that you planted in the ground. In practicing patience, I practice trusting. Trust in myself that I'll be able to overcome whatever challenges or obstacles lies ahead. Trusting in life's natural process of unfolding and revealing itself.
5) Finding my tribe
Finally, finding my tribe, others who are also committed to cultivating a joyful life has been absolutely key.
I'd love to hear from you! What tips do you have to offer for cultivating a joyful legal career?