Tag Archives: self care for attorneys

The Professional's All Encompassing Dilemma

The Enemy Within

As an attorney or similar professional, you know the importance of identifying and addressing hurdles to peak performance. Like many of us, you may already function at maximum capacity but still fall far short of delivering your highest and best sustained potential.bigstock-Ebusiness-Competition-2782154

Perhaps more than any other, the highly secularized Legal profession imposes this sustained demand on each of us. A typical benefit/burden summary may look something like this:

The Benefits:

  • Tremendous Altruistic Outlets
  • Superior Incomes & Perks
  • Local/Global Recognition & Prestige
  • Intellectual Challenges
  • Vertical as well as Horizontal Mobility
  • Wide diversity of practice & environment

The Burdens:

  • Obscenely long hours
  • Crushing Educational Costs & Debt
  • Endless Tedium, Conflict & Incivility
  • Diminishing Autonomy
  • Personal & Professional Disenchantment/Burnout
  • Spiritual Bankruptcy & Amoral or Relativistic Thinking
  • Increased potential for substance abuse, reliance & dependence

Many of us have become slaves to our occupations– at the cost of an equal and committed emphasis on our own enjoyment of life and living. Consciously or unconsciously, many of us have traded our long term dreams of personal fulfillment, growth and development for a future security that never materializes.  In the early years, our hard work and long hours, may seemingly pay off with bonuses, raises, awards and advancement within our organizations.  However, in the struggle to “achieve,” we may also distance ourselves from those closest to us: our spouses, children, extended family, neighbors and friends.

Laboring under today’s “New Workaholism”— working harder, working longer, expending your energies so that little is left for yourself and your family– you may feel emotionally disengaged not only from your work, but from those people, dreams and values that once sustained and inspired your efforts. Have you noticed, the higher up the ladder you ascend, in the Firm or the Board Room, the less likely your colleagues care whether you are genuinely fulfilled?

Personal fulfillment– that enduring internal sense that what you do has greater meaning beyond the effort that goes into it— is rarely a benefit for which employment bargains are struck, partnerships established, or mergers and acquisitions completed.  Only recently, in a minority of firms and organizations, are people-managers beginning to comprehend the inherent value of work-life balance.

Whether you are a Managing Partner or a C-Suite Executive, an Associate with partnership or other executive aspirations, or the newest member of the professional support or operational staff, you know we each must perform to the fullest of our abilities consistently throughout our careers.

Compounding the relentless, full-court press of the new workaholism is the dehumanizing objectivity our profession and those closely aligned with it demands. If we are people of faith, our professional objectivity is usually at odds with or simply deaf to the deeper moral mandates of our individual faith traditions.

The scriptural mandates to which we once subscribed are now subordinated to the secularized objectivity the “zealous” advocacy of our clients’ interests’ demands. And our “legal personalities” — those qualities that make us effective or highly regarded in our respective specialties– often fail to translate well into our personal lives and relationships. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, how is it we consistently fail to accomplish the good we wish to accomplish but succeed in repeatedly accomplishing the bad we seek to avoid?

In addition to adapting ourselves to our ever changing professional landscapes, we must also identify, nurture and develop the raw talent of those hoping to succeed to higher positions within our organizations. Often called “succession planning,” this is how we sustain our organizational visions– and by extension, our continuing livelihoods– over time.

Coaching is a demonstrated means of surmounting the pitfalls of the new workaholism. Coaching produces invaluable insights into our own hidden attitudes, beliefs and emotions — what I call the “silent motivators” — that create the foundations for workaholism and career burnout to occur.  In the absence of clarity and awareness, our own silent motivators rob us of a meaningful compass and a plan for regaining our direction. In response to your own silent motivators, Coaching can help to:

  • determine whether you’re a victim of the new workaholism & understand its effects on your long term happiness, performance, productivity and profitability;
  • clarify the signals– the silent motivators– that are often symptomatic of the new workaholism and decide whether these motivators reflect your true values and authentic self;
  • identify those habitual behaviors– mental or physical– that influence your actions but which are not products of your thoughtful and deliberate choices.
  • define or refine those deeply held values that are constitutive of your true identity and character;
  • develop an action plan to regain the high ground of sustained personal and professional fulfillment by achieving the life balance that is right for you across all your active domains.

Ours is a culture that worships the work ethic, overachievement and material success. However, workaholism and burnout are the too-frequently ignored byproducts of our cultural preoccupation with these characteristics.

Thinking about workaholism, we should be mindful that even the God of Scripture rested on the seventh day.  Whatever else this may have meant to its writer and his intended audience, rest, balance and relaxation are necessary ingredients for a joyful and purposeful existence.

When we work to the point of excluding our family, friends, social connections and other relationships, our life is off balance and we court disaster.

Some signs of workaholism include:

A) trouble delegating;

B) neglecting or ignoring non-work-related connections;

C) joining non-work-related tasks with your occupation or profession;

D) linking your self worth exclusively to occupational accomplishments;

E) an inability to treat non work related time as non work related time.

These characteristics create concerns for one’s life quality because, like the alcoholic or addict, the workaholic can be either blind or in denial toward the signs and signals that differential unhealthy workaholism from diligence and hard work.  Failing to take needed rest periods– mental-health days or well earned vacations– continually taking on more than you can effectively manage instead of simply delegating tasks appropriately, ultimately yields poor performance, disorganization and an array of cognitive and health related issues.

Coaching is a demonstrated intervention strategy for unearthing signs of workaholism in your life and addressing the onset of its peculiar influence in each of your active domains of influence.  If you think you might be a workaholic, having a Coach may be of value in development a self-care plan.  Reflecting on the quality and value you assign yourself, your life’s work and your workplace, your recreational pursuits, your relationships with family and friends and your spirituality, Coaching may yield valuable insights concerning the deeper connections between your preoccupation with work and your ultimate experience of deep meaning and sustained personal fulfillment.