Dear Amicus Agony,
I used to think that the incredulous turnover/burnout/leaving-the-industry rates were myths (or at least exaggerations). Now, it’s been a bare few years in and easily half of my friends and batchmates have left practice! It doesn’t help that even my colleagues are in constant talk of leaving (or have left or are leaving) for another firm or another career.
Honestly, I do enjoy practice, but I can’t say that I enjoy the long hours and lifestyle (or lack of) that come along with the profession. I’m perpetually exhausted as I rarely clock in more than five hours of sleep on weekdays, and work at least half of my weekends away. I’ve drifted from people important to me, because my family fail to completely understand the demands of my work, and I’m constantly cancelling on plans I’ve made with friends due to work commitments. I’m barely able to exercise or partake in my old hobbies because finding pockets of time is incredibly difficult, and even when I can, I’m more inclined to sneak in a nap. I’m not entirely a fan of alcohol, but drinking has become a habit and an inherent part of my life because most places aren’t open by the time I can get a breather. It’s the way my colleagues bond, and it’s important for client events.
I used to be ambitious and driven, as well as very passionate about what I was doing. For a while now, I feel like I’ve been losing bits of myself along the way, and I don’t want to become (or perhaps admit that I’ve become) one of the people who hate their jobs/day-to-day lives/themselves for the choices they made. At the same time, I also don’t want to give up on practice – What can I do? Advice would be much appreciated, many thanks.
Take a moment to read what you just wrote. What would you say to someone if they told you that? How would you advise them? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to life. There’s no perfect job, no perfect firm, no perfect career, no perfect family, no perfect friend, no perfect person. That, is how life is, and – that’s alright. You are doing alright, you are alright. Remember that.
Whenever you feel like you are stuck, whether you’re not sure how to move forward or you can’t move forward or you just don’t want to move at all, remember: this isn’t the only time you have felt this way, nor will it be the only way you will feel like. Sometime in the distant or not too distant past, you felt this way. You had a laundry list of complaints, problems and troubles; you had conflicts with life, the world and yourself; you did not think you’d be able to move forward. But you did. You woke up every single day, you got your work done, you pushed through. You found enough reason to do what you’re doing, to go where you’re going, to become who you’re becoming.
And just like you did before, you will now. Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to think. Take a moment to be grateful. Take a moment to celebrate life, the world and yourself.
Perspective is everything.
Always remember, not making a choice in itself is making a choice – not just in the manner you read it. It doesn’t just mean that you’re setting yourself by not making the right choice, it just means that you always have a choice, and there’s no actual single right choice.
You are now are lawyer, but you are not just a lawyer. You are also you, a unique individual.
In the distant or not too distant future, you may be still be a lawyer, or you may not. And whatever you choose, or do not, it is not the right choice, it is not the perfect choice, it is not the only choice you had. But it is a choice you made, and that is worthy of being thankful for, worthy of celebrating, and worthy of being part of your journey of becoming who you are, and are becoming. Remember that.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am thankful for my work environment – I have understanding bosses and supportive colleagues. There are horror stories of others who have it much worse.
At the same time, I am faced with unreasonable timelines and demanding clients every day. With the ever-growing mountain of assignments, I feel increasingly anxious about work. As a result, I find myself constantly checking and attending to e-mails on my phone during mealtimes, after office hours, and on weekends. My heart beats a lot quicker when I worry about the work I have not completed, and I have also lost much sleep over this. It is hard to fully dedicate my time and energy to other activities because I feel guilty that these prevent me from finishing the work that is always at the back of my mind.
I know this is part and parcel of practice and life as a junior lawyer, but sometimes I wonder if it is too much for me to handle or if I am just not suited for this life. Do you have any tips?
Dear Anxiety Attacked,
Let me start off by saying that you are not alone. Legal practice has exacting demands and these sometimes take a toll on the physical and mental wellbeing of our lawyers. Young lawyers in particular don’t have it easy because the learning curve is steep; it may take a while for you grow into your role, develop your technical skills, and learn to manage your deadlines and other commitments.
However, your mental health and emotional wellbeing are equally, if not more, important than your work itself. Work is after all a means to an end. While I appreciate your evident sense of responsibility when it comes to your work and assignments, it takes true discipline to reserve a reasonable amount of personal time and space. Constantly checking your phone for work e-mails contributes to anxiety – as a first step, consider making it a point not to check or attend to your e-mails when you wake up in the morning and just before you sleep, during your commute to and from work, and during mealtimes. Use this time to connect with yourself and the people you are with.
Recognise that work is only one aspect of your life. Continue to maintain meaningful personal relationships outside of work, ensure that you eat well and exercise regularly to keep healthy, and perhaps even incorporate a mindfulness practice into your daily routine and make focused relaxation a priority.
Lastly, ask for help when you need it. If your workload becomes too much for you to handle, or is affecting your health, inform your bosses and see if the work can be re-distributed. Without clear communication, your bosses may not be aware of how much there is on your plate. Speaking to trusted friends and colleagues about the issues you are struggling with may also put things in perspective and help you to feel better.
Of course, these “tips” may not reduce the amount of work you have. Whenever there are urgent deadlines, the stress and anxiety will be there. The key is to learn how to cope with all of this, and I assure you that you will get better as long as you keep working on it. You may even find that you become a more effective worker over time, so don’t give up yet.