It is a complicated paradox that we face as a profession. It is without a doubt that we need to be mentally well to be able to support and represent our clients and perform at our best. In fact, it is our reasoning, logic and deduction skills that we trade in yet, we don’t seem to prioritise and value the health and rigour of our mind. It is like being a marathon runner and paying no attention to our physical fitness and having no issue with running a race with an injured leg!!
It is counterproductive that lawyers, see, feel and hear that their wellbeing is secondary to their output. It is the main cause of many talented lawyers exiting the profession with a belief that they are not ‘cut out for this job’. What a shame and loss for our society and our legal system!
There is a collective belief that a good lawyer is under pressure and is stressed. Lawyers wear their stress and overwhelm as a badge of honour and as a sign of having made it!! The perception that a successful lawyer is a busy and overworked one is the fundamental flaw in this misguided definition of success. A culture that has supported the belief that overworking is the key to high performance and exceptional results has contributed to a staggering number of lawyers experiencing burn out and ill mental health.
A recent survey conducted by Meritas Australia and New Zealand found an overwhelming 85% of respondents had experienced anxiety and 60% experienced depression (ABC Central Victoria – Peter Andrea 15 August 2019)
Statistics on alcohol and substance abuse are very concerning to say the least.
The first part of the paradox is that in order to help clients we need to be well, yet we do not prioritise our wellbeing. The second part is that we pride ourselves on being overworked and very busy yet we do not reach out for help. The very competitive nature of the profession as well as the perception that lawyers are strong and dependable makes reaching out for help a sign of weakness and either avoided all together or done in secret and is hidden.
Having a healthy mindset for your practice predicates that you can give your self-permission to value your wellbeing and reach out when you need help with it. This means that you have developed enough self-awareness to be able to recognise that your mental health is being stretched and something needs to happen. Our wellbeing is our responsibility and it is not a luxury but an obligation. When we are well, our clients, our employer, our team, our staff and most importantly our family can get the best possible version of us.
When we are well and can recognise the signs of anxiety, stress and burn out we create an internal compass that can detect any deviation from our true north. This in turn creates choice and a sense of control over our lives and the environments that we choose to place ourselves in!
Here are my quick tips for building self–awareness:
The first step is always awareness and from there change is always possible!