How Do I Avoid Burnout? I Have Learned to Practice Renewal.

This week, we offer a guest post from a friend and supporter of the blog who is doing great work out in the world. Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick found me and the blog on LinkedIn and she’s been an active supporter of it. We love her work to promote diversity, inclusion, and wellness in the legal profession and want to support her back here. Welcome Joseline to Brilliant Legal Mind!

Many lawyers and other professionals are experiencing burnout. Are you going through a hard time in your life and career and are constantly struggling with chronic stress that leaves you feeling exhausted to the core and helpless to the extent where you think nothing can ever go right? 

No job in this world is easy. Every task, every goal, and every journey has its fair share of struggles and obstacles. That said, being a lawyer has its troubles on another level. It is certainly not easy to tackle difficult cases, prepare strategies for your client, and stand strong in the grueling atmosphere of the courtroom. This job and your daily routine certainly take a toll on your well-being and can easily produce a state of complete burnout.

What Burnout Does to You

Burnout is a traumatizing state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that makes you feel swamped and shattered. It is normal to have occasional or even routine bouts of stress, particularly in this line of work. However, things take an unexpected, undesirable turn when you do not manage your stress on time and soothe it daily.

When you don’t address the routine stress, it grows bigger and more monstrous. There then comes the point when you become so emotionally drained and overwhelmed that your body and mind keep you from going any further. You lose the motivation to take on any case; you feel withdrawn from even the activities you once found incredibly enjoyable, and you simply let go of the will to push yourself any harder.

You become cynical, hopeless, pessimistic, lethargic, exhausted, and even highly resentful. You do not wish to progress in life because you feel you don’t have that spark anymore. Burnout manifests itself in many different symptoms, including feeling drained, emotionally and physically, all the time; having muscular pain frequently, drastic changes in appetite, insomnia, lowered immunity, and a very low sense of self-esteem, among other things. If you experience any of these daily, it is clear you are not in a healthy physical, emotional, and mental state.

Whether you work as a litigator or as a transactional attorney, or you’re in academia or government, if you find yourself overwhelmed and cynical often, that’s because of burnout. Fortunately, a creative way out of this rut is a unique approach to soothe burnout and reclaim your energy, motivation, and life for good.

A Creative Solution to Handle Burnout

Having struggled with burnout excessively and frequently myself, I realized that I would have to find a unique fix for the problem to turn things around. When we are stuck in a bad rut, often, our go-to approach to get ourselves out of the problem is to push past the walls. We keep pushing ourselves forward to end the problem, but we only exhaust ourselves more in the process.

The right way to turn the tables around in your favor is to look for a new angle, just like you do in a deposition. Instead of beating around the bush, you bring up a completely new and creative perspective on the table and turn the odds in your favor. Similarly, to soothe your burnout, you need to adopt an innovative approach.

This approach is about finding joy in the journey by engaging yourself in useful activities that help you channel your stressful energy into something positive, meaningful, and productive. I call this approach “RENEWAL.” 

What is Renewal?

The RENEWAL process involves the following:

  • R: Review your strengths, priorities, and talents and review your schedule to understand everything better.
  • E: Energize yourself by eating healthily, sleeping well, and taking care of your body.
  • N: Noticing things peacefully and becoming more mindful of yourself and your surroundings.
  • E: Expressing gratitude for everything you have to attain contentment from within.
  • W: Withdrawing yourself from the digital world to give yourself a break from the online media and different technological tools.
  • A: Assess your routine and responsibilities and prioritize things that matter to you.
  • L: Love is an essential requirement to live happily, so you need to infuse meaningful relationships and connections in your life.

This approach helps you change your thinking and behavior to modify your current state of life. Understand that nothing always happens as you plan it, but you need to let go of your former ideas and create a new you to improve on things. 

While doing that, understand that you must have a clear goal moving forward, especially in the study and practice of law.

In case you’re wondering if any of these ideas are backed by research – they are! The anecdotal evidence and your personal lived experience tell you that being a law student and lawyer is stressful. But so do all the studies. The studies also show that the techniques can lead to lawyer satisfaction in their personal and professional lives.

One such study is What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success by Lawrence S. Krieger and Kenno Sheldon. They conducted a theory-guided empirical research project to identify the activities and behaviors that correlate and contribute to lawyers’ well-being and life satisfaction.

One thing they noticed is that most law students and lawyers focus almost exclusively on external factors. These factors include money and status-such as earnings, partnership in a law firm, law school debt, class rank, law review membership, and U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings. But the study shows almost no correlation between those external factors and lawyer well-being.

But they found that internal and psychological factors correlate to “happiness” and “satisfaction.” But unfortunately, focusing on the internal factors, such as autonomy, interest, freedom, a sense of worth, choices regarding family and personal life, erode in law school.

Interestingly, money and status factors and demographic differences were least important in lawyer happiness. Different practice types and settings further exemplified the issues that arise with a misplaced focus between internal and external factors. For example, lawyers in large firms and other prestigious positions were not “as happy” as public service attorneys. This held true even though the latter had much better grades and pay than the former group. And junior partners in law firms show no significant improvement in happiness than senior associates. Even with the higher pay, benefits, and prestige of a partner, there was no actual increase in the sense of satisfaction.

The bottom line is, lawyers are like everybody else. Despite specialized cognitive training and the common perception that lawyers are fundamentally different, we are people first and lawyers second. 

So do yourself a favor, practice RENEWAL regularly to prevent and overcome burnout because the world needs and deserves, well-balanced attorneys. 

Author Bio: Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick is an associate professor at WMU -Thomas M. Cooley Law School. She teaches Criminal Law and Constitutional Law and assists graduates with bar preparation. She is the founder and director of Diversity Access Pipeline. Inc., a nonprofit organization that runs the Journey to Esquire® Scholarship & Leadership Program, Blog, and Podcast to promote diversity and create access for law students. She is the author of Finding Joy in the Journey to Esquire A Guide to RENEWAL for Lawyers and Law students. She magically finds spare time, which she uses to paint, dance, and watch sci-fi movies.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

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