When I worked in biglaw, I was incredibly unhappy. I was objectively doing well, but the job felt crushing. I couldn’t understand it—I was doing well, so what was the problem?—so I ignored the messages my brain and body were sending me, because they didn’t make sense. This was the path I had chosen, and I had the debt to prove it. I didn’t want to consider that I might be unhappy. And for a while, it worked.
But eventually, I had to get honest with myself. It was clear to me that I needed to get out, even though I still didn’t completely understand why. It wasn’t until after I left biglaw that I was diagnosed with an anxiety and panic disorder and things started to make more sense.
Having an anxiety disorder was an asset in my biglaw job, because it drove me to hyperfocus on details and perfection. However, as you might imagine, working in biglaw was absolutely terrible for my anxiety disorder, magnifying all the worst and most crippling parts of it.
It was through the experience of leaving biglaw that I started to learn how to actually listen to myself. Ultimately, it was this ability to actually listen that eventually led me to decide that being a lawyer in the long term would not be the best choice for me. That’s how I ended up leaving the law last year after a decade of working as a lawyer.
Why am I telling you this? Because there are so many lawyers out there who are struggling, like I was, but are also refusing to listen to themselves, like I did. I think ignoring what’s going on internally is one of the primary mistakes that unhappy lawyers make. (Because I’ve been there!) I know that there are a lot of unhappy lawyers ignoring what their inner self is telling them and white-knuckling it through the law. But I don’t think you have to have an anxiety disorder or to be as miserable as I was to make listening to yourself a worthwhile skill to develop.
Think you need to get better at listening to yourself, but not sure where to start? Today, just try noticing how you feel as you go through your workday. Observe—without judgment—the thoughts and emotions you experience related to your job. Cultivating the skill of listening to yourself will serve you well as you contemplate your path forward.