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There’s one thing you need to know about being miserable as a lawyer: it is not normal. I want to say that again, it’s not normal to be miserable in your job.

I often see lawyers who think that it is normal since everyone around them is miserable in their jobs. Even though their complaint is not so much about the hard work that goes into being a lawyer, but about the indignities that they suffer from colleagues and other people, somehow we have accepted that being miserable at work is normal, even to be expected. 

That is especially true for someone like me who went straight from undergrad to law school. You can have an outlook that goes sheer misery is just part of having a “real job” and being part of the “working world”.

I want to be as clear as possible, being miserable as a lawyer is not normal. 

Wrong Responses to Feeling Miserable As a Lawyer

Often, when lawyers who are unhappy in their jobs talk with family and friends, they get responses that say that all jobs are work and misery is a part of the package. Their families advise them not to look elsewhere because it’s going to be like that everywhere else. 

From my conversations with lawyers and former lawyers, I have found that usually, non-lawyers say this. 

When you have this experience, the people who are sharing this with you don’t have ill intentions, but it just isn’t true that sheer misery is an everyday experience for most people in their working life.

How To Get Out Of Feeling Miserable As A Lawyer

I disagree with narratives like do what you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. I believe that doing what you love doesn’t mean that you enjoy it every time because low moments are inevitable.

However, if you are constantly feeling miserable as a lawyer, here are some things you can do to get out of that funk:

Examine Yourself

When dealing with being miserable as a lawyer, the first thing to do is to come to a place of self-awareness by asking yourself why you are feeling unhappy at your job.

Is your misery due to your boundary issues, other challenges, or unhelpful ways you think about the job? This is important because those things aren’t necessarily going to be fixed just by leaving that job. 

This is why I talk about therapy all the time. Therapy helps you better understand where some of your feelings and emotions about the job might be coming from. 

If you find that your unhappiness with your job results from some decisions you are making, you need to deal with those issues head-on. 

Set Boundaries

Another side to this conversation is the need to take responsibility for your job and your experience by setting healthy boundaries. This is where getting into therapy helps.

If you find it hard to set boundaries, therapy will help you deal with the existing issues so that you can take control of your mental and emotional health. It will also help you attain clarity so that you’re not putting all the blame on your job.

Leave The Toxic Environment

If, after examining yourself, you conclude that the environment is toxic for you, then it’s time to leave.

I have heard people say that a toxic environment doesn’t matter because you can get yourself to a place where you enjoy your environment regardless, but this isn’t entirely true. 

You need to realize that some environments are genuinely toxic for you, and staying there will only keep you miserable at your job. If you work in such an environment, it is worth getting out.  

Even though it is essential to recognize that you can’t just change jobs and fix all of your problems, at the same time, if you are in a job that is crushing and it’s making you miserable, then yes, changing jobs will help.

This is why what we do at Former Lawyer is so important. Having a community of lawyers who understand the work and toil accompanying it can make all the difference in your career.

Mentioned in This Article:

Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. On this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let's get right to the show.

Hello everyone. Today on the podcast, I want to talk about something that you have heard me talk about before. It's just so important. I wanted to emphasize it on its own. That is this: sheer misery is not normal. If you are working as a lawyer and you are just miserable, often, people feel like, “Well, everyone else around me seems to be miserable.” We all complain about this job. We all complain about not even how hard the job is in terms of how hard you have to work but just all of the awful indignities and the ways that various parties or people, colleagues behave and all of these sorts of things. There's this sense of like, “Well, we all complain about this. Maybe this is just normal.” Especially if you're someone who, like me, went straight through from undergrad to law school, you can have this sense of like, “Well, maybe this is just what the working world is like. Maybe this is just what it's like to have a ‘real job.’”

I just want to disabuse you of that notion if that is something that you're believing. It is not normal to just be utterly miserable in your job. I find too, that something that reinforces this—and there will be a YouTube video releasing right around the time that this podcast episode is releasing—talking about a similar thing but often, lawyers who are unhappy, like really truly unhappy in their jobs will talk with family members or friends, parents often. I hear about conversations with parents that go like this, where the lawyer is sharing about their job and just how awful it is. The response can sometimes be, especially from people who are not lawyers and don't necessarily have the experience of the particular way that our profession can often be, the response will be, “Oh well, it's a job. All jobs are work. Every job has its negative points. Essentially, it wouldn't be better anywhere else. There's no point in looking for another job or another career because this is just how it's going to be everywhere.” I know of many people who have had this experience and there's an incredulity like, “Is this really true because this seems so bad but you're telling me everyone feels this way?” I think that when you have this experience, the people who are sharing this with you aren't bad-intentioned but it just isn't true that sheer misery is a normal experience for most people in their working life.

I just wanted to talk about this again because I do think that there is a place for the conversation about a job as a job. Even if you're doing something you love, you aren't necessarily going to love every moment of it or every day of it. Work is work. There are going to be times that it is maybe not your top favorite thing to do. I realize that there is this narrative out there of like, “Do what you love and you won't work a day in your life.” But I think that there are actually a lot of problems with that. We can talk about that in another episode. But the point is that I do think that you need to have an awareness around the fact that if some of your unhappiness with your job is due to your own boundary issues or other challenges or ways that you are thinking about the job that are unhelpful to you, that those things aren't necessarily going to be fixed just by leaving that job. This is why we talk about therapy all the time. This is why we talk about just getting a better understanding of where some of your feelings and emotions about the job might be coming from. But nonetheless, even though it is important to recognize that you can't just change jobs and fix literally all of your problems, at the same time, if you are in a job that is really crushing and it's making you really miserable, then yes, changing jobs will actually help.

Hey, it's Sarah. I wanted to let you know that this fall, I'm going to be running a guided track through The Former Lawyer Framework inside the Former Lawyer Collaborative. What does that mean? Basically, that means that we'll be going through the curriculum that forms the backbone of the Collaborative called The Former Lawyer Framework. It's a five-step process that moves you from “I have no idea what I want to do” to “I know what I want to do. I know what direction I need to go in. I'm figuring out how to get there.” The guided track is essentially going to be a 10-week process where I walk you through the framework, step by step. The goal is to create some additional accountability and structure for those people who like having deadlines essentially. The way it's going to work is we will have homework or a set of the exercises or the framework that you're going to be getting through each week before that next week's call, then we'll get on the call, ask any questions that you have pertaining to that work, get any help that you need around whatever issues are coming up, then the next week, we'll do it again and we'll do it again, all the way through till right before Thanksgiving when we will have moved through the whole framework. If that sounds like something that would be helpful for you, this is going to be the only time this year I'll be running the guided track. I don't know when I'll be running it again, possibly in 2022, but I don't have any specific plans. If having this experience of having a guided track sounds like something that would help you stay on track and get you to where you want to go, then I highly recommend you jump in now. Especially for those of you who are really wanting to either make a move by the end of this year or who are anticipating wanting to make a move early next year, this is a perfect timeline for people who are in those positions. Go to formerlawyer.com/collab. The orientation call for the guided track will be on Thursday, September 9th. If you're interested in being involved in the guided track, the date that you want to join us is by Thursday, September 9th. If you have any questions, as always, you can email [email protected] The address, once more, the URL is formerlawyer.com/collab. I hope to see you there.

I think that sometimes, in an attempt to stop people from thinking that changing jobs will fix all of their problems and they don't have to self-examine at all, we go to this other extreme of suggesting that you should be able to be happy, even if you're in a toxic environment, even if you're in an environment that is really crushing. I think the important thing is that there has to be more nuance to the conversation. It can't be that you have to leave in order to be happy. It's not possible for you to take any responsibility for your feelings about your job or for your experience at your job or for putting up boundaries. There has to be a balance. There has to be a balance between taking responsibility for yourself and putting up boundaries, getting into therapy, and dealing with the things that you may have control over in terms of your mental and emotional health, and not putting all of that on your job.

But on the other hand, recognizing that there truly are environments that are not good for you, that maybe are not good for anyone, that are truly toxic. Both of those things can be true. It doesn't have to be one or the other. I sometimes feel like there is this message out there that is like, “Well, you just have to get yourself to a place where you're just fine with your environment regardless of how toxic it is because ultimately, it's all about what you think about your environment. Your thoughts create your feelings and etc. etc.” While there is definitely truth in all of that, I think also, there needs to be a recognition that there are truly toxic environments. There are environments that are truly toxic for you. Experiencing just total misery at your job is not normal and is something that is worth getting out of if you're experiencing that. That is all I have to say on the topic of sheer misery in your job is not normal. I appreciate you listening today. I will talk to you next week.

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.

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