Join us as we explore what it means to be a successful lawyer, a professional and a good person in 2018 and beyond.

By Darlene Tonelli, August 7, 2018.

It’s time to talk about your WHOLE story…

(not only the parts you’re willing to admit)


In our last blog post, we looked at some of the reasons why so many people feel stuck in their current posts. Lawyers are educated and experienced, with (usually) a wealth of opportunities before them. There is nothing in particular stopping them from finding work that is challenging, rewarding, fun andfinancially sustainable… except that one never-ending story that serves as the wall between them and happiness at work. It usually goes like this: “I can’t leave this job because of______ (insert money or status or ego or stability or outright fear)” – and sometimes all of the above.

Last time we asked you to actually write out your story, and left you with this crucial question:

Is the story that keeps you stuck actually true?

Perhaps your story is more complicated. Maybe the story that keeps you stuck is not about money or stability – or more accurately, not onlyabout money or stability.  Maybe what’s really keeping you stuck is the fact that you have a whole bunch of coping mechanisms built into your life that keep you from feeling the pain of being in the wrong job.

Do you rely on various emotional crutches to make your day-to-day work life more bearable? Vices that are easy to hide (at first) and harder to quit, are also why people stay too long in their jobs.  Part of finding freedom and happiness in our profession is dealing with our ENTIRE story – not just the parts we want others to see. We have to get all this stuff out on the table and look at it.

The pressure of high expectations

In this profession, we are expected to be right all the time. We are expected to be a right fit for the office. We are expected to have the exactly right advice for our clients. We are expected to bill right, dress right, act right…

And this expectation to be right is not limited to the office. As lawyers, we can also feel pressure from our parents, spouses, kids, friends and social circles. There is an ideal image of who we are supposed to be – and, along with the often unrealistic pressures at work, it’s a too-perfect image many of us can’t maintain. And worse, we find it tough to talk about how we feel.

My observation is that, in the midst of all this pressure to be right, to be perfect, a lot of us pick up some pretty destructive lifestyle choices. You wouldn’t be the first lawyer to find ways to make work life less stressful. We have either all been there, or we know people who’ve been there. Maybe you drink at lunch to make the days seem less long. Maybe you’re eating less. Or a whole lot more. Or you’re shopping and spending your money as fast as you can earn it.

There are all kinds of ways people harm themselves to feel less – it’s been around for centuries.

But the theme of this blog series is Happiness and Freedom in Law, and we are focusing on where you can go and how to get there – as opposed to what you may have done yesterday.

We promised actionable steps. This may seem like an unrelated tangent – what does drinking or eating or shopping too much have to do with me being stuck in a job I hate? The answer: maybe a lot.

An honest look at how you deal with being in the wrong job.

This week, ask yourself if there is something in your life you do “because” you are unhappy at work. Doesn’t really matter what it is. No judgment here – this is a private exercise. Try to stop doing it this week and see what happens with your feelings about your job. For example, if you rely on a glass of wine after work to take the edge off a tough day, skip it this week and see what happens. Without the crutch, how do you feel day to day about your work?

Steve Jobs said in his famous 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Anything that takes you out of the pain of looking in the mirror and answering “No” to this question has to go this week.If you want to get unstuck, try letting yourself feel how bad the problem is – then you can work on replacing negative actions with positive ones.

We’ll examine how to do this next time. We’ll look at what happens when you do see your options with clarity; when you do want to replace your old story with a new one. Check back again for our take on How to Get Unstuck. Finally!


Coming up: Moving into the zone of honesty – asking yourself how to align your career with you interests outside of work.

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