Many of the conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks with readers and clients have included some discussion about fear. Our fears can get in the way of just about anything and everything. They can get in the way of our dreams and goals and big plans. They can also get in the way of our daily productivity and our basic tasks.
For those of us looking to leave the law and do something else, and those of us who want stay in the law and improve our practice, our fears are often our greatest obstacle to moving forward and making progress.
There are many specific fears we can suffer from:
- I’m afraid that I’m not reaching my own potential
- I’m afraid of what I’ve become
- I’m afraid I don’t have a life any more
- I’m afraid I don’t see my family as much as I want to
- I’m afraid of that pain in my chest, and that anxiety in my stomach
- I’m afraid that I’m so unhappy
- I’m afraid I’m a fraud and everyone will soon find out
- I’m afraid that I don’t really know what I’m doing
- I’m afraid to work another Friday night or Sunday afternoon
- I’m afraid that I will fail
- I’m afraid I’ll be sued for malpractice
- I’m afraid I’ll be disbarred
- I’m afraid I’ll miss a very important deadline
- I’m afraid I won’t make partner
- I’m afraid to take a risk
- I’m afraid everyone will laugh at me
- I’m afraid I’ll get my bar license stripped away
- I’m afraid to leave the law
- I’m afraid that if I leave the law, I’ll be different than all of my attorney friends
- I’m afraid I won’t be able to make as much money as I make now
- I’m afraid that I cannot do anything different than the practice of law
- I’m afraid I won’t be able to convince someone else to hire me
- I’m afraid to update my resume
- I’m afraid to tell my firm I want to leave
- I’m afraid someone will see me when I leave for a networking interview
- I’m afraid I won’t be able to say I’m really a lawyer anymore
- I’m afraid I’ll have to find a new identity
- I’m afraid it’ll takes a long time
- I’m afraid I’ll have to face some difficult facts about myself
- I’m afraid it won’t be easy
- I’m afraid I will be ridiculed and doubted
- I’m afraid I will make mistakes
- I’m afraid to put myself out there
- I’m afraid of approaching people and networking
- I’m afraid of throwing my whole legal career away
- I’m afraid to keep doing what I’m doing
- I’m afraid that it’ll work
- I’m afraid I’ll be a success
- I’m afraid of my potential
And other fears I’m sure (email me what fear you face).
While many of us view fears as something to be overcome, a major element of success and personal development and growth is the realization that these fears never really go away. They are always with us. The secret is not in necessarily extinguishing them, but in mitigating them.
So how do we do this?
A Strategy: It can prove beneficial to not to try and get rid of our fears, but just to lessen their impact on us over time. To realize they really aren’t that big or scary or real. We attorneys can spend too much time trying to eradicate our fears, but since these fears (and new fears) will always crop up, that can often be a losing battle. When we try to eradicate our fears, it means we sacrifice the time and energy we could be using to do something else productive: network to meet new people, explore our personal strengths and skills, explore beyond transactional or litigation jobs, interview for other non-legal jobs, volunteer, start that side project, grow our practice in a different way. We get consumed or paralyzed from doing what we need to do to grow and prosper.
We have to learn and change and grow despite fear, not in its absence. We need to develop and become more confident and courageous in parallel with mitigating our worries.
A Tactic: Once we realize that success involves mitigating fears, and not necessarily eradicating them, then the next step is to plan how best to act in the face of worry and anxiety and dread.
Slowly. Try something, see some results, chip away at the fear, and then keep at it. And this means using Baby Steps.
The Baby Step is a simple, easy-to-do action or task one can take to begin this process. It takes time and isn’t very glamorous. But it makes the overwhelming less daunting. It makes the scary less fearsome. It lessens the paralysis. It builds confidence and shows tangible results and grows courage.
In real life, this means anything. It can take the shape of volunteering somewhere that we feel passionate about. It means starting a blog or a website about a topic we love. It means honing our public speaking skills so we can network and interact with people better. It means reaching out to someone we trust to discuss our feelings and thoughts. It means writing, actually sitting down and writing (and not just dreaming about being a writer). It means emailing me. It means redoing our resume for non-legal jobs.
As we embrace our fears and take baby step acts, we gain momentum. As we gain momentum, we weaken the hold fear has on us. As we weaken the hold fear has on us, we grow our confidence. As we grow our confidence, we increase the likelihood of doing something we excel at and enjoy. As we increase the likelihood of doing something we excel at and enjoy, we can come face to face with happiness and self-worth and purpose and contentment.
A version of this post was originally published on Lawyers With Depression in September 2013