Do you ever have moments of reflection where you ask yourself – “how did I get here?” and “is this really what I am meant to be doing?” If you are like me, on the long days when that case you’ve been working on for months doesn’t turn out the way you planned, or that client you’ve been working with has a less than an admirable way of showing their appreciation, it’s possible to feel like all that expended energy is going into a black hole.
When I first considered going to law school, my drive was to “help people” and advocate for a better tomorrow. I specifically sought out the field of family law because of the ability to have a direct impact on people’s lives and be that advocate to help them through what arguably is the most challenging period of transition. Over my 14 years of practice, I have certainly experienced periods of great highs where that advocacy resulted in successful outcomes for my clients, and disappointing lows where the system arguably failed. All in all, the pivotal question must be asked: how do you know when you are satisfied with your place in the world versus just going through the motions?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Job burnout: How to spot it and take action – Mayo Clinic. If we are being truly honest with ourselves, even in the best of circumstances there is a moment of physical or emotional exhaustion. Burnout doesn’t happen suddenly; its nature is much more insidious, creeping upon on us over time like a slow leak, which makes it harder to recognize. But if you know what to look for, you can recognize it in time to do something about it.
Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:
– Chronic fatigue – feeling a lack of energy; emotional exhaustion and a sense of dread about what lies ahead on any given day
– Impaired concentration and attention – lack of focus; can’t get your work done
– Increased illness – immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flues, ect.
– Loss of appetite – skipping meals; loss of significant weight
– Anxiety – tension, worry, and edginess; interference with your ability to work productivity and problems in your personal life
– Depression – feeling sadness and hopeless, guilt and worthlessness; feeling trapped
– Anger – interpersonal tension and irritability; angry outbursts and serious arguments with loved ones
Other signs of burnout:
– Loss of enjoyment – not wanting to go to work or being eager to leave; avoiding projects and figure out how to avoid work altogether
– Pessimism – negative self-talk; trust issues with others
– Isolation – resistance to socializing; coming in early or leaving late to avoid interactions
– Detachment – feeling disconnected from others or from your environment
– Apathy – general sense that nothing is going right
– Increased irritability – feeling ineffective, unimportant, useless
– Lack of productivity – poor performance; feeling like you can’t climb out from under the pile
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms in their milder form, it may mean that you need a break. If you are experiencing most of these symptoms in their more severe form, it should be a wake-up call that you may need to make some changes. Take some time to honestly assess the amount of stress in your life and find ways to reduce it before it’s too late.
Burnout isn’t like the flu; it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life. And as hard as that may seem, it’s the smartest thing to do because making a few little changes now will allow you to recognize what your true passion and purpose is, and have enough gas to do something about it.
Avoiding Burnout – Finding Your Outlet
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if our daily routine included some small escape route? Whether your outlet is exercise, family time, alone time, or somewhere in between, the one sure way to break up the monotony and avoid burnout is to have that something that you do which brings you joy, pleasure, and just that simple stress release.
In an article by Marie Forleo titled, “The Secret to Finding you Passion (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)” in Oprah Winfrey’s site Oprah.com, Marie notes that “truly successful people are never the victim of their circumstances. They realize they have ultimate power in any situation and take responsibility for their experience.” To me, the key take-away from her article is that “in any given moment, if you can’t change what you’re doing, you can always change how you’re doing it.” The Secret to Finding Your Passion (Hint: It’s Not What You Think) (oprah.com).
Recognizing that not every aspect of our career can be filled with what we are passionate about, making time for that small outlet is essential to maintaining some semblance of balance and an ongoing sense of self. It is easy to lose yourself in the daily grind, especially for those of us that are in the service profession. But making time to prioritize yourself and your own well-being is what will ultimately sustain your ability to stay focused and driven.
Taking a Leap of Faith
Recognizing the need to pivot does not need to come from a place of burnout. If fact, the goal is to recognize those feelings and acknowledge to yourself that it may be time for a change.
One of the most pivotal moments in my life came most unexpectedly. I attended a luncheon that was primarily targeted to law students and young lawyers, and the keynote speaker was Paula Boggs, the now former Vice President and General Counsel of Starbucks. At the time, she was the Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary at Starbucks Corporation. Her talk focused on her decision to leave those prestigious positions to pursue her true passion, which is music. She ultimately left the practice of law to focus on her passion of being a musician. The one comment she made during that talk most impactful for me was: “just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.” Wow. Is it really that simple?
In my interactions, I come across colleagues who wait until retirement to follow their passion or start focusing their life on what they believe to really matter. And I find myself asking, why does one need to wait until retirement to do that? Many people hit a plateau in their careers and feel an inexplicable urge to do things differently. And there are countless reasons (or dare I say, excuses) that hold us back from moving forward with acting upon those urges. As you ponder on your personal journey and where you land on the spectrum of change, the pivotal question is: what is it worth?
I have spent the last 14 years of my practice striving to be the best advocate and a top attorney in my field. And after some very deep soul-searching, I have acknowledged to myself that just because I’m good at litigation, doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it. And so began my journey of reformatting my practice from one of litigation to one of mediation. It may sound like a simple task; the reality is that this is a complete restructure and refocus of my practice, from the way I market myself to the way I connect with current and prospective clients.
Incorporating Passion into the Every Day
After coming very close to a complete burnout, I have realized that my passion of helping people and advocating for a better tomorrow has always been there, but somehow got lost in the day-to-day stress of the “traditional” practice of law. Most interestingly, I acknowledge to myself that I still enjoy the law, but that there are other options which allow me to remain in my chosen profession and also incorporate that which I am passionate about, just in a different form.
I believe that passion is contagious. When you’re fully present and passionately engaged with your life, people around you take notice and want in on whatever you’re doing. And so, I have committed to refocusing how and where I exert my energy, and make sure that I incorporate outlets into my daily routine. And for those of you out there that can relate to my experience in even the slightest way, I encourage you to take a deep look inside, identify your passion, and incorporate it into your daily life. Taking that leap of faith is scary and intimidating, but the reward is a newfound strength that rejuvenates you in a way that allows you to live a better life and be a more authentic you.
Anna M. Romanskaya is a Partner with Stark & D’Ambrosio, LLP in San Diego, CA where she manages the firm’s family law division. She represents clients in all aspects of family law, including pre and post marital agreements, marital dissolutions, child custody, child and spousal support, property division and post judgment issues. She focuses her practice primarily on mediation and collaborative law, with an emphasis on helping people move through the separation process with empathy and attention to detail. Anna is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara where she double-majored in Political Science and Law and Society. She received her Juris Doctorate from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, CA and is admitted to the State Bar of California, the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, and the District of Columbia.
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