I’ve been talking to people – well, my people have been talking to people – about speaking engagements, radio shows, panels – celebrity stuff – the daily fodder of The People’s Therapist’s life of fame and glamour.
One group wants me to teach a workshop for young attorneys on “health and wellness.” Well, okay. Whatever. I can do that. How much?
They offered the same course in a different city last year, using another therapist-who-is-also-a-lawyer (I wasn’t aware others existed, but I’m not threatened.) To make things easy on myself, I asked how that other (lesser) therapist-cum-lawyer contrived to occupy her “workshop.”
“Oh, she gave them a list of pointers for ‘self-care’,” I was told. “You know, get enough sleep, exercise, eat right, that kind of thing.”
Piece of cake – except I’m not sure they need me to dispense said epiphanies. Richard Simmons manages to preach an identical gospel while everyone performs jumping jacks in lavender leotards.
No matter. Giving advice is what people expect therapists to do.
It’s like “sex therapy.” Remember “sex therapy”? Be honest: Did Ruth Westheimer ever teach you anything you didn’t already know? Yet you found it deeply, mysteriously satisfying each time she chirp-chortled that phrase – “with a firm greep on dee head of dee penis.” Tearing your attention from a tiny Israeli woman in her sixties discussing penises is like trying not to ogle a car wreck. Why fight the hunger?
Nevertheless, the truth remains – dispensing advice isn’t what therapists do best, or even well. As we used to say in HIV prevention circles, the real question isn’t – don’t you know how to use a condom? The real question is – why do you think you didn’t? Everyone knows how to use a condom. You know what’s good for you. If you aren’t doing it, that’s either because (a) you don’t want to; or (b) you haven’t figured out who you really are yet.
I can’t make you do something you don’t want to do. I also can’t tell you who you are.
So what use is a therapist?
I help you wake up. You take it from there.
Therapy isn’t about change – it’s about awareness. I’ll help you talk to yourself so you figure out what you’re really thinking and feeling. What you do with that information is your business.
My secret agenda should be obvious. Any time you gain awareness, it’s going to produce change. If I tell you you’re standing in a pot of water over a fire, you’re going to jump out. But the jumping part isn’t my job. It’s yours.
That said, it’s fun to give advice, and advice columns remain ever-popular. Remember Dear Abby and Ann Landers? Well, here’s The People’s Therapist’s advice column. You probably won’t “take” this advice any more than you “took” Dear Abby’s or Ann Landers’. Still, it makes for entertaining copy.
So, here’s how you – and every lawyer – can achieve three important goals:
- Not go crazy
- Not get dumped
- Not get fired
First: How not to go crazy.
You’re not going to like the answer: Physical exercise.
That’s it. Advice columnists always tell you the same thing – get off your ass. They beat this drum for a reason – it works. But you’re lazy like that, so you’ll probably go on Lexipro instead. Your choice.
Why do you need 30 minutes of cardio exercise at least twice a week to not go crazy at a big horrible law firm?
Oh, come on. You know why. Blah blah blah releases endorphins…blah blah blah relieves anxiety…yadda yadda soothes depression. If you don’t already know this stuff, pick up an issue of Cosmo.
Keep something else in mind – as you plod along on a treadmill to the Violent Femmes, you’re away from that god-awful office – as completely away as you might get for a while. Cardio exercise is like meditation, except it actually distracts you since you have to focus on gasping for breath and not stopping.
See how irritating it is to be on the receiving end of advice? That’s why Dr. Ruth and Richard Simmons morphed into self-parodies. Even as clowns they get annoying.
Next: How not to get dumped. The goal here is preservation of relationships in the face of biglaw, which permits no time for relationships.
And here’s the trick – take the time anyway. Reserve a weekend every two or three months and get away together – without the kids – to a cute little inn.
That’s it. Except – as you’ve probably noticed – you’re a lawyer, so taking a weekend off – being able to plan in advance and then actually do it – is impossible.
You have no choice. Do this, or you’ll end up like most lawyers, losing that girlfriend, divorcing that wife and ending up with no relationship except hook-ups with the tax associate who comes to your office and releases a forlorn sigh, like she isn’t into you either, but what are the options?
Before arriving at that juncture, try to avoid squandering the one meaningful element in your god-forsaken existence. Just do it. Move mountains. Reserve that weekend, drive her up to a little inn with frilly bedspreads and a porch swing. Go antiquing. Look into her eyes – not at the Blackberry – and listen to what she has to say. Then have sex – with each other.
It’s worth it. Even if you get fired.
…which brings us to: How not to get fired.
This one’s easy: see a therapist every week.
I know – seems a tad self-serving. But if you’re going to get fired in biglaw, it’s probably because you’re secretly hoping to get fired. That’s because you’re angry and hate your job. Which is where awareness comes in.
You think you are a rational, logical person who owes a bank about $150k and has no choice but to remain at a miserable grind you loathe. That is correct.
However, you also contain an Id – an unconscious child – and he’ll arrange to get you fired. For the most part, he lays low – you’ve got him under control. Then, when you’re completely burnt out and the partner announces he wants you to work all weekend, that little kid will pop out – surprise! – utter something inappropriately heartfelt in front of that partner – and get you canned.
He can be sneaky, too. When your guard is down, he’ll broadcast his misery – arranging for you to come in late every day or complain about your fate a little too forcefully before unsympathetic ears. That’ll also get you shown the door.
I’m not saying getting fired from a big law firm is a bad thing. But – if at all possible – you should get fired on your own terms. Quit if you want to. Or push things a bit and shoot for those delicious three months severance. But don’t fall asleep at the wheel and let the kid drive, or you’re asking for regrets.
That’s where therapy comes in. Sit the kid down and give him a listen. Let him get it all out. You’ll return to the firm refreshed and relieved. Relief will also be registered by the people who were about to fire you.
Final piece of breathtakingly obvious advice:
Biglaw is toxic for most human beings. If you’re unhappy and can afford to – get out.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I can also heartily recommend my first book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)