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Posts Tagged ‘pleasers’

upsidedownhouseWe all know lawyers are pleasers. Everyone knows that. The weird thing is how it doesn’t feel that way from the inside. When you are a lawyer, and a pleaser, you don’t think you’re a pleaser – it seems more like you’re the only conscientious person in the world. You are the one who shows up on time, sits in the first row and hands your homework in on schedule, always perfect. Other people don’t, and that’s annoying. Thus begins a typical lawyer pet peeve – that other people never live up to their obligations. Stretch that out to the extreme, and you wind up doing a job where you bill 3,000 hours a year, just to set a good example for everyone else.

The odd thing is that lawyers simultaneously manage to feel a bit like imposters even as they’re pleasing, because pleasing isn’t the same thing as achieving. Achieving is an objective fact – you have accomplished something useful, good, of value. Pleasing just means you’ve convinced someone else that you’ve given them what they wanted, which might involve little more than smoke, mirrors and billable hours.

Lawyers are good at working hard, just like they’re good at racking up grades in school, which amounts to pleasing teachers. But hard work and good grades in school don’t mean you can play saxophone or or paint a portrait or write a gripping novel. It doesn’t mean you can design a computer or cure cancer either, especially since lawyers tend not to be much good at science and math (if you were any good at that stuff, you’ve have gone to med school and really pleased your parents.) Even if you are a lawyer good at science or math, it’s unlikely you’re designing computers or curing cancer because you’re probably an IP lawyer, who fled the lab bench for “money and prestige” (the magical lawyer incantation.) It’s a small wonder “imposter syndrome” thrives among lawyers. Don’t think you fooled me. We both know you aren’t really that good – you just run around trying to please everybody to distract them from the sense of defectiveness that haunts you, keeps you dancing so it won’t become obvious you’ve no idea what you want to do with your life. Everyone else seems to have somehow figured out what they want to do with theirs. Except lawyers.

So who do lawyers seek to please? Lots of folks. Pretty much everyone, except themselves.

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I’ve written a fair amount about lawyers at the office in this column.

Right now a lot of lawyers aren’t at the office.

They’re at home, out of work.

Unemployment is tough on lawyers because they tend to be pleasers – they have to be, to earn the grades to make it into law school.

It’s all about pleasing others at a firm, too. You submit to the whims of a partner and work around the clock.

Like all pleasers, lawyers get used to looking outside themselves for affirmation of their worth.

When you’re unemployed, there’s no one to please but yourself. You’re alone with you – and for a pleaser, that can lead to a plunge in self-esteem.

That’s why, during unemployment, you have to be especially good to yourself.

You can’t afford to fall into a hole right now – you need to stay strong. That means reminding yourself of your achievements – your grades, your degree, your accomplishments at a firm.

If things get truly dire – remember the bottom line: you’re doing your best. That’s all anyone can ask.

This is no time to beat yourself up. Remember to be you – your best self – the person you really are. That’s more than just a lawyer – that’s a person. Spend time with friends, and people who like you. You’re worth something and you know it – and you need all the support you can get.

You also need some time off.

The worst thing about being unemployed, as one of my unemployed lawyer clients put it, is that “when you’re unemployed, you’re always working.”

Unemployment can turn into a 24-hour/day grind. Give yourself permission to relax sometimes. Activity is important – but so is taking time off to get your head together.

Job interviews, in my experience, can be particularly difficult for lawyers.

Pleasers never learn to sell themselves – you just do what you’re told and hope good things happen.

That doesn’t work in a job interview.

You might remember those mass interviews the law school placement departments arranged back in the boom years. They typically consisted of a handshake, a dutiful glance at a resume, and a pointless chat about nothing.

Those weren’t real job interviews. Those firms were hiring your resume. They just wanted to make sure you could dress yourself. The interviewers often seemed as clueless as the candidates.

It’s different now, during a recession. You have to sell yourself actively.

That can be tough for a lawyer. (more…)

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