Load a little too heavy? Yes. Too many important things to do? Yes. Everything is urgent? Yes. Not enough time? Yes. Feeling overwhelmed? Yes. So many people relying on you? Yes. Too much pressure to get it all done? Yes.
If you answered no to all of those questions, maybe this post isn’t for you. But even if your situation is not that extreme and you are just feeling the pressure of a few too many urgent demands, I’m here to tell you, you need to get over yourself.
That may seem harsh. But as lawyers, let’s be honest, we all have at least a little sense of self importance...
And what I’ve realized is that our sense of importance can easily run away on us, and that, co-mingled with some demands and a few expectations, it can be fatal to living a life that you LOVE.
Some of you may argue, there is nothing wrong with feeling important, and you might even say I am being hypocritical, and point to some of my other posts where I said we should all believe that we are AWESOME all of the time. But when I say importance, what I mean is not being confident and believing in our own brilliance (which I highly recommend). Rather, what I mean is a feeling or belief that we are indispensible. There is a big difference between believing in ourselves, and believing that we are SO indispensible, and that all of the tasks on our to-do list are SO important that we must get them done, now. In fact, what I’ve realized is that feeling of importance actually causes of a lot of unnecessary, self-imposed pressures and stress, and often goes hand in hand with catastrophizing.
I don’t really like to admit it but I can see this over-active sense of importance in myself sometimes. For example, the other day I was on my way home. I had just gotten on the bus and was about five blocks away from work when I realized that I forgot my cell phone. I immediately felt compelled to get off the bus and go back for it. How could I survive a night without it? What if someone was trying to get a hold of me? What if something came up that needed to be dealt with?
I had almost convinced myself to get off at the next stop when something stopped me. A couple thoughts, or more like questions, popped into my head. Who said I needed to be available on demand all of the time? And what was possibly so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow? The answers to these questions, I realized, were: me; and nothing.
And that is when the realization came. When I admitted to myself that there was nothing that couldn’t wait until tomorrow, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to go back for my cell phone, but also surprisingly, a little disappointed. And when I looked a little deeper I recognized that slight feeling of disappointment was playing off a deeper more human fear…If nothing is urgent, does that mean the things I have taken on really aren't important?
Maybe it means I'm actually dispensable...what if no one ever really needs me?
The funny thing is, once the fear was exposed for what it really was I could see that it was irrational, and although not completely eliminated, it no longer subconsciously controlled my actions. So as uncomfortable as I was without my cell phone I sat back down and breathed. I felt a little lighter.
And I started thinking about how this fear of not being important might be at play on a bigger scale…is it possible we convince ourselves that the things we are doing are much more important than they really are? For example, why do we convince ourselves we need to check our email before bed and then first thing in the morning? What would happen if we didn’t? What would happen if we said no to an assignment, or declined to take on a new case? What if we postponed a few deadlines? Would the world - our world, our client’s world, anyone’s world - really fall to pieces?
In most cases the honest answer will be...no.
Yes, sometimes there may be things that really are urgent. But often urgency is something we create for ourselves. In part, I would argue, because it makes us feel important. In other words we want to feel like we are a “big deal” and, so we manufacture urgency, or, we buy into someone else’s manufactured sense of urgency.
And I’m not saying lawyers don’t do important work. Not at all. I believe that lawyers provide an important service to the public and that we should never stop believing in and being confident in what we have to offer. But it is also important, when we are feeling pressured and overwhelmed, to take a step back and ask ourselves: Are these things we are stressing over really THAT important? Are they really THAT urgent?
So I challenge you to ask those questions more often. Take a step back and assess urgency honestly. And check any magnified self-importance (and fear of unimportance) at the door.
When you stop seeing yourself as a firefighter, you will likely find that in many cases there was no fire to put out in the first place.
The world really will continue to revolve, and YOUR world will likely start to revolve in a much more enjoyable way.