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					   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                         1. 800. 973.1177

Attorneys, Life Events and Stress: Causes and Palliatives
[Jamie Barnes]
Understanding the stressful events of your life can help put things into perspective. While stress often aversely affects your career, preparing for stress can
make your work situation much easier.

Highly motivated and achievement-oriented             In the past 100 years or less, the concept            a combination of best friend, lover and soul
attorneys typically fail to recognize stress for      of ‘Happiness’ has been moved from the                mate; but you run the risk that your signifi-
what it is. Pumped with self confidence, they         spiritual realm and placed in an earthly              cant other may change once the wedding
greet each new day optimistically. But stress         context. Generally speaking, the political and        ceremony is over, and not change for the
exists. It is the uninvited guest often sitting       academic left believe that happiness rests            better. There is sickness as well as health in
unnoticed in the corner. The purpose of this          within systems of thought and behavior and            your future when you tie your life to another.
article is to point out some of the stressful         is not necessarily within the purview of indi-        You will have to learn to take some one else’s
events that can affect any attorney’s life. The       vidual control: one must change the system            wishes into consideration and moderate or
goal is to give you a better understanding of         and the individual’s response to the system           give up certain habits. You will exchange con-
how stress has the power to influence every-          to achieve happiness for everyone. A compet-          siderable personal freedom and autonomy
thing you and your compatriots do.                    ing view, prevalent among theorists on the            for the enduring pleasure of companionship,
                                                      right, states that happiness is an individual         love and emotional support from another.
Stress attacks one’s mental equilibrium as            matter negotiated by the individual with his          The stress inherent in any such arrangement
well as one’s physical self. It is worth noting       or her environment and is the individual’s            is the fear of rupture and the need to begin
that stress can be caused by sameness as              responsibility. This article adopts the more          the mate-seeking process again.
well as by change. Sameness is stressful              conservative interpretation and thus will
because it can be seen as a jail of the mind in       ignore the inherent problems of systems and           The Birth of Children
which no hope of positive change or stimula-          deal only with individual life events and how         We may be fortunate enough to be sup-
tion is possible. Change, on the other hand,          they impact the individual attorney’s sense of        ported by parents until we’re through high
requires the forming of new patterns and              well-being. We’ll start with work itself.             school. Eventually, we take a spouse and
reactions, thereby threatening the comfort-                                                                 stop our parental dependency although we
able sameness and predictability of routines.         A New Job                                             may continue to seek their love and approval.
Change in almost any aspect of your environ-          You may join a law firm right out of law              Children raise the stakes considerably. One
ment will require you to alter your normal            school and stay with it until you retire or die,      can divorce one’s spouse but divorcing one’s
responses, and there will always be a part of         but the likelihood is that you will change jobs       children is usually not an option. They are at
you that resents such an imposition.                  at least once and probably more. In doing so,         minimum an 18-year if not a life-time com-
                                                      you place yourself at risk. Even if you are gid-      mitment. For middle class parents, children
Built into all of this is the notion of happiness     dy with the prospect of a raise and new chal-         can become progressively expensive the
here on earth and how it can be achieved.             lenges, part of you recognizes that you might         older they get. In addition, they continue to
Earthly happiness is a relatively recent              run into a powerful partner who doesn’t like          change as they mature, and each change re-
invention. Religions such as Christianity and         you, co-attorneys who undermine you, and a            quires adjustment on the part of parents and
Islam promise happiness only beyond the               support staff which keeps information from            between parents. For high achievers who in-
grave, implying that lasting happiness is             you. Until you learn to be comfortable in             vest almost their total being into their work,
not available here on earth, that a Platonian         your new environment, you will be operating           attending a child’s soccer game, for instance,
ideal life exists outside and beyond ordinary         under a high degree of stress.                        is a no-win situation. Go to the game and you
existence. Part of the enduring popularity of                                                               miss work. Miss the game and disappoint
religion can be traced to its offer of future         Marriage                                              your child. Either way, you experience stress.
happiness to individuals who find their lives         Again, you may be giddy with the prospect of
brutish, sad and ultimately meaningless.              a happy ever-after life with some one who is          A Home and Mortgage

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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                1.800. 973. 1177

Ask most attorneys if they find a home             works and loving care can help alleviate the        functions becomes an effort. What happens to
mortgage stressful and they will shrug and         stress of sickness but can never eliminate it.      cause a high achiever to reach a point in which
tell you they don’t think about it. A mortgage                                                         functioning professionally becomes so dif-
lasts anywhere from 15- to 30 years, and it        Remarriage and Blended Families                     ficult? Here is one explanation: We construct
presupposes earning a salary continually until     We re-establish bonds of trust when we              identities so as to tell us who we are. These
it is paid off. The mortgage itself represents     remarry, but there are landmines ahead. Chil-       identities are similar to belief systems. They
only a base level of stress. Sooner or later,      dren’s loyalties to the parent left behind mean     explain our lives to us and feed us myths
roofs, carpeting and pipes need upgrading          they are not going to automatically accept us.      about ourselves that give comfort and often
or replacement; electrical systems must be         There are ex husbands and wives in the mix.         a sense of invulnerability to any problems
updated; exterior and interior painted, steps      In addition, there is often a type of emotional     life creates. When something challenges this
repaired. There’s insurance. Water, electric       hubris involved, the belief that “This time, I’ve   belief system -heavy and prolonged criticism,
and gas bills. A good question might be: How       got it right.” Beneath the surface rests the        for instance, either from home or in the office,
does anyone manage to keep a high paying           fear that one is fooling one’s self.                or any of the events already discussed such
job while dealing with a spouse, children and                                                          as being passed over, divorce, the death of
a house, all of them generating stress along       Death of Parents                                    parents, etc.-we first deny the challenge to
with emotional sustenance?                         When parents die we are orphaned. Often, a          our chosen identity and then, when evidence
                                                   parent is the only one who will tolerate our        keeps piling up that indicates our identity
Divorce                                            endless talk of our selves. When parents die,       construct is flawed, we suffer burn-out, or the
When a marriage dissolves, lines of trust          our own mortality is suddenly put in play. We       inability to keep doing what we were doing.
established over time get breached. We are         lose a sounding board and we lose uncondi-
thrown seemingly loveless and abandoned            tional love.                                        Burn-out is accompanied by great sadness
into a world more often than not indifferent                                                           and a sense of hopelessness. Physicians usu-
to our pain. If children are involved, there are   Being Passed Over At Work or Fired                  ally prescribe rest and time off from work.
issues of visitation and separation. We may        This happens to almost everyone but for some        Psychiatric help and drugs such as Prozac are
have to find new living quarters and buy new       it happens sooner rather than later. Worse          frequently prescribed. Most individuals suffer-
furniture. The sense of rejection and failure      is the shame one feels not measuring up to          ing burn-out end up returning to work, but in
is palpable. At work, we can seem either           some one else’s expectations. Others either         a sense, damage has been done. The fragility
asocial or overly emotional. A little of us gets   pity us or believe we deserve what we got. We       of one’s own ego has been faced. Personal
left behind in the former relationship. We are     are confronted with our own limitations and         limitations are accepted. The mourning for the
angry at our ‘ex and angry with ourselves. This    the fact that others are regarded more favor-       prior identity construct ends, and the self is
is not the subtle, underlying stress of a mort-    ably. Our first tendency is to blame others. For    remade.
gage. This stress is out in the open, corrosive,   attorneys, most of them high achievers since
the kind that often elicits intervention from      grade school, being passed over or fired does       Mid-life Crisis
bosses, psychologists and others.                  not fit the life script. But adjust we must. Not    This period of life, especially for the male,
                                                   everyone can become a partner. Not everyone         has been trivialized and frequently made fun
Sickness                                           can survive job cuts.                               of in the media. It calls to mind men wearing
The threat of something going wrong with the                                                           retro Hawaiian shirts unbuttoned to the navel
body or the mind is with us always. Sickness       Burn-out                                            sporting ear rings, toupees, face lifts and
can be predicted when, for example, one eats       Some individuals can be saddled with hor-           other obvious attempts to appear youthful.
or smokes or drinks too much over a long           rendous personal problems and never suffer          The perceived advantage of youth is partly
period. Most of the time, however, sickness        burn out while others go to pieces unexpect-        its sense of freedom, irresponsibility and a
cannot be predicted. It acts as a destabilizing,   edly, seemingly without warning. ‘Burn out’ in      life that is new and still unexplored. Mid-life
painful, random event entering our lives to        medical terms is called a nervous breakdown.        becomes crisis when the individual recognizes
threaten our livelihoods and potentially our       Each of us possesses a specific tolerance           signs of aging, which fuels the desire to cheat
very existence. Mental illness or its lesser       to stress and no two people are necessarily         destiny and gain more time for one’s self on
corollary, neurotic behavior, can arise any        alike. When an attorney suffers burn-out, joy       earth. Also present is the sense that striving
time depending on the stress level an indi-        and satisfaction can no longer be found in          and hard work have not produced content-
vidual attorney is experiencing. Support net-      work. In fact, just performing daily boilerplate    ment. Existential angst takes over. Returning
                                                                                                       to an idealized youth is preferred to staying in

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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                        1.800. 973. 1177

place or inching closer to old age, death and

Some Conclusions
The trick to a reasonably stress-free life is
stripping one’s identity of myth and preten-
sion, but this is easier said than done. The
process of ‘self’ building takes place over a
life time. It takes a certain maturity to be able
to look back and see where one’s view of the
world has been faulty and led to bad decisions.
Mid life is typically when this process begins
in earnest.

The first task of stress reduction has to do
with recognizing where one fails to see the
world realistically. The second part -the
harder one-is to change. For most people, this
is not possible. Ideally, we should always be
introspective about our selves, taking clues
from those around us, and asking from time to
time what others think. Humility goes a long
way in handling stress. If we do not set artifi-
cially high expectations for our selves we are
less likely to be disappointed. Disappointment
breeds stress. So does being highly critical of
ourselves and others. Moderation is the name
of the game here. Stay within your means
financially and present a low-key version of
yourself as human and vulnerable. Do all of
this and you won’t eliminate stress from your
life but you will go a long way to minimizing its
potential damage.


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