A guest post by Amanda Falkson, a psychotherapist and coach based in the City of London
Covid-19 has left no corner of our lives untouched, including the anxieties and stresses we feel.
I have worked closely with legal professionals for a number of years. While each individual is different, it’s a fair statement to say that lawyers have to perform at a specific level. The pressure to perform drives incredible careers and much success but does come with a cost at times.
Now that we have a global pandemic to contend with, even more complexities have been added into our personal and professional lives.
Remote working doesn’t mean that work stresses disappear. It’s definitely a concept whose time has come, but it’s not a magic pill either.
In my practice, I see four career anxieties more frequently than any others. Coronavirus is exacerbating these, and my clients are telling me of their doubts and fears as we return to vastly changed working conditions.
Although my clients are successful lawyers, and often in senior positions, their confident exteriors don’t always match their less secure feelings about themselves. Imposter syndrome is estimated to affect up to 70% of people, according to Time magazine. This is when people who have worked diligently and are more than capable live in fear of being found out or feel like a fraud.
Even Baroness Hale, an aspirational and inspirational figure for many lawyers has admitted feeling fear of being ‘found out’, that it might somehow be revealed that she isn’t the highly capable and assured lawyer she is.
In lawyers it starts early. In a poll by the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division, 83% of junior solicitors said they had suffered from the feeling of being an ‘imposter’.
A little bit of doubt can keep us motivated, but there’s a thin line between healthy comparison and crippling negative thinking about ourselves.
One of the ways to deal with imposter syndrome is to learn how to reframe your thoughts. Acknowledge when you are feeling like an ‘imposter’ and counter it by reflecting on the achievements you’ve made. Train your mind to not fixate on the one task that you could have improved on, but the 99 others you did brilliantly.
A friend once told me about her ‘smile file’ – this was a folder on her computer where she kept a log of the positive feedback she’d received from clients and colleagues. Every time she doubted herself, she would open the file and remind herself of her successes.
Sharing your feelings is also deeply helpful – you’ll find that many of your peers and colleagues share these thoughts and this can help put it into perspective. However, there are times when you might need more support to overcome negative feelings and that’s where a professional counsellor can help uncover the roots of your feelings and how to reframe them.
Setting and maintaining boundaries
You might find it impossible to say ‘no’ and sometimes feel taken for granted and pushed too far. If you are unfamiliar with setting and keeping boundaries, it can be challenging when you find you need to create them in your professional life.
A lack of boundaries can lead to taking on too much and walking a path to burnout.
It’s also worth acknowledging that sometimes we receive recognition or flattery for always saying yes.
The key to learning to say ‘no’ more often lies in becoming clear on your own values. Once you understand what your values are, you’ll set boundaries that will increase your self-respect and send a clear, confident message to others.
Working with a coach can help you to understand your values and how you communicate these to others. It is also about increasing your self-esteem and assertiveness skills. As well as gaining better control over work-life balance, setting professional boundaries often leads to greater respect from colleagues.
Boundaries are a foundation of self-care. Being empowered to set and maintain boundaries based on your values must also be a foundation of the lawyer mindset.
Anxiety and overwhelm
Law firms are high-octane environments. The pace and intellectual rigour can be hugely stimulating, but they also create ideal conditions for burnout to occur.
My number one caution to my clients who are showing the early signs of burnout is that soldiering on is the worst strategy of all. Early signs include becoming disengaged with work, feeling little drive, low energy, depressive feelings and physical exhaustion.
Recovering from burnout takes a year at least. Recognising the signs early and responding could mean flourishing in a career you love.
Protect your health by prioritising healthy eating, sufficient rest and exercise, and strong relationships. All of these are proven immune boosters and will safeguard your mental health. Seek help early if you are feeling overwhelmed, whether from in-house services, organisations like LawCare or a trained counsellor.
Post-Covid job or career change
Covid-19 may prompt a re-evaluation of your priorities and your life. For all the challenges the virus is throwing in our path, it can also provide the time for deeper reflection.
In my own career, I retrained as a psychotherapist at 40 years of age. Previously, I’d worked in advertising and had run my own catering company.
If you’re thinking about the changes you’d like to make in your life, speak to a trusted confidante to evaluate all your options and help determine a path that aligns with your values and longer-term goals. Making a change can be invigorating even if it is scary!
The virus might be around a while still but it will be in our rear-view mirror one day. Both now and then, it’s a smart mental health approach to focus on what you can control and ensure you support yourself to manage the many responsibilities you may face.