On Yearning, Learning and Earning: How Florida Lawyers Can Grow Themselves into Happier Beings
By Aaron H. Wallace, Esq.
Barbara Walters gave late-night hosts a goldmine in 1981 when she famously asked Katharine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”
Not an easy question to answer, thus the derision.
Fortunately, Florida lawyers don’t have anything like Leno or Letterman, so I’ll take a risk and put a similar — but hopefully easier to answer — question to you:
If you were a tree, would you be growing?
I don’t mean aging. We all do that. The world’s most forlorn couch potato is aging at precisely the same rate as the world’s happiest epicure. But their experiences are very different.
No, I’m talking about inner growth, whether personal or professional or (hopefully) a bit of both.
William Butler Yeats once said, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer and bestselling author who studies human happiness with an eye toward the professional class, gave a nod to Yeats in developing one of her most popular mantras: live in “an atmosphere of growth.”
In honor of Well-Being Week in Law, let’s look at a few ways Florida lawyers can cultivate this “atmosphere of growth” in spite of a busy life and daunting career.
Heed Your Yearnings
As a professional liability insurance company, we at Florida Lawyers Mutual know first hand that there is sometimes a connection between professional “errors & omissions” and the “errors & omissions” Florida lawyers tend to make in their own personal lives — deep down at the soul level.
When we neglect our inner yearning to pursue passions, feed our spiritual needs, and engage with other people and the world around us, we become stagnant, unhappy, and ultimately worse at our jobs.
Experts offer the following tips for honoring your inner needs and keeping sight of yourself even in all the tumult of lawyerdom:
Travel: Americans on average work longer hours and longer work weeks compared to the rest of the western world… and yet they spend less time on vacation too! Talk about a bad bargained-for exchange. Lawyers report feeling that they “can’t get away from work” at especially high levels, suggesting they might do even less travel than other busy Americans, despite generally having greater financial freedom. The problem is that we tend to think of vacation as a guilty indulgence rather than something we are designed to do. So let’s start thinking of travel as what it is: an indispensable exercise in personal health. Consider the following:
- Women who vacation at least twice a year have substantially reduced risk of heart attack, while men who fail to vacation annually have a 30% higher risk of heart disease and 20% greater risk of early death. (This according to the Global Commission on Aging.) Do you yearn to get away? It might be your heart’s calling in more ways than one!
- Foreign experiences have been shown to increase cognitive flexibility and to more deeply integrate the brain’s ability to make connections between disparate forms. (But, cautions Prof. Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School, who has authored numerous studies linking creativity with international travel, the key is immersive engagement. It is not enough to visit a different place; one must actively engage with the place, its people, and its culture.) Yes or no: your clients and your practice would benefit from your enhanced cognitive flexibility and analytical prowess?
- It’s the going somewhere else that counts! In Florida, it’s easy to fall back on the fact that we already live where others travel as a substitute for excursions of our own. But remember: the psychological benefit we’re after here is growth, and that comes from an encounter with the different or new.
- NBC News reports that within three days of returning from a full-fledged vacation, travelers begin to report deeper rest, better moods, and lower levels of anxiety — and that these effects last for weeks!
- Merely planning and anticipating a trip measurably enhances happiness, before the trip itself even begins.
- One study found that traveling annually — as opposed to once every other year — is associated with significant reductions in both depression and stress-related cortisol levels in the body. Given that that the ABA & IWIL found that stress levels among lawyers have reached unsustainable levels and pose an existential crisis to the profession, maybe we should start thinking of regular travel as a matter of professional responsibility!
Tend to Your Spirit: Spiritual life looks a little different for every lawyer, but whatever faith and spirituality mean to you, it’s important not to neglect them. In a busy career, even the most devout among us can find themselves pulled away from the spiritual disciplines that mean the most to them: prayer, meditation, quiet time, study, worship, or whatever it might be for you.
Focus on Others: On surface level, it might seem like an easy ask for lawyers. Much of what we do by trade is in service to our client or employer.
Reminding ourselves in the midst of a frenzied work week that it’s all for a purpose — to help someone else — can minister to our inner yearning to connect. But those connections have to happen outside the workplace too. Whether it’s spending more leisure time with family, making new friends, or volunteering within your community, we all desire deep down to serve and engage. Our daily lives should reflect that desire.
Diversify Your Learnings
As lawyers, we hear a lot about learning. Ongoing CLE is a requirement of any active law license, and for good reason. There are the changes in the law itself, of course, but also in the risks of the profession. From cyber schemes to settle-and-sue strategies targeting Florida lawyers, the need for risk management education can seem never-ending.
But we are more than lawyers. Other kinds of learning matter just as much. As we saw with travel above, the secret to living in an “atmosphere of growth” is to continually confront ourselves with new knowledge and experiences, especially those that speak to our natural interests and curiosities.
Here are some fun ways to tap into a different type of “CLE” — continuing life education:
- Declare a month of “Google It” — every time you hear a term, concept, or reference you aren’t familiar with (or would simply like to know more about), pull out your phone and run a quick search. With the whole world of knowledge in your pocket, you’ll be surprised how much you can learn in 30 days!
- Sign up for a personal or professional development course using programs like MasterClass, TED-Ed, or SkillShare
- Flex your vocab with a round of Wordle from The New York Times — it’s all the rage, in part because you can only play once per day (a phone addict’s dream)
- Become a master of miscellanea: get some friends together for trivia at a local restaurant or bar; tune in to the popular Good Job, Brain! podcast; or check out Netflix’s new interactive show, Trivia Quest. (Also on Netflix for the less interactively inclined: old episodes of Jeopardy!)
- Part of Rubin’s “atmosphere of growth” mentality entails a challenge to “know yourself better.” Take the bestselling author’s Four Tendencies Quiz, which explains one thing and one thing only about you and everyone you work with: what kinds of motivation you do/don’t respond to and why.
- Engage in some playful “brain training” with online games from Luminosity.
- Rediscover reading with easy-to-digest audiobooks on Audible or 15-minute highlight reels from bestselling books courtesy of Blinkist
- Learn about learning with Forbes’ list of benefits of learning new skills
And when it comes to time to put the legal back in your continuing education, browse our library of free-for-all CLE courses, our member-exclusive 33+ hour portal of accredited Florida CLE videos, or our risk management resources related to errors & omissions insurance for Florida lawyers!
Align Your Earnings
Finally, while we’ve talked so much about growth and engagement, it’s important not to overlook one other central tenet in the lawyer well-being movement: alignment.
There are many ways to pursue alignment between your personal and professional life. Last year, we wrote about aligning your ‘who’ and your ‘do.’
But consider also that you can bring some balance to your life by aligning the financial fruit of your career efforts with the desire for growth and engagement in your personal life. It’s a three-step process:
- First, allocate some portion of your earnings for facilitating your own personal growth and the pursuit of your passions;
- Second, observe and appreciate that your hard work have given you the financial flexibility to pursue those things;
- Third, express gratitude (whether in a journal or to a loved one out loud).
While it’s all too tempting to compartmentalize our personal and professional lives, lawyer well-being may best be served by picturing every facet of our lives as interconnected parts of a whole.
About Florida Lawyers Mutual: Errors & Omissions Insurance for Lawyers in Florida
Created by The Florida Bar so that Florida lawyers would have a high-quality source for errors & omissions insurance, Florida Lawyers Mutual is an AM Best A-rated insurance company that has been protecting Florida lawyers and their reputations for over 30 years. Owned by its member lawyers, Florida Lawyers Mutual offers high-quality E&O policy features (including an automatic cyber liability endorsement at no additional premium cost) and legendary member service.
The Company recently declared its first-ever member dividend and launched an extensive risk management library with 33+ hours of free CLE for its member lawyers, including coveted credit types (e.g. Technology, Board Certification, etc). Getting a quote for coverage is as simple as submitting our easy online application.