Today we have a really exciting topic: burnout. It seems like it’s the talk of the town. And this concept is really getting traction. I learned that the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently included “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon in this manual called the International Classification of Diseases. So it’s a real thing. We’re talking about it. I’m sure you know people who have said they burnt out. We know what it is. We admit it after it happens, kind of after- the-fact. Lawyers are talking about it, especially. And that’s why I wanted to address it here in this podcast. So I talk to a lot of lawyers. And when I talk to lawyers about this topic, I see tears welling up in their eyes. When “former” lawyers (as they call themselves) or “recovering lawyers” tell me that they burned out on the law, then I get tears in my eyes knowing that it could have been prevented.
I’d say that most lawyers teeter the danger zone of burning out; we get really close, and kind of often save ourselves until we really can’t anymore. And because we’re so strong and resilient, we bounce back usually, right? But over time, burning the candle at both ends, so to speak, what is really happening to us? What are we doing? You may know that I am an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, which means that I’m trained in this alternative medicine to help myself and others balance themselves for good health and to prevent disease. And it’s like 90% prevention, right? So I’m very much into prevention. And prevention comes from balance, because disease originates from imbalance. So in learning how to balance ourselves, there are two things that I look at.
There are many, but we can kind of make it simple, because I like simple. One is our constitution. This is how we were born, what we’re made of (whatever you believe in for who we are). And second are our inputs: what are we taking in? What are we consuming? This is not just food, but ideas, messages, energy, people, situations. So those are the two things: constitution and inputs. Let me talk about each one. Our constitution is simply who we are, our personality. There are so many self-awareness tools out there, and it’s super fun if you want to use these personality tests and figure out your tendencies, and who you are, and why you do things the way you do. Pretty amazing! To simplify, as lawyers we most definitely have a good amount of fire in us.
In Ayurvedic medicine, we look at really basic elements, and the element of fire is very present in my constitution and I would argue, in most lawyers, because the fire is what got us to apply to law school, to graduate from law school, pass the bar, forge forward in this profession that requires us to have drive and determination, motivation – all those fiery characteristics. And the fire is also the passion we have for our work, and our clients. And so, that’s who we are. We’re a whole bunch of fire. And it’s wonderful. Fire fuels leaders, and makes us do things, and helps us go forward. We’re not lazy; we get things done. And then, let’s talk about our inputs. Our inputs are what we’re taking it on a regular basis, like I talked about. What are we eating? Are you eating fiery foods? Spicy foods? Alcohol is very fiery. Caffeine can be very heating. What kind of food are you eating? And what kind of energy is coming in from outside – from our clients, from opposing counsel, judges? It’s just the nature of the work, right?
It’s a whole lot of conflict, which is essentially fire. So we’re bringing in all of that fire from other people, who most definitely are imbalanced. And if we’re not balanced, we take it in because it’s kind of like “fire fuels fire”. So if we’re already imbalanced, we can be very easily toppled in that direction. If we’re made of fire, consuming other fire, you can imagine this burning going on. And maybe some of you have seen this in physical manifestations: heartburn, digestive issues (that all has to do with fire), skin issues, inflammation – all of this is fire. And a certain kind of insomnia is fire too. You fall asleep and you wake up feeling hot. I’m trying to give you a visual. I’m trying to give you the truth about burnout. It’s not just something that just happens.
It is a slow-burning fire that started long ago! The truth about burnout is that it can be prevented, absolutely, 100%. And the other part of this truth is that we lawyers may not like the way to prevent it. I’ve been asked so many times, “what’s the natural way?” And then I tell people and they’re like, “oh, thanks.” We know that too much fire leads to burnout. So we want to keep these flames low, and we don’t want to put them out. We don’t want to douse them. Because I know you know someone who doesn’t have a lot of fire, doesn’t have motivation, who gets stuck. So we don’t want that at all. The fire is very important. The fire is important for our digestion, for our metabolism. So we want everything working properly. However, if there’s too much heat, we don’t want to explode/ burnout.
I’m just going to start with the premise that there is too much heat for you, dear lawyer. And since there’s so much heat, we need to learn how to cool down. You, me, all of us, need to learn how to cool down. By bringing regular cooling down activities into our lives, we will avoid burnout. So it’s that simple: that we’re really running hot, and so we just need to bring the cooling. It’s just so simple that it’s so hard.
Before I talk to you more about cooling activities, I want to bring this back to time. Because this podcast, and the New Billable Hour, is about time. You are probably like, “what does this have to do with time?” When you’re running fast, totally flames blazing, heading towards burnout, you feel like you’re getting so much done. You probably are, you know, you are probably pushing – you can, it works until it doesn’t work, right? But then there’s the burnout or there’s the “almost burnout” and then we have to backup and recover. So you may get sick, you may literally not function anymore. You may be functioning at a diminished level. We talked about this in the first episode about capacity. Our capacity may not be what it could be, because we’re headed towards burnout.
By avoiding burnout, you’ll save time from that recovery, from the missed work because of diminished capacity. If you actually do burnout – I see lawyers who burnout who have to rebuild their lives, essentially, they take a bunch of time off. They have to focus on their health all the time. They can’t really be working. And that’s just a little sad. I’m glad they’re doing well, but it’s what’s happening. So that is not living your best life, and expanding time. It is actually shrinking it, because we’re having to regress, and make up time. So if I’ve convinced you, or if I haven’t, I want to tell you about some cooling activities that we can put into our lives.
The best one is breathing deeply. And that’s why I do that every episode. We start with three deep breaths and end with the three deep breaths. If you could incorporate that into your life like ever, even every week when you listen to this podcast, you are doing a cooling down activity.
Just the fact of breathing deeply (shallow breathing is not very cooling – it might be fanning the flames), really dropping in, slowing down is very cooling to the system. And so having regular breathing exercises, other types of meditation in your routine, just taking time to be with your breath, to pay attention, will keep your cool, so to speak. Other cooling activities are getting enough rest, which may be controversial, but I think people are getting that. You know what it feels like. You could keep your cool better when you’ve had enough rest. Taking breaks regularly at work and also at the end of the day, the main break! Do you stop working after a certain amount of time?
Bring in real relaxation into your life. Vacations are wonderful. They are great, and continue them. I think that that we don’t take enough vacation. But how much can you bring in vacation to your daily life? Can you can you bring in activities to your daily life, to your existence? This occurred to me because I used to travel and work, and travel and work, and keep them separate. And think of vacation is travel, and then we have, staycation. But now I like to think of my whole life as a vacation, and then I insert work. I try to make my work fit that, and I know that’s not possible for everyone.
But it’s just a mindset thing, right? Like, can you move (your body)? How do you move? How do you appreciate things? How do you notice things? How do you live? How do you live each day? Are you really there? You know, are you in the moment? So that is to help us keep our balance – because we know that there’s plenty of opportunities for the opposite of that, for being pulled in lots of directions, pulled away from the moment into the heat into the fire, which is super fun. We’re not saying to let go of it, but how can we balance it out?
Because when we don’t balance it out, the imbalance is what causes burnout. It’s too much heat. And so, in sum, for the long haul, make sure to prioritize keeping your cool to prevent burnout. And I know that that’s something that people care about right now. So wanted to give you a simple concept.
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