… The Job Can Absolutely Destroy You
During a recent discussion in LawyerSmack about lawyering, power imbalances, and the ability to shrug off being slighted, someone made a statement that really resonated with me. I immediately recognized its truth and have long shared the sentiment:
If you can’t let the bullshit go, the job can absolutely destroy you.
Being an attorney can bring with it a lot of baggage, but in the same way that ducks’ feathers are impervious to water, you need to let slights and unwarranted critical remarks roll off your back.
Being Like a Duck
A couple of years ago, I was defending a truck accident. I called one of the witnesses listed on the accident report. When he answered the phone, I identified myself and told him what I was calling about. He immediately told me he couldn’t talk to me and I needed to talk to his boss. I called his boss. She told me she couldn’t talk to me and I needed to talk to her boss. I called her boss and left a voicemail. The next call I got was from a partner at another firm, who lit into me about making sneaky phone calls to his clients. I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.
As it turned out, this lawyer represented the company that employed the people I had been speaking to. When I explained that I had been unaware they were represented by counsel and that I’d identified myself when speaking to them, he accused me of lying because that’s not what his client had told him. This part of the conversation wasn’t too dissimilar from any number of confrontations I’d had from parents whose children I had sent to detention or entered a failing grade when I taught high school.
Once I got off the phone, I fumed about it for days and held a grudge against him for … a long time. Then over time, I just decided to let it go. I can be almost certain that lawyer doesn’t remember me and has long forgotten that conversation. He has a reputation for not treating people well, so I was just one in a long list of berated folks. It wasn’t doing me any good to hold on to it.
Rooting Out Bitterness
If I had let those hard feelings grow into resentment and bitterness, it wouldn’t have stayed contained to my just being embittered against one person. That’s not how those feelings work. They are corrupters. Bitterness is a root that wends its way deep into you. Maya Angelou: “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.”
Author Lee Strobel had this to say about bitterness: “Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, bitterness is always a poison. It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it. Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over.”
We can’t afford to hold onto grudges. They aren’t worth the consequences. Throughout the course of your practice, you’re likely going to be slighted dozens of times … per month. Both unintentionally and purposefully. People are going to make disparaging comments about your abilities, your work product, your integrity, or just about you generally. But you ought not harbor resentment that arises from those experiences. We’ve all known people who’ve become embittered and are unbearable as a result.
This is a matter of choice. Those folks weren’t able to let things go, and it absolutely destroyed them. So you just gotta, you know, be more like Elsa and …
(Sorry. As the parent of a toddler, I was obligated to make a Frozen reference somewhere in this blog).
Cover photo by x1klima.