Maslow Did Not Bill Hours: The Lawyer’s Journey to Self-Actualization

Abraham Maslow wrote about the journey to self-actualization.  Located at the top or peak of the hierarchy, he described this high-level need in the following way:  “What a man can be, he must be.   This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment,  namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.  This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Unless one has as his/her greatest potential to become a ‘billing machine’, this may seem like an impossible journey for the billable hour lawyer endlessly counting time.   On the issue of time alone, there are uncounted reams of paper, seas of ink, and terabytes of digital data have been expended on books and essays addressing the nature of time.  And yet despite all of this, there remains an astonishing lack of consensus among scientists and philosophers about the fundamental nature of time.  Is the nature of time so immeasurably deep, mysterious, and impenetrable that it will forever elude our best efforts to understand it?  Not to the billable hour legal professional!  The answer is simple:   .6 per unit/measurable billable action with 24 hours in a day and 120 hours in a 5 day work week.  Considering further that most lawyers attempting to rise to the top of their career spend nearly 7 days a week working,  how on earth does this leave any chance for said lawyer to actualize towards his/her greatest potential as a human being?

In many spiritual traditions, there is the idea of ‘being present.’  This is often generally referred to as “spiritual awareness” or “witness consciousness.”  There are several facets to the concept of  spiritual awareness including but not limited to the following:

1-A sense of flow attracts synchronicity into your life’s events whereby it seems one is always at the appropriate time and place to gain the most out of the experiences of life.

2-You develop a sense of unconditional love for, yes, even the difficult people you encounter.  They are in fact the ones holding up the mirror for you to examine your habits, acts, and beliefs.

3-Money is energy.  The more you are in resonance with your joy in work brings both money and natural abundance.  This is fantastic news!

4-You become more intuitive.  Let’s face it, lawyers are pretty good at insight about people.

5-Creativity and the ability to see new ways to achieve results because you see life from a broader perspective.

6-Mindfulness practices hone the ability to allow surface thoughts to dissipate so that deeper realizations may surface.

If one considers these facets, it is clear that spiritual awareness can occur while one is doing anything, including billing hours by practicing law.  In fact, the more present or in the flow of your work, you may find great joy and also spiritual awareness.  This is encouraging given in Maslow’s construct, at best, lawyers may only reach the Esteem level rather than Self-actualization and Self-transcendence (located at the top of the hierarchy) if a lawyer is working/billing 75+ hour work weeks and focusing on the demands of  a growing legal career or law firm.   The bottom line is there is time for little else than work.  However, if we consider the model that growth of the person and the Self is possible while doing any endeavor with presence of mind and awareness, the highest possibilities for each individual do in fact exist in terms of human potential. I truly hope you find this as encouraging as it is!  With this, we will ponder Maslow’s hierarchy in more depth another day.

Pam Olsen is a practicing lawyer, ICF Certified Coach and M.S. Mental Health Counseling. Pam’s coaching/consulting practice has as its focus the human potential of lawyers in particular and taking professionals through dynamic process and inner reflection to gain self-awareness and peace in their professional lives.  Contact Pam@Soulof to schedule an assessment and/or coaching session.