White Knuckling Through A Legal Career: A Lawyer’s Journey With Fear

Anyone in the legal profession has left the office or awoke in the middle of the night with a sudden sinking feeling that something important has been missed!  In my practice, I can tell you the mail, and now often e-mail, evokes a panic wondering what the day’s crisis may entail.  If deadlines and statutes of limitations aren’t enough to get your blood pumping, then the hostile client or even just fear of the unknown certainly may lead to a lot of avenues for substantial stress and even fear among legal professionals.

Fear is often the unspoken “F” word in the legal field.  Fear motivates behavior quite often and becomes the ‘white knuckling’ referenced in the title of this blog.  If you imagine getting on a plane and grasping the armrests because of your knowledge of the very small percentage of planes that have unsuccessful flights, you can begin to get a clear picture of how life lived from the perspective of fear could block substantial pleasure and enjoyment in life.   What then is the root of our fear and how do we move from this mode of living, or the least, as our state when practicing law?

There are some common defenses to fear such as excessive worrying and excessive doing.  The reality is we can’t really achieve peace unless we honestly assess our feelings and consciously feel the feelings.  One might even say, we should “lean into the fear,” experience it fully, and only then will we move through life as it was intended.  Pema Chodron, the Buddhist Teacher who has authored many well received books and teaches extensively writes as follows:  “Feelings such as …fear instead of being the bad news are actually very clear moments that teach us where we are holding back.  They are like the messengers that show us exactly were we are stuck.  Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”  My favorite Pema Chodron quote is, “We think the point is to pass the  test or to overcome the problem, but the point is things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.”   As lawyers, can we really be okay with that, as long as we have done our best, we are simply not in control of life or law as we are taught we should be?  Can we get intimate with our fear, move closer, and take the ‘journey of courage’? That is, in being intimate with our fear, we actually gain true emotional security we are seeking.  The fear itself is the vanguard of courage; it does not strike out against ourselves or others.

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung noticed that people became neurotic when they contented themselves with attaining position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money but did not fill their lives with  sufficient content and meaning.   There is in actuality a fear of life as that written about by Dr. Alexander Lowen which he describes as follows:  “Fear of life can be seen in the way we keep busy so as not to feel, keep running so as not to face ourselves, or get high on liquor or drugs so as not to sense our being.  Because we are afraid of life, we seek to control or master it.  The  modern individual is committed to being successful, not to being a person.  He belongs rightly to the ‘action generation’ whose motto is to do more but feel less.”

Can we then appreciate fear as a beacon of sanity?  Touch what is coming up and let it go.  This is not repression.  Start with the breath and follow that.  Breathe in and breathe out.  Yes, vulnerability will come up, but as strange it might sound, there also comes loving tenderness.  Compassion for ourselves is the atmosphere of warmth which allows us to be as we are; it is a process of being here no matter how it is going.  The qualities of openness and availability to life will then follow.  This is indeed good news!

So yes, get out your calendars, know your legal duties, work proactively and effectively, actively communicate with clients and bill honestly.  After that, let it go!  Let the fear go by facing it fully and developing compassion for yourself in a job well done no matter how it goes! Cutlivate meaning and purpose in your life and let go of doing for the sake of doing.  This my friends is the recipe for life fulfillment and the end of white knuckle days and nights.

Pamela Michelle, J.D., M.S. is a practicing lawyer and M.S. in Mental Health Counseling.  She practices also as a coach and is ICF certified.  Pam is available for consultation by contacting her at Pam@SoulofLawyers.com.