I have a friend whose standard answer to the question “How’s business?” is always the same: “Terrible!” Knowing him as I do, I suspect that business, at least financially, is far from terrible and he is fortunate to enjoy the material rewards that running a business has to offer. However there are few practitioners I speak with whose answer is different to his.
It raises the question with me: “Is there something in the human condition that doesn’t like to admit that things are going well, or are we all just having a really miserable time at the moment?” Like Goldilocks, is it always “too hot” or “too cold”, or do some of us manage to get it “just right”?
I posed that question to a solicitor breakfast networking group recently, and I was intrigued and fascinated by their responses. Initially it was just that it’s “the Scottish mentality”, but as the conversation expanded a number of additional points arose. Everyone agreed that regulation does suck the joy from most aspects of legal work, although most saw the importance of it in protecting the solicitor brand. Similarly, working within what is, in essence, a profession dealing constantly with conflicts, be they client to client, solicitor to solicitor or indeed solicitor to client, also takes its toll on the mental wellbeing of practitioners.
Running on adrenalin?
Some other themes were that many of us have become adrenalin junkies. While we may not love the fact that our days are stressful, we do begin at some level to crave a degree of stress, having grown accustomed to it in our lives for so long. Think on your own day and how often you squeeze in an extra meeting, settlement or case rather than taking the easier, more relaxing option.
Many of us also defer our gratification to a later date. We take on more and more today in the belief (often mistaken) that at some future point we will be able to spend our time happily taking long walks on sunny beaches. Sadly, many of us have experienced losses that have shown the flaw in that thinking. Finally, amongst the group there was a sense that over time we all get just a little burned out and jaded from doing the same thing for so long and dealing with the pressures and stresses that go with it.
On a more positive note, everyone still loved the law and its practice, and this did not seem to diminish with age. Likewise, most loved running their own businesses (regulation notwithstanding) and both the challenges and the opportunities that it gave them. There was though a clear message that to continue to thrive, you had to create time for yourself and to build your own internal resources and resilience to allow you to function at your best during the working day, particularly when dealing with client issues. It was interesting to note that most in the group had made some form of change or pivot to their business or life at some point.
The question arose, whether these issues were confined to business owners, and the views again are worth considering. A general sense prevailed that newer entrants to the profession are not as entrepreneurial, or at least less likely to set up in practice or to progress as early to partnership roles than generations before. There are of course many factors at play here, not least of which again is regulation, along with matters such as panel appointments that can be a barrier to entry. It was also felt, though, that newer entrants are perhaps a little wiser and already appreciate the importance of work-life balance, and the longevity of their career may not be as important. These were, of course, opinions only and I’d love to hear from any NQs with their thoughts.
Young in a long life
So what did I take away from it all? A few points on which I hope we can all agree:
- “How are you” is a greeting, not a question. It is always safer to say “fantastic” and to chat through any worries or concerns, if appropriate, later as they arise.
- Take time out for yourself. You cannot look after others unless you first look after you (as the instructions on nearly every airline seat remind us!).
- Remember you will reach a stage in your career where the last thing you will need is additional income: what you will really need then is longevity.
- While repeating the same tasks every day may be efficient, don’t forget to develop yourself, your skills and your business. That is what will keep you young in mind and outlook, and help with that longevity issue.
- Borrowing from the lyrics of Stephen Stills, and to answer the question at the beginning: if all else fails, “If you can’t be in the job you love, love the one you are in.”
Stephen Vallance works with HM Connect, the referral and support network operated by Harper Macleod
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