Finding greater happiness in your practice and in your life is not about painting over the ugly parts of life with prettier colors.
You cannot simply “thought swap” your way to happiness.
However, when you know and understand that all the results you are creating in your life are anchored in your thoughts, you start to see the utility in viewing aspects of your life from a different perspective.
For instance, I had a free consult with a midlevel associate attorney who was stuck in anger. She explained to me that she had been discriminated against at her firm–her male cohorts were being paid more than her despite equivalent hours billed.
Unfortunately, this experience is not all uncommon in the corporate law firm environment. Recent studies have revealed that women at law firms earn less than their male counterparts even when they work longer hours and have more experience.
None of us want to be part of that statistic and I can certainly relate to the inclination to cast aspersions upon any perceived pay discrepancy.
As part of my work with this particular client, we first examined the facts of the situation. What did she know to be true about the situation?
Separating the facts from your opinions and perceptions is always the first required step whenever you are spinning in some negative emotion. Know what parts of your story are self-created drama and what parts of factual.
Force yourself to look at the facts and separate out the drama.
If you are going to take authentic action, you must have a clear picture of the facts. You cannot succeed in any action when you are operating from your own drama.
The Facts: A male associate told my client he was paid $10,000 more than her and that he billed 300 hours less than her.
The Drama: I am being discriminated against. This is unfair. I will never be treated fairly. I don’t trust the management. No one has my back. He doesn’t deserve to make more than me. There’s no point in working hard if I won’t get fairly compensated for it. I don’t want to do this anymore.
The sheer amount of drama outweighed the facts by a landslide. There wasn’t much that had actually happened. There seemed to be a lot of holes in the facts. Lots of opportunities for exploration.
Before we give any weight to the drama, we have to decide whether the facts WARRANT the dramatics.
Do you have the full story? Have you done your diligence? Are you settling for victimhood?
Once we examined the facts of the situation, we examined the thoughts behind all that anger.
Typically, when I have a client present with hot boiling rage and indignation, what I find is that the anger is a cover for some underlying hurt. It’s simply easier to be angry at someone else than it is to feel sad or disappointed; to own those negative emotions and examine the associated thoughts. When you are angry, it is directed at someone else or something else. Something outside of you made you a victim and you are just defending yourself.
There is no self-exploration to be done in anger. Anger is easy. It feels worthy.
For this particular client, it was easier to be angry at the firm for mistreating her than explore how painful it was for her to be treated unfairly. To come all this way and work so hard for her law degree only to find that she would be mistreated by her employer because of her gender. She was shocked and saddened by this possibility and it de-valued her perception of the legal industry. She had glossed over these hurt feelings and jumped right into anger.
When we ignore our negative emotions and bury them under anger, we ignore what is really going on. We deny ourselves our own truth. Without experiencing those negative emotions and those associated thoughts, we can never shift away from anger to something more productive.
We will never shift the landscape of corporate law firms from a place of anger. To make lasting change, we must find a better way to approach our experiences. This does not mean making them prettier.
What it requires of us is to see each perceived slight as an opportunity to bridge the gap. To have honest and courageous conversations. To speak our truth. You can only access that clarity and takes those actions if you remove the anger, allow the hurt and disappointment, and start developing a different strategy.
As women in corporate law firms, there will be experiences that you are not going to want to “feel good” about.
There will be events and circumstances that will challenge you and wake you up to some ugly realities. Don’t reach for anger right away; allow yourself to be hurt and disappointed. Take a good look at these events and find a way to use them as a stepping stone on this journey. To create lasting change.
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Don’t allow anger to run the course of your career. No lasting social change ever came on the back of anger. We have to find another way.