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« Lawyers Suffering From Stress at Work Need to Set Boundaries; Life Isn't Just About "Getting Things Done" | Main | Philip Akalp: Lawyer Turned Online Incorporator »

How Stress Can Kill a Lawyer's Career and What To Do About It

An article in today's online editon of globeandmail.com tells the story of Canadian lawyer Scott Martyn, a partner at the Toronto law firm Bennett Jones LLP, whose obsession with getting ahead led to terrible stress that stalled his career, strained his relationships at work and at home, and adversely effected his physical and emotional health. Eventually, on his back in bed recovering from pneumonia, Martyn decided to take back control of his life. If you are a lawyer suffering from stress, read on to hear what the experts say, and how Martyn plotted a new career course that "melted his stress away."

According to stress management experts, lawyers and other professionals experiencing stress can take several steps to alleviate their plight.

Step 1: Learn to Say "No." Professionals often experience stress when they have too much responsibility but too little control over their work environment and schedule. Accordingly, the solution is to take back control of your schedule as much as possible by becoming more assertive; that is, learning to say 'no' and setting boundaries and limits on your effort. With fewer items on your "to do" list, you can better manage your time.

Step 2: Match Your Work to Your Personality. Work can also be stressful if you are employed in an area that doesn't match your relationship style. For instance, if you are a gregarious person who enjoys dealing with people, you will feel trapped by a job that requires you to sit in a cubicle in front of a computer all day. The solution: find work that more closely matches your personal style.

Step 3: Lower Your Expectations: In other cases, stress is caused when a person's expectations are bigger than his or her achievements. The result is that, despite considerable accomplishments, you keep raising the bar, and never meet your expectations. The result is a feeling of futility. If you can learn to feel more satisfied with what you've already accomplished, you'll feel more relaxed. Importantly, this doesn't mean stifling your ambition. You can still aim high - just don't get all worked up because you're not there yet. And make sure your expectations are realistic in light of your talents, financial resources, and existing personal commitments.

Step 4: Modify Your Work Style: Finally, lawyers and other professionals create stress for themselves by the way they think and behave and the lifestyle choices they make. Being a perfectionist, an over-achiever, pleaser or caretaker is destined to lead to more stress.

How does one apply these steps in real-life? Consider our Canadian lawyer, Martyn, referenced at the outset of the post. He took these experts' advice to heart. Once he recovered from pneumonia, he took a series of behavioral assessments to determine his innate skills and attitudes, as well as a "360-degree" review in which managers, peers and subordinates gave their opinions of his working style.

As Martyn explains, the results showed that he was "a cat trying to be a dog. I was wasting energy in areas I would never be great at because they weren't using my talents, rather than focusing on areas that are my natural strengths. And that stress was wearing me down."

In response, Martyn shifted from being a generalist in transactional law to a specialist in real estate and environmental law. Now he feels more in his element "and the stress has melted away."

Read the full article here.

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