By: Victoria Santoro, IATG ContributorJanuary 7, 2016
Image by IATG
I’m a litigator. Unlike in TV shows and Hollywood movies, my life isn’t filled with pithy courtroom lines, but rather years-long disputes which take a massive amount of resources to handle appropriately. As anyone who has met me knows, I care deeply about the representation I provide to my clients, so it is impossible to simply set aside your cases when you get home at night. For many lawyers, myself included, handling a case for two or sometimes many more years, brings with it a particular type of stress: the chronic type.
Lawyers write a lot about stress and work-life balance. The daily difficulty of juggling meetings, phone calls, and various other work duties is time-consuming and can just be hard. Then there is the pressure to achieve, get promoted, bill enough hours. But the chronic stress of litigation, where a dispute is not resolved over the course of years, is particularly jarring. Even when you’ve met every deadline, and briefed every legal issue, the overriding question, about who will prevail, stays with you until the very last moment when the case is settled or otherwise decided.
How do you manage this type of stress? How should you deal with this thing that is hanging over your head no matter what you do? These questions can apply to many scenarios in life. The college admissions process, ongoing uncertainty about your job security, or an underlying relationship issue with no clear solution. These are all situations that require healthy management of chronic stress and an ability to face it head on without losing your mind.
I use a mantra. “Do your best, and forget the rest.” Unfortunately, you can’t win every case. You can’t get in to every college you apply to. You can’t solve every issue in your life.
You can be thoughtful and kind, you can work hard and be diligent; you can be focused and attentive. You can do your best. But you simply can’t control the outcome.
Let go. Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. We hear these types of phrases a lot because this is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve found it particularly hard in the professional context, because so much of our lives seems to hinge on our professional success. But why should we let go? If we let go, don’t we just lose control of the things we know we can handle? Shouldn’t we hold on as tightly as possible so that we feel like we can avert any oncoming catastrophe?
The conclusion of that phrase, to “let go,” is what it’s all about: Let go or be dragged. This particular phrase is often attributed to a zen proverb. Realizing not simply that you have to let go, but that you have to let go or there will be consequences. This is a powerful realization and one that we all stand to benefit from.
The point of letting go is not that we can’t control the outcome, it’s that we can’t let the outcome control us. If we don’t let go, we stand to pay a price. If you don’t let go, you’ll continue to be dragged further and further into whatever storm is currently brewing. The forces of your environment will pull you with them, dragging you around, exhausted and fearful. Outcomes can be painful things, but in the long-term, we can’t let our stress spill into our lives, staining it with a constant feeling of mild fear and worry.
Chronic stress is unhealthy but also unhelpful. We all face long-term stressful situations or difficulties in life. We can’t control their outcomes. But we always are capable of controlling our thoughts and reactions, of maintaining a healthy perspective on whatever is causing us stress, pain, difficulty or embarrassment. In litigation, we must balance keeping our eyes on the prize, making the right decisions as we go along, but accepting that the outcome may not be exactly what we anticipated.
The next time you face a long-term stressful situation, remind yourself: Let go or be dragged.
What are your go-to stress busting, control blocking strategies? Share them with us below!
Victoria Santoro is a trial attorney who practices law in Boston. She is also a teacher, speaker, and writer, maintaining her personal blog The Limber Lawyer, and contributing to various legal publications. Victoria is passionate about helping young girls and women not only succeed but also find contentment and purpose. In her free time, she can often be found training or competing for half-marathons and triathlons.
Every girl is a work in progress. If you need more help, click here.