Developing Emotional Agility to Thrive in Any Legal Job
Why do most attorneys who are already employed with legal jobs looking for other law firm jobs?
There are many answers, but I have found that the most common issue that the many reasons boil down to is this: the attorney feels unseen, unheard, and unvalued in their current workplace. All of us need to feel some appreciation for our efforts, so when an attorney—who has been trained to notice details and analyze them deeply—does not feel recognized, they will start looking greener pastures.
Some of this is completely out of the attorney’s hands—it might just be what the firm or company culture happens to be. What I recommend to new attorneys is to start developing the emotional agility required to handle their careers, and then reflect on the issues of feeling undervalued after. The emotional agility element is important because if it is not developed, it is likely that the attorney will experience the same frustrations in their next role, and this will continue to repeat. Those that have strong emotional agility, on the other hand, have the resiliency to survive wherever they are placed—and will truly thrive in settings where their contributions are valued.
Here are a steps that can be taken on a big-picture and individual level:
Conduct a personal litmus test on your recent accomplishments, and consider whether the acknowledgement you expect from your supervisor, colleagues, and clients is realistic. Lawyers are busy—and the feedback might not be packaged how you want it, but still be positive nonetheless. Were your recent accomplishments and contributions exceptional (as in, truly exceeding expectations and worthy of getting credit)? Was it a “high five” accomplishment or a “trophy” accomplishment?
Be intentional about discussing your performance with your supervisor. No one likes to be told “well I just want to be more appreciated.” Instead, find time to talk about your recent work and contributions, and get a sense of your supervisor’s assessment of where your strengths lie and where you could grow. Jog your supervisor’s memory with concrete examples (this works great for evaluations and reviews too). In addition to giving you an opportunity to understand their perspective, you also flag what is important to you to your supervisor.
Pay attention to visibility. Make sure you are recognizing others’ contributions and giving credit where credit is due. There is a fine line between self aggrandizement and inclusion. Know that there are some situations where getting and giving credit is appropriate, and some where it is not.
Paying attention to those three steps might open you up to some negative thoughts—which in turn, live rent free in your head and start to sabotage your progress. To ensure that you are not just being petty—but rather, developing your emotional agility—pay attention to whether you are doing any of the following:
- Turning everything into a black and white issue (if it was not the best, it must be the worst)
- Over-personalizing and assuming that the problem is you (the managing partner looks upset; it must be my fault)
- Filtering feedback (ignoring all of the positives and only looking at negatives; or vice-versa)
Once you check your personal habits, develop a personal practice of doing the following:
- Label negative thoughts once you experience them (something as easy as “I’m feeling very upset by this”)
- Draw the line at where dwelling on the thought is not helpful (once you label it and have the information, staying in that negative space is not helpful)
- Objectively determine what is true, what is important, what the core issue is, and most importantly—what can be done about it
- Move forward: what is an actionable step you can take to move ahead, and take that step
- Take a break (breathe, jog, walk) if necessary
- Move forward and lead with your strengths.
Once you have developed the skillset required for emotional agility, you will be better at objectively evaluating your employment situation. By separating your personal emotions from the circumstances, you will be able to better assess whether you should be looking elsewhere. If you continue feeling undervalued and unappreciated by your company or firm, it might be a sign that it is not the right place for you. That makes it the right time to look for a new one.