Women networking with masks on

We lawyers can be pretty critical of our ourselves and our successes. 2020 was already hard, like unbelievably hard, and we all probably felt even the slightest glimmer of hope at the new beginning that was to be 2021.  Whether it was realistic or not, I think we can all be forgiven for feeling like maybe, just maybe, the new year could bring the new start that we are all craving following the COVID craziness.

Never feel guilty for starting again.”

Rupi Kaur

Alas, it didn’t quite pan out that way, especially as, for those in Greater Brisbane, the cell doors slammed shut around our homes and thrust us into a 3-day lockdown just over a week into the year.  It is situations like these when we can’t help but feel a little bit foolish or just plainly disappointed for looking forward to positive and exciting change.  It is also these times where our resilience is really put to the test.

Resilience (noun)

1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”

Unsurprisingly there has been a fair amount of chatter around resilience, but what does it even mean?

For us lawyers, it means a lot of different things. It means constant change of laws, regulations, practice directions that have risen out of the pandemic (leasing, property, insolvency, wills and estates lawyers–I see you) and adapting our practice at a moment’s notice. It’s updating our precedents way more often than we ever have before. It’s subscribing to or following Queensland Health and news outlets to stay up-to-date with the Government’s response (you know–on top of everything else) to find out about restrictions and how they affect our daily practice, client meetings, limitation dates and court appearances and personal lives!

Of course, we’re used to it. Change is a natural occurrence in the development of law, but not quite as often as we saw in the last 12 months. For our firm managers, it’s managing the social distancing rules, masks, sanitiser and hand-washing policies, the constant struggle of finances and redundancies as a downturn strikes and–perhaps the biggest change–new flexible working policies. This goes beyond the establishment of flexible working arrangement, flowing through to enforcement and management of new policies… Then, just as firms fumble through the rapid onslaught of changes, the clients arrive with their own battles.

We’ve been in a state of overwhelming change for a solid year of uncertainty. We’re watching the press releases almost daily from our Government to find out what craziness we are waking up to each morning. Some firms and lawyers have been hit hard and the only thing that is likely to offer any semblance of comfort is the fact that they’re not alone–by any means.

We’re tired, and it’s okay to be tired.

So, how do we do this lawyer thing in 2021? We build our resilience. The best part of all? We’ve already started.

We adjusted our flexible learning policies at a moment’s notice. We adapted the way we take client instructions. We changed the way we appeared in Court, lodged submissions to the Titles Office, and signed wills for those in locked down aged care facilities and hospitals. We have found better and quicker ways to engage with our communities. We’ve embraced technology as an additional way of connecting with our community. We’ve found a way to keep doors open. We’re starting to find some level of comfort in the new way of practicing. Change is hard, but it’s critical for survival.

So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great!”

Norm Kelly

It takes courage to keep going when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s rare that our lawyer brains ever really turn off–they keep mulling over what evidence is going to be best for that argument, how best to draft that condition precedent, and how best to retain your client’s position if it doesn’t all go to plan.

Four key attributes in the resilience repertoire are:

  1. Positivity
  2. Perseverance
  3. Vulnerability
  4. Courage

Positivity can overcome a great deal in the world; the most difficult part is finding the positive in really negative surroundings. Much like Rebecca Nielbler’s insight into the value of goal setting and starting “really small”, the same can be said for the value of looking for the positives. Start small, really small.  Find a small positive spin on a difficulty you’ve faced or are currently facing. Challenge yourself to find the positive.

Building resilience is a personal journey­–what works for one, doesn’t work for all. Resilience is intrinsically tied to positivity and perseverance. We persevere through challenging times, and we often need some positivity to light the path ahead. It’s important to reflect on our own interpretation of what is positive and negative in our lives and experiences. Find that small positive thing in each challenge. Persevering is not giving up, despite the challenges you’ve faced.  It is saying to yourself that amongst all these not so great days, there has got to be a good one coming. It’s having faith in yourself, those around you, in the process and in this crazy thing called life. It’s the “don’t give up” attitude. Even if all else fails, you can celebrate the fact that you didn’t give up, building upon you self-worth and self-love which is unbelievably important in a demanding profession such as ours.

Building your resilience also requires you to embrace being a little vulnerable. Vulnerability is not something most people are really comfortable with–no one wants to be vulnerable. But, to embrace change and learn how to build your resilience, you need to open yourself up, accept that you have been tried and tested, and engage with these challenges in a deep way. This is what vulnerability is about. It is about being real with yourself and saying “Yes, this is hard. Yes, I’m feeling defeated and deflated. Yes, I know things have to change, but I’m just so tired. Yes, there’s got to be a better way to do this.” Suppose this is you, congratulations. You’ve taken the hardest step already! It’s tough to admit that it’s hard and something needs to give. This is what mental wellbeing is all about, and vulnerability is at the centre of it all. 

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage

Brene Brown

The word courage is really not spoken of much but by golly we have oodles of it within our profession. Think about those that you admire in the profession; why do you admire them? I bet within your answer, you will find the foundation of that answer will be based on courage. That courage is attainable for you as much as it is for them.

With each hurdle, you grow and overcome. With each challenge, you become more resilient than you were before, and whilst it may not have been easy, perhaps you may have indulged in your vices a little more than usual, what is important is that you got through it. You achieved something difficult during tough times. This is something that should be celebrated, not merely accepted as “it is what it is, now on with it”.  We celebrate promotions, acceptance into study programs, great wins in Court and other achievements. Why not celebrate the achievement of showing courage and overcoming our challenges?

Be courageous, be resilient and do it on your own terms and in your own way. Find comfort in vulnerability–it is what makes us human. Let down your guard with those closest to you.  Don’t compare yourself to the #lawyersofinstagram and think how they’re just “killing it” and you’re over there thinking of packing up shop and travelling the country in a caravan (border restrictions permitting).

When I think of the admiration I have for some on the socials, I give myself a healthy reminder of a quote from “Grit” by Angela Duckworth: “Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.” I’m not saying don’t admire the– certainly not. What I am saying is that it’s far better to admire them for inspiration sake, driving you to be the best version of you. Make yourself proud.

And remember…

Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day

Dalai Lama
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