Why I’m no Longer a Workaholic Attorney (and How I Got Cured)

workaholic attorney lawyerWhen I opened my own practice, I practically lived at my office. I buried myself in what little work I had and spent the rest of the time organizing files, creating forms, and worrying about how I was going to get some business.

Later on, when I had lots of clients and lots of work, very little changed. I put in long hours at the office or in court, I brought home files at night and on weekends, and when I did manage to take a day off, I was on the phone with my office every couple of hours.

Some people called me a workaholic. What I was was scared s***less.

When I had no clients and no money coming in, I was paralyzed with fear. I looked at the calendar and saw the first of the month approaching and knew there was no way I could pay the rent. I tried everything I could think of to bring in business but I spent even more time distracting myself with busy work.

When I finally had clients and real work to do, I was afraid it wouldn’t last so I buried myself in my work and made as much money as I could, as fast as I could. There was no way I was ever going back to my “lean and hungry” days.

I’m no shrink, but I think workaholic-ism is driven by fear. We may tell ourselves that we love what we do and this might be true to some extent, but it also might be a story we’ve told ourselves for so long that we actually believe it.

Nobody has the right to tell you how to conduct your business and if non-stop work makes you happy, I’m happy for you. Just be honest about it. Don’t kid yourself into thinking this is what you want or this is the way it has to be.

If you’d like to work a bit less and enjoy some of life’s other offerings, you can. I know because I did it.

How did I break free of the fear of losing what I had finally achieved? How did I stop working so many hours and eventually get down to working just three days a week?

I changed my focus.

I no longer focused on things that made me fearful.

Instead of thinking about what I did not want (e.g., being broke) and using that to drive me, I thought about what I did want.

I wanted the feeling of security and strength and power that money brings. I wanted to help people solve problems. I wanted to spend time with my family and to travel. I wanted to be able to read fiction, go to the movies, eat in nice restaurants and wear fine clothes.

There were plenty of things I wanted and when I began to focus on them, instead of what I didn’t want, things began to change.

It was a process. I started with little things. Whenever I found myself thinking about the possible consequences of working fewer hours, for example, I would stop myself and think about going to a book store and browsing for an hour. A pleasant thought for a book lover like me. I relaxed. I stopped thinking about what I didn’t want. It felt good.

Eventually, I didn’t just think about going to a bookstore, I actually went. My world didn’t come crashing down on me. The clients didn’t leave. The work was still there, and so was the money.

Little by little, I trained myself to think about what I wanted and to let go of my fear of losing what I already had.

If you are a workaholic and you don’t want to be, there are many things you can do to let go of the compulsion to work. Try them if they inspire you.

But you don’t really need anything more than to let go of the fear-inducing thoughts that hold you back. Replace them with thoughts of a better future and let those pull you forward.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, keep coming back to your vision of an ideal life, a life of happiness and success, of work that that gives you joy but does not overwhelm. Keep doing this and you will create that life. This is the law of attraction.

Think about what you want, not what you don’t want.

Slowing down to speed up

Stop running. Yes, I know you have to get to court, crank out a new agreement, and meet with your new client. I know you’re busy and this is how you earn your living. I know that if you don’t do the work you won’t get paid.

Slow down anyway. Better yet, come to a complete stop.

At least for a few hours.

Slowing down allows you to refine what you’re doing so you can do it better, and faster. Just as a race car needs pit stops, so do humans. By taking a break periodically, we can ensure that everything is working properly and that we are on course and on pace. Taking a break allows us to recharge our energy and clarify our focus. It allows us to go faster, assured that we are going in the right direction.

Take some time to evaluate what you are doing and the results you are getting. Are things moving in the direction you want? Is there anything you could do better? What’s working well that could be expanded?

Take some time to look at your calendar. How are you spending your time? What else might you do? Is there something you are doing that you don’t really need to do? Is there something that takes you two hours that could be done in one?

Take some time to rest and reflect on the bigger picture. What big ideas could you start working on that might help you take a quantum leap? Where do you want to be five years from today and what could you start doing today to help you get there?

Take some time to get rid of clutter and distractions. If it doesn’t serve you in some way, eliminate it. Simplify your life so you can focus on what is important and valuable.

Take some time to read things you don’t usually read. Look for ideas and inspiration. Have some fun. Goof off. Go to the movies in the middle of the day. Take your best friend for a long lunch.

And take some time to give thanks for all that you have. When you appreciate the goodness in your life, you attract more of it.