How do we affect change in our professional environments when it comes to acknowledging and confronting emotional and mental health issues? At the OBA’s Opening Remarks Summit on this topic, Dr. Molyn Leszcz suggested that we need more than a bandaid solution. I’m inclined to agree with him.
Strategies are important, but their effectiveness cannot be determined in isolation from the underlying set of shared perceptions and beliefs that directly and indirectly guide our interactions with one another. Change requires challenging the status quo. To challenge it, we must first understand it. To understand it, we must first understand ourselves.
Lawyers are busy, so not many of us take the time to consider these issues. But what we lack in free time, we make up for in our ability to prioritize and multi-task. A few things come to mind when I consider our professional culture: If I’m not overworked, I’m not working; competition with my colleagues breeds greatness; success first, self last (or never).
Did we internalize these beliefs by being a part of this culture, or did our collective culture develop as the outward manifestation of these beliefs? We might never know which came first, but unlike the chicken and egg scenario, merely asking ourselves this question can be a useful exercise. It can bring us closer to understanding and realizing the ideal of wellness in our personal and professional lives.
Here’s what bothering me as I write this article. It strikes me as I write this that I love all-or-nothing thinking. It serves the needs of my inner control freak (which, in turn, fuels my perfectionist, rescuer, and over-achiever). I don’t think I’m alone in recognizing that we all have a vested interest in being happier with and in our profession. But I have to come to terms with the fact that, in my lifetime, we might only make incremental changes in this regard. Part of those changes involves choosing to engage with issues that might not be solvable, at least not in their entirety. It might also involve looking inward and recognizing the importance of personal responsibility and accountability.
Whatever can be said of our professional culture, we can all recognize that it is powerful. It can, and often does, level everything in its path. If we can’t commit both individually and collectively (and collaboratively) to recognizing our role in creating it, contributing to it, propagating it, then anything we attempt to put in place that falls short of this will likely be completely devoured.