If there is one word to encapsulate the year 2020, I think we could all agree that “unprecedented” is a top contender. Loss and disruption are two other words that come to mind. 2020 was a year unlike any other. In the midst of struggle and uncertainty there is the greatest opportunity for change. Human beings are biologically wired to seek certainty, security and to live in community. 2020 was the year that thrust us all into involuntary change and survival mode. When the world as we know it is stripped away and each day brings a new challenge, we are presented with the opportunity to decide who we really want to be and how we want to spend our time. The greatest challenges often bring the most clarity.
Even before the pandemic, workplace burnout was prevalent and largely accepted as part of the legal profession. Burnout has gotten a hold of us more than ever due to the pandemic. In the midst of the global pandemic, we have had to pivot and re-prioritize while continuing to serve our clients, take care of ourselves and loved ones, and stay healthy. Many colleagues have expressed feeling a sense of survivor guilt because the nature of our profession has allowed the majority of lawyers to continue to work when millions are unemployed and struggling. Survivor guilt is when a person has feelings of guilt because they survived a life-threatening or traumatic event when others have not. It can compound symptoms of burnout, which include exhaustion, energy depletion, overwhelm, disconnection, and a feeling like you’re never doing enough even while running yourself into the ground. Not surprisingly, post-pandemic burnout rates have sharply increased, which is likely due in part to feeling disconnected. One of the most effective ways to alleviate burnout is to connect with others. Connection is the key to getting us through this unprecedented year without ending up completely burned out.
The pandemic has been a catalyst for transformation and growth. I have always felt incredibly privileged to be a part of the legal profession but 2020 revealed to me just how privileged I am. The pandemic allowed me to slow down and re-evaluate who I want to be and how I want to work and to reconnect with myself. When we are forced to stop distracting ourselves with our busyness and never-ending to-do lists, we are given the opportunity to go inward and reflect on our core values and beliefs. In 2020, I resigned from two jobs. I learned that quitting is for winners. The pandemic taught me when to quit, change direction, demand more from life, and move on from something that isn’t working. It has taught me to quit doing things that drain my energy and make me dread getting out of bed. It has taught me that it’s never too late to choose once again who we really are and what we really want in life. It has taught me to be more purposeful, resilient, and authentic. I learned that a fulfilling life and successful career are not mutually exclusive. Purpose is not something we find outside of ourselves. Purpose is not what we do but how we do everything. To live and work purposefully is to choose how you show up in every area of life. 2020 gave us the opportunity to become aware of the individual and collective processes that work through us and change the ones that no longer work. We can only change things of which we are conscious. Personally, 2020 gave me the chance to transform the way I live and practice. It has shifted my perspective on what success means to me. We are not here to power through the pandemic and return to normal. If 2020 has a silver lining, it is to instill in us the urgency to overhaul how we live and work. It has shown us the importance of prioritizing wellbeing, leading with empathy, and fostering connection. The pandemic forced us to slow down. In doing so, we were provided us an opportunity to redefine how we live and work and to create a life and practice with purpose.