I am a lawyer so this is about 4 signs that have banged on my door from time to time during my career. Yet I’m fairly sure that these signs apply to all people and all careers. They are warning bells that ring to wake us up. Sometimes it takes a long time to hear them; and sometimes it feels easier to ignore them. For me, these signs ultimately saved me and allowed me to reclaim my life – but let me assure you it was a long and winding road. I’m hoping that reading about these signs might help you cut down the travel time if you are on this long and winding road at the moment.
1. You are literally on auto pilot
I wrote a post about my career recently. I wrote about how I was burnt out for a large chunk of my late 20’s/ early 30s and before I knew it 11 years had flown by. The alarming part about that for me was that I almost did not notice it happening. I mean, don’t get me wrong I saw the odd wrinkle, even the odd grey hair so I knew I was getting older and I knew people around me were getting older – but what I had no handle on was how I had grown in my career.
It was like being on a bus that had no brakes, but not even realising that you are hurtling out of control. Every so often I would wonder “HOW DID I GET HERE” but it’s funny when you work in a job with a set hierarchy and you are moving through that hierarchy it seems like you must be going somewhere. Right? So I bought into that hype. I found myself thinking this must be ok because I’m going in the direction I’m supposed to – does it matter that I’m getting there on a bus with no brakes?
In some very anxious moments, usually at 3am on a sleepless night, I would question if it was possible to be in a job that demands constant brain power and not apply any of that too my own life. I have found that this is possible. It is very sad but very true. Sometimes we just cruise. Sometimes we are afraid, or the burden of being busy traps us into a corner. Or worse still, being busy robs us of our ability to even see what is going on. I found I was flat out being a lawyer, but not doing much else. It did not occur to me that my life was more than just law.
Farewell auto pilot
I know that now. I am grateful I know that now. I shout it from the mountain tops now. I am more than a lawyer. I have a full life and being a lawyer is just one part of it. Giving myself permission to give the same priority to my entire life as I had given for over 11 years to being a lawyer helped to shut down my auto pilot. When I was no longer on auto pilot a whole world of opportunities opened up for me.
So if you find you are on auto pilot that is warning no 1.
When the auto pilot takes over that is a sign that we need to look deep inside and see what else we need.
2. You are worried more about the people you work with than yourself
This is the curse of the empath! And when you are an empath on auto pilot watch out. You will literally be the last person standing. I can’t tell you how often I thought I should go but how would X, Y and Z cope? I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly leave because I owed it to my tribe. I was making a mark on other people’s lives and I allowed that to be a convenient reason to suffocate any thoughts I had about where my future might lie.
Fit your own mask
It’s surprisingly easy to put other people ahead of yourself. It’s surprisingly easy to think that your career must be right for you because you have people around you that rely on you. It’s so easy that 11 years can fly by and you don’t even notice it. I now know that it’s a warning sign from the universe that if something if so difficult for you that you cannot conceive of leaving others to experience it without you – then you need to think about why you are there. I know now that I was just adding this to the pile of excuses I was nestling down into – but it’s a very difficult one to pull away from. Making other people’s lives better is a really wonderful feeling; but I now know I can do that but still put my own life first.
Who are you really leaving behind?
I know now that you should never stay in a job because you feel sorry for the people you will leave behind. If you do that you are really just leaving yourself behind. I have learnt there is a huge difference between supporting people and using it as an excuse not to face your own demons.
I also now know it’s a huge burden on the people you love to know that you are struggling because they are keeping you there. It spirals outs of control too when you become miserable, but don’t even realise it, and you are then dragging down the very people you thought you were saving. Fit your own mask first.
3. You lose your confidence
Yep. It happens. For all intents and purposes you look like you have made it. But deep down inside a little part of your soul dies each day. Your soul is literally being suffocated by the auto pilot. Now this may not surprise you, but it certainly surprised me. The next thing that happens is you lose your confidence. You start to feel like you couldn’t possibly do anything else. Then that lack of confidence feeds the overwhelming sense of resignation. Yep – then this is it for me. I may as well settle in for the long haul. There is no point looking for other opportunities because I can’t do anything else anyway.
It takes a village
Even as I write this now I can feel my throat tightening and my heart racing. If you ever feel like you can’t do anything else then that is the exact time you need to open your eyes, and your heart, and look for opportunities. It is also the time you need to tap into your tribe and find someone to raise you up. It takes a village to raise a child, and it also takes a village to raise a lawyer.
I was so bereft of confidence at times I thought my heart had broken. I was so scared that this would be my life forever but I had no confidence that I was capable of anything else. Thank goodness for the souls I was saving (see paragraph 2 above) because they literally saved me. They assured me I could do anything. They assured me I would survive when the fabric of what I had thought was my whole life was torn apart. They assured me I deserved better and was capable of so much more.
The clarion call
I have learnt many things about the crafty auto pilot… but the thing that stands out the most is that the loss of confidence that the auto pilot brings is its clarion call. It’s a life line but it feels like a noose.
If you ever find your confidence has well and truly gone south, please know something is not right. Please know it’s like your soul is crying for help. If you are feeling like you can’t do your job and that you are not capable please reach out for help. Despite all evidence to the contrary, it is not mandatory for lawyers to feel like that.
4. You don’t like who you have become
This feeling is vile. If you find you do not like who you have become this is the tipping point. This happened to me and it is an indescribably appalling experience. I was bitter, morose and afraid. I had lost all my confidence and that also robbed me of the innate optimism that had carried me through so much. I was full of rage all the time. I was angry at work and heartbroken and sad everywhere else. I was negative to the point that I felt heavy and laden down. I felt I could not lift my feet. I was afraid all the time too, because if I didn’t like myself how could I expect anyone else to.
Misery does not like company
This feeling of not liking myself lead to despair. I found out that misery does not like company. Misery makes you spend a lot of time alone, and misery makes it hard for you to see how your misery is impacting on the people you love.
I was petrified my husband would just throw his hands in the air and tell me he’d had enough. Also, by the time my self-loathing had reached a peak I had become a mother. I felt resentful all the time that my job was robbing me of my life. I hated what I had become and I had to blame something.
What I could not see was that instead of blaming something I had to change something. How could I raise humans if I was on auto pilot? How could I raise humans if I had no confidence? How could I raise humans if I did not like myself?
The tipping point
That was the tipping point. It was the end of the line. It was my now or never moment. And in that now or never moment I saw a glimpse of what my life would be like if my heart was not broken. In that moment I became a pioneer and a hero in my own life.
Please know this if you do not like who you are because of how you are feeling in your job something needs to give. Please let it give. Talk to someone. It feels like it takes great courage to show vulnerability and sometimes lawyers are afraid to do that. But for me letting people in has taught me that our hearts bend, but they do not break forever.
Send the auto pilot packing and let the sunshine in
A partner I worked with used to say that change is uncomfortable. That is true. But I also know from having lived through these 4 things, that change opens doors and lets the sunshine in. I am not so afraid of change anymore; and I put that down to many things – but I know bidding farewell to my auto pilot had a lot to do with it.