Putting the Lessons to Work

  • June 01, 2015
  • Alex A. Shorten

Listening to the signs

The theme of this BarTalk issue is “Zen and the Art of Practising Law.” According to Wikipedia, “Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism. Zen emphasizes rigorous meditation-practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favours direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher.”

It’s interesting to learn more about Zen – it’s another to put the “art of it” into practice. It is also a bit ironic that I am writing an article on wellness as I have, to my detriment, ignored most of the advice I have received on living a balanced life and dealing with stress throughout most of my career, and certainly before I was called to the Bar. Being a bit of a perfectionist and a first-class worrier forms most of the barriers that I have erected to keep out good advice from all who dared to help. Perhaps a Zen approach would have helped. Perhaps it still can. After all, we can still continue to learn no matter what stage of our career we may be at.

From time to time, I did let a little light in and learned a few lessons. Today I still fret and worry, but not about everything. Stress is still a factor, but again I handle it a lot better today than 10 years ago.

So what has worked for me?

  • Little by little, I started listening to my family, friends and colleagues who recognized the danger signs.
  • I received a wake-up call when I lost two of my best friends to career and life-style-related early deaths. I and others did not confront them about the obvious signs they were displaying and they did live their lives as they thought they should so who was I to question? Both were outstanding lawyers, and if helped and if they accepted help, they might be alive today.
  • I learned that if I delegated work to people smarter than me they would do most of the work that produced stress for me.
  • I found that team work not only resulted in getting a lot more work done, it helped build up in me a recognition that I could rely and trust others to do the work, and then turn my skill set to other uses such as coaching and mentoring.
  • I discovered that being a perfectionist was neither needed nor a useful quality.
  • I became involved in volunteer work resulting in an increase in my contacts with all sorts of people who were willing to talk about their stress issues. This gave me a chance to make a few suggestions about not letting the law consume them and endanger relationships and health.
  • I learned how to refer prospective clients to others.
  • My wife and I rescued dogs. Roscoe managed our lives for 10 years and now Charlie has been in charge of stress management for the last four years.

Wellness is an important issue for CBABC and for our members. Go to our website cbabc.org and check out the resources available to the Legal Community and all the incredible information available to help those lawyers in crisis and those listening and practising wellness.

Alex Shorten signature

Alex A. Shorten
president@cbabc.org