This is a series of short posts (they have to be short given the very few words Lao Tzu needed in the first place) about how the Tao te Ching can help improve your practice of law – and life.
Nothing wrong with working hard, making some money, enjoying our achievements and the recognition of our peers and clients. But how often do we confuse our self-worth and our "selfness" with our work identities? Unanticipated failure happens. Honest mistakes are made. Clients blame us even when we did everything right. Clients praise us even when we know it wasn't us. Seriously, who am I, really? Am I defined by the label of my profession? My professional successes? Is that me? Perhaps if we learn to step back and see ourselves as more than a label - that step back could actually be a step forward.
"Do your work and step back, the only way to serenity.” says the Tao.
When you remove all the identities, labels, definitions, and social norms that you, your family, colleagues and other people around you impose upon/expect from you, who are you really? Probably a pretty insecure feeling arises when you think about giving up all those labels. Who are we if we are not our descriptions? Labels give us security. I'm a lawyer! I'm a Dad! We know what to do with those labels...the norms are clear, the rules well followed - but those labels are not you. When you take away lawyer, advisor, businessperson, father, salesman, husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, who are you really? Perhaps your authentic self. Think of a stream. You can name it whatever you want but it exists independently of all labels. It's no more or less wet, faster or slower, colder or warmer based on the label we give it. Don't confuse your labels with who you really are. Don't let those labels define who you are. I don't define myself as a lawyer; I practices law but that is not who I am. Success or failure as a lawyer does not make me a success or failure as a person. That is an important and helpful distinction for me.
What's this got to do with mindfulness?
Over time, the real, authentic you starts to show up when you practice mindfulness meditation. It's that step back that I talked about at the beginning of this post. It's a process, not a destination, and the changes it makes are incremental but over time, profound.
It is often said that the best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago and today. So take ten minutes today and get mindful. Start. Plant that tree. In time it will bloom, and you'll start to see a few of those labels for what they really are - and I hope start peeling those constraints off one by one. I find its more fun to be a "me" who practices law then the other way around. You likely will too.
Plus, I like to believe that authenticity is a trait every client is looking for in a lawyer.
Thanks for reading.