Leading Lawyers: Choosing Vulnerability
This summer, someone I knew took his life – the brother-in-law of one of my best friends. I did not know him well. I know his wife better, and have watched his teenage kids grow up over the years. I became peripherally involved at the last minute: Asked to assist with legal insight and advice navigating work-related litigation; talking and texting with his concerned and anxious wife; determining if I could possibly help relieve his fears and anxiety.
I never ended up actually communicating with him directly. Instead of making our scheduled call, he chose to opt out of life. His family had been worried. They knew he could be at risk. They tried to get him to seek help – not simply legal, but psychiatric. As I understand it, he refused, not seeing an avenue out other than the one he chose.
When something this sad happens, it leaves everyone with questions. A main one for me: Why is there such a continued stigma in our society about seeking support for depression, mental illness, or for a really bad, it-just-keeps-getting-worse time in life?
Particularly in the legal culture, heaven help those who show vulnerability. We are a culture of advocates, warriors, and, quite frankly, bullies. The old “take no prisoners” mentality gets equally applied to those within our firms and sometimes families. It happens all the time; I know from decades of personal experience and observation.
For our own health and the well-being of our profession, that antiquated mentality needs to change. Yes, we are tough—tough enough to make it acceptable to ask for help and support when we need it, without the accompanying stigma and shame. We lose too many brilliant lawyers every year. Even more suffer silently from depression and substance abuse issues. We all know the statistics.
Vulnerability is strength.
How as a leader in your life and law firm do you embrace and model vulnerability? How do you acknowledge that it is acceptable to be human and still be a strong, brilliant advocate? How do you show up for others by demonstrating with your mere honest presence that they do not have to do life alone?
Somehow, in the legal culture, we need to accept and acknowledge that it is okay to be vulnerable. That in our vulnerability, contrary to popular opinion, we actually demonstrate strength – a strength of perseverance and surrender that opens the door to true meaningful connection with others, a connection that might just help us heal, that might just help us find a path forward out of the dark, both as individuals and in the collective.
The fact is, we all need help at one time or another. Unless you live in a Teflon bubble, life gets the best of everyone at some point. Sometimes our only way through is by accepting that we cannot do it alone. It is too big. Too messy. Too unknown. Just plain too much. And, that has to be acceptable.
A paradigm shift starts with individual leaders. Begin to be brave and dare to challenge the idea that vulnerability means weakness and failure. We are all human and imperfect, accept that fact and life gets easier. It just does.
My heart goes out to my friend, her family, the kids, and loved ones. Take time to care for you and yours. Remember, success is a team sport – you don’t have to do it alone.
Michele Powers, Esq., wrote this for the Leadership Development Committee and is the owner of Elite Lawyer Coaching (www.elitelawyercoach.com).