Practicing as an attorney is unlike most other professions. A practitioner's legal career typically becomes so intertwined with their life that within a short period—the line between work and personal life becomes blurred.
Now, this is something that many of us enter the profession fully aware of, with most prepared to make the sacrifices necessary for the abundance of benefits that a sound career in the legal profession provides. However, even for the most resilient attorneys—blowing off steam is essential. The combination of rarely being "off the clock" and managing very high-stake matters and responsibilities demands a counterbalance. Otherwise, consistent high-level performance is simply unsustainable.
Allow me to be your advocate for taking those few precious hours each week to take a break, vent those stresses, and get your mind right. Then you can get back to closing deals, chopping down expert witnesses, drafting Shakespearean motions, or whatever your specialty.
Here are just a few simple methods that I've either used or observed to do just that:
1. Go out!
I'll start with the most obvious. Celebrate your wins, shake off your losses, or take an exhale after a long day by treating yourself to a night out. This could be a (responsible) drink or two with friends, coworkers, or a significant other, or perhaps it's a nice dinner when all you've eaten for the past month is GrubHub or UberEats. It could even be a show, concert, or service. Just make sure that it's something that lets your mind wander away from the motions, contracts, and billables, even if just for a few hours—enough to let that mental exhaust pipe blow off some steam.
2. Kick back with a film
Watch a show/movie that requires little to no thought and allows you to sit back, laugh, and enjoy mindlessly while your brain takes a break. Let me be clear. I'm not talking about throwing on a movie like Tenet (as great as that movie is) you need to freeze-frame every scene and do a deep dive into each remark to follow all the twists and turns, and it becomes more of an assignment than a relaxing activity. I'm talking about your Seinfeld, Friends, King of Queens - or any reality television show. Just your brain-numbing programming that will allow your mind to slow down the treadmill it's been on for the past 72 hours from a frantic sprint to a cozy lackadaisical stroll.
3. Find your centre
For those of you who require a bit more enlightening activity to find that peaceful release, I've been told that meditation and other center-finding-type activities work wonders for relieving stress and anxiety. Beginner-friendly social hybrids of these activities, like outdoor yoga classes and group-guided meditations, are all the rage. In most major cities, this is something that a rudimentary internet search can make a reality for most. Also, because many aspiring practitioners of these activities are usually just looking to expand their network and influence, these activities are sometimes free. Alternatively, if you're an introvert like me who cherishes some quiet alone time, you don't need structured classes or rigid guidance to achieve the same result. I've often found that just getting away to a quiet place where you can be alone with the sounds of nature to take a few deep uninterrupted breaths—maybe with your bare feet in the grass or sand (depending on what's available)—can do wonders to reset.
4. Get your heart racing
On the other end of the spectrum ( and where I often find myself) is aggressive, exhausting physical activity. Now, this may seem counterintuitive when you think about relaxing and refreshing, but most of the steam attorneys need to blow off comes from being mentally twisted into a pretzel for hours, days, or months at a time. So what better way to give the exhausted mind time to untangle than to pour all your energy into physical activity? For some, it may be a favorite athletic endeavor (running, weight training, hiking, football, etc.); for others, it may be diving deep into some intense art form; or it could be creative, like a situation I found myself in...
In 2019, my family sold my childhood home and I, being the fantastic son I am, offered to help remove the plethora of junk accumulated over the past 22 years. Among these items was a 60-inch television in our basement. But wait - this is before TVs were paper-thin and so light that my 9-year-old godson alone could carry it easily. This monstrosity, however, had three projectors inside the roughly five-hundred-pound base and likely would have needed either a crane or the Hulk to get it out. So we did what any intelligent man would do. My father, brother, and I grabbed several sledgehammers and beat the thing to pieces a-la the Office space copier scene (dang, it felt good to be a gangster).
In most areas of law, a successful attorney must possess certain traits—aggression, passion, relentlessness, and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. And when a massive case, project, or transaction that has required that these traits be dialed up to 11 for an extended time comes to an end, sometimes you need to take that mountain of energy and release it to settle back into a peaceful, relaxing equilibrium.
Let me also be clear, I'm not advocating that you take a baseball bat to the firm copy machine… but maybe a couple of rounds with a heavy bag or a mixed martial arts class are for you. And if it's been a particularly hectic week/month/year and that scene from Office Space sounds like the perfect comedown, then "Rage Rooms" are actually becoming quite common. Look into them. In fact, to the managers and partners out there, it may be a great way to:
- Reward your team after finishing a big project.
- Help them to blow off steam.
- Build some chemistry among your team by throwing hammers across a room of electronic relics from the 90's.
This last one is a bit more serious, but arguably the best way to wind down...
5. Talk to someone.
I do not mean going on a three-hour binge with your disgruntled friends or coworkers where you rehash, amplify and feed off each other's work-related anxiety—that's counterproductive. It will usually add fuel to the fire instead of blowing off steam—and most people leave a situation more wound up than they entered.
We are lucky to be in an era where mental health isn't stigmatized anymore, and countless individuals are trained, schooled, and have dedicated their lives to helping people blow off steam. So use them.
These days most insurances cover therapy and similar mental health services as well. Think of yourself as a high-performance car. After months of cruising at high speeds and maximum efficiency, you might be in desperate need of a tune-up. Especially if your exhaust is shot, and it's doing a number on your ability to perform. Think of these folks as expert mental mechanics who can help fix your exhaust, clear out that clutter, blow off that steam, and have you ready for another top-notch performance (forgive the shoddy analogy, I'm not a car guy).
Those are just a few of the many ways I've found to help cut loose and let your hair down. Keep in mind these are based on my experiences, so your list may be completely different, which is great—variety is the flavor of life. And one last note—even though I frequently referenced blowing off steam after large-scale, long-lasting projects, I'm an advocate of doing something to blow off steam once a day, if possible. Sometimes it's better to do one small thing a day to get that release than to wait for months at a time and end up holding a sledgehammer over an old copy machine.