Down, Not Out

Legal professionals are competitive by nature. Never ones to be overshadowed, we seem to make it our mission to bring attention to ourselves at whatever we do: a debate, a negotiation, and certainly rankings of any kind. We strive to win.

The problem? A lot of the things we are “winning” at lately are at things that that no one wants to claim.  A 2016 landmark study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs surveyed over 13,000 legal professionals, and revealed  some pretty upsetting data:

  • There are substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession. 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers. That number shoots up to 25 percent when specific to law students.
  • 28 percent of legal professionals struggle with some level of depression and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. Almost 40 percent of law students screened positive for moderate to severe anxiety.

Listen, I like being a lawyer, but these stats aren’t exactly the best marketing campaign for anyone who is thinking of joining the legal profession.  Law school applications are dropping, and attrition rates for lawyers are increasing.

So how can we make law school appealing again? How can we prevent or reverse burnout and increase the longevity of our legal careers?

The answer seems to be one-word: RESILIENCE.

Enter Author, Entrepreneur, Speaker and Insane Runner:  Jesse Itzler.

Grab a seat and stick with me as I connect the dots between legal wellness, insane runners, a jacked up toe, and resilience in our legal careers.  Ya, it’s sort of a longer read, but I will make it worth your while.

Last Man Standing: The Never Ending Loop

I am not going to get in to details about Jesse Itzler’s impressive business successes.  You can look that up here.

I will tell you that he is 51 years old. He likes fruit, and seems to consume grocery bags full of produce on a daily basis. He’s like Cookie Monster, but with produce. He’s a nice, down to earth guy and a friend of mine.  He gets a lot of crazy ideas.  From what I can gather, he seems to act on almost all of them.

Case in point: the Last Man Standing Race. The Last Man Standing Ultramarathon is not your average race: basically, there is a 4.2 mile loop with a lot of elevation (and a lot of rocks, logs, and probably bugs). You have exactly 60 minutes to run the loop. Sounds easy, right? Here’s the thing: you don’t stop after one loop. You keep running the same loop over and over. And over. Ultimately, there will be one last man (athlete) standing.

This doesn’t seem to be the type of race to attract casual joggers or power walkers such as myself. This seems to be the type of race where everyone who participates is at least 8.5 percent insane.* (*Fine, I admit that I have zero data on the sanity of the participants).

I followed the race online from the comfort of my couch (Check out the Insta Stories here ) and saw that Jesse ran over 46 miles in 11 hours. He looked pretty spent, if I’m being honest. I kind of thought it was over, so when I happened to check my updates at hour 14, I was surprised to see Jesse still running. Still running at hour 15. Still running at hour 16. Still running at hours 17, 18, and 19.

By hour 19, he literally looked like his bones would detach from his frame, like those Halloween skeletons that blow apart on a windy Halloween night. Yet there he was: running. And running some more.

At the end, Jesse timed out at 80 miles and 20 hours.  To me, even driving a 4.2 mile loop for 20 hours sounds absolutely miserable, but here was this 51 year young man who ran 80 miles (most of it in pitch dark conditions) coming in a stunning 5th place out of all the runners there.

You might be thinking that glamorizing his non-stop running means we are encouraging you to “run” non-stop at work.That’s not the takeaway here, because without saying it outright, Jesse exposed the fact that there is a big difference between endurance and resilience. Read on to see what Jesse had to say after the race.

Excerpts from Post-Race Jesse:

Below is an excerpt from Jesse’s Instagram posts following the race:

“My favorite part of the race was hugging my friends and my wife when I came out of the tent before every lap. I’m still high off all the love .”

“I’ve always been driven by experiences. Not cars. Not fancy watches. Not art. I like to do cool and challenging sh&%. I want my kids to see me do cool sh%&. I like to do cool sh&% with my friends. Nothing bonds humans like experiences. “

(*Note: Jesse didn’t bleep out the expletives. I did, because I find I run into editorial issues when I leave the words as is).

“Like any goal whether its business, personal, etc I always start with a dream/idea. Then I research it. Then I commit…….. i ALWAYS have SELF DOUBT. Then I keep going until I get a small win. That equals momentum. With momentum I start to BELIEVE…”

The takeaway: Jesse didn’t come in 5th strictly because of his physical training (endurance). He did well because of his mental resilience.

Resilience is Not Endurance

Resiliency is not endurance.  Confusing these terms can get us into trouble.

To me, endurance is a short view game.  “Stay at the office all night, every night, until you get this brief done” is endurance. It might work in the short term, but it’s not sustainable.

Resilience, on other hand, is a long game. Resilience is about taking care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually and socially so you can function at your highest level in the long run.

1. Connection.

Resilience is about connection. It seems like a big part of what kept Jesse running was the support of his family and friends. Those connections matter. They are critical our well being. They strengthen our resolve.

2. Positive Outcomes in the Light of Improbability and Trauma

In my objective analysis, a 51 year old man probably wouldn’t be expected to be in the top 5 of a grueling race, but Jesse adapted to trauma (sore legs, loss of vision during the race, and a nasty looking toe injury, just to name the physical trauma elements).

3. Competence During Stressful Times; Using Challenges For Growth

Running through the entire night with a broken headlamp sounds like the prelude to a Netflix horror movie, so let’s all agree that Jesse’s race qualifies as a stressful time , but he nonetheless showed competence through its duration, just by staying in it.

Jesse will surely be using the life lessons from his race for sustained personal growth in the future. I’m sure every time he looks down at his mangled toe, he will be reminded of everything he did to earn that (visually memorable) souvenir.

How Jesse’s Race Ties To Wellness in the Legal Profession: Resilience

The key to legal wellness and preventing burnout lies in our ability to be resilient, which again, should not be confused with endurance. How can we be resilient in our field?

A. We can start by putting the focus back on social connection, especially with others in our field. Jesse relied heavily on his social connections to uplift his spirits. We can do the same. Once you start connecting with others, you will feel their support and know that you are not alone.

Sweatours is launching an app this fall that will connect legal professionals from all over the country. We can be real and talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.  As CEO of a legal wellness company, I get a lot of feedback. Much of it is positive, some of it is negative, and some of it is  strangely specific, like this guy who wants to mess up my sandwich life. We can talk about all of it. We can share our thoughts, and help each other be more present, more focused, and more connected.

B. In addition to connection, resilience means being our best, balanced, selves. If you like to take walks like I do, take them. Don’t apologize. Work can wait.  Wish you could make it home before your kids go to sleep? Make it happen .

I share Jesse’s story because this dude is unapologetically living his life. Don’t we all deserve to do the same?

In the legal profession, we can band together so we can manage our jobs , instead of having our jobs manage us. If we have time to focus on our passions and core values (family, friends, insane runs, ice carving, collecting gum balls, whatever) then we will be more balanced in the long run.

We can create resilience before we actually need it, so when that that next challenge unfolds, we will be able to heed the call the action with our best feet forward, mangled toes and all.