Even if you do read it, do I have the courage to write it, and should I?
Not Yet A Man In Full
By Andy Hartman
Okay – so I have had so much fun over the past several weeks introducing the personality and quirky sides of a few Hartmanlaw team members through this “blog” opportunity — and the great accompanying photography from JKing Images. I have also wanted to skirt along the edge of – freeze your scrolling thumb for a minute – real biographical photojournalism – and explore a worthwhile topic that is of interest to me and may have value to others (like you?) that will read along. And I have started to wonder along the way, does anyone read anymore?
And even if anyone actually reads it, do I have the courage to write it, and should I? I have a business to operate founded on trust and confidence in my capabilities, after all, with my name on it, which means I quite literally have “an image to protect.”
So — before you read any further, just know that this blog post is not “a cry for help.” I’m good. I have people. Those in my circle know my weaknesses and strengths and that I am the first one to check myself and reach out for a chat or advice. I have never kept a big secret about my struggles with anxiety or being depressed occasionally. If this post causes you to wince a second sideways glance at me in judgment – nothing I can do about that. If it occasions for you a hard, long look in the mirror, or newly found compassion for a friend – well that’s not a bad thing, either. And if it does nothing but inform you a bit on a topic that was once foreign to you – that’s fine, too.
I think deciding to practice law was perhaps one of the most fascinating, fine messes I tortured myself into in the first place. Remember in my first post in this series how my lawyer colleague Matthew Mashburn quoted a University study that showed more pessimistic-natured law students were more successful than their optimistic peers? So — these mistrustful souls, ready for a problem, expecting the worse to happen, will make better lawyers. Hmm. I was Biggest Flirt in high school. Do I sound ‘pessimistic’ to you?
So flash forward to adult me — in order for me to have a shot at a high probability of success — with my generally happy and optimistic demeanor — there has to be a pretty big internal acid bubble of emotion tampering going on, right? YES. Take my fierce desire to be optimistic and happy outwardly toward my clients, and temper that with a serious-natured pessimism and combat-like attitude toward the subject of my work.
Some would say BUCK UP. That’s adulthood. That’s business. Business is War. And all that.
To a degree, that’s all really true. And if you’re a solid dude, and can handle it well, life will be a relative cakewalk for ya. But there must be something more sinister in store for those of us that pick this ‘lawyering’ as a profession. Lawyers have now surpassed dentists and hold the #1 spot as a profession in the rate of suicide. And 21 percent of licensed, employed lawyers identify as problem drinkers. By comparison, only 6.8 percent of the adult population as a whole has a drinking problem. Krill, Johnson & Albert, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, Journal of Addiction Medicine (February, 2016).
And as I continued to learn more from Matt Mashburn, I learned that lawyers have over three times the rate of depression than society as a whole. [three times as sad as the next non-lawyer? WHY?] Add to that — lawyers routinely self-report much higher than average rates of anxiety, panic attacks, suicide attempts, and the resulting uses of tobacco, stimulants, marijuana and other drugs – all to make this stress and pain go away already! A lot of this goes back to the hypervigilance — head on a swivel, so to speak; looking for bad things to happen, all of the time. It can be damn depressing.
Still reading? Like I said – I’m good. Don’t call me when you’re done reading this, please.
It is a “lawyer’s professional duty to manage his personal wellness responsibly.” In fact, I am fairly certain that’s in our Code of Ethics somewhere as well. Add to that, I would self-identify as a pretty happy, blessed person. But in my professional life: I. Expect. Bad. Things. To. Happen. Now, on your side of my lobby door, I’m all smiles and candy.
It’s not feasible to sustain a dual personality, internally, like this. The real me is the “lobby me.” The happy guy.
So like most people — I look for ways to balance my trips through that lobby door and blow off a little steam, and “handle the stress.” And I don’t do it “proudly” every single time. Sure, I enjoy a well oaked bourbon or Bud Light, and sometimes after a busy, stressful day I will cave to the little voice that says “we deserve a pizza” instead of the chicken breast my 48 year-old self should be having for dinner. And although I love to kill time at a sports bar with my friends when I can – I feel very fortunate that I enjoy healthier, more routine ways to manage my stress. Because the stakes are too high to lose everything you love (and your health, or your professional license!) over a failure to manage your personal wellness properly.
I’ve actually found that I am at my most creative when I am relaxed as well. I have often said to people that my best marketing ideas have come to me “with a Bud Light in hand or on a spin bike” – which is absolutely true each time I have come up with a great idea.
And in fact, my absolute favorite place to blow away stress, except for maybe the beach, would be the gym – and specifically in a spin cycle class. With the right instructor, the right cadence and ride set by music flow, it’s been the best high I can find. To true “road riders” this may be a caged-up copout, but to those of use that crave the nightclub-like beat of the ride and the energy of the group (never mind the zero-death-from-cars-vibe), nothing beats a spin class. The pace moves seamlessly between aerobic and anaerobic workouts and HIIT, and it’s just plain fun. In an average one-hour class I can burn between 450-600 calories, but the best part is that the chemicals working within the human body during a high-intensity physical workout resist heavy mental struggles. Oh, how I certainly try, but I just can’t get worked up about anything while I am riding.
I even bought my own spin bike, dead set on making iPod music mixes and working out at home “to be more efficient with my time.” Guess what. It didn’t work – I’m too social, I need the schedule, I need the group dynamic, and the push of the instructor to keep me on task and accountable. With the bike at home, one slight mental miscalculation and I could be thinking about work, and I am off the bike and on my phone. Mission failure. So the bike was donated to my super-fit mother-in-law. She has the discipline I will never have.
So there it is. I got older this week. Not just the “getting older every day” type of older. I had a birthday. The number changed and ushered in another reminder of my own mortality. We’re working our way through the busiest-ever-ever real estate closing month of Hartmanlaw’s blessed career. And the stress is palpable, but it’s manageable because the law firm has a great team. And I have a great home team [think: wife, family, friends].
But age and maturity have brought me to a place where I care more now than I ever have about my own health and wellness — a number of people in my family picked that up since my dad died this year. And as I personally crest the hill of “mid-life” — I have checked a lot of boxes so far; my secular benchmarks about success are being met.
But at what cost? I don’t want that cost to be higher than the reward. So for me — the search for the perfect “Balance” shall continue!
For I am not yet a Man in Full.