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The Power of Gratitude: Getting and Keeping a Job by Being Thankful

published January 22, 2007

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 33 votes, average: 4.6 out of 5)
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<<After years of counseling attorneys during their searches for new employment, I have realized that most attorneys do not appreciate what they have and are, for the most part, ungrateful. I think there really is an epidemic of sorts of ungratefulness among attorneys. Most do not appreciate their jobs and are enormously critical of themselves and others—regardless of whether they are earning $30,000 or $2 million per year. This lack of appreciation for what they have achieved and what they have holds most attorneys back from reaching their full potential and results in a great deal of dissatisfaction with the practice of law.

Most attorneys are extremely aware of what they do not have and what other attorneys have. They are aware of where they are working and what their employers pay compared to other employers. They are aware of what other attorneys in their offices are working on and what they are not working on. They are aware of how many hours they billed and how many hours many other attorneys in their offices billed. They are aware of what sorts of cars they are driving and what sorts of cars other attorneys are driving. Because attorneys continually obsess over these sorts of things, very few attorneys are able to find happiness in their careers.


In my life, I have had more than one career. Compared to most professionals out there, attorneys are more aware of what they are lacking. This awareness about what is lacking probably has its roots in the ways attorneys are taught to think and the ways their arguments are consequently attacked and critiqued. A constant awareness of weakness, a constant need to be on guard, and a constant need to cover all shortcomings do not necessarily make for a happy person.

In order for attorneys to be effective in their existing positions and successfully get new positions, they need to have gratitude and put themselves in states where they are appreciating what they have achieved and what they are becoming. In this profession, there is very little time spent on learning to appreciate the good and a great deal of time spent on comparing and cutting down. This article will discuss how attorneys can use the power of gratitude to become more effective in their current jobs, job searches, and careers.

The Dangers of Negative Thinking and Not Being Grateful

As part of my job, I often find myself having conversations with colleagues regarding the states of mind of attorneys. Invariably, much of this conversation tends to turn to issues having to do with how depressed many attorneys are, the prevalence of suicide in law compared to its prevalence in other professions, the fact that the average litigator dies in his or her 50s, and the higher incidence of divorce among attorneys. This list of supposed maladies continues almost indefinitely, and I learn about new problems quite often.

What all of this says to me is that the practice of law does create some problems for attorneys. It is not my role to judge the veracity of all of the reasons for these problems; however, what I will say is that I believe that they exist. I also feel that a lot of these problems exist because attorneys are simply too hard on themselves. Attorneys often inflict their critical views of the world (which they need in order to be good at their jobs) upon themselves. It is when this occurs that the problems begin.

Negative thinking does little good. There is a quote from Buddha that says, "All we are is a result of what we have thought." This is so true in the practice of law. By constantly focusing on what is negative about their jobs, most attorneys end up attracting more negativity to their lives and careers. The constant and never-ending focus most attorneys place on what is not right about their jobs, what is not right about their careers, and what needs to change serves only to attract more negativity to them.

When you focus on the negative in your career, you are serving to attract more negativity to you because this is what you are looking for. For example, if you believe there are no opportunities in your law firm, you will constantly see your working environment as a place with limited opportunities. When you see your world this way, you will look at everything happening around you as something that supports your particular belief system. If you do not get a good assignment, you will believe there are no opportunities. If you see someone leave your firm, you will believe there are no opportunities. If you hear something negative about your firm from someone working there, you will believe there are no opportunities.

In 1957, Leon Festinger wrote A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. This book has generated thousands of studies and has offered an extremely influential theory of social psychology. According to Festinger, if two cognitions are relevant to one another, they are constant when one follows from the other, and they are dissonant when the obverse (opposite) of one cognition follows from the other. Because dissonance is uncomfortable for people on a cognitive level, people are motivated to reduce dissonance and avoid information likely to increase the dissonance. The more dissonance there is, the more pressure there is to reduce the dissonance.

In Eddie Harmon-Jones' and Judson Mills' Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology, the authors write:
Dissonance can be reduced by removing dissonant cognitions, adding new consonant cognitions, reducing the importance of dissonant cognitions, or increasing the importance of consonant cognitions. The likelihood that a particular cognition will change to reduce dissonance is determined by the resistance to change of the cognition. Cognitions that are less resistant to change will change more readily than cognitions that are more resistant to change. Resistance to change is based on the responsiveness of the cognition to reality and on the extent to which the cognition is consonant with many other cognitions. Resistance to change of a behavioral cognitive element depends on the extent of pain or loss that must be endured and the satisfaction obtained from the behavior.

An example used by Festinger (1957) may assist in elucidating the theory. A habitual smoker who learns that smoking is bad for health will experience dissonance because the knowledge that smoking is bad for health is dissonant with the cognition that he continues to smoke. He can reduce the dissonance by changing his behavior; that is, he could stop smoking, which would be consonant with the cognition that smoking is bad for health. Alternatively, the smoker could reduce dissonance by changing his cognition about the effect of smoking on health and believe that smoking does not have a harmful effect on health (eliminating the dissonant cognition). He might look for positive effects of smoking and believe that smoking reduces tension and keeps him from gaining weight (adding consonant cognitions). Or he might believe that the risk to health from smoking is negligible compared with the danger of automobile accidents (reducing the importance of the dissonant cognition). In addition, he might consider the enjoyment he gets from smoking to be a very important part of his life (increasing the importance of consonant cognitions).
In the case of an attorney practicing law—or looking for a position—when you are not grateful and continually looking for negativity, you will find it. In fact, you will almost always find it.

In the years 2001 and 2002, there was a catastrophically bad market for corporate attorneys (especially junior corporate attorneys in the United States). During this time, most corporate attorneys knew just how bad the market was and were very, very aware of the complete dearth of opportunities. Most corporate attorneys faced with such dire prospects and knowledge about the market simply "gave up" when they realized that the lack of opportunities meant there were no more solid career options. I saw many enormously capable attorneys give up the practice of law completely.

In terms of cognitive dissonance, these attorneys were simply looking for what supported their belief system, which asserted that the market was bad. Everywhere they turned, they were seeing evidence to support their belief that the market was horrible. This ultimately led many of them to leave the practice of law.

What also sticks out for me about this time is that I saw many attorneys keep going despite the slow market. In fact, these sorts of attorneys actually seemed grateful that they had a chance to look at new opportunities in the market. Some of these attorneys said things like "Well, I am not sure if I want to work in Hong Kong or in New York. I'm going to have to think about this." I remember thinking to myself while listening to these attorneys, "Are these people insane? They think they have a choice?"

Looking back, though, I realize that there was something very powerful in the psychology of these attorneys. They believed they would consistently have good and exciting careers, and they looked for information in their environments to support this belief at all times. What ended up happening, of course, is that they consistently did find good positions, and in a horrible time, their careers actually improved.



In order to be happier and do better in your current position and find new positions effectively, it is essential that you be grateful. Gratitude has to do with the sort of energy you are focusing on. People who focus on negative emotions and are ungrateful will likely attract more of the same to them. Whether you feel you do not make enough money, resent others, or are dissatisfied with your work, negative emotions will not take you forward to where you want to go. In fact, these sorts of emotions will simply build upon themselves as they attract more of the same sorts of emotions over and over again.

Cognitive dissonance theory says that if you are upset with the world and your job, you will tend to look for evidence that supports your views. Is this what you are doing? If you are doing this, you should immediately begin focusing on something positive. Like attracts like.

People who do well and excel cannot help focusing on positive emotions and being grateful all the time. As you begin to think about and focus on what you are grateful for, you will be amazed at how much there is for you to continue to be grateful for. As an attorney, you should be grateful that you have come as far as you have. You should be grateful for opportunities to work on other peoples' problems. If employed, you should be grateful that you have been hired to work on others' problems. The process of being grateful and looking for the positive is never-ending. Being happy with what you have and who you are is a powerful, powerful thing that will enable you to consistently improve.

When you view the world and your job positively, others will feel good when they are around you. Your employer and/or potential employers will feel appreciated. You will be more excited about your work and looking to make a difference. Clients will pick up on your enthusiasm and gratitude for working for them and will want to give you more work. The more you focus on being excited and charged up about your work, the better your work will look to you.

Conclusions

Instead of focusing on what you do not have, focus on what you do have and what is positive about your career. Your career has tons of potential, and so do you. Make lists of what is right about your career and what you are doing well. Make lists of what is good about your legal employer and why it is good. Make lists of colleagues you like and why you like them.

By focusing on the positive, you will draw more of the positive to you. In addition, focusing on the positive will improve your outlook and how you feel about the world and your life.

While I have always been interested in the studies focusing on the reasons attorneys supposedly have so many difficulties, I also know that most of these difficulties would not be present if the attorneys kept their focuses on being grateful for what they have. Being grateful for what you have will bring you more to be grateful for in your career and life.

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Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

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