Why Modesty Is For A-Holes (And Not For You)

We can all agree that attorneys aren’t the most humble of folks. There’s even research from the Law School Admission Council showing that college students who later become attorneys have a pretty high view of themselves.

That being said, a lot of the confidence seemingly exuded by attorneys is usually hubris. Not always, but often.

A more realistic assessment of humility in attorneys is made by examining the internal thought processes of the average legal mind.

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you were a blissfully engaged lawyer, so it’s safe for me to assume that you’ve had some doubts about your chosen vocation.

In the course of experiencing those doubts, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Well, at least I have a job.” Fair point. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for your current job, but you get points for acknowledging the positive element of your situation.

But what are you really saying to yourself?

You’re really saying, “I have a job I hate, but it could be worse. I could be unemployed. Or at a job that pays less. And even if I had an opportunity to leave this job, the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t.”

The old standby, it-could-be-worse rationalization.

Or how about this scenario. You’ve just obtained a great result -- this could be landing a new client or winning an important motion. Bottom line: you kicked ass, people took notice and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself...for now.

No sooner have you taken your first sip of celebratory champagne when you start thinking, “What if this client is unsatisfied and leaves? What if I never get another client? I've got to work non-stop to keep this client happy and get more new clients.”

Or maybe, “I may have won this motion, but what about the next one? And I have that other case that is a real turd.  I’ll never prevail on that one.”

Any of these sound familiar?

If so, I’m sure you’re absolutely exhausted from hearing those internal monologues and wondering why they crop up when things are going well.

What if it's because you’re afraid?

Ain’t no shame in that game, friend. This internal joy extinguisher is an all-too-common defense mechanism employed by successful people like yourself.

You tell yourself that you minimize your successes to avoid sounding arrogant. Humility's a virtue, after all.

And you're not about to be one of those arrogant, a-hole attorneys.

But really, you're afraid of disappointment.

You’d rather prepare yourself for any possible future shortcomings than fully enjoy your wins and experience the occasional disappointment that life invariable delivers.

Better to be pleasantly surprised when things go right than to be blindsided by the pain of so-called failure.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Classic, right?

Classic, maybe. But necessary? Not so much.

Studies on happiness and well-being have found there is a way to celebrate our successes without bracing for future disappointments.

It’s so simple, you might not believe me: practicing gratitude.

And this is not the same as saying, “At least I have a job."

You clearly aren’t in love with your job. And that’s okay. You don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that you have a job you dislike when so many others would kill for any job.

True gratitude practice is about really appreciating the joy in your life.

It’s about realizing and acknowledging what makes your life meaningful. And you know what they say, sometimes it’s the small things.

Researcher Martin Seligman has examined various methods for expressing gratitude. One of the most common and easily implemented methods is maintaining a gratitude journal.

And there's a bonus.

Studies have shown that individuals who keep a gratitude journal for several months are markedly happier than those who don’t.

We’re not talking about journalling for hours on end here. Keeping a gratitude journal can be as simple as writing down three to five things for which you are truly grateful each day.

I keep a journal on my nightstand and each night, I write down at least three (and often it’s upwards of five) things.

Sometimes they’re major, like “today’s surgery went well.” A lot of times, I’m writing down things like, “warm doggy snuggles, my husband making dinner for me and a surprise phone call from a friend.”

The idea is to not think too hard and just write down the first few things that come to mind.

I know it might sound a bit hokey to some (myself included). I am categorically NOT the journaling type. But after keeping a gratitude journal for almost a year, I am not BS-ing you when I say that I am a much happier person and have noticed a MAJOR increase in my ability to celebrate my successes.

So when you kick ass in life (as you tend to do) or good things come your way, don’t question or down-play or catastrophize under the guise of humility. Appreciate and celebrate!

You can start today with something simple like posting three things for which you are grateful in the comments below or send me an e-mail. What do you have to lose (other than the exhaustion of your mental doomsday preparations)?