An Attitude Revamp (or, How to Get Your Groove Back)

fiji birthday drinkOn Tuesday, we talked a bit about how there will be numerous times in a person’s life that you realize that you are, perhaps, a bit off track from where you would like to be. Maybe you wake up one day and realize you own nothing beyond dowdy suits, Mom jeans, and pajamas — a wardrobe revamp is in order. Other times you wake up and realize it’s your attitude that needs an adjustment. There are different varieties of this. The two big ones that I’ve seen involve a realization that perhaps you’ve been phoning it in for far too long, either because you were dealing with a personal issue (planning a wedding, having a baby, dealing with a sick parent, etc, etc) or because you just aren’t engaged in your job anymore. Other times, you realize that it’s your job that makes you unhappy; you may suddenly feel that you’ve been beaten down for so long that you don’t even remember the last time you felt calm, fulfilled, and at peace with the world.  This is a type of burnout that can happen with any job, but I’ve seen it especially with those professions — BigLaw, I’m looking at you — that consume most or all of your waking hours for years at a time.  Sometimes the right answer might be to just suck it up, deal with it, recognize the commitments you’ve made and the value of what you’ve got.  Other times, a vacation can help — but you can’t solve every problem by a week or two in a tropical locale.  (Pictured: fiji birthday drink, originally uploaded to Flickr by mjecker.)

For my $.02, the first situation is the better of the two — you still intrinsically like what you do and where you are, but you just need to reengage with the job. Some ideas for that:

  • Revamp your routine. If the first thing you do every day at the office is surf the web for two hours, stop that — don’t even turn on your computer if possible. I recently read about someone who “turned the mouse off” during work time to cut down on distracted browsing; you can also just put your mouse out of reach, turn it on its back, or unplug it.
  • Restyle your office (or move offices, if possible). It’ll make you feel like you’re at a new job again.
  • Reengage with your profession again. Attend a thinky seminar or conference, and really listen — take notes as if your life depended on it. Take some time to apply what you’ve learned to your current job (and, perhaps, to your boss’s job). Set up a meeting or write a memo if you come up with tangible ideas as a result.

The other main kind of “attitude revamp” I’ve seen people need is when your job makes you miserable — perhaps even your profession — and you can’t easily get a new job (or a new profession). The only thing, in my experience, that I’ve seen work for this is to reconnect with some older, core version of yourself from the time before The Job. For example, maybe you were on the swim team in your youth — and you can just rejoin an adult swim club that does drills and the like. For me, I found myself in this situation a few years ago, right after I’d missed my best friend’s wedding to do a doc review — and the only thing I could think to do to reconnect with ME again was to take a humor writing class, which I hadn’t done since I was 17. I signed up at Gotham (with the very excellent teacher Sara Barron) and realized in pretty short order that a) I could write something other than a law brief, and b) I was kind of good at writing, as well as giving other people in my class useful feedback on how their own stories could be better. As soon as I reconnected with the “me” I’d been when I was 17 — full of hope and ambition and sarcasm — weirdly enough, good things started to happen. I met my future husband later that month. I got on a much better project at the job, working closely with a lawyer I truly admired, about two months later. I decided to start this blog about four months later. None of those things had anything to do with my rediscovered humor writing skills — but so much to do with my rediscovery of me, the person I’d been before I’d spent nearly 15 years throwing myself into school and work.

Readers, what are your tips for getting your groove back? What other major attitude revamps have you been through?

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  1. Perfect post for today for me! My slumps come in waves and I got hit by a big one this week, not sure why. Things like making lists of what you accomplish, focusing on small goals, and making time to exercise (much as I hate to admit it) have really helped me. Problem is, sometimes I get so low I just don’t even care enough to try to feel better. One of my professors actually noticed I was down last semester and reached out to me (and I am so, so grateful). We had a conversation about losing the will to feel better and what came out of it was the realization that, hey, you might as well try — because what else are you going to do? Also, in desperate times measures like using leechblock or forcing yourself to wkr away from your computer can help cut back on the slacking; in fact when I first tried to post this, leechblock kicked me off and I had to get back to work for an hour.

    Now for a thread hijack – since I’m slacking and in a slump today ;) – I have my heart set on a cordovan leather tote/shoulder bag for interviews. I haven’t found ANY in my price range (max 200 for the perfect thing) that I like that are new but I did find the perfect one in a vintage shop for just $40!!. Problem is it has a few scuffs. Anyone have any luck refurbishing cordovan colored bags? OR, any sources for a new cordovan colored bag? BTW, LL Bean’s “cordovan” is NOT really cordovan, I am disappointed to say. Cordovan is the rich deep burgundy you sometimes see in men’s shoes. TIA and keep your heads up ladies!

    • I envy all of you who can do some work away from your computer :) As a programmer, this is, sadly, impossible for me.

  2. I admire the moms out there who have dealt with work-life balance- that’s an area I’m scared of as haven’t gotten there yet.

    I had a bad attitude because I hated my previous jobs. 3 years ago I decided (with husband) to move to cities (NY to Seattle) for quality of life reasons. At that point, I did a big career evaluation- what I thought I liked, wanted, was good at, what was reachable, etc. using existing tools including the awesome book ‘official guide to getting a job’ or something close to that. The assessment gave me clear results with a few pathways. I picked a few steps to take on (certificate degree, conferences, networking, joining nonprofit Board, serving as expert on international committee, etc.) and started doing them, while also taking a job I didn’t like in Seattle. After 2 1/2 yrs of plugging away at these things on the side of unhappy work life (but bearable and decent), I landed my dream job and am now overjoyed with my work situation. It took a lot of discipline and there were many days where I wondered if I’d ever make the transition, and didn’t feel like doing the extra stuff for free after long work days. It worked, and now I am exactly where I want to be- and on the right path going forward.

    I also felt blah in my personal life during that time. I took up a hobbie and made an amazing group of friends through it (salsa dancing, but we also hike and do lots of other activities together now). This has been an absolutely wonderful aspect of life in many ways. Physically good for me, a total contrast from work life, release, and getting to know a group of fun, diverse international people in my town. It was hard at first, because I would literally go out alone to dance events and felt pretty alone/stupid. But that only lasted a few months.

    I found that talking to husband and friends really helped on the career transition, as well as taking a little notebook to chart out ideas, note progress, etc. Not every trail leads to gold, it’s trying as many as you can handle strategically and being diligent.

    If I feel like my attitude is slipping at work, I like to take a mental step back and think about how a classic consummate professional would act. Not whiny/gossipy- in charge, not over eager- not weird, is competent and confident. Etc.

  3. The most important thing I’ve learned in trying to revamp my life, even with small changes, is that time is finite. Sounds like a given, of course, but I was slow to figure it out.

    If I want to add something – more sleep, 30 minutes of yoga, time for an extra cup of coffee, whatever … I have to remove something else to make that time. If you’re already over-scheduled, trying to add one more thing, even something you want/need, can make a bad situation worse.

  4. I got laid off from a medium sized law firm in a medium sized city that I loved in early 2009, the height of the Great Recession. In desperation I took a Biglaw job in NYC. I hated it. HATED IT. I tried to tell myself to be grateful to have a job at all given the economy, but that just made me feel more trapped than anything else. Hours, hours, hours, nasty miserable people, weekends ruined with no notice, a complete and utter disrespect for associates… I was miserable. I stopped caring about what I wore to work, even to the point where Corporette would make me sad because I couldn’t rally any interest in looking nice at work because I hated it so much. I tried to reconnect with myself by doing things I loved before the Biglaw job, like cooking and running, but I just didn’t have time for them. And recognizing that I did not having time to do the things I loved when I actively wanted to be doing them just made me more miserable.

    So… I quit! I searched for new jobs like a maniac, lying and sneaking away for interviews, and finally landed a new job at a little firm back in my favorite medium sized city. I’m currently sitting in my NYC apartment surrounded by moving boxes. I’ve already bought a bunch of new clothes (and finally dry cleaned and pressed the ones that were so neglected), spent a lot of time reading women-in-business books, and started training for a triathlon. Just leaving all that nastiness behind me has let my authentic self flood back into my body and I’m excited about my career again.

  5. It’s great to recapture an interest you have given up in order to practice law. Sometimes this takes very little time each day – I am now practicing piano again – Chopin – find my hands have “grown” (looser ligaments?) and I can play better than before.

    Another good one is to do over all or part of the house or apartment – this is exciting – you can get good results with very little money if you find good workers – entertaining is more fun after you redecorate. I am talking about color – color – color.

    Buying clothes is a quick high, but it’s a high that goes away very fast.

  6. housecounsel :

    “Buying clothes is a quick high, but it’s a high that goes away fast.” It has taken me forty years to finally figure that out.

    Great topic, informative and helpful string of responses and a fantastic, supportive group of women. I wish you were all in the offices next to mine.

    (In-house counsel and mom of three kids)

  7. Thread Hijack! Hopefully people are still reading this from yesterday.

    I was hoping you guys could give me some advice on how to deal with a co-worker that needs an attitude adjustment. This co-worker tends to say snide comments and really blunt to the point of being mean comments and in my honest opinion has no right to do so! Not that it is an excuse or anything, but co-worker isn’t even a respected person in the office at all (for quality of work), which to me, and this might sound bad, actually makes it worse. Co-worker likes to throw around insults like “yah, well you are not being productive when you worry about that so maybe you should just move on already (in a very blunt mean tone)” or “I don’t really think you know what you are talking about”…comments like that which basically say “I think you’re an idiot so I’m just going to pretend I’m better than you”.

    I’m a new associate at my firm (so is co-worker but he/she is looking for, and will likely take, another job in the near future) so I don’t want to rock the boat but at the same time I don’t want to be disrespected by someone. I know it’s not just me because co-worker does it to everyone; I even heard an intense argument over the phone with a landlord that was NOT appropriate for the office!


    • There is probably someone who knows a better way to deal with this, or even nip it in the bud? But, whenever I have to encounter/work with nasty people, I remind myself, over and over, that it is because they are so unhappy, and usually insecure about their own value/worth, that they are driven to insult and/or be otherwise mean to other people. That their comments are not really about my lacking as a person, but their own. Maybe try to pity them or feel sorry for them. Maybe try to smile and be kind to them as often as possible. And when they make comments like that, try not to be too sensitive. What they say can only hurt you if you let it. Remember that what they say does not count. They are losers.

  8. One resource I recommend for those unhappy w/ BigLaw: Monica Parker’s book The Unhappy Lawyer”. She also has a website called leaving the law. I’ve not worked w/ her personally, but have heard her speak, read the book, & worked through the exercises. She’s gone through much of what’s been discussed here & gives a good framework for deciding what you want to do.

  9. I just started reading “4 hour work week” and while some of the suggestions are not realistic, his perspective about work is really refreshing. It’s made me think about what I want out of life and how work fits into that, instead of the other way around. Definitely read it if you get a chance and need a break from the unending hamster wheel.

  10. Biglaw Refugee :

    To the anon dating a lawyer: for most of us, the hours are bad, but not bad enough to prevent us from taking fri and sat nights off. We also usually have time to send a few texts or emails every day. If he does not contact you most days even when you don’t contact him, and you’re not seeing him most weeks (if only to veg out in front of the tv) then he probably isn’t that interested. Unless he is preparing for a trial in the next six months or working on a really big merger, the lack of contact is not due solely to his work schedule. I’d back off and if he doesn’t respond by paying more attn to you, move on.

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed. It takes less than a minute to send a text message. Anyone who claims to be too busy to touch base is lying.

    • anonfornow :

      Not the original OP but I was in a similar situation it took me 2 months to figure this out. I almost thought I was being unreasonable in thinking that he should text/email me once in a while.

  11. Sisters on Corporette, thank you! I really needed to know that I’m not the only one going through these work slumps. I’m currently working in state government; between layoffs, budget cuts, furloughs, pay freezes, unproductive workers with less responsibility making more than me because they’ve been there forever, and an unwillingness to look at innovative ideas to save money and therefore provide better services to the public have sent me into a major funk.

    I think it’s time to do a reassessment of what I really want to do with my life. I’m 32 and have only been in government three years, so a career change isn’t out of the question. Any suggestions on books to help a person figure out what they “really want to be when they grow up?”

  12. Tax Lawyer :

    Very elitist post. “Re-connecting” with a biglaw job? I am an attorney and CPA in Baltimore, with 17 years experience in corporate/transactional, tax and estate planning experience. I also finished in the top 5% of my class, admittedly at a non-top 14 school, which was the only one I could afford to attend in the evening program, after working 8 hours per day at a regular accounting job nearby.

    I started at a biglaw firm, but DC changed its rules and required 5 years of practice to waive in, and since I had been building a client base, the idea of me not even being able to be listed on letterhead, or signing my name to a cover letter, forced me into a small-law job in MD.

    After taking a Miami real estate 1031 exchange management position, I was feeling very optimistic. Until the bubble burst, and there were no real estate gains to be sheltered from income tax. So I moved back to Baltimore, and have been unemployed for 11 months.

    I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for any biglaw associates who don’t enjoy their workloads or the mindlessness of their assigned tasks. Let them try $15/hour document review in a small basement, with their cell phones confiscated on entry (God forbid if a family emergency occurred), no internet access, and no health insurance.

    What I really don’t understand though, is why corporate America is not hiring these excess attorneys to fill management slots. They have been proven ambitious, intelligent and hard working. I find that having a law degree on my resume actually hurts my employment prospects, rather than helps them. Why this attitude?

    If I had just graduated law school, and not spent so much time working for firms, then I would have the option of omitting any legal experience, and would likely be more attractive to employers. But I have been practicing law for too long to call myself a “consultant” for 10 years–I have to show that I was employed as an attorney, and it detracts from my ability to get hired in a non-legal capacity.

  13. Grooveless :

    I want my life back, not just my groove! A number of years ago my biglaw husband had a complete mental and physical breakdown and hasn’t worked a day since. I work 40hrs per week as Corp Counsel near to home and take all responsibility for mothering (2 girls 15 and 11), housekeeping, grocery shopping, school visits etc plus regularly entertaining clients family and friends. He plays golf most days and has taken on some journalism from home. His depression is isolating and all pervasive.
    However he is now having an affair .
    Found out yesterday…I’m in the office today. Does anyone have any ideas about how I should deal with this one…because I’m feeling pretty grooveless!

    • Grooveless – ouch, I wish I had the words to comfort you but I’m speechless.

      I don’t know you or anything about you except for the few things you just posted here but know that you are deserve more and you are worth it. Decide on your expectations and go get them – there is such a thing as being too nice and supportive.

      Good luck.

    • Oof. I’m so sorry. I think an ultimatum and some self-assessment is in order.
      First, the affair. If you’re interested in salvaging this relationship (which I can’t tell if you are – there’s a healthy amount of disdain in your post, which is understandable and you don’t have to stay with him), you tell him that you are aware of the affair, you are hurt and angry and you ask him if he’s interested in saving your marriage and never seeing the other woman (or limiting contact, if seeing her is inevitable). If his answer isn’t a resounding and immediate yes to making your marriage work, then be concerned. Most people will say what they need to in order to get out of a sticky situation, but unless he’s willing to break it off immediately with the other woman, that’s bad. (Happened to my best friend – her ex husband kept saying he was sorry and saying he’d leave the other woman, but he eventually chose the other woman.) Sometimes infidelity is just a way to feel alive again, and getting caught and confronted is all it takes to stop the other relationship altogether.

      Ask him what he wants out of your relationship and your family. And feel free to drive home that you know he’s depressed and unable to work, and that you were as supportive as you could be, but that he’s overstepped the bounds of what you will tolerate and is setting you up in his daughters’ eyes as a doormat. I’d calmly detail the sacrifices everyone has made for him, and tell him that all you expected in return was for him to make those sacrifices that he was capable of making (going to get treatment, taking meds, staying faithful, trying to be as productive/helpful as his mental health allowed).

      Now then, to you. Examine what has happened to you and to your interaction with him in the past several years. It’s very possible that you’ve done nothing wrong. Or it’s possible that in taking over the household and serving as caretaker, you’ve become more his mother, and less his wife (understandable, esp. in his condition). The cruddy thing about that is that he can come to regard you like a teenager views his mother – a person who takes care of him, goads him about doing work or his health, and acts like the “adult”, making the family work , being unfun. Has he become your third child? ny marriage is hard, and humans (despite our best intentions) seek out the things that feel new and different and make them feel alive. That’s hard in any long-term marriage, esp. one where the dynamic between partners has been so skewed. There is a lot of infidelity, and it’s not insurmountable – a lot of people just get caught in a bad situation. But I would stop parenting him – unless he needs you to do things for him (i.e., he can’t drive). Tell him that you married an adult, and that you will help him with the things that he cannot do on his own, but otherwise, he’s resourceful and can find a way to accomplish the rest. While you did just find out about the affair, you sound as if you didn’t respect him much before, and he probably resents you (and wants to act like an entitled child).

      But give serious thought to whether this is something you want to salvage. If you’ve done your best, you’ve done your best, and you need to set a good example for your girls. That isn’t necessarily staying together for the kids.

    • Oh no…I am so sorry. But frankly, you are being a bit TOO nice to him. You’re doing everything though he had the breakdown several years ago? You just need to assess what things you can or can’t live with (infidelity and abuse of any kind top my list) and then take it from there. Thankfully your kids are atleast of an age where they don’t need care/baby sitting!

  14. Texan_in_NY :

    Wow – this post really hits home.  I recently up and left a BigLaw job in Texas and moved to NYC.  I was so done with it all that I left without a fully fleshed out plan. For now I am doing part time legal work with a law school friend and focusing on pursuing my longtime pipe dream of becoming a writer (actually taking classes from Gotham as well).  The feeling of freedom from the soul suck of BigLaw is exhilarating, but I must admit that I feel a little lost now having so much free time on my hands. An extreme measure – yes – but I haven’t regretted it for one second.  

  15. I recommend having major surgery. There’s nothing like it to turn your world upside down.

  16. I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was to find this blog and discussion thread. I’ve been struggling for some time to get through slumps in my professional life, and a huge part of my problem has been a sense that I’m all alone in this. I know that this isn’t the case, but its an instinctive thought that I haven’t been able to stop having. I really appreciate how honest and supportive everyone here is-it is a real contrast to what I find on similar websites [C2 -“filled with malicious loonies” made me laugh]-and your comments have made me a little more hopeful than I was at the start of the day. Thanks!

  17. Kat I’m reading this post as you’ve linked to it in 2012, and I have to say, this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m at the tail end of a year spent as a lawyer in a town far away from my boyfriend, where I never wanted to live, and with the most miserable boss I’ve ever met or heard about. It was a great opportunity and I’m happy I took it, but I am *so thrilled* to return to a bigger city to move back in with the man who loves me enough that he was supportive this entire time I was chasing a dream with this firm that turned out to be more of a fantasy than reality.

    I’ve been beating myself up for *months* wondering why I can’t just *get it together*. Dragging myself out of bed, forgetting to put on makeup, just feeling *horrible* all the time. Reading your paragraphs about reconnecting with your sarcastic, writerly self, and then feeling things fall into place — I’m so inspired to go back to the place I had been, before everything fell OUT of place, back to where I WAS my authentic self.

    It brings actual tears to my eyes to consider just how important it is to nurture things like your real self. I am so full of hope for the future, and putting this “attitude revamp” mentality to it kicks me into high gear to hit the ground running.

    Thanks for that!


  1. […] there hasn’t been a ton of time for doing some of the things I’ve done in the past to get my groove back, such as taking a writing class just for the joy of […]

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