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After the Bar

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Hiking Lawyers: Releasing Stress and Finding Perspective in Nature

Helen Bukulmez

Hiking Lawyers: Releasing Stress and Finding Perspective in Nature
Popartic via iStock

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Every lawyer should have an outlet to release stress. I have a chart in my office that prescribes different hikes to correspond with different types of lawyerly endeavors. The more difficult the lawyerly endeavor, the more difficult the hike becomes. For example:

  • Stressful hearing—2 miles on a wooded trail with hydration and proper weather clothing.
  • Before a high-conflict mediation—4 miles with hydration and nutrition.
  • Before or after dealing with an unreasonable, aggressive opposing—5 rigorous miles with hydration and teeth guard.
  • Before a trial—10 miles with hydration, proper nutrition, and upbeat music (preferably “Eye of the Tiger”). Grounding or going barefoot helps if you can, and it’s extra helpful with a group of fun, empowering, and supportive friends.

It is a powerful reminder of how my mind, body, and spirit always need nature and its healing powers, especially through hiking.

Childhood Habits

I grew up on a farm, spending most summers barefoot and not even knowing how our happiness, joy, and contentment with our “poor farm lives” were so rare elsewhere in the world. If we needed firewood, my sister and I were sent to the woods about seven miles away to collect it and bring it back. Every morning’s walk to our one-room school was about six miles round trip. There are many troubles on any farm—a lot of death, disease, and loss. But the feelings and grief associated with any of this were almost always as long as the next walk to retrieve water and to feed the animals, not because the loss or trouble was not important or devastating, but because it was just one of the hundreds of daily realities of our lives and it always stayed in its small space in the grand scheme of things. A lot of walking does that to you: it puts things in their respective small spaces.

Straying from the Familiar

After many walks and hikes through the woods, I grew up, became a mom, finished college, and became an American lawyer. Not just any lawyer. My fate would be in immigration and injury law, both of which are high-stress practice areas with a lot of expectations to manage. The busy, stressed life associated with being an American lawyer is a vacuum, if nothing else: it sucks you in and makes it almost trendy to be busy and overwhelmed constantly. The portrayal of our jobs in the media and how it should feel to be a successful lawyer (e.g., Ally McBeal) doesn’t help either.

So, I got sucked in, too. Despite having wonderful employers who would tell me, “Go home and rest,” I did what I thought I should do as a young lawyer. However, I began to fail my family, myself, and my dreams to create happy clients, happy bosses, and happy bar associations whom I’d hope would give me a reward. They did. It was not worth the cost. During all this, I forgot who I was. Most importantly, I forgot to walk. Perhaps I did so intentionally because walking or hiking isn’t nearly as cool for a young lawyer as it is to be drinking at happy hours or golfing on greener pastures.

Back to My Roots for a Healthy Mindset

One day, it all came to a full stop. That day, I did the bare minimum I could and instinctively dragged myself to a trailhead.

American physician and cardiologist Dr. Paul Dudey White put it best when he said, “A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.”

Every time, hiking heals and puts things in perspective. No, hiking is not a magic pill. It does not solve your problems. It lifts your mindset above it all and shows you where that problem lives, which is a small space in your professional, personal, and emotional life. On any given day, a three-to-five-mile hike will perhaps help you get up from your desk after reading an email from a client that stresses you out. Going out to a trailhead may clear your mind and help you respond to that client’s email professionally and effectively.

Connecting to Calmness in Nature

Nature inspires us to have a more balanced, patient, calm, and collected mindset.

In addition to its direct physical, mental, and emotional healing effects, hiking also helps us build communities with like-minded friends and attracts the right connections who become friends, mentors, role models, adventure buddies, and even cheerleaders in our lives. Those who value wellness and realize its foundational connection to our happiness and success are the same people who will appreciate a hike or two themselves.

Beyond friendships, you will also find that your hiking lifestyle may attract the right business partners and even vendors. CasePeer and Crisp are powerful partners to the Hiking Lawyers movement, and they are just two companies that appreciate the value of attorney wellness and support its mission.

Wellness, balance, happiness, and overall health or joy are not luxuries. The legal profession has treated these foundational concepts as reserved for the most successful partners after they have “paid their dues.” It is simple: You cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot be the best lawyer, advocate, or negotiator when you are “out of gas.”

Will you give hiking a chance? Will you build a strong foundation upon which your law practice and personal and professional life are built? Join us at Hiking Lawyers on Facebook and come on out for a hike. Let’s fill that cup and fuel that brilliant machine.