Navigating a career and family poses unique challenges. Each hat or role requires something different from us and impacts how we navigate the world and interact with others. Trying to balance all of the roles may lead to feelings of guilt. We feel guilty for being mothers, wanting to climb the career ladder, attending Friday night football games, and taking vacations.
When we are at work, our families are not getting our time. Our inbox is overflowing when we are trying to take self-care moments. The gym and reading anything that is not legal is an afterthought. Exhaustion, disillusionment, confusion, and anger may set in. The burden of all our responsibilities is heavy, and it is easy to lose our identity when we feel we are not doing enough or living up to our own expectations.
We tend to put others before ourselves and neglect what makes us happy, what we want to do, and what fulfills us. When hurting, feeling used, abused, belittled, or overlooked, we ignore those emotions to cater to everyone around us and maintain a well-put-together image. Masking is mandated even when we may feel desolated, disheveled, and discouraged. We are still expected to show up to work and represent clients, care for our families, and attend weekend baseball games and gymnastics practices while experiencing life. As executive director of the Louisiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, I have the great privilege and duty to serve and speak to lawyers’ emptiness, isolation, substance abuse, and suicidal ideations, and explain how simultaneously wearing many hats can contribute to mental, emotional, or physical conditions, including:
- Stress – a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.
- Anxiety – characterized by persistent, excessive worry and physical changes like increased blood pressure, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat.
- Depression – a mood disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities such as sleeping, eating, or working.
- Burnout – physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion from extreme and prolonged exertion or an overburdening workload accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.
Think about how you balance the many demands in your life when you are pulled in opposite directions. How do you remain calm amid the chaos? How do you keep yourself from being stretched too thin? What do you do when you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, exhausted, and ready to throw in the towel? Do you use alcohol or drugs to cope? Do you like to gamble, or is impulse spending your addiction/distraction from reality? What about self-harm or emotional eating? These are unhealthy coping mechanisms with consequences that could harm yourself and others. No one is capable of operating at 110% all of the time. As professional women, we cannot continue to put our needs last and ignore our feelings.
We also need to learn to motivate ourselves with compassion instead of criticism. We extend grace to everyone except ourselves. We need to learn to permit ourselves to pause and time out for functioning in dysfunction. To be competent, we need to know our limits and prioritize ourselves through self-care.
Self-care is a necessity. Self-care is not a waste of time, not selfish, and not a luxury. Self-care is a series of tough decisions. Self-care is saying no to others and yes to ourselves.
My message is: Do not be afraid to put yourself first. You cannot give what you do not have. Set boundaries. Take your lunch break. Take time off. Do not answer emails after a certain time. When you are with your family, focus on them. Be present in the moment.
The choice is ours – the hats we wear, our self-image, and how we portray ourselves to the world. We can see ourselves as strong and capable, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. When life throws us a curveball, we can pick ourselves up and keep moving forward. We are determined, resilient, and unstoppable. We are phenomenal. That’s us.
Nevertheless, I want you to know that, as a professional woman, it is okay to be upset, feel stuck, and/or feel lonely at times. It is okay to cry or scream. It is okay to not be okay. The more we talk about our feelings, the more we empower each other to say, “I am not okay.”
Substance use disorder and/or mental illness do not discriminate and can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, or income.
Your local lawyers’ assistance programs are here to serve and support you, your biggest investment, as the most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship is the one you have with yourself. Always remember that you are a phenomenal, professional woman, who wears many hats. Do not let guilt hinder your race; allow grace to navigate your journey.