In this episode, Stephanie has a conversation with Dr. Sherry Walling about dealing with grief in the workplace and in our everyday life. If today’s podcast resonates with you and you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, get the first chapter right now for free!
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- . The great grief before the great resignation
- . Advice on dealing with chronic trauma
- . Grief in the workplace
Announcer 1 (00:03):
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Hi, I’m Zach Glaser
And I’m Stephanie Everett. And this is episode 389 of the Lawyerist podcast. Part of the legal talk network. Today, I’m talking with Dr. Sherry Walling about dealing with grief in the workplace.
Today’s podcast is brought to you by LawPay, MyCase and Posh Virtual Receptionist. We wouldn’t be able to do this show without their support. So stay tuned. And we’ll tell you more about them later on
Zach. We are at episode 389, which means that four hundred’s coming up fast.
<laugh> it is. And that’s, that’s a, a big milestone and we, I mean, we’re certainly gonna celebrate it. It’s a big milestone for us. We think that’s, that’s fantastic. We, and that’s gonna be 400, you know, legal minds or, you know, conversations that we’ve had with people. That’s that’s big.
Yeah. It’s super exciting. And I had challenged everyone on our team, like who should we get for episode 400? And I mean, no pressure, because I mean, it may just, who knows who it’s gonna be, but then we said, why don’t we also ask the community mm-hmm <affirmative> so listeners, who would you like to hear on the podcast? Is there someone interesting or different for episode 400 are honestly on any of our shows? Like we always are open to hearing topics or ideas or conversations that you think would be helpful.
Mm-hmm <affirmative> yeah. We, we certainly wanna want to direct our conversations to what people want to hear about. You know, I, I know that I like the subjects that we talk about, but we aren’t in the mind of everybody. So we’d, we’d love to hear what people want to hear on the podcast, what topics they want to hear, maybe specific people they want to hear from maybe specific groups they want to hear from. And if you can find us, you can hit us up on email with, uh, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on twitter @lawyeristbackup.kinsta.cloud. It’s spelled out L a w E R I S T D O T C O M. And you can find us on LinkedIn and, uh, Stephanie, we have a, a specific group in Facebook that people can join to, you know, send us a message on who you want to hear from and what you want us to talk about.
Yeah. We’d love to hear from you also, you know, we don’t ask you very often, but if you would like to leave us a review, our rating, you know, on apple podcast or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcast, apparently those things matter in the world. And it does help us, you know, get our show out to more people. We’re super proud of the work that we’re doing and the conversations we’re having. And we’d just love to share it with new people and different people.
Absolutely. Well, now here is Stephanie’s conversation with Sherry walling.
Dr. Sherry Walling (03:22):
My name is Dr. Sherry Walling. I’m a clinical psychologist who specializes in the mental health of entrepreneurs, high performers executives, and I think a lot about how to help people thrive in difficult situations when they have really important things that they’re trying to accomplish.
Yeah. Welcome back to the show. Sherry, I’m grateful to have you, especially this week as we’re recording this, our country is yet again, experienced trauma with the latest shooting at a elementary school. And I’ll just the first to say it hit me really hard. And I found myself just crying because my daughter is 11 and this just keeps coming up. Right. So I think what you’ve, your work has been focusing on how the world impacts us <laugh> we don’t even know it is that right?
Dr. Sherry Walling (04:11):
I think, you know, we’re carrying all of this residual trauma and grief just from the pandemic alone. And then of course there seems to be no shortage of chaos, whether that’s the war in Ukraine or the recent string of shootings, um, especially images around, you know, the loss of children, like we are exposed to so much and so much, um, is swirling around us. And I think it’s helpful to like name that, you know, to take the moment and say, woo, it’s been, it’s been a lot. And the more human that we are, the more awake that we are, the more emotionally intelligent than we are. We kind of, these things have places to land within us. We, we have to sort of deal with them rather than repress ignore, turn off the TV and, and just, you know, not acknowledge.
Yeah. Yeah. And so when, when we booked you to come on the show, obviously we didn’t know this latest tragedy was gonna happen. And we were really thinking about the work you’ve been doing lately around you called it the, before the great resignation, there was the great grief.
Dr. Sherry Walling (05:19):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve been looking at obviously these significant changes in employment. So for example, I’m sure your audience members will know this, but last November, something like 4.5 million people left their jobs. So there’s this huge upheaval in work, in what work looks like in employees who are staying in their positions versus who are going out and becoming entrepreneurs or who are looking for remote positions. Like there’s just this huge shift. And I know there’s a lot of economic drivers for that, but also I think there’s a huge amount of grief that is forcing us to realize, or to get really clear about how we wanna be spending our time. And so, you know, we lived through it with a pandemic where you were supposed to be on zoom meetings, eight hours a day, but also like educating your six year old. And also like just trying to manage the level of upset and disruption that was happening because so many of us were experiencing the steadily illness and that makes people get pretty existential, like pretty, you know, what is it all for? What’s the meaning of this? Why am I doing this? What do I wanna do with my finite amount of time? And a lot of people made really big changes in the way that they were living and how they were working.
Yeah. I think you would say too that sometimes we’re just living through it and we don’t even realize these things are happening. We don’t even stop to realize the chaos. We see the chaos, but we either become numb to it. Or maybe like you just don’t even necessarily stop to reflect on how it might be impacting you.
Dr. Sherry Walling (06:55):
Yeah. In the trauma world, when you’re experiencing a significant stressor, all of your resources are just dedicated to surviving that. And often that’s a really short time limited experience, but sometimes it’s chronic. And I think that’s what the pandemic has become from many of us, this kind of chronic traumatic stressor and all of our resources just go towards the next day, the next moment, figuring it out. And there isn’t a natural break in time to stop and pause and sort of take our head out of the, the details of our lives and, and think, okay, am I okay? How am I coping with all that’s happened? How am I reacting emotionally? And so the demands of the situation don’t really allow for that. We’re just reacting and responding.
Yeah. I mean, what advice do you have for people who maybe haven’t maybe they’re not actively in therapy or they don’t have, you know, I know that for me, when I have been in therapy, it’s been really helpful cuz you have that outside person kind of helping you recognize what’s going on in your life and that these are stressors. Sure. But if that’s not the case, like what should people do?
Dr. Sherry Walling (08:03):
Well, first of all, I think therapy’s great. Like I think it is really helpful to have this external human who is a reflection of your own life. Like every once in a while my therapist will be like, wow, Sherry, like that’s really hard. And I’m like, yeah, it is like, wow, but we can also be our own, you know, we can grow our own reflective capacity. So practices like journaling and that can be super simple. It can just be tracking the highs and lows from your day. It can be some kind of journaling prompts that help you recognize what you’re grateful for, where your pain points are. Those kinds of things are practices of self-reflection where you are actively and intentionally gauging the question what’s going on inside of me. Am I, well, where do I need more support and more resources? Where am I thriving?
Dr. Sherry Walling (08:50):
You’re taking some inventory. Hmm. I also think that the kinds of grief that we’ve been exposed to recently, there are, there are corporate experiences, right? They’re not just experienced by us individually, but there are things that are out in the culture around us and everyone around us is also experiencing them. So creating spaces where we’re engaging with our community, I was recently I helped create a, a circus show. Believe it or not, that was focused on mental health and especially the bereavement that people experience following the suicide of a loved one. And it was this very unique experience, but it was a corporate grieving event, right? It was a show with music and artists and people were performing things, but they, it had this emotional quality such that the audience was feeling together. And I think that’s some of what we are missing currently in our culture is we don’t have these places to feel together. We are so isolated in our, in our grief and in our coping with trauma. And those kinds of things can be, that’s not how humans are sort of meant to grieve. Like it’s helpful to have ritual. It’s helpful together. It’s helpful to respond to something in unison. That’s one of the ways that we sort of work through these emotions.
Yeah. I’m curious because as employers, you know, a lot of our listeners are employers and, and have teams. I think sometimes we’ve created these boundaries where the workplace is this professional place where mm-hmm <affirmative>, we have to bottle up feelings and emotions and put that stuff aside like that we’re here for business and not for grief. Yeah. And so I’m curious how you, how you would respond to that and what kind of thoughts you would give us.
Dr. Sherry Walling (10:39):
I think it’s helpful to have clear boundaries, but I do think there are really meaningful and important places in your life as a professional community where you can open the door to some brief kinds of practices and then make that time limited. So what I’m imagining is, you know, sometimes when there is an event like this, that so many people are impacted by, or, you know, if there’s loss of life related to the pandemic that touches your office or your community creating a couple hours on a morning where people come together and do a version of a Memorial, which is to say a few words, talk about how they’re feeling, maybe create something together, take meaningful action together. Maybe the members of your office raise money for a cause or write cards to, um, you know, bereaved parents in the latest shooting, like do something that honors that you’re all together carrying these really heavy, hard feelings. And they need a little bit of outlet they need to be shared. So I don’t suggest that this becomes like the norm of every heartache that happens to anyone in the office or every difficult news story necessitates like a morning off where people talk about it. But I do think that periodically there are events that are so important and so impact your team, that it’s, it’s really a disservice to them and to the functioning of your business to ignore it. Yeah. So creating space, time, limited expression of emotion, meaningful action.
I love that. You know, I probably should have covered this earlier, but I would love to because you talk about grief and you said that it’s more than sadness. And so for those of us that aren’t in the field, like I think that would be helpful. And maybe you could just share with us, like when we talk about grief and trauma, that seems like a close relative, like yeah, what are we talking about? And maybe what are we looking for?
Dr. Sherry Walling (12:38):
Yeah. Grief is simply the emotional reaction to a loss and that loss can be loss of a job loss of a sense of safety loss of life. There are lots of losses that bring about the emotion of grief and grief is not, well, I shouldn’t say the emotion of grief because grief is not one emotion. It’s like sort of this grab bag of emotions, right? Sometimes it’s sadness, sometimes it’s stillness, tiredness, and sometimes it’s rage. Sometimes it’s anger. I think a lot of us are feeling that right now in relationship to shooting, sometimes it’s joy. Sometimes it’s this deep sense of like, I’m so glad I’m alive. I’m so glad my kid is safe. And it’s this whole sort of spectrum of feelings that are all related to coping with or reacting to the aftermath of loss. Trauma is a little bit different. A traumatic experience is something that really almost overwhelms our coping resources and is usually an event that involves the actual or the significant threat of loss of life. Sometimes something can be traumatic, but the person doesn’t die. They just get really hurt or it’s really, really scary. So some traumas cause grief mm-hmm <affirmative> so there’s a lot of overlap there, but I think it’s helpful to realize that because it isn’t just sadness. Sometimes it’s like grief with teeth. So people come to work and they feel agitated and they feel frustrated and their temper is short and they’re just like, not themselves. That’s all part of grief. Hmm.
Yeah. I guess sometimes we don’t even, that could be happening to us and we don’t even realize it. I mean, when you said that, I was like, yeah, I’ve just kind of been in a bad mood all week since this shooting’s happened. Yeah. I mean, I cried for Wednesday. Like I just cried my eyes out and then I just felt drained. And then I’ve, I do realize like I have been a little short with people or just like, you know, just kind of in a funk, maybe that’s the way I would say it, but I didn’t necessarily tie that back to what happened earlier in the week. Because again, we don’t think about it that way. We
Dr. Sherry Walling (14:43):
Just, right. It’s not connected. Yeah. So I’ve been studying, you know, trauma and grief professionally for about 20 years. And I recently wrote a book about grief, which is based on my life as a psychologist, but is also based on my own losses of having lost my dad to cancer and my brother to suicide in really short time, like in six months, within six months of each other. So unfortunately I like have all of this familiarity with grief in a way that like, you know, would’ve been nice to stay in the professional zone, but that’s, you know, that’s not what my life has offered me, but I do think that I’ve been really in awe of the power of grief, the power that it has to disrupt us and to change our patterns, our ways of being, you know, the way that we see the world.
Dr. Sherry Walling (15:32):
And I think it is an experience that deserves some attention and some air time for all of us as professionals and as leaders, because it, it has a lot of power to, you know, people leave their jobs over this. People leave their relationships over grief. People get, you know, very disrupted sometimes for the better. Sometimes they get their priorities in line and live the life they’ve always wanted to live because they realize that time is limited and they’re not messing around anymore. So it’s not all bad, but it is disruptive. And I think it’s forceful and strong enough that if we aren’t, we don’t have our eyes open to it. We’re not paying attention. You know, you don’t usually wanna be hit with a force without seeing it coming. So it’s helpful to know what’s possible.
Yeah. Well, let’s take a quick break. We’ll hear from our sponsors. When we come back, I wanna talk a little bit more about this idea of grief and the great resignation and maybe how we can support employees that you talk about.
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So we’re back. And in your latest writings, you talk about how this grief probably I think, related to the pandemic is how you tied it together. Maybe is what’s causing some of this upheaval that we’re feeling at the workplace. And one of the things that you said that struck me was that some people have decided to leave the workforce maybe for good, and that we have a duty to support them. And I was really struck by that because I don’t think we’re often thinking that way or, or we don’t have that lens on. So I was just kind of curious if you could say more about that.
Dr. Sherry Walling (19:30):
Well, I come to my work with a lot of experience supporting entrepreneurs. So I think a lot of people are leaving traditional employment to go do something that’s meaningful to them, right. To go start a small business or to create something that’s sort of like what looks like is happening. Uh, if we look at these trends, so I’m all for that. I’m all for people, you know, staking their flag in the ground and saying like, I wanna do something else that’s meaningful and interesting to me. I think we can’t as employers keep people when they’re no longer finding meaning in the work, what we can do. If we wanna retain these folks who may be kind of a flight risk is to try to reengage their sense of meaning and connection to the work that they’re doing or to, you know, where possible creatively shift to provide a little bit more infusion of meaning in the job that is offered to them. But I think grief related resignation is very much about meaning and meaning and flexibility too. I mean, sometimes people are just leaving their jobs for the practical reason of like, Hey, if I have to have my kids’ distance learning half the time, like I just, it’s not sustainable. Like I have to have more flexibility. So I think, you know, that’s a, that’s a piece of disruption related to the most recent string of griefs. That is something that employers I know have been very thoughtful about.
Yeah. That makes sense. And I think sometimes, you know, law firms, we just probably think our work is meaningful, right? Like we’re impacting people’s lives. We are helping them through a crisis. Maybe they’re coming to us because they’re whatever they’re getting a divorce or they’ve had a criminal issue or right. A lot of times the reason lawyers are, are getting clients is because something is happening. And so I think it’s easy for us to just assume that our team finds our work meaningful and that that’s enough, but maybe not so much
Dr. Sherry Walling (21:34):
<laugh> well, you know, I could imagine that as the attorney, you, you are the helper, right. You are providing help. You are sitting with a client who needs help. You have the expertise that’s helpful. And I wonder if that does trickle down to the support staff, you know, I, I think the person who’s answering the phone has some sense that like, oh, this person seems upset and we can really offer them something. But as leaders, one of the things that we can do is consistently like thank our teams by reentering them and meeting, like, sharing that. Thank you. Note sharing some of the stories of like this person, you know, we’ve really made a difference in their life. And we did that. I couldn’t do what I do without you. So making sure that we’re being grateful and really honoring the role that everyone plays in this larger mission or this larger sort of purpose that the law firm serves.
Yeah. I love that. All right. Tell us about the latest book because some of us may wanna learn more. Yeah
Dr. Sherry Walling (22:30):
<laugh> so this, the book is called touching two worlds, and it is kind of this exploration of duality of, um, for me as someone in my early forties, raising children, having this, like what I think is a really interesting, wonderful professional career really kind of smacked up against the wall of grief and loss. So my journey of being really present to grief, being present with my father while he was dying, being very involved with my brother’s care as he was struggling addiction and depression, being in this land of people that are falling apart and dying. And then also living in this place of a lot of joy and a lot of meaning and connection with my children. And, and so the idea of touching two worlds is this, this ability to go back and forth between what’s hard and also what’s beautiful, what’s delightful and joyful.
Dr. Sherry Walling (23:24):
Um, and so the book is part to exploration of, you know, I, I tell a lot of stories from my own experiences of grief, but then also I’m am working to apply my clinical training and experience by offering people, practices and exercises. So most of the essays are broken down in a story about an experience that I had and then a here’s you might do with this in your life, right? Here’s a journaling practice. Here’s a yoga practice. Here’s a breath. Here’s something that could be helpful and applied to you. I’m really proud of it. It’s, it’s a very different book than my first book. My first book, the entrepreneur eye team or together was very like professional. And I wrote as a psychologist, this book is a much more personal. It’s a lot of me, a lot of my heart. Um, but I’m, yeah, I’m kind of delighted to have it be out in the world here soon.
Yeah. I love that you are able to share and be vulnerable cuz I think that’s hard. I, I know whenever I write something publicly, I’m always nervous about like it’s a piece of you that you put out into the world. And so I’d imagine writing it from that perspective and sharing your very personal experience. You felt that
Dr. Sherry Walling (24:32):
Yeah. And it’s really, so psychologists usually don’t do that. Right. We’re we’re sort of blank slates. We exist for other people’s stories, not for our own. So it, it definitely feels really weird, but it is also a book that it didn’t write itself. Cuz it’s obviously a lot of work to write a book, but like it’s just what I was doing at two in the morning when I was upset and I couldn’t sleep and I would get up and I would write, or when I was sitting by my dad in the hospital, I would just write there just, it was what flowed out of me. So it wasn’t like a book that I thought, oh, the next great step from my professional trajectory would be to write this super sad book about grief. Like that did not happen that way. It just sort of like it was birthed within me and then it, it felt important to share. So yeah.
Well thank you. I’m, I’m grateful that you did, I’m, I’m grateful to have you back having these conversations with us that are often as lawyers. We’re, we’re sometimes the, the buttoned up folks. Like we don’t always dive into our emotional side and you know, you gave us just some really great takeaways. Like I just wanna acknowledge that the way you just described journaling for us in this conversation, I’ve heard so many times that I should journal, right? Like it’s everywhere. And I know like I know this, I have have been gifted multiple G journals and, but I feel like the way you just described it, I was like, oh, that makes sense to me. Like maybe I should do, you know, like it, it’s not something that is just people are saying to do, like that has a different meaning. So I appreciate the practical advice that you always give us.
Dr. Sherry Walling (26:10):
Thank you. It’s great to be on the show. And I know that your audience is full of these like just ambitious, amazing folks who are trying to be helpful and do good in the world. And anything that I can do to support them in that work is, is my pleasure.
Awesome. Well, we’ll make sure to put a link to the book in the show notes and to the first book as well, which was also very helpful.
Dr. Sherry Walling (26:32):
Thanks so much.
Speaker 1 (26:35):
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at lawyeristbackup.kinsta.cloud/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, right for you. Head to lawyeristbackup.kinsta.cloud/community/lab to schedule a 10 minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.
Dealing With Grief in the Workplace, with Sherry Walling
Last updated June 28th, 2022