Episode Notes

In this episode, author and speaker Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., discusses how to handle stress and break the burnout cycle in your personal and professional life.   

Links from the episode:

Check out Rocket Matter: modern legal software for busy lawyers  

Burnout by Emily Nagoski

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  • 6:54. Rocket Matter
  • 13:32. What is burnout?
  • 23:59. The biology of stress



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 



Zack Glaser (00:35): 

Hi, I’m Zack Glaser. 


Jennifer Whigham (00:36): 

And I’m Jennifer Whigham. And this is episode 506 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re replaying our conversation on managing stress and avoiding burnout with author Emily Nagoski. 


Zack Glaser (00:50): 

Today’s podcast is brought to you by Rocket Matter, and you’ll hear my conversation with them in a moment. 


Jennifer Whigham (00:56): 

So Zack, we’re replaying this episode for a couple of reasons. One, it’s mental health awareness month. That is the month of May. And two, Emily’s book, along with her sister Amelia, called Burnout that I read a long time ago, got so excited about it, asked if they could be on the podcast, and Emily came on the podcast, but it’s so important. And she goes beyond just talking about burnout. She goes into suggestions about it, how to get through the process of burnout. But one thing I like that she touches on is that there are parts in our life and in our anxiety and in our mental health where we stay stuck. And one of those parts that we stay stuck on, that she touches on a little bit is sometimes we feel a certain way and we don’t know why. Sometimes you can point to it. 



You can say, I had a really tough conversation with my mom, now I feel sad. And you’re like, okay, cause and effect. That makes sense. But sometimes you wake up and you don’t know why, and you can get stuck in a loop of, wait, okay, what did I do wrong to get this way? Or the next day you feel great and you’re like, what did I do different that I feel great? And I was telling you earlier, it’s like those experiments with animals where they’re trying to learn patterns and so their carers are feeding them at random intervals, and then the pigeons start to make up little dances or superstitions or rituals thinking that must be why. This has got to be why. But we do that. And sometimes there is no why. 


Zack Glaser (02:25): 

Well, so what does the why stop us from doing though when we’re asking that? I obviously, I think you and I have talked about this before I wake up with or just go through and have unattached anxiety a lot of times, and if I get stuck in the why, if I say, why do I have this anxiety? Where does that lead me? What’s the bad place there? 


Jennifer Whigham (02:48): 

I think the bad place is that you stay stuck there forever and you don’t move forward. So it can be a comfortable place to analyze, especially I think as lawyers we, I’m not a lawyer, but I’ll just use the royal. We are used to analyzing and finding cause and effect. But if you stay stuck in the why forever, you will never move on to action steps. You’ll never move on to how do I move forward? 


Zack Glaser (03:14): 

Okay, so if I stay stuck in the why and there is no reason 


Jennifer Whigham (03:18): 

Or you can’t know it, maybe there’s a reason, but it’s 17,000 subconscious thoughts. Back 


Zack Glaser (03:23): 

In college, somebody used the word ineffable. 


Jennifer Whigham (03:26): 

Oh, I love that word, 


Zack Glaser (03:27): 

Man. I had not heard it before and I thought that person was so smart, such 


Jennifer Whigham (03:31): 

A good word. I’ve only used it to in romantic situations when I’m trying to put a little charm on good ineffable, 


Zack Glaser (03:38): 

I use stro faed. When I’m trying to put a little charm on, it means what is that means as the ox plows, 


Jennifer Whigham (03:45): 

Oh, is this why we aren’t just kidding? We’re both married. I can’t make a single forever joke. But anyways, but 


Zack Glaser (03:54): 

Yeah, so I have unattached anxiety a lot. And if I were to sit here and just think about that and think about where is it coming from? I mean, where’s it coming from? It’s coming my freaking monkey brain. It’s coming from an imbalance in chemicals and my body’s saying fight or flight in a really weird place. And frankly, if I sit there and I try to figure out what it is that’s making that happen, I’ll find something. I will find it. I will do the pigeon dance. I will find the thing that I think it is and think that I can control the anxiety in the future. And I That’s helpful either. 


Jennifer Whigham (04:33): 

It depends. I think sometimes, yes, it is helpful to just do a quick inventory. Do I know I’m feeling this way? If I do, is it something that I can change? If it’s not, then it kind of goes back to it doesn’t matter what the why is you can’t save yourself. It’s a total opposite of what we tell our lawyers in the Lawyerist lab program is like always know your why you want to do something and that’s different. And that’s more like if you are starting your own firm, you should have a statement of why you want to do it. Otherwise it may. Yeah, that’s a goal. That’s a goal. And that’s different than the why of your subconscious lizard brain with all its environmental and chemicals and doing all these things. It has its own secret why, and spending too much time on it will just keep you stuck forever. So what I do is I like to sit with it, do a little meditation, see if I can figure out the why. If I can’t, then I try to make peace with it. Do I always make peace with it? No. I’m a chaos goblin so often, but I try because I think you just can’t always know. Bodies are mysterious, feelings are mysterious. Life is mysterious. The universe is mysterious. Zach is mysterious. 


Zack Glaser (06:01): 

Yes. And now I’m thinking about this little masked lizard in the back of my consciousness that is just determining things. And if I can associate all the stupid things that go through my head and discomfort that randomly comes up, I’ll just say that it’s the little, 


Jennifer Whigham (06:17): 

That little guy in the back, it’s a little 


Zack Glaser (06:18): 

Sneaky lizard. He’s bored trying to, yeah, he’s just absolutely bored. 


Jennifer Whigham (06:22): 

That’s just the easiest way. It’s like there is just something in my head, this little cute thing that’s just causing some chaos. And today I am like, okay, buddy, you go ahead, but I got to get some stuff done. So you have your fun. 


Zack Glaser (06:34): 

Knock out a couple hundred words of this brief, 


Jennifer Whigham (06:37): 

And so you can just go wild out and I’ll be over here. Yeah, 


Zack Glaser (06:41): 

Good talk. Well, I’m going to let my little lizard brain go wild out. While we listened to this previously recorded interview with Emily. 



Hey y’all. Zach, the legal tech advisor here at Lawyerist. And today, once again, I have Joyce Brafford with me from Rocket Matter today. Joyce, thanks for being with me and talking all things Rocket matter and I guess project management being an attorney. 


Joyce Brafford (07:10): 

Yes, yes. Project management. It’s where it’s at. I have listened to this guy who does podcasts pretty regularly. Talk about the importance of project management within your law firm. I don’t know, you might’ve heard his name before Zack Glaser so 


Zack Glaser (07:27): 

I feel like that might be somebody I know this. 


Joyce Brafford (07:30): 

I can’t think it might be. 


Zack Glaser (07:31): 

Yeah, this is definitely a topic that I like and I get a lot of questions from lawyers that I coach about how do I incorporate project management into my law practice management? And I think that’s a difficult distinction there. Law practice management software classically is case management. Where do you keep your files? Where do you keep your information about the case? But then I know when I was practicing, we just had a tickler system and I just had a drawer next to me that was like kick that out for 30 days and that was my project management. It’s not a good way to do things. 


Joyce Brafford (08:06): 

It’s not 


Zack Glaser (08:07): 

Along come things like rocket matter that are actually incorporating project management into this law practice management software. 


Joyce Brafford (08:16): 

So I think it’s kind of important to talk about high level what the tools are, but then I think we need to talk about the more nuanced conversation, which is how do you set this whole sucker up? So within Rocket Matter, of course you have the case management and you’ve got the calendar or the docketing system. You’ve got this lovely tool called a Kanban board where you can define your projects and you can automate some workflows from there. You can say when things need to happen, you can assign tasks from there, you can set things up so that all you have to do is come in say, where am I in this project? And get to work. And you know that your work product for your clients is going to be delivered on time because you’ve already defined these things from the beginning. But of course, that’s what we’re talking about in project management. But I do think the more interesting conversation here is how do I as a law firm differentiate my practice using project management tools to define who I am and the services that I provide to my clients? 


Zack Glaser (09:13): 

And this is a fascinating concept to me because I think of project management and I’m like, okay, well just how do we get the things done? But you and I were talking before we sat down here, and it’s the way you manage your projects not only defines you internally practicing, but it’s how you’re interacting with your clients. It’s how you’re interacting with opposing counsel, with the court, with everybody. It informs how you’re interacting. So you kind of have to think about who you are. 


Joyce Brafford (09:45): 

Exactly. You do. And so Zach, if I’m thinking about this and I’m defining my fees, my fee structure, I’m saying, what am I worth? I’m worth my expertise. I’m worth my time, I’m worth my counsel, but I’m also worth these little extras. My personalized touches, my constant commitment to communication with my clients, my commitment to technology to ensure that I’m getting things done on time. And so defining my projects so that I am pushing people to their client portal so they are receiving their invoices on time, so they’re receiving regular updates from me on their matters. So I give them a way to give me the information that I’ve asked for in an easy to utilize system. I’m not making them jump through lots of hoops. I’m utilizing technology in a smart way so I can communicate with them more and they can give me what I need more easily so that at the end of representation or the conclusion of this matter, they say, that was easy. I’ve gotten what Joyce has promised to me and I’m going to recommend her to my colleagues, or I’m going to go back to her again and again. So it is more than just deadlines, it’s what do I bring as an individual and how am I differentiating myself as a practitioner, as a provider of services? What can I do better, differently, more easily than my competition down the road? 


Zack Glaser (11:05): 

And it’s fascinating to think about that from that basic sense of how the way that I set up my projects. And to be clear, when we say projects here, we’re talking jobs, cases, matters, discrete things that you’re doing that you can have a starting point and an ending point in your office. So how I set those up and what tasks I put inside them and what sort of automations I create really does define you as an attorney to take your example of you want to delight your client there with all the things that you’ve done, but then even at the end you say, okay, well one part of my project is sending them an email that says, please rate me. 


Joyce Brafford (11:46): 

Yes, absolutely. Exactly. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. I want to use every experience with every client as one, an opportunity to test if I’m doing things in the right order, the right timeline, I’m collecting the data, am I charging the right amount? Am I spending the right amount of time on this second goal? I want to make sure that every client is getting what I have promised and I can go back and look at my project management and see that. Do I need to adjust expectations somewhere? Can I deliver more or less? Right? And third, I want to use every client as a potential referral source. So exactly Zach, getting that feedback at the end, would you refer us, here’s a link to go on our Facebook page. Here’s a link to go to Trustpilot. Here’s a link where you can send your friends. Here’s just a $5 gift card to Starbucks, have a cup of coffee. You’ve earned it. All that stuff at the conclusion of a matter, so easy to forget if it’s not on your workflow. 


Zack Glaser (12:39): 

Well, yeah. So not only does Rocket Matter have the project management, the CRM, the case management and all that stuff, all incorporated in there, and you can set up your automations and things like that. There’s a lot more that rocket matter does. Joyce, where can people find out more about this product? 


Joyce Brafford (12:58): 

Yeah, we’d love for you to go to Rocket matter.com. You can schedule a free trial on your own. You don’t even have to talk to anybody. You could also schedule a demonstration there to get a personalized walkthrough of the system or just learn more about what we do at rocketmatter.com. 


Zack Glaser (13:13): 

Perfect. Joyce, as always, thank you for being with me and sharing your information with our listeners. 


Joyce Brafford (13:18): 

It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Zack. 


Emily Nagoski (13:23): 

I am Emily Nagoski. I am primarily a sex educator, but really my purpose in life is to teach women to live with confidence and joy in their bodies. 


Stephanie Everett (13:32): 

And you have with your sister, written an incredible book on burnout, which is one of the hottest topics. Our audience is primarily small firm and solo attorneys. So the legal profession is definitely not immune to burnout, perhaps more likely to head there than other professions as well. So can you talk a little bit about what you mean when you say the term burnout? 


Emily Nagoski (13:53): 

Yeah. It has a sort of three part technical definition, but Amelia and I, that’s my sister, we found that the definition people can really understand is that burnout is when you feel overwhelmed and exhausted by everything you have to do and are still worried that you’re not doing enough. 


Stephanie Everett (14:10): 

That’s a really great definition, and I think one challenge that comes up often, I know I’ve definitely felt this when I’ve come up against burnout before, there are red flags and signs that clue us into the fact that we’re heading towards burnout, but often we don’t realize it until we are knee deep in it. So I know in your book you mentioned that some of the signs might look different for different people. Can you give us some clues about some early warning signs that you might be headed towards burnout or already in it? 


Emily Nagoski (14:36): 

Sure. Well, so if you hear that definition and you’re like, oh, yeah, then you’re burnt out already welcome. But there are sort of three categories of signs. There’s physical symptoms in your body, which will include all different manner of pain. And if you’re the person who gets everything that comes down the pike, every single cold that anybody gets, if you have digestive distress on the regular. For my sister, one of the motivations for writing the book was that my sister was so sick, she was admitted to the hospital twice with digestive distress. She was in so much pain, she literally thought she was going to die, and it was noticeable. The doctors kept her there for four days and we’re like, well, I guess it’s just stress. Just stress. 



How can stress put you in the hospital? Turns out it’s absolutely possible. So physical signs are one of the things if you’re just always, there’s something unwell, your headaches, and if you’re a person who gets migraines, they’re just constant. Those are signs that your physical system is overwhelmed and cannot process all the stress that has been thrown at it. So that’s one level. Another is cognitive. If your thoughts are spinning, if you’re unable to concentrate or if you find yourself ruminating, just stuck, trapped in thoughts of some problem you have to solve or some difficult thing that exists and you cannot extract your brain out of those thoughts to think about all the other things that you have to do, that’s also a sign of burnout, the sort of cognitive blinkers that there’s only one thing you can see. And then there’s the emotional signs of burnout. So this will show up in emotional lability is the tactical term, and it means that your emotions are all over the shop that your reactive, emotionally small things cause you to react in really big ways. And that’s mostly because it’s not that the small thing is causing you to react emotionally in a big way. It’s that your emotional cup is right at the brim and that one last little thing falls in to your overflowing cup and it just splish everything splashes everywhere. Does that sound familiar? 


Stephanie Everett (16:44): 

Unfortunately, far too familiar, right? Yeah. And I know a big part of what you and your sister are advocating for in the book is this idea of recognizing these sort of triggers, these sort of clues that you’re headed towards or already in burnout and finding a way to close the loop and break out of it. So it seems like cycles are a pretty important component of this, of recognizing when you’re in that cycle of the persistent thoughts, if you find yourself caught in that loop, is there a way to break out of it once you’re already into it? 


Emily Nagoski (17:13): 

A hundred percent. There absolutely is, and it’s necessary that there is. So one of the sort of fundamental ideas of the book is that this process of dealing with the stress itself is separate from the process of dealing with all of the causes of your stress, your stressors. And this is actually, I find it easy to explain to people like lawyers because you see there’s a legal process that people go through in order to resolve conflicts. And then there’s sort of the emotional process like a divorce. There’s the legal process of getting divorce from someone, and then there’s the emotional process of coping with that separation. There’s the emotional process of any sort of violent assault or robbery or other crime or even suing your contractor who failed to do whatever. And then there’s the emotional process of dealing with the thing that happened to you. 



And we think that when you successfully win your suit or that when your perpetrator goes to prison, that you’re suddenly going to feel better. And our bodies, we live in these monkey suits, and the monkey doesn’t have any idea what winning your lawsuit means. So you get to the end of that long, difficult, intellectually demanding process, and you’re expecting to feel like at the end of a Christopher Columbus movie, like the end of the first two Harry Potter movies where somebody starts a slow cap and there ends up being cheering and applause and yay, we did it hurrah. And that is not how it works in biology. That is not how it works in real life. We talked to an activist in Ireland who read the book, and she’s a journalist and she had worked really hard on abortion rights in Ireland, the process to make abortion illegal. 



And she said that at the end of that, everybody really thought they were going to feel amazing. They had all worked for years, worked so hard to make this legal change, and they thought when they won, everything was going to be better. They were going to feel amazing. And no, they just were so exhausted and overwhelmed and they felt kind of hollow instead of feeling the joy they were expecting. And that’s because the process of dealing with the stress itself is separate from the process of dealing with the cause of the stress. And we spend basically all of chapter one talking about, I think it’s a dozen different ways for processing the stress itself. But I want to emphasize that this is really good news because it means you can deal with your stress and return to a place of balance and peace in your body even while the stressor still exists. You don’t have to wait for justice. You don’t have to wait to fix everything before you can begin to feel better. And I would argue you have to begin to feel better in your body so that you are well enough to continue fighting for the things that it matters for you to fight. Does that make sense? 


Stephanie Everett (20:04): 

Oh, it makes complete sense, right? Because that’s probably the first pushback that a lot of people give thinking about this idea of burnout. Like great, yeah, I’m definitely stressed out, but it’s my job that’s stressing me out and I still have to go there. Or it’s this person that I have to deal with in my life that maybe it’s a co-parent after a divorce and it’s not going to necessarily go away, so I can cope with it for today, but what do I do for tomorrow? Exactly. I love all of the ideas that you do mention in the book. And one of the things that really jumped out to me is we’re kind of taught maybe not to show all of the emotions and the processing that we go through, especially when you’re dealing with stressors. And one way to do that is to engage in watching the performing because it’s sort of a socially acceptable way of working through and feeling emotions. I was like, this is genius. This is so good. And it seems so simple, but not many people think of it that way. So I thought that was really powerful. 


Emily Nagoski (21:00): 

So you have a million to thank for this one because she’s a professional musician, she’s a coral conductor, and so connection with the arts is absolutely one of the ways she processes her emotions. So the deal with stress and all emotions and sort of a lot of what it means to be an animal on earth, to be a mammal in particular is to have these biological cycles that we’re supposed to oscillate through and emotions are one of them. So feelings like digestion have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And with digestion, there’s a beginning, there’s a middle. And if you don’t get all the way to the end, some not so great things can happen. And the same thing is true for emotions first stress in particular and all the ways it shows up in our life. And we tend to, especially if you get gender socialized feminine, you are taught to smile and be pretty and happy and calm and generous and attentive to the needs of others at all times and just be so nice and accommodating and let me help you with that. 



And I’m pretty sure I can offer insight and thank you for putting forward that idea that I suggested 15 minutes ago. That’s really great. You’re holding on to the anger that’s roiling inside you, but on the outside you look so calm, you look so nice and so accommodating. So you have dealt with the stressor by being culturally appropriate, by making other people feel comfortable. And it’s so wonderful that our bodies have the capacity to put a pause button in our emotions and just hold that for us. And it will continue holding it for us for as long as we ask it to. But it would really like us to get to the end of that process in the same way that our digestive system needs to get to the end of the process. So one of the ways we can access it is through creative self-expression in the performing arts, watching a movie, if you’ve got a movie or a book you read where every single time you know where to reach for the tissues and go, oh, I love this part so much. It’s healthy. It is so good for you to have access to completing those emotions along with the characters because the function of a really good story is to carry us along and grant us access to the full cycle so that it gets to that happy ending. And that’s just one of the things it’s so good for us. 


Stephanie Everett (23:21): 

I love it. And I love that you brought this up because you can get lulled into this false sense of security where you’re going, okay, I’m working on a big case, or I have a massive deadline in front of me. It’s going to be stressful. And at first you kind of go, well, my body seems to be handling it. I’m doing okay. I’m definitely stressed, but I’m still getting up and functioning every day. And it gives you this false sense of everything’s fine. And that’s what happens when you crash and you finish the case or you finish the project and suddenly you’ve had the worst flu of your life and you’ve literally surprise. It’s like your body held all that stress, but it has to go somewhere or become something at the end of that. So I think that’s really important. 


Emily Nagoski (23:59): 

Yeah, the biology of that stress is that it suppresses your immune system because that’s a metabolic waste to work on your immune system because the stress response is there to help you with life threats like being chased by a lion, and you don’t need your immune system to escape from that threat. You don’t need your reproductive system to escape from a stress like that. You don’t need your digestive system. All those systems are slowed down or shut down for the duration of the activation of the stress response. Our system is designed to be activated by acute stressors that last a few minutes, maybe a few hours, but if we stay stressed for days or weeks or months or years at a time, that’s going to have a long-term impact. I use this very simple example of the cardiovascular system. We all know that when the stress response get activated, that fight, flight, freeze response, one of the first thing that happens is an increase in our heart rate and our respiration rate and our blood pressure. 



So imagine that blood pressure stays increased not for the minutes that it’s designed to stay activated, but for weeks, months, you have all this pressure, boom, boom, this really intense blood pressure against your blood vessels that are not designed to, it’s designed for this gentle trickling stream, but this fire hose of blood pressure from the increased stress response gradually creates wear and tear on those blood vessels more than your immune system can keep up with obviously because your immune system is suppressed. And that leads to tears in the cardiovascular system, which leads to plaques, which leads to heart disease. So over the long term, when we say that stress is not good for your health, this is the biological mechanism by which it damages our organs. This is literal, 


Stephanie Everett (25:46): 

And I think so much of the research coming out about burnout, we’ve known it’s been a thing for decades, but now it’s starting to finally be recognized like, oh, there is this connection between the physiological and the psychological and your body. And yes, it’s going to absorb stress. And I want to go back to this other idea that you brought up particularly around what society expects you to do. In the book, you talk about this as human giver syndrome. What are some clues that you are stuck in human giver syndrome as I imagine many of our listeners are? 


Emily Nagoski (26:17): 

Yeah, so in particular for people who are gender socialized feminine, on the day you’re born, people look at your body and they go, it’s a girl. And then they start imposing this massive cultural script, all these expectations about who you’re going to fall in love with, what kind of work you’re going to want to do, what kind of family you’re going to want to have, all these ideas about who you’re going to be. And they start teaching you the script, not maliciously, not because they’ve chosen it, but because it’s what they were taught. It’s just automatic. And the script for a human giver. We take this language from a book by a moral philosopher named Kate Mann. The book is called Down Girl, the Logic of Misogyny. It’s very dark, but great. If you have the emotional wherewithal to read a dark great book about misogyny, I highly recommend it. 



But she posits a world where there’s two types of humans. There are human beings who have a moral obligation to be their full humanity, right? It’s in the name human beings, and they must be as competitive, acquisitive and entitled as they have to be in order to maximize their full humanity human beings. And then there are the human givers who have a moral obligation to give their full humanity their time, their attention, their patience, their love, their bodies, their hopes and dreams, sometimes their lives sacrificed on the altar of the needs of other people. And that’s where we get the script that if you have human giver syndrome, if you’ve been cast in the role of the giver, in the context where some people feel entitled to take everything that a giver gives, then you feel like you have to be at all times pretty happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others. And if you fall short, remember this is your moral obligation. So if you fall short, you deserve to be punished. And if there’s no one around to punish us, then we will just go ahead and beat the shit out of ourselves. Am I allowed to swear? Sorry about that. 


Stephanie Everett (28:15): 

No, I think this is such an important topic because you can deal with the immediate stress, but you can’t disconnect that from the fact of maybe at my core I feel like I need to continue serving in that role of giver. And so you can continually find yourself in burnout over and over again if maybe you thought that it was situational, oh, this is my job that’s stressing me out. Oh, it’s this negative relationship I have with a toxic family member. But then if you have human giver syndrome and are stuck in that, you might find that coming up again and again. So I can’t imagine the topic of burnout being more relevant than it is at the moment that we’re recording this episode, right? Because we’re living in an always on always connected culture and society already, but we’ve also got the impact of a worldwide pandemic, racial justice issues, social unrest. And so I imagine there’s probably lots of new triggers and new ways that people are experiencing stress and stressors. Can you talk a little bit about 


Emily Nagoski (29:12): 

That? Oh gosh, yes. Particularly from a gendered point of view, all the research that’s coming out and the early journalism about the way gender’s playing out in families that are quarantined together or in isolation together, all the scripts are playing out in their most extreme form where who in heterosexual relationship with kids is responsible for caring for the kids. Even if both of the adults in the house have jobs, it’s still automatically assumed that it’s going to go to the woman in the family. You might be familiar with the second shift research. Oh yes. So the first shift, obviously is your day job that earns the money. Your second shift is the childcare and householding that keeps the home together. And then the third shift, the third shift is this phrase Amelia and I found in the research to describe what happens at night when we’re all supposed to be resting. 



We are not all equally resting. Whose job is it in a heterosexual family with kids to get up and deal with other people’s problems over the course of the night? It always falls to the script is because you’re the human giver. Your job is to sacrifice everything you have and that includes your own rest, which is a biological drive as fundamental as hunger, thermo, reregulation, and even breathing, you can literally die of sleep deprivation. It takes a long time and your body will resist it, but it gradually decreases your mental health and then your physical health and then your ability to sustain life. And it is our job to sacrifice that. And if somebody needs to quit a job in order to do childcare because of inequality, in order wages, the partner that’s likely to be making less money is the woman partner. And so that person leaves their job in order to be able to take care of the kids. Unless there was that one story in the news about the heterosexual couple where the woman made more money, but the dad just felt completely overwhelmed and helpless at the childcare. So she quit her better paying job because he couldn’t hack it. 


Stephanie Everett (31:17): 




Yeah, I mean it’s incredible. I mean, we’ve really been talking about this from the perspective of even our own team trying to recognize the way that how can you be as accommodating as possible to team members who might be internalizing things that are happening in the world in a different way that you as an individual are, and even thinking about, okay, well if schools don’t open for the fall and half of our team has children and has to think about potentially homeschooling, how do we have that conversation around flexibility or making accommodations? To what extent do we need to address that and proactively guard against burnout? I mean, that’s been a real issue with a lot of parents who have children at home. They might be trying to still do their work remotely while they’re home, while their spouse or partner is also at home, and it’s kind of this chaotic environment that feeds back into that stress. So I know one of the things you talk about in the book is incorporating exercise on a regular basis. Do you think that we’re in generally stressful times now where you have to be more on guard about building in that rest and time and exercise for yourself than ever? Or is it just kind of like that’s always important no matter what? 


Emily Nagoski (32:26): 

It is always important no matter what. And I think it’s very easy, particularly from a human giver point of view, to put your own self-care in the backseat because you have to take care of everybody. This is why self-care, the whole self-care is so important. Good for you taking care of yourself. Self-care is really important. But deep down the script is like self-care is very selfish and it’s so nice for you that you could get eight hours of sleep last night and go for a 45 minute walk, but I was up until six o’clock in the morning frosting Becky’s cupcakes, then I cooked a two course dinner complete with a kale salad. But good for you that you had time to take care of yourself. It is so easy to fall into the trap of not prioritizing self-care is the way we put it, because you’re prioritizing everybody else’s needs because it is true that you will actually be punished culturally, probably maybe even by the people you’re trying to take care of and for sure by your own self-critical monster that lives inside you if you dare to disengage from all the responsibilities you have and just do something that helps restore your body. 



To go back to the idea of the stress cycle and this oscillation that we’re supposed to go through, because we cannot complete the stress response through the behaviors that deal with the stressors, we have to deal directly with the stress itself. And physical activity is for a lot of people, the single most efficient strategy and some people listening will be like, that is so true. I know that every time I put on my bike shoes or put on my running shoes or walk out that door or walk into the gym, I know that at the end of that run or that bike ride or that elliptical class or whatever, that at the end of it, I’m going to feel so much better. That’s me. I’m a natural exerciser. And for other people like my identical twin sister, they’ll just be like, yeah, exercise is good for me. 



I know, but I have never had that experience of feeling great after workout. I just feel tired after a workout. So thanks a lot for the same fricking advice that everybody’s been giving me that I should exercise. Awesome. Good insight, Emily. So while it is the case that physical activity is real good for you and you should get, there are lots of other things that if exercise is not the thing that does it for you only spend 20 minutes a day on physical activity and then add something else that actively to you feels like completing the stress response cycle. Or when you get to the end of it, you’ll be like, oh yes, that is what I needed. If that is watching the movie that does it for you, great. If it is some form of creative self-expression, writing for me is the thing that gets me. 



I can sob on my keyboard for half an hour, get to the end of it and be like, yeah, that was it. It might be meditation, it might be play with your kids or your partner or with animals that when you get to the end of you be like, I know that I used my body and my mind and I shifted out of that stressed out state into a place of calm and relaxation. Our bodies want to get to the end of the cycle. For a lot of people, physical activity is the most efficient way to do that, even for the people for whom physical activity doesn’t feel that great. It’s really important. Exercise is good for you. It is the green vegetables of movement. 


Stephanie Everett (35:51): 

I love that. And I think too, building in that time to take the time for yourself to do the self-care, to do the 20 minutes of exercise or whatever it means for you, that can also open up the realization where you’re asking your brain to slow down and you kind of realize, Hey, I’ve put myself or I’m in a situation right now that feels maybe a little bit out of my control, but it’s a constant stressor. So you talk in the book a little bit about how to decide when to quit and kind of scanning the resource abundance of the environment. And I think that’s really relevant right now because so many people might have realized like, Hey, now I’m working from home and my commute was actually really stressing me out or working from home. This was toxic in the office and now it’s maybe even more toxic being at home. So how do you make that decision about when is it time to say this thing is a consistent stress or in my life and I need to back away from it permanently? 


Emily Nagoski (36:44): 

Yeah. There’s this really wonderful body of research on animals. This is the sort of metaphorical way to think about decision of when to quit. So imagine you’re a squirrel sort of foraging in a patch for nuts and berries and things trying to get ready for the winter. At a certain point, it’s more rewarding to go in search of a different patch than it is to continue looking in a patch where you’ve already sort of forged half or more of what that patch has to give you. And there are a lot of different factors that go into sort of the mental equation of when it’s time to leave this patch and try a new one, or when you should continue staying in this patch and foraging what’s left. So if you’re a squirrel and you hear an owl hooting off in the distance, that’s cue to you that there’s some kind of predator out there and there might be more risk associated with leaving this patch and looking elsewhere than there is with staying in this patch and continuing foraging, even though there’s less here because you’ve already taken most of what there is to take. 



Does that make sense as a metaphor so far? 


Stephanie Everett (37:46): 

Yes, absolutely. 


Emily Nagoski (37:47): 

So in the workplace, you’re left with this decision of do I stay, have I forged all the nuts that there are to forage here, or is the world outside in a different patch? So potentially threatening that I need to stay and tolerate the diminishing returns of this particular patch where I’m attempting to forage. And if you’re in therapy, your therapist might ask you to do a cost benefit analysis, make a little grid on a piece of paper that says benefits of staying where I am, costs of staying where I am, benefits of changing or quitting costs of changing or quitting. And you make lists of all those things, and I really recommend this. It’s a great activity. And that squirrel in a patch doesn’t make a pro list. The squirrel in the patch listens to its body and goes, I’m done here. I’ve taken all I can. 



So the squirrel listens to its body and trusts what its body is telling it. And I know this is difficult for a lot of people, especially rational, well-trained minds, lawyers. When I say trust your body, listen to your gut. And I mean that pretty literally, that your internal organs know when you’re done. I’ve given all I have to give. And the problem is that we are not bad at hearing that voice, but we are really good at ignoring it because it feels like there’s a moral imperative. If I stop, then I’m quitting. I’m a quitter. I have given up, I have failed. That to stop and make a different choice is inherently to have failed to do a thing, which is like human giver syndrome comes right back in. Was this a thing that’s truly important to me to continue fighting in this toxic situation, or is it just human giver syndrome telling me that I’m supposed to sacrifice everything I have and that means even my health and my mental health in order to keep fighting this fight? 



And I know that it can be hard to let go of a decision that human giver syndrome has said, no, you have to stay and you make that pro list of benefits of staying the same benefits of changing cost, of staying the same cost of changing. You do that analysis and the list is going to tell you, but you have to believe and respect all the things on that list, and you have to believe and respect when your body is, regardless of whether social lessons tell us, we have to stay. You’re done. You’ve got everything. And once that has happened, even if you don’t quit, whatever it is, whether it’s a relationship or a job or anything else, your relationship with that thing has to change. It’s going to change. If you’re analyzing a job and you’re like, I cannot stay at this job, but I have to stay at this job, you stay differently at that job. Right? 


Stephanie Everett (40:47): 

Yeah. That’s extremely powerful and it’s a great action step. And truly in this interview, we have only scratched the surface of all of the great things inside the book. So we will link your book in the show notes. People definitely need to go check it out and read it in its entirety because we’ve maybe only covered 10% of all the goodness. It’s 


Emily Nagoski (41:05): 

Literally chapter one and two, right? 


Stephanie Everett (41:07): 

We have only scratched the surface here. So I strongly encourage everybody to go and check that out, read a copy of the book, and don’t just read it, but implement the tips and recommendations that are in there. Well, Emily, thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you. It’s really been a pleasure. 


Emily Nagoski (41:21): 

Thank you. Me too. 



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 Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/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. 

Your Hosts

Stephanie Everett

Stephanie Everett is the President of Lawyerist, where she leads the Lawyerist Lab program. She is the co-author of the bestselling book The Small Firm Roadmap and is a regular guest and co-host of the weekly Lawyerist Podcast.

Featured Guests

Emily Nagoski

Emily Nagoski is a sex educator, public speaker, and co-author of Burnout: The Secrets to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Emily is an expert on women’s sexual wellbeing, healthy relationships, and the prevention of sexual violence and harassment.

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Last updated May 22nd, 2024