Zack talks with Stephanie Villinski and Kara Hardin about how lawyers can manage their mental health. They discuss balancing a striver vs. perfectionist mindset, and how lawyers can use self-forgiveness to help manage their stress and anxiety.
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- . Bad relationships between attorneys and their practice
- . The idea of perfectionism
- . Examining how we relate to work
- . Forgiving yourself
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):
Hey, I’m Zack Glaser.
Stephanie Everett (00:36):
And I’m Stephanie Everett. And this is episode 473 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Zack talks with Stephanie Villinski and Kara Hardin about how attorneys can balance striver and perfectionist tendencies with their mental health.
Zack Glaser (00:54):
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionists, NetDocuments & LawPay. 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.
Stephanie Everett (01:04):
So Zack, we are offering some new services around here that we’re pretty excited about.
Zack Glaser (01:09):
Yes. We actually had people sign up for them at ClioCon, I think released it from beta to the public. So yeah, what is it?
Stephanie Everett (01:18):
Yeah, we should probably say that we see an opportunity for people to get help with Clio. So you’ve already got it implemented, you already have it installed, you’ve been using it, and I suspect there’s something you wish it would do that you haven’t figured out either because you haven’t figured it out, or maybe just simply you haven’t had the time because we’re smart people and probably given the time and some resources, we could figure it out. But is that really how we should be spending our time?
Zack Glaser (01:50):
That’s funny that you say that. I actually as a legal tech advisor, tell people to balance that all the time. And I compare it to changing the oil in your car. I can do it, but unless you’re having fun doing it, it’s better just to have somebody else change the oil because they’re better at it. They do it faster, more efficiently. And so if you’re going to do something like that, think of it as a hobby. Otherwise get somebody that knows what they’re doing to help you with it.
Stephanie Everett (02:16):
And so we launched what we’re calling our Clio optimization services, and it’s a chance for people to work one-on-one with one of our legal tech advisors, and our advisors get in there and get their hands dirty and help you figure out what’s not working the way you want it to work, and they then make it do that. So I suspect, I know it sounds so silly, but I mean this could be real needle moving things like there could be workflows you’re not taking advantage of. I mean, from the beta testers that we originally launched this with, we were getting great reports on time saved from the whole team, work, getting done faster, things being done simpler, just not being aggravated. Every time you go to log onto your machine and be like, ah, why isn’t this thing working? Well, you forget how much that impedes our day. But that’s the goal with this is how can we just help you make Clio even better?
Zack Glaser (03:12):
Absolutely. And commonly I talk with people and they’re saying, I wish X product for this purposes. We’ll say Clio would do this thing, and it does. It’s just that you haven’t turned it on. Haven’t utilized it appropriately. Can I say utilized on the lawyer’s podcast? I think we’re supposed to say use. You haven’t used it appropriately. I may get my pay doc for that.
Stephanie Everett (03:34):
You may. I’ll see to it, everyone’s listening, wondering what the heck we’re talking about. We have a strong rule around here. You can’t say utilized if you really mean used. There’s very few times where utilized is the appropriate word.
Zack Glaser (03:49):
Right, right. And that wasn’t one of them, but
Stephanie Everett (03:52):
Zack Glaser (03:53):
No, it’s okay.
Stephanie Everett (03:54):
You can learn all these things and more if we help you optimize your Clio.
Zack Glaser (04:00):
So yeah, check out one of our Clio optimizations and you can connect with us and get that cranking even better than it is right now. So now here is my conversation with Stephanie and Kara.
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And we’re back with Kara Hardin and Stephanie Villinski, and really just to kind of make this come back together. Kara, where are we?
Kara Hardin (22:43):
Oh, Zack, I’m so glad you asked me that question. I think it’s really common when we first start to dig into our relationship with work to feel disoriented.
So we started with this idea that maybe how we relate to work is worth examining, either because we’re anxious, we feel inadequate, we feel lonely, we feel disconnected, and you and I spent a bit of time going through what that might look like in your life, but also what it could look like for other people. I think we’ve really adhered to this definition of perfectionistic that may or may not apply and still our relationship with work can shift. I really want to lean on Stephanie sort of on where we go next because Stephanie and I did a session together recently and we had a real life example of how we can start in a very real way to do this examination without a 10 day retreat with silence and all of these things, how in a very practical way do we start to reimagine and shift our relationship with work?
Zack Glaser (23:47):
Yeah, how can somebody do that now? So Stephanie, what is it that you guys were doing?
Stephanie Villinski (23:53):
Yeah, so at the commission, we do a big conference every year called The Future is Now and definitely takes up pretty much several months of work. And Kara gave a speech and I was introducing her and then I was going to interview her. So during my introduction, which I felt like I was nailing it, all of a sudden Kara pops on and I’m like, why is she on? And she’s like, oh, Stephanie, you’re on mute. There’s like over 700 people on this conference, the whole team’s here. I’m just like,
Zack Glaser (24:27):
Stephanie Villinski (24:28):
We’re three years into the pandemic. I learned anything. What’s going through my head? Then I regroup. I totally fumble Kara’s intro, but luckily for me, she was doing a 30 minute talk so I could kind of regroup a bit. But yeah, I won’t admit, I mean there was definitely expletives at myself, but I was somehow able to somewhat pull it together and be like, this is what your speaker is talking about right now, so let’s come to reality. But yeah, I mean this is the hardest part of the wellbeing stuff. Zack, I think you hit on it. It’s like what can you do? I think you hear all these things, create these boundaries, all of this, and sure, that’s great, but I know a lot of people can’t create boundaries and I mean it’s just the practice of law. I mean, that’s a larger conversation, but I think for me, I could just give the examples during that I was able to parent did some physical exercises where we turned our heads to get you back focused, and it’s just simple things like that. I stood up, I walked around.
Because I was in it. I was just in the rabbit hole swimming, and I’m like, I got to get out of this. So just simply standing, upstanding up. But also just I think realizing too, once Kara got back on, we kind of did a whole thing with it, and it’s just like people in the comments were just so genuinely nice, like, oh my God, it didn’t matter. I think someone emailed me. Did you do that on purpose? It was so it’s kind of like one of those things, if I can forgive, if they’re not worried about it, I need to just forgive myself about it as well. So it’s kind of those general ideas too.
Zack Glaser (26:27):
So is that one of the things kind of in this examination, the forgiving yourself?
Stephanie Villinski (26:33):
I would definitely say so because I do think as attorneys, I mean Kara probably knows that dad even better than I, resiliency is not our strong suit. And so to really not just wallow in that argument could have been better. This could have been done. Yeah, I do think you have to get that forgiveness in pretty quickly to get out of that. You can really get bogged down with it.
Kara Hardin (27:06):
I mean, it’s really interesting, Stephanie to hear it because I know you and I have talked about it from multiple perspectives. I was really glad because what happens is essentially we all know the experience of pouring our precious time, attention, and energy into work and then something happening and we perceive our performance to be in some way insufficient. That happens. That’s the nature of work for whatever reason. And then when we talk about shifting our relationship with work, a lot of intervention will happen with how you do the work itself. And what you’ve pointed out Zack, and what you and I, Stephanie talked about the whole time is that’s actually not the lever you need to pull. You’re a high performer, you’ll figure out your work. The lever you need to pull is how you relate to yourself as you’re working.
And as lawyers, we’ve been taught to be really harsh on ourselves and on other people really harsh. And so our natural instinct is to criticize and to worry and to anticipate and overthink. And in that moment, for example, when you’re on mute, all of those thoughts come in, how could I miss that? What was I thinking? This is so embarrassing. How will I ever recover? Would a waste of time? I’ve misrepresented my organization, I’ve misrepresented my team, all of this comes flooding. And it’s like, oh. So the first step is noticing I’m being really hard on myself. And then the next step in the moment is what tools do you reach for that help you shift this age old dialogue inside? And so what Stephanie was talking about is sometimes you can’t meet a thought with a thought. If you are having a really big feeling like embarrassment, you need to meet a feeling with a feeling. So you’re embarrassed and in that moment you go out, you’re like, man, I deserve some compassion right now. That was really embarrassing. I’m so bummed for myself after all that hard work. And then when you feel a little compassion, there might be room in your brain to rethink, well, was it actually that bad? Look at this. The comments are blowing. Look at Kara, she’s made a big example of it. People think I’m doing this on purpose at this point. So you want to work with your body meeting feelings with feelings as opposed to with thoughts, which is I can’t believe we’re already X minutes in now and we haven’t used the word feeling yet, but it’s a word that tends to be really avoided in the legal industry and shows up at the heart of work because work is an intensely personal process. So I love that you landed in forgiveness, our relationship with ourself where we want to start intervening and examining.
Zack Glaser (29:48):
So this is fascinating to me. When we are reexamining our relationship with work, many times we will literally examine our relationship with work, our temporal relationship with work. So what we say is work-life balance. Should we be at work as much? And I think in the beginning of this episode, some of the things you were saying were confusing to me, which is not difficult to do, but some of the things you were saying were confusing to me because I’m working in that paradigm of if we’re going to have a shift in our relationship with work, then it’s going to be temporal, it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be something like that. But what we’re really saying is shifting in our almost emotional relationship with work, our emotional relationship with ourselves and work how we address it. Because one of the things I’ve gotten from this is that we don’t necessarily need to say, okay, well, I’m a high performer. I have some stress. I have some stress going into court, so for me, have some stress going into court. Okay, so you got stress. Okay, fine, not deal with it. Not like well rub a little dirt on it, get back out there, buddy. But is that okay? Are you fine? What’s going on? Are you doing good enough work in order for that to be okay?
Kara Hardin (31:14):
A hundred percent, and someone listening to you right now is going to be like, okay, Zach, what if I decided isn’t? What if you’ve just blown my mind and I now realize I have these experiences of anxiety, inadequacy or loneliness, whatever, and I don’t just have to buck up and pull up my bootstraps and do it? What do I do then? So I would lean into your expertise as in I’m going to give you a bunch of options now listener, and I want you to pick the one that makes you feel like excited and energized and the one you’re going to do it.
Zack Glaser (31:45):
Kara Hardin (31:45):
There is a series of books by Brene Brown, Brene Brown’s a Research out of the University of Houston. She writes, dare to Lead. She writes The Gifts of Imperfection. She has a lot of books. Just take a glance at the one that you find most exciting.
Zack Glaser (31:58):
Kara Hardin (31:59):
They’re research driven, evidence based ways to consider your relationship with yourself and how you show up at work. So the intervening with yourself in a really sweet way. In particular, it talks about vulnerability. I know it’s a big word. She dispels that. It’s a myth. It’s actually a strength. Brene Brown’s one route. Another route is it turns out therapists like myself are really good at helping you pick apart what’s okay and what’s not okay in your life and to give you practical ideas and tools on how to navigate it. Another thing you can do, which could be really helpful is start moving more. The body processes stress before the brain does. Stress is a physiological response, and so if you are feeling a lot of stress, consider moving. I have a gajillion other ideas, but let’s stop at three.
Zack Glaser (32:49):
Kara Hardin (32:50):
Let’s not be overwhelming here.
Zack Glaser (32:51):
Fair enough. Yeah, let’s not give people too many options that they can just go down. I will add, I’m a big proponent of go and talk to somebody because every time I have been to a counselor a professional, I have seen benefit and I’ve been many times just to go on the record with I’ve been many times and have seen benefit and I think it’s a good thing to do. So I really appreciate you saying that aspect of this, of talk to somebody about it. If it is not what you want, then talk to somebody about it. Absolutely.
Kara Hardin (33:24):
Well, and the really cool thing about therapy is it gets to be about finding a good hairstylist.
Zack Glaser (33:30):
Kara Hardin (33:31):
You just stick with me here. There are as many different therapists as there are people, and so there are going to be people that feel like they do your hair and you’re like, this is awful, but it will be an objectively good cut, but you’ll be like, I do not like this. For me, that is not therapy for you then it doesn’t mean therapy is wrong. It means that that wasn’t a fit. You want to find a therapist where it’s like you walk out of that hair visit salon at home, backyard, wherever you’re getting, and you’re like, I’m a million dollars right now. This is unbelievable. I look fing amazing. That’s what you want. And when you leave your therapist, you want to feel seen and understood and valued, and you have that commiserate relationship.
Zack Glaser (34:15):
Kara Hardin (34:15):
So if you have found value in therapy, you’ve had excellent fits, you have found people that resonate with you and your style, and so it can be a bit of work, but I recommend putting in the work knowing that if it isn’t a positive experience, you are not the problem.
Zack Glaser (34:30):
Kara Hardin (34:30):
Your therapist isn’t the problem. You need a different vibe, and that’s okay.
Zack Glaser (34:34):
That’s fantastic. That’s absolutely right. I don’t want to completely end on that even though that is a fantastic thing to end on. I don’t think it sums up our podcast here.
Kara Hardin (34:45):
With the haircuts. No?
Zack Glaser (34:47):
I don’t know. Do you guys want to end on that? Actually, I like it. I really like that as the point to go off of.
Kara Hardin (34:54):
I mean, so I think the through line, if we had a through line through everything, the fundamental thing is you get to be the expert on you in ways that you may never have realized. You guys to be the expert on who is a fit for therapy on whether or not your anxiety is manageable on whether or not your stress is something you want in your day-to-day life on whether you’re happy with your vacation arrangements, you get to be the expert on what you want and what you need. It just requires you to notice yourself, to examine yourself, to pay attention to your preferences, your values, your needs, your wants, your dreams, your desires. Not from a temporal spatial way, but from an emotional, spiritual, social, psychological way.
Zack Glaser (35:39):
I don’t think I can say anything more on that. I appreciate that, Kara, thank you so much. This has been, at least from my standpoint, this has been an eyeopening and great conversation. Stephanie. I appreciate it as well, and I appreciate both of your candor in all of this and your vulnerability and walking with me through here, and whether I’m kicking and screaming or not, but bringing me from one perspective to another. So I really appreciate y’all y’all’s conversation here today. Thank you.
Stephanie Villinski (36:07):
Kara Hardin (36:08):
Thank you. It was a pleasure. I appreciated your openness and vulnerability. And Stephanie, as always, your very practical, grounded presence.
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.
is the Legal Tech Advisor at Lawyerist, where he assists the Lawyerist community in understanding and selecting appropriate technologies for their practices. He also writes product reviews and develops legal technology content helpful to lawyers and law firms. Zack is focused on helping Modern Lawyers find and create solutions to help assist their clients more effectively.
Stephanie Villinski (she/her) is the Deputy Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, where she leads operations and supports the Commission’s mentoring, continuing legal education, and law school programs. With a particular interest in health and wellness, Stephanie seeks to promote a healthier, more rewarding professional life for lawyers and by extension, better service to their clients. She is Chair of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Standing Committee on Professionalism and a member of the ABA’s Cornerstones of Democracy Commission. Stephanie graduated with an Order of Coif distinction from DePaul University College of Law and is a certified yoga teacher.
Kara Hardin (she/her), Founder and CEO of The Practice Lab, is a mental health educator, Registered Psychotherapist, and former practicing corporate and securities lawyer, who works at the intersection of mental health and performance. She specializes in the complicated ways that mental health drives performance and how it shows up at work. She holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) and a Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law. Kara’s core values are learning and kindness.
Last updated November 1st, 2023