Beyond Titles – Claiming the Essence of What You Do
Have you ever hesitated telling someone what you do for a living?
I have. And for longer than I care to admit.
In fact, for a number of years I wouldn’t ask the simple question “What do you do for a living?”, because it meant the other person would reciprocate with a nice polite “And what do YOU do?”
When my youngest daughter was a sophomore in high school, she heard some of her friends talking negatively about lawyers. She was honestly shocked to hear anyone talk that way about what her dad does for a living. When she came home later that day, she said, “Dad, did you know that people don’t like lawyers?” (I loved the fact that she see’s all the the good in what I do.)
Then there was the time my wife was out to lunch with a group of her mom’s best friends and several of them started trash talking lawyers. Jan was shocked and angry that they would talk this way in front of her. Every attorney she knows works hard and even loses sleep over their work.
Jan said to the group “Hey there, my husband’s an attorney.” One person said “Well, he’s one of the few good ones.” Another person just kept on with her diatribe against all attorneys.
Hiding what I do for a living drives my wife crazy. She’s proud of the work that I do. She sees lawyers as a critical part of our society. And she wants me to get over my obsession with keeping things on the down low.
So, how is it that I can so love the work I do, see all the ways I help my clients, the wrongs I right and the protection I provide — yet I’m hesitant to answer a simple question?
I wonder if there’s a type of law I could practice that I wouldn’t be reluctant to tell people about? Maybe if I worked for the district attorney, helped with adoptions, elder law, or estate planning, I’d feel a bit more confident. Who knows?
I do know there are people who are injured who will never contact a personal injury lawyer — no matter how bad they need to — because they are “not one of those people.” What’s most bothersome is that there’s a part of me that’s afraid of being seen as “one of those attorneys.”
When I do answer that I’m a lawyer — the next question is, “What type of law do you practice?”
I’ve been known to answer, “consumer protection law,” or “I help protect people against insurance companies.” I don’t want them to think “Oh, he’s one of those attorneys.”
This avoidance tactic got me thinking about how I see myself as a personal injury lawyer.
Two years ago, someone I’d just met asked me, “What single word captures the essence of how you see yourself as a personal injury lawyer?”
It didn’t take me long to find that one word. And it didn’t come from my head.
It was a heartfelt answer that connected deeply with my being. My answer was ‘Healer.’ And it was a powerful realization for me.
I help my clients heal from physical and emotional injuries. I help them heal personal issues that are getting in the way of them seeing their doctor and following through with their providers recommendations. I help make sure they have a doctor that believes in them and they believe will get them better. I help them confront thoughts and behaviors that at times make them their own worst enemy.
And that is something that I am proud to say.
Now, I don’t go around announcing that I’m a healer. In fact, this is the first time I’ve publicly said it.
And this knowing hasn’t completely stopped my hesitancy to discuss what I do for a living with perfect strangers.
What it has done is provide me with the strongest connection to what being a personal injury lawyer means for me.
I wish other’s opinions meant nothing to me, but the cultural attitude about attorneys is impossible for me to ignore. It’s when I understand what being a personal injury attorney means to ME as a life’s work that the word healer is a balm to the public wound I’ve carried.
What one word captures the essence of what the specific area of law you practice means to you?
Are you, or have you been, hesitant to tell someone what you do for a living?
Getting to the place where I could embrace the essence and inherent value of my work came from those early conversations. If you do hesitate sharing about what you do with others, use the comments section below as a way to begin your own discovery about what is unique in your work that’s beneficial and meaningful to others.