When Harvey Hyman was a boy, he dreamed of being a marine biologist. He must have been dreaming in color — because his thoughts were consumed with clown fish and yellow tangs.
But like many youngsters from professional families (his father, both uncles and older brother were doctors), Hyman felt pressure to be something more powerful and profitable than a man who worked with the sea. So he became an attorney and, after 25 years of soul-numbing stress, he crashed into a severe depression.
In his new book, “The Upward Spiral — Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Well-being,” Hyman talks candidly about the money, the status and the inner satisfaction he craved —– but never got — from a successful solo law practice.
There was the crippling loneliness he felt as a litigator and the emotional pounding from adversaries hell bent on winning at any cost, refusing to cooperate, even resorting to threats and concealment of evidence. “Law is an adversarial profession. You’re facing people who want you to fail,” he writes.
What’s driving this negative energy, says Hyman, is that many attorneys are practicing for the wrong reasons.
“Lots of lawyers are from professional families,” says Hyman, “and there’s a lot of expectation that they’ll be lawyers or doctors themselves.”
But he says they don’t have a true sense of self, and they feel lost and unfulfilled, working incredibly long hours in a job which gives
no spiritual satisfaction. He cites surveys that show that one out of five attorneys is depressed and/or alcoholic. More than half of all lawyers say they would quit their jobs today if they could.
But quitting, he says, isn’t easy. “You’ve set up a high standard of living for your family and if you walk away from it — so you can breathe and find yourself — you feel like a terrible failure.”
Hyman’s own journey from the brink of despair offers hope for anyone who is feeling trapped in their profession.
He says that through simplifying his life, taking better care of himself and practicing compassion-focused Buddhist meditation, he is much healthier and happier today.
“Spreading this message has become my calling,” he says.
Hyman no longer practices law, but instead devotes his life to his family and to helping other lawyers find balance in their lives, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not “Eat, Pray, Love,” but it’s close.
Hyman Hyman’s book “The Upward Spiral” is available on Amazon.com.
He writes a daily blog promoting mental and physical well-being for lawyers at www.lawyerswellbeing.com/blog