It is safe to say that 2020 has been a kick in the teeth. As I reflect upon my short time as a Commercial Litigation attorney, I cannot imagine a crazier first year of practicing law. Every time I think I am over the proverbial hump, bam! Just like that, it seems I am derailed once more. The setbacks of this year have certainly made for a pessimistic state of mind.
Then again, lawyers are professional pessimists, right? Some would say that the practice of law is one in which pessimism is a helpful trait.1 As lawyers, we must think in terms of worst-case scenarios and plan for any and all catastrophes. Arguably, pessimistic tendencies make an individual a more cautious and successful attorney. Indeed, research has demonstrated a positive correlation between pessimism and success in law school.2 Nevertheless, moving forward, I will strive to embrace optimism.
Optimism as a lawyer, however, must be more than ignoring real problems in favor of rosy predictions about the future. Similar to pessimism, optimism must be grounded in reality in order to be effective. On the one hand, I endeavor to see reality for what it is, while on the other, maintaining the belief that my actions can improve any situation. By adopting an optimistic mindset, I am better able to embrace existing challenges while driving towards possible solutions whenever possible.
2020 has seemingly inflicted both optimistic and pessimistic lawyers alike. After much reflection, I am convinced that the optimistic lawyer is better suited to weather the storm.3 Although pessimism may heighten a lawyer's sense of reality in a world filled with dogged and unexpected disasters, pessimists do not prevail in the face of challenges.4 Pessimism promotes depression, is associated with poor physical health, and leads to apathy.5 Moreover, even when a pessimist's predictions come true, he or she still feels just as bad!6
As I lament all that has gone wrong in 2020, I am also thankful for the perspective that the pandemic's challenges have provided. By understanding that a persistently pessimistic mindset has inescapable consequences, I am able to combat pessimism's relentless charge. A successful lawyer (and a successful life for that matter) needs optimism as the main ingredient, with a bit of pessimism sprinkled in.
So, what does the rest of 2020 hold? No one knows for sure, but I think that Covid-19's ill effects may have a cure and that an optimist's resilience will play a leading role.
1 See Catherine Gage O'Grady, Cognitive Optimism and Professional Pessimism in the Large-Firm Practice of Law: The Optimistic Associate, 30 L. & PSYCHOL. REV. 23, 24 (2006).
2 See Jason Satterfield et al., Law School Performance Predicted by Explanatory Style, 15 BEHAV. SCI. & L. 95, 100-01 (1997).
3 See Arslan, G., Yildirim, M., Tanhan, A. et al., Coronavirus Stress, Optimism-Pessimism, Psychological Inflexibility, and Psychological Health: Psychometric Properties of the Coronavirus Stress Measure, INTL. J. MENTAL HEALTH & ADDICTION 12 (June 4, 2020), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11469-020-00337-6.
4 See Seligman, M. E., Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life 113 (2006).
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