The Stoic Associate: How to Deal with Feedback and Worry Less

When I was a young associate, every time I sent an email to a partner or client that included work product or a bit of analysis I found myself eagerly anticipating a “pat on the back” email back in my inbox. As you may have guessed, those pats on the back rarely came.

That’s life in a law firm! But it’s a lesson that took me some time to learn. Too often, I found my mood shifting with the winds – and whims – of the day’s feedback. What I finally learned is that as a law firm associate you need to learn to look for approval within yourself, and not from external sources.

But that’s easier said then done. In order to have that type of measured mindset, young associates need some tools in their toolboxes. One of the most effective is an “oldie but goodie” called Stoicism.

Stoicism is a 2,000-year-old philosophy pioneered by the Greeks and popularized by the Romans. Stoicism is not the stuff you learned in Philosophy 101. It’s a philosophy for the real world, and fits within Thoreau’s definition of what philosophy should be: “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school … it is to solve some of the problems of life not only theoretically, but practically.”

At its root is the idea that we should work to distinguish between the things that are within our control and those that are not, and to focus only on the former. In other words, we can’t always control circumstances, but we can control how we respond to them.

Sounds like a pretty good approach to dealing with the ups and downs of a legal practice, no?

I expand upon this issue in a recent article I wrote for Attorney at Work. If you’re interested in learning more about Stoicism, click here.