5 ways to avoid burn-out or Working as a business lawyer: 3 time zones and 100+ mails a day

As a coach speaking to many lawyers (and other high performing professionals) over the past years, it helps me a lot knowing that I had to overcome my own job related issues in the past. I can speak from experience. Including stress. I did not realize it at the time, but I was an inch close from a full blown burn-out in my former career.  This was the history of it:

It was 2010. I was the legal director of an international software company  – a job that I was proud of, earning a good salary. And I was in the fast-paced business/tech environment that I had always wanted.

But it did not feel good, already for some time. I remember, for example, one evening leaving the parking garage of our office-building in Amsterdam that year. I felt immense pressure on my chest. For weeks already I was struggling to answer 100 or more emails per day, handling matters in 3 different times zones: US, EU, Asia.

It was clear for weeks I was losing the battle. When doing simple tasks, or speaking to people about work,  I felt lost, angry and sad.  To be honest, there was no way I could handle the amount of cases – all the requests and filings. Frequently in the weeks before, I got up at 5am to answer mails.

We needed two additional people within our department to handle the contracting, advising and reviewing activities; but, as is often the case, we didn’t have the capacity.

HR enforced a hiring stop. I had no way out – except sucking up (I should have known better, though).

Looking back: there were a few causes of my 'almost burn-out'

  • I was not doing the work that I was meant to do. There were too many administrative tasks. From a creative, powerful person I became an in-house legal counsel handling paperwork. The work depleted me, both spiritually, emotionally and physically. I could not be creative, engaging – meeting people, offering solutions, negotiating.

  • The work had little purpose for me. It was not aligned with my personal values.

  • My boss was a ‘blue’ person; focusing on details, numbers, analysis. I had no idea how to communicate with him, making me feel even more uncomfortable – as I am clearly not blue, but a mix of red, green and yellow (if you want to know more about DISC or ‘colors’ let me know).

  • Leadership skills: I had not developed my leadership skills. I had become good in ‘ducking’ rather than confronting and solving issues with secretaries, colleagues and a manager. I would have saved myself a lot of pain, with a (summary) week-long leadership course on growth mindset and leadership principles.

The ‘solution’ came

In the end, if you do nothing your environment will do it for you. I was saved by the bell, in the sense that I did not get sick, but the outcome was unexpected and not nice.

Although they did not call it ‘dismissal’, my contract was not renewed after 6 months. Despite working hard, putting in the effort of making new friends, having gone to team building sessions in Germany and putting much effort into creating a legal department and making colleagues proud. I moved on – a bit bitter.

5 things I could have done (but did not)

Since that job, I changed direction. I wanted to work with people. Changed my goals, lifestyle and ways to look at my ambitions in life. I knew it already, but this was the final push that the universe had in mind for me.

Honestly, I had a lot lessons to learn from that experience.

Maybe there was something I also could blame myself for. Everyone tells you that sleep, food and exercise help. And that is so true. But there is more.

It pays to invest a bit, and hire an expert to work on the following five items:

(1) learn to know personal values  (some call it ‘your purpose’) and learn and practice how to protect them in work environment

(2) work on the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation

(3) deal with stress having some tools (like basic meditation)

(4) learn how to communicate with other personal communication styles

(5) develop your personal leadership style: less procrastination, take responsibility towards your team, have a ‘growth mindset’ instead of a ‘fixed mindset’.

I have become an expert in helping others become less stressed and more fulfilled.

For more info on my coaching: send an email to robertdewilde@me.com or go to Contact