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By: Jamie Collins

This post contains memoirs from the Founder’s ridiculously crazy Monday! Read at your own risk. Caution: You may find yourself identifying with every word of the content or laughing aloud at your desk. This one’s being served up fresh off of a day in hell-ooo, my paralegal friends!

I currently find myself about an hour away from entering the land of dreams, and finally escaping the absolute hell that was my work day.

When loading myself into the Infiniti this morning, I had a short list of goals. They went a little something like this: (1) Hope for smooth carpool drop off with Mister G (my elementary-aged cutie); (2) promptly swing by the local Starbucks after exiting said carpool line to secure an iced tea in an attempt to fully-charge my own sanity; and (3) drive to work while enjoying music from a few of my favorite CDs to enter that happy paralegal place mentally, prior to entering the legal kingdom; a place where I would later (and completely unbeknownst to me) become the omnipotent ruler of the damned.

Yes, the damned.

About 2 hours into my day, I swear to you I thought I’d landed a starring role in that ridiculously crazy show, “I survived” where people find themselves in the craziest of circumstances; pulling their weary bodies 3 miles across a dusky cornfield while nursing multiple gunshots wounds or a plethora of bee stings, in order to survive. I found my head anxiously turning as people briskly walked down the corridor and past my doorway, awaiting the camera crew’s arrival into my office (formerly located in the paralegal promise land…twenty times removed) to begin the filming of my imminent demise. Thankfully, as a seasoned litigation paralegal a/k/a gladiator, even the worst days of stress/anxiety/worry/overwhelm no longer take me down. I can drag myself across the litigation cornfield with the best of ‘em, bearing scraped knees, depleted sanity, and a weary soul to show for it, after having spent a day in the darkness.

I come out the other side alive, and better than I was the day before. But it ain’t easy.

After successfully surviving what was, quite literally, the worst work day I’ve experienced in the past five years of my career, I felt compelled to share a few tips to help you better navigate that next epic day of struggle that reads much like the pages of a gripping, legal-horror-novel-turned-autobiography, like a pro. Here are some tips for surviving a day from hell:

Remember to breathe – as you prepare to enter “the zone.”  I know this may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s totally necessary, which is why you’ll see it included in nearly every stress tips article for paralegals you’ll ever read. The stress will hit you like a 200 pound jaguar leaping onto your chest, as you sit in that black, leather chair at your desk, attempting to figure out what in the hell just happened. Life as you knew it just moments prior is over.

In order to even begin to think about surviving in this situation – take a deep breath, followed by another deep breath, and mentally prepare to enter “the zone.” The goal is to calm yourself, as you attempt to slow your heart rate back down to nearly normal. Breathing – it’s easy. Give it a whirl! That’s step one. Let’s move on to the next step.

Silence Your Inner Assassin.  Huh? Inner assassin? Has the TPS Founder completely lost her mind? Quite possibly, but I can assure you it was within the confines of a law office – not on this tip. You better believe you have a silent, inner assassin. I do, too. It’s that little voice inside your own head that immediately begins to utter phrases like: “This is impossible;” “There is no way I can possibly get this done;” “This is never going to happen;” “How could he even pretend we can get this done?” (We’ll leave the far more colorful, vibrant, non-child-friendly terminology uttered via a silent, internal scream to your imagination). As for the inner assassin: Shut. It. Down. The last thing you need is yourself, essentially attacking yourself, when you’re crawling across a barren legal cornfield, in heels, while being attacked by a jaguar.

The moment you feel stress begin to enter your mind/body/soul/space during that next pivotal moment of epic chaos, tell yourself to shut down your inner assassin – immediately, and completely.

While you’re at it – silence the accompanying to-do lists and myriad of deadlines now running through your head in that moment, right along with those thoughts regarding your intended (now entirely pretend) departure time, and all other pressing calls/papers/files/problems/people/cases. They no longer exist. Shift 100% of your focus to the task at hand, and nothing else.

Kill the Inner Assassin with Kindness. Now that you’ve silenced your inner-assassin, consciously replace those negative words you previously felt inclined to utter internally with a few positive self-affirmations, instead. Typically, this is a bit easier for seasoned paralegals because we’ve successfully navigated so many crises during our career walk through the legal trenches that we begin to view that special moment of utter-and-absolute-hell as simply another opportunity to prove ourselves (to ourselves, and more importantly, our bosses…) and come out the other side of those burning embers a better paralegal. Draped in glory, we emerge. Having faced a similar situation countless times in the past tends to empower a person. This makes it far easier to silence one’s inner assassin.

Whether you are an experienced paralegal or it’s your newbie induction into the Paraegal Olympic Games, repeat a few key lines to yourself, such as: “I will get this done;” “This project will not take me down;” “I’ve never failed and I’m not going to start today;”  “This is possible;” “Let’s get started;” or “I will do this. I will.” Cling to these phrases like glimmers of hope, as you attempt to hold your departing sanity intact. Transform your mindset. Take what was formerly a detriment (the inner assassin) and turn it into a personal reinforcement committee by sharing a few kind words with yourself.

Attack. It is a battle. Get in there! When faced with 2 hours of work, and only an hour to accomplish that pile of deadline laced papyrus, it is imperative that you attack. Do not sit and focus on the overall project – it will overwhelm you. Do not sit and count up all of the moving parts and pieces unless you must in order to begin. Take it one step at a time. Do not sit there and allow the stress to roll over you like dew covering a sprawling meadow. Attack the task/project/first piece of the task or project immediately, and work your way toward the goal like you’re in the midst of an epic battle – because you are. Get in there.

Silence the Inner Assassin… Again. You may wonder why I’m repeating a step we’ve previously covered above, but I can assure you it is 100% necessary. In my experience, I’ve found that I must typically silence the silent inner assassin not once, but a multitude of times before she actually goes off into the good legal night. You may silence that first wave of negative self-talk, but typically about 15-20 minutes into the project, and again at the 45-60 minute mark (and beyond), she will make her way back into your weary mind. Shut her down. Tell her something nice, instead. Probably not a bad time to take a few more deep breaths, while you’re at it.

Focus on Glory, Never Defeat.  Either the project or task is going to get done or it isn’t. You will do what is humanly possible to make it so. Commit yourself to nothing short of a stellar performance. Do not set yourself up for failure by preemptively surrendering, in spirit, prior to starting (or finishing) the task. If you have truly silenced your inner assassin and are giving it everything you’ve got, chances are, you’ll make it through those gates of glory alive. Do not accept defeat until it actually arrives. And it usually doesn’t.    

Do Not Surrender. As I often say, “Paralegals do not surrender; they go down in a blaze of glory.” We do not give up. We do not elicit weakness when faced with daunting odds or staring seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the eye. We attack. We do not forget who we are, and what it is we do. Crazy has got nothing on us. We thrive on crazy. We can manage it like nobody’s business. And the only way to “manage” the crazy is to fully invest oneself into the battle, and jump right into the outer rung of hell-ooo, my paralegal friends, to begin to accomplish…the impossible. Because it is possible – you just haven’t done it yet. You’ll be amazed how many “impossible” things you’ll accomplish in a day, once you begin.

It wasn’t my first day of hell in the legal gauntlet. Lord knows it certainly won’t be my last. But all I can say is: “I survived.” I came out the other side a better paralegal. My tattered soul emerged from the battlefield draped in victory. I scored one more win in the legal ring. I transcended the “impossible.” And if you follow these simple tips – you will, too.

I’ll see you on the other side of the cornfield.

 “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” – Susan Jeffers

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We’ll see you on Monday, with an amazingly good article regarding first impressions.