Is Balance Possible in the Legal Profession? We Interview Lawyer/Yogi Flynn Coleman

Flynn ColemanJust in time for final exams, we’re thrilled to welcome Flynn Coleman, lawyer, yogi, and founder of SAMYA Practice, who has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share about staying balanced as a law student and lawyer.

Why don’t you brew a nice cup of tea, breathe deeply, and settle in? Here’s Flynn!

I’m considering going to law school because I want to make the world better (I know it’s a cliché). What should I think about as I make my decision about whether to apply?

First of all, congratulations! If you want to make the world a better place, you can. As Stephen Cope says, “this little corner of the world is ours to transform.”

At any crossroads in our lives, we have a great opportunity to take stock of what we truly value and want for ourselves.

This doesn’t mean the path won’t veer off in a new direction (it almost always does), or that we cannot change our plans later on (we can), but getting in touch with what we really want is the first and most important step in aligning our values with our actions.

Law school is an amazing education and opportunity, and I loved the classes I took and all that I learned and was a part of during my time in law school. But, it almost definitely won’t be what you think it is, and you probably won’t end up where you think you are going either.

You will have tuition and loans to think about, a little bit of reading to do, and you will be trading three years of your life for it, so you want to make them count.

Also, as in many areas of our lives, many of us do what we are supposed to do, or “should” do, as opposed to doing what we are called to do or want to do (Superwoman Syndrome, anyone?)

Taking the time to reflect, brainstorm, let your mind wander, and really consider who you are and who you want to be will not go to waste, no matter what you decide.

And it’s more important than ever to truly consider why you want to be in law school, as the legal industry is changing, and law school no longer carries guarantees of jobs and “success.”

So I would suggest that to start, you close your eyes and take a few minutes, breathing deeply and with ease, to picture yourself 5 years from now.

  • What are you doing?
  • Who are you with?
  • What are you working on?
  • How do you feel?
  • Where are you?

Try to imagine it in as much detail as possible, and let your mind wander. Then, take a few minutes to write this down, as well as what you want in your life, in detail. This exercise can help with deciding what you want to do and how to get there.

And in thinking about what your passions are, and what you want to do with your life, remember that every experience can be a fabulous education if we have that frame of mind, and that you can always take another road later on, using your skills and intuition to forge a life and career that you want, even if it’s not something on the normal career development office menu or the law school brochure. It will take more resilience, strength, creativity, and passion, but you can do it (mindfulness helps with all of this, I’m just sayin).

Know that just like Steve Jobs casually enrolled in a calligraphy class that changed the future of computer design, just because something doesn’t seem perfectly suited to your career path at the time, doesn’t mean you won’t connect the dots later and realize that you learned something very valuable for what you want to do.

The line to success is squiggly rather than straight.

And while we are at it, I suggest that you think about what your definition of success really is.

I’m a law student and I’m incredibly stressed out by the experience. What are your three best tips for staying balanced in this pressure cooker environment?

Law school is an extremely stressful time, but if you take care of yourself, you can prevent burnout, sustain your enthusiasm, and learn so much about the law and yourself while you are there.

  • First, find ways to be yourself, and to always remind yourself of your values and why you are in law school. One exercise I teach in many of my seminars is to reflect and then write down your priorities as well as one step you can take each day to take action on each of them. When you are feeling confused, run down, and lost (which you will), be ok with that, and take the opportunity to re-center yourself and remember why you are there in the first place. Maybe you want to contribute to immigration policy or intellectual property law, or advocate for women’s rights or the indigent. Whatever it is, come back to that when you feel stressed out. Perhaps you even place a Post-It note on your computer to remind you of your mission, strengths, and intentions.
  • Second, take care of yourself. This is crucial for sustaining your productivity, happiness, well being, balance, focus, and creativity. It’s a big part of what we do at SAMYA for lawyers and law students. Hike with a friend once a week, enroll in a yoga or zumba class, cook a delicious healthy meal for your roommates, listen to music, or make and schedule time for whatever relaxes and restores you after a long day. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of healthy habits like sleeping and eating well, exercise, and brain breaks. Make them fun and make them your own.
  • Finally, as is said by many traditions in various forms: accept. You are going to have good days, and bad days. Welcome to the human race. Pema Chödrön, a powerhouse of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom, teaches about acceptance of ourselves, and even leaning into and exploring these moments when we feel crappy, because the good times and the bad times will always come and go, and if we can accept them and use them as opportunities to take a good look at ourselves, we will always be ok, no matter what happens around us. Know that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, and that your hard work and dedication will pay off, even though you might not know exactly what that will look like down the road.
Could you talk about bit about what you do in the average day at work and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you started law school?

Well, what I do now is definitely different with what I thought I would be doing when I started law school, though its also more aligned in a sense with who I am and what I want to contribute.

I essentially combined two parts of my life that I had kept separate before, my passion for human rights and social good and my passion for mindfulness, creativity, innovation, and yoga.

Once I started to realize that one’s personal and professional lives have a profound impact on one another, and that everyone from lawyers, students, and entrepreneurs, to survivors of trauma, can benefit from these powerfully healing and empowering practices, I decided to combine my passions into a social enterprise.

It’s similar in that I am following my bliss and working to help people find theirs. As I am a lifelong advocate for human rights, my company empowers local and global communities through our OM for OM initiative by providing legal aid and therapeutic yoga to trauma survivors.

However, it’s definitely different in that in I did not know then that I would be starting a business from scratch, teaching mindfulness seminars on such topics as social good, business and entrepreneurship, multitasking, creative writing, authentic leadership, design, and innovation, to name a few. But I did hope that I would be able to instill creativity, passion, wellness, and innovation into my work and into the legal system, so I am doing what I set out to do.

Regarding a typical work day, the fabulous thing is that there is no typical day! While I do have my routines, and always keep my mindfulness, yoga, and writing routines nearby, I am constantly exploring new books (to read and write), connections, ideas, yoga poses, mindfulness practices, creativity exercises, innovative concepts, and other ways to infuse that goodness into my work, my teaching, my seminars, my writing, and my own life.

I love connecting with others, from lawyers to mindfulness practitioners to students to humanitarians to business leaders.

There are so many extraordinary people in the world, and social media has made it easier than ever to connect with and learn from them.

You (Alison) are a perfect example of how fun it is to meet new people doing amazing work in the legal realm.

On any given day, I may be teaching a seminar, whether it’s at a university, private space, or in a public venue, or planning for the seminar and tailoring it to my audience. I may be attending a new conference or class, traveling to teach my seminars, or planning and brainstorming for a new or existing project. I write every day, and am always chatting with people and organizations about collaborating or sharing ideas and stories.

I am also laying the groundwork for the SAMYA Foundation. So in addition to working on my collaboration with organizations that provide legal aid and therapeutic yoga to trauma survivors, I am planning the mission and projects of the SAMYA foundation, which is very exciting work.

I love that I get to continue to my work in women’s and human rights, and in a way that feels more authentic to my passions and skills, providing a more holistic and innovative approach to healing from trauma, dealing with the stress of modern life, and infusing creativity, authentic leadership, social good, play, and focus into every area of life.

And to be clear, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows over here. In fact, as Alison can probably attest to as well, I have never worked so hard in my life!

Starting and running an innovative business can be an overwhelming venture, with a million decisions to make and an enormous amount to learn, many times on the fly (picture me googling: “how to start a social enterprise” or “how to code.”).

But, it’s so awesome that I can practice what I preach in exploring and experimenting with how to live a creative and mindful life in our modern legal age.

It’s fascinating to no end, I learn something new every day, and is such an exciting adventure.

It’s a great balance (and challenge) to stay organized and disciplined while also making room for serendipity, creativity and fun. It’s also really special because I am constantly practicing what I am teaching, and am always learning from my mistakes and exploring new ways to bring innovation and joy into people’s organizations and lives.

Like mindfulness itself, this work is always teaching me how to be more resilient, compassionate, driven, and empathetic.

And one of the great lessons has been that we can turn our difficulties into opportunities to help others, which is part of why I started this work.

Because lawyers suffer so much burnout and anxiety due to the current nature of the profession, I am on a mission to infuse new ways of thinking, acting, and being into our legal world.

So I am thrilled to contribute any small part to innovating our legal system and education so that lawyers, and those of us we serve, can live more passionate, balanced, productive, creative, dynamic and world-changing lives.

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Thanks, Flynn! We’ll look forward to seeing how all of your fantastic endeavors develop.

Read On:

Want to learn more about Flynn’s work?
You’ll find all the details on her website SAMYA Practice.

Or connect with Flynn on Twitter and Facebook.

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