I have an objection to Thanksgiving.
My beef with Thanksgiving (pun intended) isn’t about the holiday itself or its traditions. Heck, I love the delicious jellied cranberry insanity that slides out of a can, the cross-marketing advertising blitz that is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Grandma’s green bean casserole as much as anyone does. It all warms my heart and makes me smile.
Making Every Day A Holiday
My objection is more abstract. My problem — or fear — is that Thanksgiving has the potential to interfere with giving thanks for what we have in our lives on other days. If we focus too much on a single event, what do we do the 364 other days of the year? Having a dedicated Thanksgiving Day lets us say to ourselves, hey, we got the family together, we ate the turkey, we gave thanks. Now let’s forget about all that gratefulness for a year and get back to complaining.
Lawyers in particular love to complain. We’re literally trained to pick things apart, find flaws, and attack our adversaries, so it’s no surprise we do the same when it comes to our personal lives. Think about all of the breath and effort we spend whining about the long hours we work to earn our six- or seven-figure paychecks, or commiserating over which firm is offering more over-the-top perks than ours. We skip right past all the good things we have and hone in like a laser on the things we wish were better.
So what do we do about this? I’d challenge you this year, dear reader, to make this Thanksgiving less of a speed bump and more of a springboard toward a greater daily appreciation for all the good things you have in your life. As lawyers, we have plenty to be grateful for, and much of what’s great about our profession is as great every other month of the year as it is in November. There’s no need to time-bound our appreciation for the benefits of our way of life.
Despite the endless lawyer jokes, we remain in an overall respected profession that’s well-compensated. Each of us by default is in possession of a deeply flexible mental tool kit. We are problem solvers by nature and by training, skills that lend themselves to most situations and needs. The continued march of automation that is likely to devastate so many job spaces in the coming decade will probably not have the same, far-reaching consequences for us. Being a lawyer has its stresses and pitfalls, but if you want to have control over your world and your career, there are few better places to start than being an attorney.
I’d wager that remembering how good we have it and carrying it with us in our everyday lives would be of great benefit to most of us.
The Special Moments
Confining our giving of thanks to Thanksgiving also risks us failing to savor those special moments in our lives. Sometimes good things happen that are big or obvious, and easy to enjoy in the moment. You land a big client or make partner. Your toddler finishes potty training. You achieve some new personal best on Peloton.
But the truly special periods of our lives can be even more subtle. Sometimes the best times of our lives are the periods when there’s just nothing major that’s wrong or stressful. Maybe most of your clients are paying their bills, you’re really into one of your cases, and you don’t have an opposing counsel going after your head. At home, maybe it’s the kids and pets haven’t needed doctor’s appointments in weeks, nothing’s broken or needing replacement, and you and your partner have found time to reconnect. Those little rare periods of peaceful bliss can be some of the happiest of our lives, while also being the hardest to recognize until they’re gone.
It’s easy to see and focus on when things go wrong. But it can be very, very hard to realize that everything’s going generally right.
Special times like this are usually transitory. They might last an evening, or a week, or a few months, and then some new major life challenge appears that sucks up our bandwidth and mental health. Most of those special times aren’t going to happen on the fourth Thursday in November. If we’re only looking for them on Thanksgiving, we’re going to miss them.
Enjoy But Don’t Forget
Please don’t take this the wrong way. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. Gather together, eat some turkey, open some vino, watch the game, and avoid talking politics. Take some time to savor a special time of the year.
But when the long weekend is over, don’t tuck those feelings of gratitude away until next November and wind yourself up to start complaining. Carry that spirit of thankfulness forward and try to recognize the good in your everyday life. Enjoy those special moments while you’re living them, and the memory will be all the sweeter.
James Goodnow is the CEO and managing partner of NLJ 250 firm Fennemore Craig. At age 36, he became the youngest known chief executive of a large law firm in the U.S. He holds his JD from Harvard Law School and dual business management certificates from MIT. He’s currently attending the Cambridge University Judge Business School (U.K.), where he’s working toward a master’s degree in entrepreneurship. James is the co-author of Motivating Millennials, which hit number one on Amazon in the business management new release category. As a practitioner, he and his colleagues created and run a tech-based plaintiffs’ practice and business model. You can connect with James on Twitter (@JamesGoodnow) or by emailing him at James@JamesGoodnow.com.