Here's a dialogue I've heard a lot of in New York.
Person 1: Hi, I’m A.
Person 2: Hi, A, I’m B. What do you do?
Person1: [eye roll] I’m a lawyer. I work for a [grimace] firm. How about you?
Person 2: Yeah. [sharp, bitter laugh.] Same here.
Based on the foregoing, are you interested in speaking with these people in more depth? Are you interested in learning about their interests, ambitions, dreams?
Would you hire either of them? Would you introduce them to your friends or colleagues?
Probably not. Why not? Because they both sound like pills!
There is a fair amount of negativity in the legal profession, especially among lawyers who work for elite urban firms. While individual lawyers may think they are simply responding to real things in their own experience, I would argue that they are more likely acting out a particular cultural norm. Speaking negatively about one’s own career is a kind of ghetto norm, from the particular ghetto of educated urban lawyers who work for firms.
Communicating in this way doesn’t do much for you. The tiny frisson of grown-up cynicism that you might experience the first time you dog your own career dissipates pretty fast. The same goes for any kind of consciousness-raising that might emerge the first time you discover that, yes, some other lawyers out there have career and life frustrations.
As a career coach, I can tell you that speaking through a filter of negativity significantly impedes your ability to move forward in life. Negative people are unappealing to potential employers and coworkers. Most people have enough issues already—they aren’t looking to acquire any of yours. Negativity is boring. And it won’t help you move forward in your career.
Just because other people bond on the basis of negativity doesn’t mean that you have to. Fundamentally, your career frustrations just aren’t that interesting. On the other hand, your talents, gifts and ambitions may be very interesting.
Find a positive way to talk about yourself and your aspirations. Your start may be as simple as saying, with a smile, “I’m A, and I’m a lawyer.”