“You are on mute.” How many times have you heard or said this during an online meeting in the last few years? Recently, I experienced it at a very inopportune time.

Let me set the scene. In addition to participating in smaller, legal professionalism-focused CLEs throughout the year, the Commission on Professionalism hosts a large annual conference called The Future Is Now: Legal Services. The conference focuses on how attorneys can innovate in their practices while promoting professionalism and observing the Rules of Professional Conduct.

This year, over 700 people registered for the conference, which used to be hosted in person but has been virtual since the pandemic. My role was to introduce one of the speakers and moderate a town hall discussion with her about mental health challenges for attorneys. Sounds like no problem, right? Wrong!

I forgot to unmute…

After a short break following the first half of the conference, it was my turn to introduce the speaker. I started the introduction I rehearsed and was crushing it. That is until the speaker popped up on the screen unexpectedly to let me know that I was on mute the entire time. Insert screaming emoji.

I tried to recover and start again but I stumbled through the “re”-introduction. But I managed to get through my remarks and turn the “stage” over to the speaker, who had a 30-minute presentation before I jumped back on camera to moderate the town hall.

Thirty minutes to recover…

My thoughts were in a full spiral. And most of the thoughts were not kind. They included everything from “How could I forget to unmute after so many years of online meetings?” to “I have let my colleagues down” and “What must the hundreds of attendees be thinking?” I might be leaving out a few expletives, but this is the Commission on Professionalism.

Luckily for me, the speaker I was introducing was Kara Hardin, an attorney who is also a registered psychotherapist and mental health educator. Kara could not have been more gracious when she came on and said I was on mute.

In addition, the fact that I forgot to unmute was an excellent example for her talk “High-Performing and Highly Stressed: How Attorneys Can Prioritize Mental Health.”

Well-being lessons for strivers

While I was stewing about my error, Kara was discussing how the legal profession is made up of strivers, who constantly want to be better and do more and who feel most safe, secure, and connected when they meet or exceed expectations. I count myself in that bucket.

The paradox for strivers, Kara said, is that the same things we do to be successful also make us feel unwell and unable to perform at our best.

Throughout her presentation, Kara discussed how lawyers can navigate this paradox. Ironically, I was navigating it in real-time.

As I prepared to “go live” on the screen again to moderate Kara’s town hall discussion, I told myself that this was a learning experience and that instead of getting down on myself, I was going to try to put Kara’s recommendations into action.

Here are four lessons when I forgot to unmute:

1. Stop going down the rabbit hole.

I don’t know about you, but as a striver, I often find myself going down the rabbit hole of all the things that might go wrong. And when I don’t meet or exceed expectations, I am in a rabbit hole of negative thoughts, making whatever happened a bigger deal than it actually is. When I forgot to unmute, I landed in the rabbit hole.

The reality is that nothing productive was happening in that hole and I wasn’t fully listening to everything Kara said. That is until I heard her say, “You are the expert on you.” Instead of disconnecting with ourselves, as strivers often do in challenging moments, Kara said we should take control and focus on what matters to us.

At that moment, I reminded myself how much I cared about the topic. I believe that if attorneys take care of their mental and physical health, they will be able to deliver more efficient and effective services and the justice system will improve.

As I continued listening to Kara, I chose to pull myself out of the rabbit hole and focus on this instead.

2. Move easily from being driven to being reflective.

Strivers are driven. That is what makes us successful. However, Kara added another layer to this when she discussed the importance of being able to easily move from a state of being driven to one of reflection.

The ability to be nimble between these two states allows us to stop driving if the car is about to go off the road. If a person can stop and reflect on an experience immediately, they can save the time, energy, and resources they would use mulling over a mistake for days. They can more easily see the turn that must be made.

By forgetting to unmute, I could more easily put this into perspective. I was able to move on from the incident, get into a better headspace, and lead a successful town hall discussion with Kara.

3. Use your body to deal with stress.

Kara explained that strivers often deal with stress by disconnecting from their bodies. However, safety is felt in the body and not created by the brain. When we get busy with work, we reduce things like exercise, sleep, and good nutrition. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

For me, it was helpful to participate in two exercises Kara asked the attendees to do. First, she showed a simple picture of rocks with water running through them. She asked attendees to look at the picture and see how it made them feel. I found the picture calming and noticed I softened a bit from being so tense.

Next, she had people put their hands behind their heads and move their heads to the right and left. It was just what I needed to get out of my head and back into my body. My stress wasn’t gone, but it did decrease.

Communications Director Laura Bagby following Kara Hardin’s advice for exercising at one’s desk to destress

4. Forgive yourself.

Mistakes will happen and the world keeps going. Forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on.

When I came back on screen for the town hall discussion, Kara used the unmuting incident as an example to reemphasize the key points of her talk. It was so natural and effective that a few people even thought I may have forgotten to unmute on purpose.

In addition, there was so much support from the attendees in the online chat who shared similar experiences, reminded me it wasn’t a big deal, and told me not to worry about it.

If the unmuting incident didn’t bother other people, it was time for me to forgive myself. Even with a muted speaker introduction, Kara’s talk was amazing and the town hall I led garnered further insight into how we strivers can manage our mental health.

The next time you have a mishap, I hope you consider these four lessons. I speak from experience; they work!

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