Q1 Report: Mental and Emotional

Because my mental and emotional states for the past three months have been so intertwined, I am going to review both areas in this single post.

Much of this blog has been focusing on my mental and emotional journey after leaving BigLaw. For this Q1 report, I won’t repeat or summarize the experiences I have already written about.

Over the past three months, I have been doing a lot of thinking, far more thinking than I have done in the last decade. I recognize that most of my thinking has been about me, in a rather self-obsessed kind of way. But I do reflect on the wider world thanks to all the books I have been reading. For the first time in years, I have resumed reading books for pleasure and personal development.

Emotionally, I am noticeably happier, cradling the hope for a more exciting future. But my emotional state is far from predictable. I am still in the awkward stage of getting used to this rather radical transition, and as a result I feel things more deeply and react more sensitively than my former automaton lawyer self.

This blog has provided me with much fodder for self-examination and served as an outlet for emotional release. It has been a faithful companion on the journey thus far, but it has also caused me some mental and emotional anguish along the way.

I came up with the idea of starting a blog in the wee hours of a morning a few days after I gave notice. I don’t remember the exact impetus, but it probably had something to do with the ability to make money from blogging. How naive! I quickly realized before I even started how difficult it is to make a living as a “problogger”. (Penelope Trunk has a great post listing why blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme.) Since I had already paid for the registration of a domain name that I was rather fond of, I decided to go ahead with it anyways.

Once I started blogging, I noticed that my mind was full of thoughts and emotions wanting to be expressed and shared. The only bottleneck was writing them down. Despite not enjoying writing, I found the process of organizing and expressing these thoughts — often complicated and emotionally charged — to be cathartic. For example, I had expected to experience major emotional ups and downs after quitting, but surprisingly the roller coaster has been tame. I believe the process of writing these issues out helped to make sense of them and thus defanged their potency.

I originally thought that only friends and colleagues would read my blog. As is turns out, somehow others started reading it and leaving comments. But not all comments were flattering or encouraging. An early post, the second installment of the Breaking Up is Hard to Do series on why I decided not to stay in law, attracted a bit of attention after being mentioned in Corporate Counsel magazine’s daily alert. Some of the comments stung and I was tempted to quit blogging altogether. But I am glad and proud that I stuck through. I took stock of what I wrote and faced the unpleasant facts that I should have been more precise with my language, clearer in my thoughts, and more mindful of my tone. I also learned that in building a public voice, I will inevitably attract some but repel others. If I want to have thought provoking dialogues, then I better start developing a thick skin.

As mentioned previously, blogging has been a great vehicle to make friends and have interesting conversations. And I love the feeling of being read. It is addictive. Who knew I was such an exhibitionist! But, and there is a “but”… blogging has been hard work. It has been hard work both mentally and emotionally. Some days (like today), I feel that it is my albatross.

Blogging takes a lot mental energy. I think about potential topics all the time. (I come up with the most productive thoughts when I shower, but they are fleeting. If I don’t capture them right away, I will have to wait until my next shower for them to resurface. This may explain why I am taking more showers these days. Do others have the same experience?)

“Joy” of Blogging (courtesy of blogherald.com)

I certainly enjoy being more thoughtful. I am living more mindfully these days, something I always wanted to achieve. But it is getting to be too much. I can’t turn off my ever thinking brain. I often feel mentally constipated because I have a backlog of thoughts waiting to be written. It takes effort to dig deeper emotionally and to organize the often half-baked thoughts rumbling and rattling in my mind. Especially as I am struggling to improve my writing — a rather agonizing process — putting these thoughts down on paper can take hours.

I feel pitiful for not being nearly as productive as other bloggers who write daily. (I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but alas I still do.) Perhaps I should start writing shorter posts, but being succinct has never been my forte.

To make the matter worse, I have also become addicted to blog stats. They are evil because they provide informative and in-depth analysis of trends and comparisons. Every time I publish a new post, I feel elated seeing the stats pop. But, inevitably, days pass and visits started to dwindle. And then I fret. I feel the pressure of having to produce another post immediately so that my readers won’t abandon me.

On the day a post turns out to be popular, I feel gratified. But soon that gratification turns to anxiety. I become anxious that I will not be able to replicate another success or surpass the new standard set by that popular post. Conversely, if a post I think should be popular doesn’t receive as many views or comments as I expect, I feel more disappointed than I ought to be, so much so that it becomes the last thing I complain to my husband before falling asleep.

I am fully aware the way I approach and feel about blogging is warped. Just as I start to separate the performance of our bank balance from Mint.com from my self worth, I replace it with blogging stats. This is so not the point of blogging.

Am I so insecure that these stats can sway my self-perception so easily? What happened to my MIT-trained confidence in problem solving? What am I grasping after?

After thinking hard about these questions, I reached the hard truth: yes, I am insecure. I need and crave external validation. Somehow, validation from others just seems truer, more valid. Unlike problem solving, where validation comes in the form of a correct solution, perception is more subjective. What I am grasping after is metrics, any kind of metrics that can measure progress.

Now that I don’t have a professional identity, I think I am especially susceptible to grasping after meaningless metrics. My need for praise and validation has been satisfied by blog stats. As much as this is pathetic, I can see the emotional logic.

Recently, as I look towards the next phase of this journey, I often feel the brewing uneasiness with respect to my lack of productivity, first mentioned in my post about my daily routine. Now, I understand why.

The problem is that I can see many not always coherent slivers of potential as I explore various options, but can’t see the concrete ultimate goal. Without knowing the ultimate goal, I am at a loss in defining the metrics I need to measure performance, productivity and progress. For a goal-oriented person like me, I only feel I have done something meaningful when the metrics are met.

I don’t know the solution to this challenge yet. Perhaps instead of building the metrics based on the ultimate goal, I should establish interim goals and take one step at a time. Perhaps I should do less navel-gazing and get to work. But at least with this navel-gazing, I’ve found the cause of my seemingly irrational and ridiculous reaction towards blog stats. And that has made me feel more productive already.

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