The Influencer Hour: A Q&A with Okeoma Moronu Schreiner of the Happy Lawyer Project
In the Influencer Hour, we spotlight lawyers who are shaking things up in the legal field, driving positive change, and standing out as leaders in their industries. For this piece in our Influencer Hour series, I sat down with Okeoma Moronu Schreiner, the hostess of The Happy Lawyer Project podcast!
It’s no secret that lawyers are among the unhappiest class of professionals. And frankly, what we don’t need is yet another reminder of the fact. We are constantly barraged with sobering statistics noting the skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, and other life-burdensome mental health issues that are rampant in the legal field, and just knowing the numbers isn’t enough. What we need is action – to flip the script, shift the paradigm, pioneer positive change that will drive these numbers down.
Okeoma is a lawyer, podcaster, and influencer who is doing just that. Through her podcast, the Happy Lawyer Project, Okeoma shares stories of lawyers who are thriving in their work and who have found tremendous happiness and fulfillment in the law.
I enjoyed chatting with her about her project to uncover more joy in the legal profession.
AD: Tell us your story! What’s your background, and what are you doing right now?
OMS: I'm a mother, wife, avid traveler and corporate finance attorney, in that order. I started my career at a BigLaw firm in New York doing Global Capital Markets work. Shortly after having my second child, I lateraled to a firm in Dallas and transitioned to more general corporate work. Shortly after that move, I had an opportunity to go in-house at a global aviation company where I remain today.
AD: Can you walk us through your journey in starting the Happy Lawyer Project? What initially piqued your interest in topics of lawyer happiness and wellness leadership?
OMS: The Happy Lawyer Project was a personal project that was borne out my reading of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. I was a first-year associate with terrible insomnia, unmanageable amounts of stress and the stomach ulcers to prove it. I couldn't understand why I was so unhappy when everything had seemingly gone to plan. I figured I had three choices: 1) accept my situation, 2) leave the situation, or 3) change the situation. I decided to take responsibility for my own happiness and did what every good Type-A lawyer does and started to research. That's when I found Gretchen's book.
After having my second child, I started to feel a real sense of urgency around being intentional with my time and my long-term plans. While on my maternity leave, I started reaching out to people for informational interviews and there were only two criteria for the people I wanted to speak to: 1) They had a job that sounded remotely interesting to me and 2) they were happy. In the process, I learned so much about how to plan an intentional career, prioritize happiness and accomplish bigger goals in my life. These conversations were so powerful that I wanted to be able to share them with my friends and fellow lawyers. My husband bought me a mic for Mother's Day in 2016 and the podcast was live by November of that year. Throughout the last year, I've transitioned my work to focus on wellness leadership. I want to take more ownership in moving the conversation forward and setting an example for what is possible in the profession.
AD: Why do you think that lawyers struggle so much with happiness and wellness? How can we shift that paradigm?
OMS: I think there are two key reasons. First, positivity requires an ability to be optimistic and to, for a lack of a better phrase, focus on the positive. As lawyers, we are trained to do the opposite. Our job requires that we be able to anticipate problems and spot issues. Without conscious effort, we may lose the natural ability to retain a positive outlook. Not to mention, lawyers often deal with actual emotional trauma in their everyday work. These are not small burdens we bear, and lawyers are not being taught the skills to manage the stress, anxiety, and pressure that we carry on behalf of our clients.
The second main cause is that most lawyers don't prioritize happiness. Many lawyers believe that unhappiness is part of the price you pay for being in the profession. In a culture that already idolizes overwork and productivity, lawyers can embody the extreme end of this mentality. Many lawyers entered the profession believing that the job would result in a level of success, prestige or impact which would lead to happiness. Therefore, they believe that if they just work hard enough to achieve that level of success, prestige or impact then happiness will be the necessary result. Happiness and wellness cannot be viewed as a result. Happiness and wellness must become the goal.
All hope is not lost. I believe that we can shift this paradigm by committing to making small changes in our everyday lives. We cannot expect our colleagues, managers, the ABA or anybody else in the industry to put more time and energy into thinking about our happiness or wellness than we are willing to put into the exercise.
Consider the following questions: Are you modeling good wellness behaviors for those around you? Are you supporting your employees and colleagues in their own wellness efforts? Do you have wellness goals for yourself and your team?
AD: What are three simple things that practicing lawyers can do right now to increase their happiness, even if they are facing tremendous stress and pressure at work?
OMS: Develop a wellness routine. This can be 20 minutes a day or 2 hours a day, but you should set time aside every single day to check-in with yourself and realign your priorities. An easy way to start is to take 2 minutes at the beginning of the day to write down 3-5 things that you need to get done that day to make that day a success and then take 2 minutes at the end of the day to review the list and write down 3-5 things that went well that day. This simple exercise done regularly will have a huge impact on your life and mental well-being.
Get more sleep. This sounds counter-intuitive but the way that I manage my immensely high-pressure job, raising two children and all my various side projects is by getting 8 hours of sleep each night. For lawyers facing tremendous stress and pressure, prioritizing sleep, falling asleep and getting quality sleep can be a real struggle. It's a worthwhile endeavor to spend a week focusing on improving your sleep routine and environment. After we had kids, we really upped our sleep game. We invested in noise machines, humidifiers, an amazing set of sheets, blackout curtains, the works! As a result, we all get great sleep. We even take 2-hour family naps on the weekends!
Explore your curiosity. The feeling of near-constant stress and overwhelm can be daunting at times and having things in your life that are just for fun can help offset that feeling and release some of the pressure. As opposed to letting the stress and anxiety of work overflow into your personal life, learning to have more fun and feeling more joy can carry over into your work life and make it easier to see the moments of joy, fun, and fulfillment at work. For me, I have the podcast, I write children's books and invest in real estate. These activities allow me to engage my creative side and, most importantly, stimulate a different side of my personality. It certainly doesn't have to be anything this big either. Keep in mind it took me 8 years to get to this point. When I first started down this path, I took a $100 online calligraphy course, which was perfect for that season of my life. Other people have found comfort and creativity in sitting down with an adult coloring book and a glass of wine. Start small but be consistent about feeding your creative side!
AD: What are some of the best resources available for lawyers who are seeking to learn more about health, wellness, and finding balance in life and law?
OMS: There are so many great resources out there, but some of my favorites right now are:
Heather Hubbard's podcast "Hustle and Flow"
Jeena Cho's book The Anxious Lawyer
Kara Lowentheil's podcast "Unf*ck Your Brain"
Angela Han Health at www.Angela-han.com
AD: Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us! Where can we learn more about you?
OMS: The best way to learn more about my work is to listen to my weekly podcast, The Happy Lawyer Project, which is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can get in touch directly on IG @thehappylawyerproject. I love hearing from fellow lawyers and learning more about their happiness projects!