Thursday, October 12, 2006

Eu-stress and Di-stress

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Andrew Siegel, guest-blogging over at my once and future visitor stomping grounds, PrawfsBlawg, has a post designed to answer the age-old question "so you are a law professor and you teach six hours a week.  What do you do the rest of the time?"  He also links back to the question raised by my friend Paul Secunda: if being a law professor is such a great job, why are we always so stressed?

I have previously posted on why I think this is a great job.   But I didn't discuss stress.  A fellow named Speed Leas who specializes in the mediation of inter-congregational disputes (I was on the board of a Reform Jewish temple that needed such a mediator - badly!) taught me a word I like: eustress.  Eustress is the opposite of distress.  We all recognize how debilitating distress can be; eustress has precisely the opposite effect.  We are energized, not exhausted, by it.

Here's a theory:  passion for the task at hand transforms distress into eustress (or perhaps overwhelms the distress).   I think the most significant source of distress in my professional career was the obligation to bill hours.  If you are the sublimated warrior who lives for trial, then the fact that you write the time down on a sheet of paper is secondary.  I was a big law firm litigator for ten years, but I'm not a sublimated warrior, and billing hours was a way to make a nice living (it paid more than twisting bolts onto a car frame) but I had no passion for it.  Passion has to do with vision and goals and fulfillment.  To the extent that they are self-imposed, I want to suggest that the stress created is eustress, not distress.  So imagine the difference between spitting out your 2,000 billable hours for Dewey, Cheatham & Howe versus spending the same amount of time in building your own firm with three or four of your closest friends.

Unquestionably there are distress aspects to being a law professor - finding a job, promotion and tenure, saving for the kids' college, coming up with research ideas.  But it seems to me a month like Andrew's reeks of eustress.

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