Zen and the Art of Lawyer Maintenance

“I’m a prosecutor and I hate conflict! I want to be liked. When I negotiate, I get a pit in my stomach.” This was just the beginning of the Zen Lawyer’s Personality Workshop, the id child and confessional of Adam Radinsky, a Harvard-trained deputy city attorney in Santa Monica. “Zen Lawyer was borne out of my personal feeling of humiliation,” he continued. “I thought, Am I a fraud? So I took personality tests and realized some things about myself.” Aside from some trouble with his job description, Radinsky learned he had another calling, to deliver “the power of self-awareness” to miserable attorneys. “We have to know ourselves,” he said, “which our families, our culture and law schools discourage.” The nine lawyers (including myself) who went to the Sports Club L.A. Saturday to hear Radinsky speak nodded. We were a tiny sampling of what Zen Lawyer’s literature called the “unhappiest profession on earth,” a group “twice as likely to abuse alcohol and drugs as the general population.” That sounded right to me. I stopped practicing law last year, but I worked around some dark characters. One litigator told me he was so strung out at one point, his knees were bruised from lurching against his desk when the phone rang. The Zen Lawyer Web site pegs the problem on lawyers’ “separation from themselves,” which leads to “stress, self-judgment, and overall resignation to unhappiness . . . All of which is why reconnecting with one’s innate talents can be powerful.” And lucrative. An industry has developed to mine this vein of unhappiness. Dozens of classes now help lawyers to cheer up. For our $165, Zen Lawyer offered an earnest mix of consumer Buddhism and personality testing. The health club chipped in with some promotional swag — a gym pass and a protein bar. Earlier in the week, each of us took an online personality test, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), to learn which of 16 characters we resembled. “Versions of these same 16 types have been noted by different cultures throughout history,” said the Web site, “including the Ancient Greeks, the North American Plains Indians, and Europeans during the Middle Ages.” Before my classmates and I could discover our diagnosis, we first had to assume alternate identities. Radinsky told us to fill in those creepy “Hello! My name is . . .” stickers with imaginary names. It gave the gathering the feel of a secret cell meeting. My nom de Zen was Rex. Radinsky’s was Wolf. Another guy became Tricky Ricky Star. Next we started to learn about the MBTI and ourselves. The 16 personality types are actually all the possible combinations of four “preferences.” Each preference is, in turn, a selection between extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving. Radinsky played snappy videos to dramatize the concepts. My favorite clip, which depicted intuition, showed a lawyer who should have been throwing tough questions at a witness but was actually dreaming about samba dancing on the beach with his adversary. Based on the clips, I chose E(xtrovert), N (intuition), F(eeling) and J(udging). That cast me as a “mentor,” a type compatible with religious work, optometry and home economics. My classmate “Mothra” selected INFJ, a type also suited to religious work. “I do end up talking about God a lot with people,” she said. We were then given our online test results. Thankfully, I tested as an ENTP — “inventor” — a type suited to writing and journalism. Strangely, it’s also good for mortgage brokers. “That’s cool,” said “Lawrence,” another ENTP. “I’m doing a lot of deals, so it works.” Radinsky said it takes time to accept your type. “It took me several months before I could embrace that I was an INFP (‘healer’),” he said. “I never thought I could be this Yoda character. I said, ‘I’m a lawyer!’ Both my wife and my mother are ENFPs.” Having armed us with self-awareness, Radinsky told us to embrace the self. “Once we get in touch with our sweet spot, that’s not enough,” he said. “You have to accept the present moment, whatever it is. You must own it.” Fair enough, but “Chuck” asked, “When I get to the point of embracing what I’m not good at, what if I still have to do it?” Radinsky responded, “Give yourself some slack. Ask yourself, ‘How can I make this moment my own? How can I sneak little pieces of myself into this moment?’ Feed yourself.”

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >