Gauging Interest for an Asian Women’s Peer Support Circle

Anise Health, one of our 2023 Wellness Day sponsors, is gauging interest for a peer support circle for Asian women. 

Anise Health is a culturally-responsive mental health platform built by and for the Asian community providing integrated therapy and coaching. Submit the short intake form to be matched to a therapist within 2 business days.

Anise Health is offering a 4-week support circle that meets for 1 hour a week. The next cohort starts in Q2 2024 and will be led by clinician Sandra Kim for Wednesdays at 6-7pm EST. Please complete the interest form here and register for Wednesday’s time slot. If that time does not work for you, please make a note of other times you’d prefer. Anise Health will coordinate times based on everyone’s availability.

What are Peer Support Circles?

These are clinician-led small discussion groups, which research shows can increase quality of life by reducing feelings of stress and burnout. This recurring group is well-suited for women of Asian descent who are looking to connect with peers to discuss culturally specific topics

Who is the clinician facilitator?

Sandra Kim is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), an educator, a pastor, and a fitness coach. She incorporates multi-cultural, sensitive and mindfulness-based approaches building from her experience as a second generation Korean American who has lived in Asia, Europe and Africa. She incorporates various modalities in her practice including cognitive behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy and biblio-therapy. She is passionate about helping professionals and women of color find their path to personal growth and fulfillment.

How will the sessions be structured?

Sandra will utilize techniques including radical acceptance, psychosomatic intelligence tips (eg Chi Ball exercises, mind-body scan), and open discussions around tensions that Asian women often face (eg caregiving at home, microaggressions at work). The sessions will be $40 per week for 4-weeks. Email [email protected] for questions.

Asian Men’s Mental Health Discussion Group

Anise Health, one of our 2023 Wellness Day sponsors, offers the following mental health discussion group for Asian men. 

Anise Health is a culturally-responsive mental health platform built by and for the Asian community providing integrated therapy and coaching. Submit the short intake form to be matched to a therapist within 2 business days.

Anise Health is offering a 4-week support circle that meets for 1 hour a week. The next cohort starts in Q2 2024 (April) and will be led by clinician Samuel Shin. Please complete the interest form here and Anise Health will coordinate times based on everyone’s availability.

What are Peer Support Circles?

These are clinician-led small discussion groups, which research shows can increase quality of life by reducing feelings of stress and burnout. This recurring group is well-suited for men of Asian descent who are looking to connect with peers to discuss culturally-specific topics

How will the sessions be structured?

Samuel is a licensed therapist and certified men’s work facilitator, and will help participants explore healthy masculinity to improve mental health, dating, relationships, career and life purpose. Samuel will utilize a framework for masculinity that comes from psychology adapted for Asian men.  The sessions will be $40 per week for 4-weeks. Email [email protected] for questions.

AABANY Hosts Pre-Holiday Multi-Bar Association Gathering with Thirteen Bar Associations

On November 16th, 2023, AABANY hosted a Pre-Holiday Multi-Bar Association Gathering at Broadridge Financial Solutions, located at 605 3rd Avenue. This event served not only as an opportunity for members of different bar associations to come together but also represented AABANY’s continuing commitment to this year’s theme, “Embracing Wellness and Well-Being – Strengthening the Legal Profession by Investing in Ourselves.” The event was co-sponsored by the Armenian Bar Association, the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey, FALA New York, the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York,the Jewish Lawyer’s Guild, the Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York, the LGBT Bar of New York, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association,the New York City Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York State Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association of New York, and the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens.

Recognizing that the holiday season can be challenging for many attorneys, AABANY aimed to spread the pre-holiday cheer and create a supportive network within the legal community. The event kicked off with a Potluck Dinner, to foster a sense of community and camaraderie among attendees. Each co-sponsoring bar association brought something special to the table, contributing to the potluck, bringing to the table culinary offerings as diverse as the New York legal community. From savory dishes to sweet delights, the spread featured an array of flavors that tantalized the taste buds and sparked conversations around the communal tables. Breaking bread together, attorneys from different backgrounds shared stories and experiences, creating connections that extend beyond the legal realm.

After the Potluck Dinner, attendees settled in for a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program, delving into crucial aspects of attorney well-being. Steering the discussion was Joseph Eng, Counsel at King & Spalding LLP and AABANY’s President-Elect. In a heartfelt address, Joseph openly shared his personal struggles with burnout and the ongoing pursuit of a healthy work-life balance. He took the opportunity to introduce the Lawyers Assistance Program by the NYC Bar, emphasizing its profound impact on the legal community. Building on Joseph’s poignant remarks, Eileen Travis, the Executive Director of the program, provided in-depth insights into the comprehensive services offered by the Lawyers Assistance Program. Following her, Sara Ellis, the Interim President of the Lawyers Depression Project, offered her perspective on the mental health and wellness challenges attorneys face. The narrative continued with Gayle Damiano, a motivational speaker, sharing compelling insights into the nuances of drug abuse and the transformative power of embracing change. The program culminated with a thought-provoking Q&A panel, allowing attendees to engage directly with the speakers. This interactive session provided a platform for meaningful dialogue, fostering a deeper understanding of the well-being resources available to legal professionals. 

AABANY’s Pre-Holiday Multi-Bar Association Gathering was ultimately more than just an event—it was a testament to the legal community’s commitment to well-being and mutual support. By combining the joy of the holiday season with a focus on mental health resources, AABANY demonstrated the importance of fostering a strong, interconnected legal profession. 

If you have ideas for programs or speakers on the topic of wellness and well-being, please contact President Karen Kim at [email protected].

AABANY Hosts Inaugural Wellness Day at Brooklyn Law School

On July 22, 2023, AABANY successfully hosted its inaugural Wellness Day in commemoration of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The event, held under the theme “Embracing Wellness and Well-Being: Strengthening the Legal Profession by Investing in Ourselves,” took place at Brooklyn Law School. This event was made possible through the generous support of our distinguished speakers and sponsors, enabling us to address crucial topics such as fostering wellness, seeking therapy, building resilience, and more.

Mental health and well-being, particularly within the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community and in the context of the legal profession, have often been overlooked and under-discussed. With this event, AABANY sought to break barriers and shed light on these critical issues, providing a safe and supportive platform for these conversations to take place.

Wellness Day registration started at 9 a.m. with the first 25 attendees to sign-in receiving a free stainless steel AABANY water bottle. Attendees were encouraged to come in casual attire and the program was also offered via Zoom, to be inclusive of those unable to attend in-person. The full-day event kicked off with breakfast from Paris Baguette, allowing participants to network and connect with one another over pastries and coffee for an enjoyable hour. Soon after, AABANY President Karen Kim delivered welcoming remarks. She extended her appreciation to all the attendees who joined this meaningful event and the pivotal role of the speakers and sponsors, recognizing their significant contribution to wellness and mental health advocacy.

Anu Gupta, the Founder of BE MORE with Anu, began with an enlightening presentation. His program, titled “Mindful Embodiment as a Means to Heal Burnout and Internalized Anti-Asian Bias,” commenced with a guided meditation, allowing attendees to clear their minds, relax, and focus on the session.

Anu introduced his PRISM ToolkitⓇ. PRISM is designed to help reduce unconscious bias and stereotyping, enhance social connectedness, strengthen relationships, and alleviate stress. Anu emphasized the significance of “love and kindness for oneself” and how true wellness is rooted in understanding and managing our internal environment. He stressed the importance of self-love as the foundation for extending that love to others, fostering connections beyond our differences.

Anu, a lawyer, scientist, and educator, shared his personal healing journey, which began during his 2L summer in law school when he went to Taiwan to become a monk. Continuing his quest for healing, during his 3L year, he became a certified yoga teacher. Toward the end of his presentation, Anu highlighted the wisdom of the Asian diaspora, citing the teachings of HH Dalai Lama, who emphasized the philosophy of kindness. Anu firmly believes that kindness and love should form the “foundation of society.” Thank you, Anu Gupta, for setting a meaningful tone for the day and reinforcing the importance of prioritizing wellness and meditation for personal and professional growth.

For more information about PRISM and Anu Gupta, please visit his website here

Next, Dr. Nadine Chang, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist at Gracie Square Hospital, and Alice Zhang, CEO of Anise Health presented their program, “Mental Health 101 for the Asian Community.” They talked about misconceptions of mental illnesses, signs of depression and anxiety, importance of culturally informed care and barriers to mental health treatments. 

During her presentation, Alice highlighted that “[the] current solutions [in the mental health care system] are not often tailored for minorities,” including the process of deciding to seek care, browsing for providers, conducting consultations, and continuing care. Alice then introduced the attendees to Anise Health, a culturally-responsive digital mental health and wellbeing platform dedicated to meeting the unique needs of communities of color, starting with a focus on the AANHPI population. Following up, Dr. Chang spotlighted the much-needed steps towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in the AANHPI community and fostering a more understanding and supportive environment for those facing mental health issues, such as learning to support your loved ones struggling with mental illness by being more present, listening, and empathizing with the other person’s situation by reflecting on how they may think and feel being in their shoes. 

For more information about Anise Health, Dr. Nadine Chang, and Alice Zhang, please visit here

To conclude the morning session, speaker Ona Lu and moderator Maggie Poon presented their fireside chat titled, “How to Find a Therapist and Mental Well-Being Tips.” Ona Lu, a former AABANY Legal Intern, began the conversation by reflecting on her journey and offering advice to her 18-year-old self. She emphasized the importance of recognizing that “everything happens for a reason” and that life experiences are opportunities to “learn and grow from.” She shared her personal journey of redirecting and rediscovering her passion for law after leaving her job as an attorney. Ona also opened up about the challenges she faced in seeking therapy, particularly coming from a conservative family. She reflected on the process of finding a therapist, admitting that it felt somewhat scary due to fear of judgment and the daunting fact of opening up to a stranger. “Finding a therapist is like dating,” she says, and advised that one should not give up on finding the right therapist. Through her inspiring story, Ona encouraged others to prioritize their mental health, emphasizing that it is okay to seek help and take care of oneself without feeling guilty or selfish. We thank Ona Lu for her openness and vulnerability of her journey and Maggie Poon for moderating a personal and intimate conversation. 

When the morning session concluded, attendees were treated to a delightful spread of Korean food, providing an informal and relaxed opportunity for everyone to chat, mingle, and network over delicious and comforting fare.

Pema Sherpa, Founder of Pema Solutions, commenced the afternoon session with her program, “Cultivate Resilience to Thrive Amid Challenging Times.” She began with a brief mindful check-in breathing exercise, allowing attendees to de-stress. Then, Pema shared a powerful story about the earthquake that struck Nepal, highlighting how its impact differed for each individual and community. After the earthquake, she embarked on a rescue mission to a rural village, where she witnessed firsthand the trauma and distress faced by the people whose homes were destroyed. She was struck by the sight of normalcy amidst the devastation, as children were actively helping their parents cope with the aftermath. Curious about their experiences, Pema asked one of the children about how she dealt with the trauma of the earthquake. The child’s response was inspiring: she chose not to allow the trauma to overpower her. This particular encounter inspired Pema to reassess the power of resilience and the ability to find strength and hope even in the face of adversity. She shared that resilience serves as a protective mechanism: protects against stress, reduces loneliness, and enhances the immune system.

For more information about Pema Sherpa and Pema Solutions, please visit her website here

Alex Su, the next speaker, is a former lawyer and the Head of Community Development at Ironclad. The fireside chat,“Overcoming Setbacks and Failures,” was moderated by President Karen Kim. Alex’s career, spanning from law to technology and even social media, didn’t always go as planned and encountered several major setbacks along the way. He shared his story, beginning with the first setback he faced: failing the bar exam. Other setbacks followed: he went from a big law firm, to creating his own, to being let go from a small firm. He then explored opportunities in sales and eventually found his way into the tech and social media industry. Through each setback, Alex acknowledged that it was an opportunity for growth and “set[ting] the path [for him] to try something new.” He emphasized that “resilience is a muscle” and that muscle develops stronger with each challenge. 

Sharing his setbacks on LinkedIn proved to be a pivotal moment for Alex, as he received an outpouring of comments from peers who could relate to his experiences. This realization highlighted that many people tend to only share their successes and not their failures. When asked if he would go back in time to avoid these setbacks, considering he now gets to do what he loves, Alex responded with a resounding “Yes, 100%.” He recognized that those setbacks were necessary steps in discovering his true passions and aligning them with his personality. Each setback, “like a slap,” guided him along the right path. Thank you, Alex, for sharing your vulnerable story and serving as a powerful reminder that setbacks and failures are stepping stones towards finding one’s purpose and fulfilling career journey.

For more information about Alex Su, please visit his newsletter here

Concluding Wellness Day, AABANY hosted a CLE program titled, “Challenges on Being the First and Prioritizing Your Well-Being.” The program included the following panelists: 

  • Vincent Chang: first AAPI NYCLA President and former AABANY president
  • Hon. Sanket J. Bulsara (EDNY): first South Asian federal judge in the Second Circuit
  • Concepcion (“Connie”) Montoya: one of the founders of the Filipino American Lawyers Association of New York, the first Filipino bar association in New York
  • Susan Jin Davis: Social Impact Officer for Al Roker Entertainment, formerly with Comcast Corporation, where she was the company’s first Chief Sustainability Officer

and moderated by Yang Chen, first Executive Director of AABANY and former AABANY president. 

The inspiring panel of firsts shared their careers and discussed various topics related to imposter syndrome, work-life balance, stress and anxiety and mental well-being. Susan Jin Davis shared that her greatest challenges of becoming the first was imposter syndrome and the lack of representation. She overcame this feeling by focusing on “the second and the third and the fourth [and] lay[ing] a pathway for the future.” Similarly, Connie resonated with the same feelings, and even more so regarding her identity as a queer Filipino woman in the legal field. Vincent highlighted the significance of finding “a great support system” and his joining many different bar associations, where he found like-minded individuals who shared careers and interests similar to his own. Judge Bulsara offered valuable advice, emphasizing the importance of not comparing oneself to others and recognizing that everyone has their unique journey in life.

The shared experiences and advice from the speakers served as valuable takeaways for all attendees. AABANY thanks them all for being a powerful influence in wellness and mental health advocacy.

We hope Wellness Day provided attendees with a relaxing day of self-care and resources to help promote the well-being of themselves and their family and peers. After a full day of speakers, good food and snacks throughout the day, attendees left with a card deck on Mindfulness or Stress Relief & Selfcare, to help further prioritize wellness.

We also want to express our sincere gratitude to President Karen Kim for successfully organizing this event and for convening an important and much-needed discussion. Wellness Day would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors, and we extend our heartfelt thanks to them for their valuable contribution.

Wellness Day Speakers:

  • Anu Gupta, BE MORE with Anu
  • Alice Zhang, Anise Health
  • Dr. Nadine Chang, Gracie Square Hospital
  • Ona Lu
  • Maggie Poon, American Express
  • Pema Sherpa, Pema Solutions
  • Alexander Su, Ironclad
  • Karen Kim, QBE North America
  • Yang Chen, AABANY
  • Hon. Sanket J. Bulsara, U.S. District Court (E.D.N.Y.)
  • Susan Jin Davis, Al Roker Entertainment
  • Concepcion A. Montoya, Hinshaw & Culbertson
  • Vincent Chang, Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch

Wellness Day Sponsors:

  • Brooklyn Law School
  • Anise Health
  • BEMORE with Anu
  • Ironclad
  • Pema Solutions

Advocate Sponsor: KEB Hana Bank USA

Supporter: Faegre Drinker

Co-Sponsoring Bar Associations:

  • Asian American Judges Association of New York (AAJANY)
  • Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey (APALA-NJ)
  • Filipino American Lawyers Association of New York (FALA New York)
  • Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York (HALANY)
  • Jewish Lawyers Guild (JLG)
  • Judges & Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert (JALBCA)
  • LGBT Bar Association of New York (LeGaL)
  • Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York (KALAGNY)
  • Network of Bar Leaders (NoBL)
  • New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA)
  • New York State Bar Association (NYSBA)
  • The South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey (SABA-NJ)
  • South Asian Bar Association of New York (SABANY)

To read the full press release, please click here.

AABANY Solo and Small Law Practice Committee Holds First Support Group Event

On May 31, 2023 at noon, AABANY’s Solo and Small Firm Practice Committee held its first Support Group meeting over Zoom, where 9 committee members joined and got to know each other and their practice areas. The group also discussed how they would like to hear or learn from the Committee and exchanged ideas for upcoming events. Members shared topics such as cybersecurity concerns, new technologies like ChatGPT, Alternative Dispute Resolution, mental health issues, and best practices to run a solo or small law firm.  This provides a great chance for Committee Members to connect with each other and form a virtual support system that lawyers practicing in solo or small law firms might find hard to get within their own practice.  

The Support Group will meet monthly and the next meeting will be on June 27 to discuss how to reap the benefits of technology implementations for your practice.  On June 28, the Committee will be hosting “Using Benefits Provided by NYC Department of Small Business Services as a Solo or Small Law Firm” at 5:30 PM to help practices get the most out of services provided by the NYC Department of Small Business Services. To register by June 26 and learn more, click here. For upcoming events, please check AABANY’s calendar and update your email preference in your account to receive the Committee’s emails. 

Young Lawyers Committee Hosts “Attorney Well-Being During COVID-19” Event

On April 15, AABANY’s Young Lawyers Committee (YLC) hosted a fireside chat titled “Attorney Well-Being During COVID-19.” In the face of isolating social distancing protocols and prolonged remote working arrangements, Committee Co-Chair Janet Jun organized and moderated the event in hopes of spurring more dialogue on the subject of wellness in the legal profession. Janet was joined by former AABANY President Glenn Lau-Kee and YLC Co-Chair Jane Jeong, who also hosts and produces The Whole Lawyer Podcast. At the intersection of law and wellness, Glenn serves as a member of the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Attorney Well-Being, and Jane is a member of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Wellness Committee. Together, the speakers led a candid discussion about the current state of mental health awareness, challenges in the legal profession, and tips for achieving attorney wellness during COVID-19 and beyond.

Janet kickstarted the discussion by asking about the promises and pitfalls of current efforts to improve wellness in the legal profession. Glenn spoke optimistically about NYSBA’s Task Force on Attorney Well-Being, which consists of nine working groups, each dedicated to a specific wellness issue. As the head of the working group on bar associations, Glenn described the end goal of the Task Force as a wholesale culture change in the legal profession. Glenn observed that attorneys tend to experience higher levels of stress than other professionals, with young lawyers bearing the brunt of this pressure. While larger law firms have established more initiatives to promote lawyer well-being, small firms and solo practitioners are disadvantaged by limited resources. In this context, Glenn identified bar associations as a possible avenue for equalizing wellness resources. 

Diverging from Glenn’s opinion, Jane insisted that personal connections — not institutional initiatives — are the proper foundation for a more comprehensive culture of wellness. Invoking the fireside chat as an example, Jane stated that change starts at the individual level, with the creation of safe spaces for authentic conversations about personal mental health struggles.

Janet continued the discussion by asking about the source of rampant anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in the legal profession. Glenn broke the problem down into three factors: (1) a lack of boundaries for down time, (2) client expectations and demands, and (3) financial pressures. Jane connected the first and third factors, explaining that the billable hour gives lawyers a systematic incentive to work ceaselessly. Deeming many lawyers to be perfectionists who are conditioned to tie their self-worth to external accomplishments, Jane also said that self-selection bias contributes to a workaholic legal culture.

AABANY Board Member Andy Yoo joined the discussion by asking about ways in which clients can help drive change. Glenn and Jane both responded by stating that leadership buy-in is an essential catalyst for change. As Jane explained, how CEOs and CLOs treat their employees trickles down to how employees treat external counsel.

Cynthia Lam, AABANY’s Co-Vice President of Programs and Operations, then asked the speakers to share their personal strategies for maintaining well-being. Glenn emphasized the community aspect of any individual effort to promote self-care. He urged lawyers to look beyond their own team members, who are all fixated on the same work, and reach out to family members, friends, and colleagues outside of their firms. Moving forward, Glenn hopes that bar associations will also play a greater role in providing lawyers with a sense of community. 

In enhancing her own mental health, Jane underscored the importance of setting and communicating boundaries with colleagues. She encouraged attendees not to cancel social plans for work except in the rare case of an emergency. Drawing on experience from her early career, Jane explained that by always saying yes to external requests, she had taught others that it was okay to overwork her. The lesson Jane derived from this experience was to treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. 

Ultimately, Glenn and Jane urged attendees to carve out time for themselves to participate in communities and activities that are wholly unrelated to the law. While Jane personally benefits from working out, writing fiction, and doing yoga, she encouraged lawyers to access their own creative and reflective sides in whatever way works for them. Janet concluded the fireside chat by appealing to the desire of all attendees to be good lawyers. Only by striking a proper work-life balance can attorneys be fully enthusiastic about their careers and clients. To this extent, valuing well-being in one’s own life can help us all become more present in the lives of those around us.

AABANY thanks Janet, Glenn, and Jane for sharing their insights and leading this dialogue on the ever-relevant topic of attorney well-being. To learn more about the Young Lawyers Committee and its work, click here.

In the News: Law360 Interviews Jane Jeong, host of AABANY’s The Whole Lawyer Project

On March 1, 2021, Law360 published an interview with Jane Jeong, a member of AABANY’s Young Lawyers Committee and the host of its new podcast, The Whole Lawyer Project. Diverging from your typical legal podcast, The Whole Lawyer Project spotlights successful Asian American attorneys and the human side of their profession. As Marco Poggio of Law360 writes, “It tells the life stories that won’t be found on the bio page of a law firm’s website.” Poggio’s interview with Jane centers on how her personal and professional experiences inspired this latest creative venture. Invoking her own identity as a Korean American, an immigrant, and a woman, Jane explains, “there are not many leaders in the law who look like me, that have my background.” In the competitive and high-stress environment of BigLaw, this problem of representation fueled Jane’s imposter syndrome, which led her to start writing about the pitfalls of striving for perfectionism on AABANY’s blog. Now, Jane looks to the AABANY podcast as a new platform for the same passion project: increasing the visibility of Asian American leaders in the legal industry, and sharing her own hard-won lessons about balancing wellness and work. Ultimately, Jane hopes to inspire listeners to pursue their own passions, even when they deviate from preconceived plans or customary paths. “My goal for the podcast is to give people a chance to see what other people are doing in all these different creative ways, both conventionally and unconventionally, and see how life in the law can really fit them, instead of the other way around,” Jane says.

To learn more about the creation and content of The Whole Lawyer Project, Law360’s full interview with Jane can be found here (subscription required).

AABANY is Proud to Launch The Whole Lawyer Podcast, Hosted by Jane Jeong

AABANY is proud to launch its official podcast series, The Whole Lawyer Project, hosted by Jane Jeong, which showcases Asian American attorneys and leaders throughout the nation and the human stories behind their success. 

For Jane, learning about the human stories  —  and sacrifices  — behind our external success is a personal passion and mission. As a member of AABANY’s Young Lawyers Committee, Jane previously wrote about her pursuit of wellness in the legal profession on the AABANY blog, where she published  The Ten Tips Our Asian Parents Never Told Us, Upside Down, and The (COVID) Days of Our Lives

Most recently, Jane shared her story with Law360, in an article entitled The Pursuit Of Wellness In BigLaw: Lessons From My Journey (subscription required). In a heartfelt account, Jane opened up about mental health and wellness issues in Big Law  —  including her personal experiences with the pressures of the industry, the costs of perfectionism, reaching an emotional breaking point and, as a potential blueprint for others, how she has set boundaries and made changes to her daily routine to take care of herself. “I conflated sacrifice with success and exhaustion with excellence. I just continued to reach and reach — demanding that I become the perfect attorney I knew I was not, waiting for the day I could finally stop acting and just be,” she writes. 

Together with Jane, AABANY is proud to further explore the human side of lawyering in The Whole Lawyer Project. The inaugural episodes of the podcast, which feature immediate past AABANY President Brian Song and AboveTheLaw Founder, David Lat, can be found under the tab for The Whole Lawyer Project on the AABANY blog. It can also be found on Spotify and iTunes. For anyone hoping to gain further insight into the human stories behind our external success, it is well worth a listen.

The (COVID) Days of Our Lives

Jane Jeong shares her reflections on the effects of COVID-19 on our day-to-day lives.

I had a really, really good feeling about 2020. On New Year’s Eve 2019, after billing my final hours of the year (I had gotten roped into a Christmas-Grinch corporate merger that finally signed that morning), my boyfriend and I wrapped up the old decade grabbing a cozy dinner with friends in Chelsea, dancing until seven AM at a rave in Brooklyn, refueling at a 24-hour Subway on the way home, and then sleeping the day away like two blissful college freshmen without a care in the world. We woke up only to grab dinner in the West Village, where the quiet streets marked a sobering contrast to all the festivities the night before.

During that dinner, like the two optimistic overachievers we are, we shared several New Year’s resolutions we each had on deck for 2020. My personal list was ambitious: I wanted to find a new job, exercise more regularly, publish my writing, meditate every night, and send my parents on a cruise to celebrate their recent retirement. I hoped to hike Machu Picchu and go to Burning Man for the first time. I already had five weddings, two conferences, two law school recruiting trips, four weekend getaways, and one bachelorette party penciled in my calendar ahead. I had a really, really good feeling about this year, I told him—it was a fresh start of a new decade, and it brimmed with nothing but hope and exciting possibility.

… Well, I guess there is always next year.

There is no way we could have predicted how stunningly our day-to-day lives were about to change just weeks after that dinner. Even among the most fortunate or optimistic of us, there is no denying the emotional toll it has taken to face the stupendous degree and speed by which we parted with our pre-COVID lives. We have all been grieving some kind of loss lately: A loved one, a daily routine, a sense of normalcy or security or freedom, a job, a friendship or relationship, a sense of human connection, vacation plans, wedding deposits, graduation celebrations, our physical health, our mental health… and everything else in between.  

My own COVID grief feels like a full-time job sometimes. In my thirty-one years, I have never been more keenly aware of the fragility of life—of just how little control and security we ever had to begin with (despite all the stories we tell to assure ourselves otherwise). There are the big, soul-shattering losses I mourn—like the thousands of lives we have lost and the countless families who are forever changed. I mourn for those of us who suffered alone in quarantined hospital beds during their final hours. I mourn for all the carefree memories and quality time we otherwise would have shared with those we love this year. 

And then, of course, there are the smaller losses I miss—the little everyday freedoms I had once taken for granted—like those dinner parties filled with laughter and dates at cute West Village restaurants and sweaty Brooklyn raves and everything else that had all been so ordinary to me just seven months ago. I miss hugging people wherever I go. I miss wearing real pants. I miss old New York—the one brimming with pedestrians, 24-hour subways, rooftop parties, workout classes, bars, restaurants, yoga studios, coffeeshops, comedy shows… and every weird thing we could possibly imagine and then some. I miss the endless plans we used to make, things we used to do, strangers we used to meet.

Depending on the hour or day, I process our losses with varying degrees of grace. Sometimes, I relish the new normal: I appreciate the pockets of time we have gotten back in our days—all those dead minutes we used to pass idling in traffic or blow-drying our hair in the mornings—that now allow me to squeeze in some extra sleep and exercise and Netflix binges. I am grateful for the unexpected opportunity to work side-by-side with my new COVID officemate (and boyfriend, co-chef, roommate, breakfast-lunch-dinner-buddy, haircutter, lover, workout partner, quarantine buddy… all in no particular order). I appreciate how much easier it is now to eat healthier (since we cook most of our meals these days), to save money (it turns out doing nothing is pretty cheap!), and to find pleasure in the utterly mundane things (like rearranging our Tupperware cabinet). 

Many days, though, I can’t help but feel like I am trapped in some kind of torturous Westworld loop, in which time is rendered meaningless and every day seems like an exact replica of the one before. July feels exactly like May and May felt exactly like March. I can’t help but dwell on all that we lost—both big and not big—that made the day-to-day once seem more exciting and brimming with promise. I often feel bored, isolated, trapped, lonely, frustrated, and desperate for normalcy again. I feel like I am stuck living at work instead of working from home. I genuinely can’t help but wonder if my youth is passing me by—with my days and weeks and months all bleeding together—all the while as I am stuck at home with nowhere to go. 

But maybe… that is exactly the point. Perhaps there was nowhere to go in the first place.

This thought struck me on yet another nondescript Saturday night however many weeks ago (again, who’s counting anymore?), when I was curling up with my journal and realizing just how eerily still my life had become. Maybe this was a natural result of sheltering in place for the better part of this year. Or maybe all those attempts to meditate are actually working. Still, this new quiet is particularly weird for me, because “still” has never been the soundtrack to my life. My pre-COVID self was constantly on the move—always working, always going, always doing. My calendar was jam-packed with brunches and work and workouts and coffee dates and birthday celebrations and dinner parties (sometimes all of the above, all in one day). Even at work, I had my own workstation set up in my best friend’s office so I could avoid sitting alone in mine all day. For any pockets of downtime I had to sit with myself, I filled the quiet with FaceTimes, group chats, podcasts, yoga videos, books, errands, TED Talks—anything to avoid my own solitude. I was rarely, if ever, still. 

A part of this is rather natural; I am an extreme extrovert and social butterfly by nature. But I would be lying if I didn’t now wonder whether there had been something more to this. Because for most of my teens and twenties, I never felt quite at home in my own skin. My mind was simply not the kindest place for me to live—and how could it be, when I was the only one in this world who knew all of my flaws and insecurities and mistakes? I was so exacting in all the ways I thought I fell short—all the ways I had wished I were someone “better” than the person I actually was. So was there a part of me that was constantly on the go—over-scheduled, over-stimulated—because I was unknowingly trying to avoid my own self (and all the criticism and anxiety that came with her)? Was I truly seeking joy, or was I unconsciously avoiding pain? And, if the latter, how many disappointments and heartbreaks and mistakes could I have then avoided, had I learned to embrace my own company much earlier in my life? How many Saturday nights in my past did I unknowingly choose to distract myself—with mindless activities and the wrong people—simply because the alternative of sitting alone was too uncomfortable to bear?

I do not suspect I will fully resolve these questions anytime soon; the truth is likely complex and layered somewhere in between. However, at the very least, I am beginning to see that there may be a different, perhaps more productive, way for me to start reframing this never-ending Westworld-loop of 2020. It might not make sense, and it might be scary and isolating and lonely as hell at times, but I am being pulled to my core in ways I never could have expected. I am not sure why it took more than three decades and a global pandemic for me to learn how to nest within for the first time, but regardless of how I got here, I can try to embrace it now—boredom, anxiety, and isolation and all—and see where this path leads me.Because when will I ever again get the gift to spend this much time to be still? After more than three decades of spending my time, money, energy, mind and body on external distractions, it is about time I look within. It is about time I learn there was never anywhere else to go in the first place. 

In this way, I suspect my post-COVID life will look very different from the one I had just a few months ago. With some time and distance away from what was once normal, I find myself re-evaluating everything and stripping my life down to the very basics. I am learning I do just fine without all that makeup or pedicures or professional-grade haircuts or six-dollar lattes. I am outgrowing certain friendships and deepening others. I am exploring new recipes (like the perfect avocado toast) and hobbies (like acrylic painting) and DIY haircut tricks (my boyfriend is a good guinea pig). I am slowly mastering the art of doing nothing (and not feeling guilty about it). I am reading more and talking less. I am learning to trust in the disarray, even when I do not understand it. 

I am growing and toughening up as we speak—and, if I may presume, I am not the only one. There are little, gentle reminders all around us of our boundless resilience throughout this weird and lonely time. There is my friend Meg, whose marriage crumbled in the early stages of quarantine and is now learning to live alone for the first time in thirteen years—all the while juggling a full-time job and a two-year-old daughter. And then there is Erin, who—after rebounding from a scary bout of COVID and is now seeking to reinvent her second chance at life—decided once and for all to trade in her fancy lawyer job and fancier Brooklyn apartment for the rustic charms of New Hampshire. There is also Dan, who lost both his job and girlfriend in March and—after nursing a badly bruised heart for the last couple of months—is now embracing this opportunity to finally launch that consulting business he had dreamed about since college. In this way, all our grief and fears notwithstanding, there have been unexpected opportunities this year for many of us to dive deep within ourselves and shed what was not meant to be—a relationship going nowhere, a toxic friendship, an unfulfilling job—and write the next chapter for ourselves ahead. We are learning to Marie-Kondo our lives from old attachments—to things, friendships, relationships, habits, jobs, cities, apartments, hopes and dreams—that no longer serve us. 

I may no longer boast about that really, really good feeling I had about this year… but, at the end of the day, I still choose hope. And this is not to say that the storms won’t continue to rage on—we are in week who-knows-what of COVID, and there is no telling how much further we have left to go or even how much worse this may get. Our losses may continue to compound for a painfully long time. However, if I may try to find any silver lining here, perhaps it is this: Despite all the pain and senseless loss, we are still surviving. We are still evolving. Wherever we are, whoever we are, we are pulling ourselves through something we do not understand—and maybe that is precisely the test here. What we do with this opportunity, then, depends entirely on us. 

Jane Jeong is an attorney at Cooley, writer, yogi, dog-lover, and former Wall Street analyst and fitness instructor. She is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. She lives in Manhattan.

Upside Down

We are pleased to welcome AABANY member Jane Jeong to our blog with this post sharing some personal reflections during these challenging times. 

“OK. But, Jane… who says that upside down will definitely be worse than right-side up?” He pauses for a breath to let that truly sink in. “Maybe,” he continues, “this is just evolution. Painful, yes. Scary, yes. But it could also be just what we need.”

Simon is my patient, no-bullshit-giving life coach, whom I met earlier this year mainly because (1) my firm offers free therapy to its attorneys, and (2) I never turn down free stuff. I called him because it was one PM on a Tuesday and I found myself crawling back to bed yet again, seeking refuge from the endless merger agreements I needed to redline and the constant stream of cataclysmic news alerts bombarding my phone. The world is turning upside down, I told him, and I am utterly exhausted. Exhausted from all the nights I have lied awake lately, wondering when I will get to hug my friends and family again. Exhausted from all the pain—all the lives and day-to-day normalcy we lost in this weird and senseless pandemic. Exhausted from all the anger, absorbing the depths of our heartbreak as we reel from yet another blow of systemic racism. 

Perhaps Simon is right (I pray that he is). Perhaps, on the other side of all this, we will eventually find that upside down really was exactly what we needed. History proves that calamity is often the catalyst for change, after all. But none of this changes the fact that the last couple of months have just plainly sucked, with all the utterly terrifying things going on in the world awakening our inner demons—demons like Fear, Loneliness, Anxiety, Insecurity, and Depression… and whatever else we face behind closed doors but do not speak openly about.

I suspect I am far from the only one here who has confronted these guys lately. We hyper-achieving, Type-A attorneys tend to be fraught with higher levels of depression and anxiety as is, and these challenges only multiply once we sprinkle in the additional dimensions of being Asian American or immigrant or female (or all of the above, in my case). Even before the inexplicable mess of 2020, we Asian American attorneys consistently reported higher rates of mental health challenges than the broader population of lawyers as a whole, with half of us reporting some history of moderate to severe depression or anxiety. 

These hiccups in our emotional wellbeing are perhaps rooted in the pressures of our culture: The pressure to be perfect and pleasing, the pressure to achieve, the pressure to obey, the pressure to prove our self-worth to the world with fancy degrees and fancy paychecks and fancy houses. We worship at the temples of Achievement and Perfection from day one, scoring straight-As and first-chair orchestra seats like all “good Asians” do. We are taught to constantly look upward to the next rung on the ladder—the first-place trophy, the valedictorian speech, the Ivy-League degree—and seek nothing but the best at all costs. And when we place external validation on a pedestal in this way, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to accept that we are inherently enough: There will always be something more to achieve—to close the ever-persistent gap between who we are and who we “should” be. And wherever that gap persists, it becomes all too easy for us to turn on ourselves—for all of those pesky insecurities and self-doubts to swoop in and take residence in our hearts.

I know these pressures and inner demons all too well. For most of my life, my ambition was my master: Its militant discipline and rigid motor were what propelled me through Yale College and Harvard Law and my shiny careers in law and finance. Fourteen-hour workdays and ten-mile runs were my regular repertoire. I was so proud of how fiercely disciplined and accomplished I was—feeding myself on other people’s compliments and admiration, never once considering the idea that my drive stemmed not from inherent greatness but from inherent fear. Fear of being unworthy. Fear of what it would mean if I did not have that perfect resume, that perfect body, that perfect hair. Fear of what it would mean if people didn’t think I was likeable or successful or beautiful. And so, I should-ed the crap out of myself. By the time I approached thirty—the age I always equated with fully formed adulthood, as if “being an adult” were some kind of destination—I made it my business to have everything I was told I should want: That perfect-on-paper fiancé—a tall, broad, Yale Law grad in my Summer Associate class—who was already researching good suburban school districts for our future kids. That shiny, six-figure lawyer job at a prestigious firm in New York City, which made my loving Korean parents beam with pride.  That sleek junior-one-bedroom a block away from Central Park, brimming with the latest and greatest Vitamixes and Dysons one could possibly need for the said children she was expected to have.  

But… was I actually happy

This question astounded me at first. Because for thirty years, I never once paused to ask what would even make me happy in the first place. Because I never gave myself the luxury to pause in my Energizer-bunny pace of life; I was too busy checking off to-do lists, pleasing bosses, acing exams, disciplining my sugar intake, and putting on no fewer than five layers of SPF. Whatever made me smarter, better, richer, thinner, more successful, and more beautiful were the only matters worthwhile. But questions of happiness? Matters of the heart? Well… those things just got in the way, slowing me down and threatening to stain that perfect image I had hustled to project out into the world. Any doubts I had, I numbed by myself in my darkest corners, far away from prying eyes, before cajoling myself to sleep and pulling it all back together the next morning with a plastered smile on my face. I never allowed myself a moment to slow down, catch my breath, and ask whether the life I was hustling so hard to build was truly my own. 

Silencing my heart in this way worked ridiculously well for a long time… until it didn’t. Perhaps it was inevitable. Or, perhaps, all the additional pressures I began facing—the grueling big law hours, the daunting foreverness of a looming marriage, the unforgiving expectations on minority female professionals in their thirties—were heavy enough to finally tip the scales for me. Regardless of the exact reason, however, the end result was very clear: My heart—after being ignored and silenced for nearly three decades—finally had enough. It began to betray me, cracking open under all that pressure and allowing Depression to gallantly swoop inside. 

Once nestled, Depression swiftly swallowed me whole with its three vicious heads. First came Shame. People who equate Depression with pure sadness don’t immediately understand this: It is actually the sharp tentacles of Shame—not sadness—that initially gut you. Shame was cruel and ruthless to me, riling up every deep-seated parcel of self-doubt and making it impossible for me to function any longer. It played highlight reels of the most flawed parts of me—all the ugly ways I was selfish, petty, mean, unforgiving, conniving, cruel, utterly unlovable—and demanded that I reckon with them. That I stop cowering away from the weak, imperfect, and never-good-enough woman I really am. It was pathetic, Shame said, that I needed to armor myself with degrees and money and makeup just to prove to the world that I was enough. Parading around and showcasing to the world only the best parts of me—the easily digestible parts of myself that were smart and pretty and flirty—didn’t I know that’s not me? Didn’t I know that I will never be enough, no matter how much I try?

Once Shame sufficiently shrunk me down to size, Depression then unleashed Guilt. And Guilt was all too happy to shatter me and slap me around, doing all sorts of weird things to weaponize my mind and proving what a spoiled asshole I was. Because how dare I have second thoughts about my life—the very one I had hustled so hard to create? How could I be so entitled? Yes, perhaps I was discovering that I may no longer want to be engaged to this perfect-on-paper man … but didn’t I know how hard it is to find a suitable life partner? Didn’t I know how many single women in New York would trade places with me in a second, sporting that huge diamond ring signifying evermore security in the future? And speaking of security—yes, perhaps I should have figured that corporate tax law was not going to be my jam… but didn’t I know how lucky I was to have that steady, plump paycheck coming my way twice a month? All adults are tired and bored by their jobs; that’s part of the deal. Just like taxes and student loan payments and, one day, rearing children of my own—all these things, grown-ups just do. If I have any doubts, swallow them. Because who was I to say that all this wasn’t enough for me? Who did I think I was?

Depression’s third and final weapon was Despair, which was one of the most powerful yet ephemeral, all-consuming yet erratic, familiar yet foreign experiences I had ever tasted to date. It was so physically crushing that I regularly went to bed at night resting my palm across my heart—afraid it might actually break inside my body—and wondering if this was just the way I was going to end all my days from now on. I still found familiar glimpses of myself, even in the thickest part of this fog—like, for instance, the merciful snippets of quiet that greeted me every morning, if only for a few seconds, before my body realized I was awake and once again blanketed itself with the sorrow and loneliness it had hung out to dry the night before. For the remainder of my hours, though, I carried Despair with me, crushing myself under its hefty weight wherever I went and expending every ounce of energy to just survive the day. I knew on some level this was not me but rather some other energy taking over me, but even that I was not entirely certain—maybe this had just been me all along. I was not entirely certain of anything, perhaps, other than the cruel reality that I simply had nowhere left to go. I was already parked at my last resort. 

It was only when I hit the darkest depths of Despair—utterly depleted, immobilized on the floor of that sleek Upper West Side apartment, accepting nothing else but the fact that I was alone and cornered—when my heart began speaking to me again. 

And I actually began to listen, for the first time in my life…

Because I no longer had the energy to run away from myself. 

Because it was finally quiet enough for me to hear my own voice. 

Because… well, what other options did I have?

That conversation started off so small, so plain—because small and plain were all I could afford at the time. I did not know exactly what my heart needed to be happy, but I knew it needed something different—something more me. And since my evenings and weekends were still at the mercy of big law, I began waking up at the crack of dawn, well before anyone began asking anything of me, if only to give myself the simple privilege of being accountable to no one else for just a sliver of the day. And with that new pocket of time, I exercised, read, journaled, prayed, painted, danced, meditated, or took aimless strolls through our city. Other times, I simply went back to sleep. I also began setting a standing calendar appointment every day at four PM, simply to pause for fifteen minutes and give myself permission to do whatever else I wanted—like fetching an oat milk latte or calling an old friend for a quick hello. I started going to therapy and got in touch with my inner child. I chatted up my mom and dad, my best friends, my ex-flings, my coworkers, my bosses, my former professors, my other Simons—anyone else who might know a thing or two—and asked how they managed to figure all this out (answer: no one really has). I filled my commutes with podcasts and motivational speeches from every spiritual and religious teacher I could find. I sent out random affirmations out into the world all throughout the day, asking the Universe for inner peace and grace. For the first time in my life, I was learning how to do whatever I wanted purely for the pleasure of it—without any regard for its purpose or end goal.

Nothing really seemed to change at first. But little by little, over the next few months, two truths began to surface in my heart:

  1. It is OK to slow down. It is OK not to be OK sometimes; contradictions are simply part of our human condition. For three decades, succumbing to the fullest range of human emotions—or projecting any image other than a perfectly-put-together one—was a thing I never had desire nor ability to do. But the simple truth is that I was not given this life solely to achieve, produce, perfect. Instead, I have the honor and privilege of participating fully in the human experience—and that includes not just the pretty parts I spent my entire life meticulously showcasing to the world but also the scary, ugly truths of my humanity that I had muffled for way too long. I can own the fullest spectrum of the human experience by embracing all possible truths about myself—particularly the ones I find difficult to love. Because I am in equal parts my weakness and my strength, my pain and my beauty. It is in these contradictions, then, where my heart and Self-Love actually expand. 
  1. Sometimes, as Simon says (ha!), pain is nothing more than evolution. And no matter how lonely or scared or anxious we may be at times—particularly right now, given the state of our world—we are never alone in our pain. In many ways, Depression ended up being a cruel savior: It brought me to my knees just to show me it could, to force me to sit still and begin listening to what was going on in my heart. It was what I needed to (finally) step out of the comfortable confines of my mind and scream for mercy when I could no longer take it anymore. And the more I screamed—the more I drew the curtains on all the self-doubt and insecurities and fears I thought were uniquely and shamefully mine—the more I learned that I was far from alone. Because pain resides within all of us. In this way, the more I released my inner Shame and Guilt and Despair, the less they ended up controlling me. The more I talked about my fears and self-doubt, the more I realized just how mundane and universal they are to our humanity. I had spent almost my entire life terrified of what it would mean if I accidentally revealed my inner battle scars—only to look around and see that everyone else had been hiding the same damn wounds this whole time.

All this is why I believe it’s more important than ever for us to lead a different, more authentic, dialogue here. There is not much I am certain of these days—it really does seem like the world has turned upside down and, Simon’s wisdom notwithstanding, upside down does genuinely feel crappy sometimes. But if there is one thing I know for sure, it is this: There are too many of us who are sitting at home in pain right now. There are too many of us who need a reminder that we are not alone, that this too shall pass. There are too many of us who can afford to be a lot kinder to ourselves—to let go of who we think we “should” be and learn to see all the beautiful contradictions of who we truly are. 

So guys… let’s step it up and create that safe space for each other. I am tired of the mindless small talk and awkward Zoom icebreakers—let’s give up the jig and instead give each other the freedom to show up imperfectly. Let’s have some no-bullshit conversations on what we are going through and how we can help each other through an incredibly uncertain time. Because we have all been there, in some form or another. 

Because it really is OK not to be OK.

If you are interested in joining this dialogue with me and other AABANY members, please reach out at [email protected] for more information. 

Jane Jeong is an Associate at Cooley in New York City.