By R. Jason Huf
You’re in control. You’re paid to be in control. Its not just professional reputation and “image”, its part of who you are (otherwise, that “image” would never fly and your professional reputation would be quite different).
Now, you’re no longer at an age when you’re indestructible. You’re in, say, your early 30s, you’ve started a family, and you have other concerns ranging from personal health to time management that supersede the importance of getting in that occasional puff, right?
Time to quit smoking.
Congratulations! You are now on the road to better health. Air will smell sweeter, food will taste better. You’ll not have to blow 20+ minutes every two hours riding elevators just to go out into the cold wind and suck one down. You’ll be here on earth longer for your loved ones. And, you’ve just said “Good-Bye” to being in control…
Those of you who are not smokers are going to write this off as fiction. After all, enjoying tobacco is no where near the same league as being a heroin addict, a coke head, or some kind of angry alcoholic who drinks whiskey for breakfast. On several levels, that’s true. In any event, the following doesn’t so much apply to you, so feel free to skip it. Now, for my fellow smokers…
As someone who recently suspended his second serious attempt at quitting smoking, I’m confident that I speak with at least some minor amount of authority on this. My first attempt, years ago, ended with friends handing me cigarettes, calling me a pain in the derriere and more or less telling me to have a smoke and shut up. I like being “Mr. Nice Guy”. Knowing I was being something of a monster, I took their advice.
Years later, I am in my 40s, I have my own firm, I am unmarried, clients tend to trust me – I just about answer to no one. I am in as much command of all I survey, and my remaining future, as I am ever likely to be. This time it won’t be quite so bad, right? WRONG.
It was even worse. Let’s face it, you are dealing with a highly addictive substance (both bio-chemically and psychologically), the use of which is deeply ingrained into your routine. While individual smokers are each going to react to nicotine withdrawal somewhat differently, talking with other smokers it seems not uncommon that (as happened in my case) every bit of good judgment you’ve ever had will go out the window, and you will say and do things that exemplify the exact opposite of your instincts. Its like being George Costanza – on crack.
“Water off a duck’s back” is part of my very nature. I lived and worked in, according to many people, the first or second most stressful place on planet earth (no, not New Jersey – the Middle East) for years, and I had a great time.
I find what I call “unnecessary drama” to be entirely repellant. I never understood it, it serves no useful purpose and it’s a complete turn-off. For me, it is instantly revolting. And yet, just a few days after quitting smoking, I was the King of Unnecessary Dramas. Putting something into a microwave oven, setting it for two minutes, and then becoming visibly and verbally agitated because two minutes is actually taking two minutes makes no sense. Having the irrepressible, manic need to make sure someone – anyone – knows about your overwhelming sense of frustration, however, is worse than irrational. It is thoroughly obnoxious.
If you’ve already lived this nightmare and don’t wish to relive it, avert your eyes, (if you haven’t already). If not, then picture if you will...
You will lash out over the silliest things. Every matter great or small, real or perceived, will take on an urgency that one normally associates with a burning building. You will know that this lashing-out is a mistake, do it anyway and then feel embarrassed to the point of being disturbed by your own behavior almost immediately afterward. And then, just five minutes later, you’ll be doing it all over again. Everyone in your orbit will suffer, including you.
What this kind of bizarre behavior can do to your image, professional reputation and your career is obvious. And, to make matters worse, as lawyers, these brains of ours are what we work with – it’s the most important tool in the shed. So, naturally, trying to bury yourself in your work as the storm passes seems a rather dangerous solution.
And, what about the ethical implications of insisting on continuing your work??
That said, you still have to get stuff done. You can’t isolate yourself. Moving into a cabin without access to electricity in northern Canada for two weeks and wrestling polar bears (or, whatever folks up there do for exercise) isn’t an option. And, for those of you who remember the old TV show “Get Smart”, I’m sorry to break this to you, but the “Cone of Silence” doesn’t actually work… You can’t just quit quitting – that would be quitting! Another loss of control. The cherry on top of a monumental, multi-layered failure. If we were OK with failure, we wouldn’t be lawyers.
You had such high hopes and great confidence when you first decided to quit smoking. Now, you are in this terrible Catch-22. If you continue to ride this out, how much (more) damage are you likely to cause? But, you cannot allow the misery of the previous eternal week or two to have been in vain, and you simply cannot cave in and fail.
Yes you can. Hanging your head in shame, you rush off to the store one evening, buy a pack of cigarettes, and before the night is out you have incinerated and inhaled half the contents of that pack. The next morning, you are back to smoking just as much as you used to smoke, and you are a Human Being again… A deeply ashamed one, and certainly a total failure. But, at least you’re a member of the species once more.
And, you can always say that you had to smoke again in order to be compliant with the Rules of Professional Responsibility. No one will have anything to say once you hang your hat on that!
Yes, I failed at this. Again…
Well, its not failure if its a learning experience. I am not writing this to dissuade you, my friends and colleagues, from quitting smoking. I am providing a heads-up. We don’t discuss this very often specifically because it is embarrassing, and it makes us sound weak.
Based on what I’ve learned thus far, here are some (I hope) helpful tips on how to beat smoking without beating your career into a pulp and seeing many years of hard work and cool, reliable performance go down the drain:
1. See a doctor before quitting. This little blog article is not comprehensive medical advice and I do not know the state of your health – withdrawal symptoms may vary from person-to-person, and you should seek qualified medical advice before making any serious health decisions. This isn’t just the ordinary disclaimer from one attorney writing to other attorneys (although, that’s in there, too). Visiting a doctor after you’ve started the process of quitting tobacco in the hopes of obtaining something that will help to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms is OK, but its better to see one before you start. Know as much about the current state of your health as you can prior to throwing yourself into the thresher.
I will write more broadly about Work/ Life Balance in a subsequent piece. But, for now, if you are under the kind of exhaustion and tension commonly plaguing attorneys – if you are suffering from, say, extreme sleep deprivation, nervous exhaustion, dehydration, a wildly irregular heartbeat or are just plain constantly tired, then address that first. If you are taking in as much as three pots of strong coffee per day to make up for a consistent lack of sleep, then this may not be the best time for you to try quitting smoking.
The bottom line is this: while it may sound counterintuitive, be in your best possible shape before you begin the process of quitting smoking.
2. On the subject of finding something that actually helps with mitigating withdrawal symptoms, well, “Cold Turkey” ain’t for everybody. It wasn’t for me. That said, be mindful of the side effects of such aids (from appetite suppression to much worse). The most harmless thing seemed the gum, but I found it to be disgusting. More than one person suggested “Vaping”. While I have seen may use it as a substitute, and with some success, I have yet to meet anyone who has since managed to give up the Vaping. I wouldn’t look to swap one harmful vice for another, myself – even if the substitute is somewhat less harmful.
Again, see a doctor and sort out exactly which aid(s) works best for you.
3. If you do decide to go Cold Turkey, but reduce your daily intake of cigarettes before the appointed time of quitting in the hopes that the symptoms of quitting nicotine will not be so severe, then you may wish to give yourself more than a few days to deescalate. Trust me on this one.
4. Finally, and as discussed, you cannot isolate yourself from civilization. But, you can do two things: a. let others know you are quitting; and, b. establish “buffers”.
Telling people you are quitting smoking is not setting yourself up for additional embarrassment in the event you fail (and, never be one of those who “Plan to Fail”). In fact, it may help them to understand your embarrassing behavior while you undergo withdrawal. At the very least, it will let them know to keep their distance, even if you personally lose sight of the importance of distance during this period.
Buffers can help to maintain that distance, even as you manically attempt to lash out and inflict your new, alien frustrations on the entire human race. Work from home, if you can (and, technology makes it easier than ever). Limit your face-to-face appointments to the extent you can. Get someone else at the firm to do you a solid and appear at the court to file those motions for you during a particularly rough morning. Lock your phone in a desk drawer, check it at specific times. For emails and voice messages, put a minimum buffer time on your response, if one is required (and, during that time, consider what is actually required – do not say anything that is not required). While some of your work is bound to be time-sensitive and good response times are a must in our business, nothing is so super urgent that it can’t wait for a few minutes. A measured response is always better than a weird one and, let’s face it, your client isn’t on Death Row waiting for that last-minute call from the Governor that’s never going to come anyway.
I hope that helps.
In any event, now that I am smoking again and back to being my rock-solid, famously "Steady" self, I would like to apologize to all those I may have offended these past couple of weeks; and, apologize in advance to all those I may offend in the near future. Because, after I address a few health concerns stemming from that lack of Work/ Life Balance I referenced earlier, I am returning to quitting smoking.
As I said, this latest attempt is merely suspended.
For now, I’m going to go home, put up my feet, and light one up. I hope you enjoy your weekend as well.
– Jason Huf
Thursday, August 25, 2016
New York, NY