The following is a guest post from solo practitioner Suzan Herskowitz.
It’s everywhere. You must have work/life balance. There are umpteen articles and podcasts on how to achieve it. That balance. Almost all of them seem to focus on fitness and nutrition. Because as a lawyer with a 10-hour workday ahead, I really want to be up at 4 a.m. to work out and prepare meals to bring for lunch so I can eat better than restaurant fare.
Seriously, I do try to get to the gym, or the pool, and I eat pretty healthy most days but there are only so many hours in the day and we all know that the law is a jealous mistress. I’m a solo practitioner which means I am responsible for everything. I’m also a single woman so I’m responsible for everything at home also. Like I said, only so many hours in the day. Working extra hours means laundry isn’t getting done. Going home to eat a good meal means work is sitting on my desk until tomorrow. I don’t know about you, but I can only outsource so much before the wallet is rather lean.
In my world, finding that balance is sometimes more like a seesaw, all the way up and then all the way down. It is not always a smooth path.
I have found that some days I can’t beat myself up for ordering extra lunch, taking half home, adding a salad and calling it dinner; or dancing a cha-cha in the kitchen while preparing dinner or folding laundry and calling it exercise; or letting the laundry pile up a few extra days.
I don’t know what other lawyers do for that same sense of balance in their lives. I’m sure some of us exercise, while others drink a few glasses of wine. I have been down the eat-too-much road and it wasn’t a good destination. I know a few lawyers that are runners and others that play music in public. Most of us get roped in to being on non-profit committees which for me, just added more to my to-do list. I had to pull back from that type of participation for my own sanity. It felt too much like another job. I learned to say “no!”.
Recently I decided to become an adult bat mitzvah so I’ve added “student” to my weekly tasks. But interestingly, diving into my bat mitzvah studies and thoughtfully and persistently attending Friday night services at my synagogue instead of working late on a Friday night, has given me a different perspective and doesn’t feel like “work”. I still may head to the office to meet a client or do administrative tasks on a weekend, but that Friday night service is a bright demarcation between “work week” and “time off”. It is a huge break from the mental game that is the practice of law. It sets a tone for the weekend in which I give myself permission to let the office go. I leave the work, the clients, the files, the administrative tasks, the whole enchilada, at the office. Poof! I have one evening that is solely mine without apology to anyone, including myself. What I enjoy about it most is that I just have to show up. I don’t have to really do anything except be present.
Other nights, I set a goal to try to be home in time for Jeopardy. Whether I watch it or not is beyond the point. The point is that I get out of the office and go home or out with friends at a reasonable hour whenever possible.
As often as possible, I get out from behind the desk and eat lunch either out with friends or colleagues or even if I brown bag, I sit somewhere other than my desk. I put away my phone and enjoy my lunch, either quietly or by reading a book or magazine. If possible, I get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Call it a mini-vacation.
What I have learned is that the attention I give for taking the time to decompress and just exist
is worth it. I am calmer. I am not ruffled as easily as I had been. It has made me more efficient at
the office and at home, and surprisingly, I have lost weight!
Ultimately, the answer is finding what works for you and dialing back the need to do it all. The
dishes will get washed in the morning if you decide to actually go to sleep a little earlier. The
petition will still get done if you take 20 minutes to actually eat lunch. Oh, and mostly, have fun.
SUZAN HERSKOWITZ was raised in The Bronx, New York. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas Tech University School of Law. Ms. Herskowitz has been practicing law since 1986 and is licensed in Virginia, West Virginia, Florida and Texas.