Why Being Alone in the Woods for 89 Days is the Same as Practicing Law

Why Being Alone in the Woods for 89 Days is the Same as Practicing Law

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by a person who had recently spent 89 days surviving in the Arctic wilderness for a reality show, completely alone with just her own camera to talk to and a select amount of gear. Her story was pretty fascinating – it turns out there are a lot of valuable lessons to be learned when one is alone with her thoughts in the woods. However, one part of the story in particular really hit home. You see, this person ultimately had to leave the wilderness due to frostbite on her toes – frostbite she’d been battling for weeks. After the presentation, one person asked her if there was something she might have done differently in order to prevent the frostbite from settling in. Her reply (which I’m completely paraphrasing here) was that she knew what she needed to do to take care of herself – she needed to take some time each day to take off her boots, put her feet by the fire, dry them out and warm them. However, she was usually so busy trying to accomplish every other project and task that she needed to do to literally survive each day, she wasn’t always able to take the time to prioritize that necessary self-care ahead of the other numerous tasks on her list. She knew in the back of her mind how important it was, but just kept thinking to herself, “I just need to get through one more task first. Just one more task.”

Aha. Chuckles and knowing nods swept around the room’s attendees (almost all lawyers). This person lives off the grid, hunts porcupines and builds shelters out of branches, and this group had probably not spent a collective 89 days in the wilderness, let alone been in a survival situation, but she was speaking our language now. I will make time for myself after I just get through one more task. This is the mantra of the practicing attorney.

I have never been very good at self-care. I know few lawyers who actually are, and does that surprise anyone? We learned back in law school that self-care was for the weak. She who pulls all-nighters and subsists on espresso and Cheetos but outstudies her classmates wins, right? These days, it’s not so much about weakness but simply something I Just Do Not Have Time For. I have a long to-do list and it involves a long list of clients who are all dependent upon Me and Me Alone to get through all of the Very Important Tasks and if I don’t get through them all Right Now the world just might collapse.  I can’t even count the number of times where I’ve skipped breakfast and lunch because I needed to just get through one more task. I’ve signed up for tons of fitness classes and then paid the no-show fee because I needed to just get through one more task. I once was prescribed a two-week course of a steroid which gave me horrific insomnia, for which I was grateful because the insomnia gave me the chance to be so much more productive at night. Just get through one more task.

So many of us live by this mantra even though we know in the back of our minds how important it is to prioritize ourselves and our physical and mental health. We too often ignore that voice for the sake of just getting through one more task. We don’t get enough sleep. We grab junk food or quick snacks, or skip meals during the day altogether. We don’t take a moment for ourselves. We tell ourselves that this is for the sake of doing a good job and being the best for our clients, and it’s selfish or frivolous to prioritize ourselves over our work. But truth be told, our mantra is counterproductive. For an attorney, skipping your daily self-care probably won’t result in frostbite on your toes. But, you might be exhausted. You might be dehydrated or unhealthy. Your brain might be scattered. You might be in a perpetual bad mood. Eventually you’ll be burned out. Any of these could lead to clouded judgment. Procrastination. Missed deadlines. Forgotten details. Resentment of your job. Calls to your friendly ALPS claims attorney (hi there!) to report a mistake or an angry client.

Trying to fit self-care into an extremely busy schedule can feel overwhelming, I know. So I am challenging all of us to start small. You don’t need to join a gym, run five miles, stop eating all sugar and quit all of your vices TODAY. For now, just challenge yourself to stop and take a moment. Take a moment to collect yourself. Go outside and walk around the block. Meditate for ten minutes. Take your lunch somewhere other than your desk and leave your phone behind while you eat it. Stand up and do some stretches. Listen to music or a podcast while you drink your coffee. If it helps, think of this moment as just one more task to get through and prioritize it. Put it on your to-do list and check off that box instead of pushing it to the next day. All of the other tasks will still be waiting for you, and – I’m about to blow your mind here – it’s okay if they wait for a moment, for the sake of helping your physical and mental health. In fact, taking a moment will likely make you more productive and efficient in the end and help you actually get through just one more task.

If you can manage to prioritize yourself for just a moment, who knows what you’re capable of doing next? Surviving for 89 days in the woods? Or maybe just getting eight hours of sleep? The possibilities are endless but one thing is certain – your work and your clients will be better off, and more importantly, so will you.

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Annie Harris is a graduate of the University of Montana and the University of Colorado Law School. Prior to joining ALPS as a claims attorney in 2022, Annie spent six years as a litigator at Corette, Black, Carlson & Mickelson in Butte, Montana. She also practiced for five years in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, handling a range of matters from real estate and business law to representing public agencies as general counsel. She is a member of the Montana and Idaho state bars, an avid sports fan and mom to two kids who are far cooler than her.