by Lori W. Nelson
When I was thinking about what to write, a good friend suggested I write about balance. I took that to mean work/life balance. As I thought about work/life balance, it occurred to me that the way we define the topic changes the discussion. After all, isn’t work part of life? To discuss the topic as if work and life are separate and happen in isolation of each other ignores reality. We spend a huge amount of every day devoted to our profession, and it is part of life. I believe a much better way to define the topic is Life Balance.
We all have issues that we deal with every day: jobs, homes, families, health, service, etc. These aspects of our lives are what make us whole. It is how we balance all of these competing interests that determines our happiness.
Malcolm S. McNeil of Carlsmith Ball LLP discussed this topic at the ABA Midyear meeting in 2008. He stated that “lawyers must be aware of their priorities in life and make sure their personal and professional endeavors support those priorities.” The point is not that work and life compete, but rather that personal and professional efforts should aim for the same target.
The Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association produced a CLE Series called “101 Practice Solutions.” One of the topics was “Balancing Life and Work.” The suggestions included the following:
Define your values – “Life should be a reflection of what you value the most.”
Do not procrastinate – “Procrastinating keeps your mind busy and prevents you from relaxing….”
Organize, organize, organize – “Figuring out a way to organize your time, space and habits…can be very calming.”
As technology has made it easier to accomplish work related activities when we aren’t in the office, we have to ask ourselves if we are managing the balancing act better or worse than before we had access to instant email. Ron Ashkenas, a contributor to Forbes, wrote in the October 19, 2012, publication that we are no longer talking about work/life balance but rather work/life blend. (I still object to the notion that work isn’t a part of life, but for purposes of discussion, let’s just go with that phrase for now.) Ashkenas states that in managing the blend we should “stop feeling guilty about scheduling [work] during vacations and checking our emails at night” and similarly we should stop feeling guilty about “talking with our spouses, friends, and family members during work time.”
Cali Williams Yost, the author of the new book TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, stated that work/life balance doesn’t exist and what we need to think about is work+life fit. She states in an interview with Dan Schawbel at Forbes, published January 8, 2013, that:
It is more important than ever that we bring the best of ourselves, physically, emotionally and creatively to our jobs and lives every day. Small actions and priorities, like a walk with your dog or shopping for healthy food, that are part of your weekly routine make a big difference.
Yost stressed that people need a “simple, weekly practice to deliberately capture the small actions that build the foundation of well-being and order we crave, but that’s missing for so many people today.” Often thinking and talking about the changes or actions a person can undertake to achieve balance feels like piling more things onto the list of obligations which already exist. It is true for me that trying to figure out and analyze life balance is much more difficult than simply acting.
Here I beg your indulgence as I get a little personal. Thirty years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. My son was 1 at the time and, given the little that was known about the disease and facing major surgery, I became very frightened. It was then that I realized I had to make every day count, and that life is short and unless each day mattered in some way, it would be wasted. Because of the Crohn’s I have had to learn several things: I can’t do everything; sometimes I have to stop and regroup; and, I am surrounded by supportive people.
I have been privileged to work in firms that support life balance, firms that understand each individual has different issues and are willing to accommodate those issues. I joined Jones Waldo, in part, because it had the technology to allow me to work from home on those days I simply couldn’t get to work (given the advances in medicine, those days are now few and far between). The firm is also very accommodating about my Bar service. Nevertheless, even though I love my house and hate the commute, I find myself going into the office simply because I like being there. Since I first joined a law firm, I found I liked being at work because it fulfilled one of my life goals: associating with competent people doing good in the world.
Fulfillment, for me and my husband (also a lawyer), comes many different ways: our jobs, Bar service, spending as much time as possible with our two grandsons, cooking, and spending time with good friends. We all dedicate hours and hours to our professional lives. This commitment to our profession can and should be fulfilling. It will be if it fulfills at least one of our life goals. I am proud to be part of our profession. The work we do is meaningful and because of it society is much better off. We also dedicate countless hours to community service in pro bono or other volunteer service enhancing the benefits to our community and ourselves.
One of the reasons the Bar continues to have out-of-state CLE conferences is to allow our members access to work-related activities and family related activities at the same location. You have asked for affordable CLE in affordable locations with options that are appealing to families. St. George and Snowmass/Aspen provide those opportunities. It is a chance for us to get together as members of the Bar away from the office and associate in comfortable and (hopefully) stress-free environments. We can fulfill our CLE requirements and still have rewarding family time, or even personal time, in surroundings that are conducive to relaxing and rejuvenating.
Life balance can be achieved. We need to acknowledge that our work, what we do day in and day out is part of life. Admitting that life doesn’t just start to happen when we leave for the day can be the first step in finding that balance. I agree with Yost that our lives will feel more balanced if we make what matters to us happen every day.