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Resources Articles Balancing Your Life Is Impossible - Unless You Take The Time To Reflect

Balancing Your Life Is Impossible - Unless You Take The Time To Reflect

The Bulletin
(a publication of the Alameda County Bar Association)
Volume 34, Number 3, Pages 16-17
May/June 2003

To be nobody but yourself, in a world which is doing its best to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
          – e.e. cummings

Know first who you are. Then dress accordingly.
         – Epictetus

Nothing makes us feel more out of balance than spending ten or more hours a day doing something devoid of meaning. When we lose sight of our purpose, our activities become meaningless. We call need to have a cognitive bridge between the activity in which we’re currently engaged and some goal we hope to accomplish in the larger scheme of our lives. However, the legal work environment encourages you to lose sight of your own values and to think of goals in terms of money, being promoted, making partner, and exceeding billable hour requirements.

Of course, making a good living is important, but is it the only thing you value? The billable hours mentality reduces the meaning and purpose of your time – the hours of your life – to money. Does your life have a price tag, or is it worth more? Consider what it means to sell your time — your life – in six-minute increments. As M. Cathleen Kaveny [1] suggests:

  • Time becomes a commodity – each hour of your life an be assigned a price.
  • The only “valuable” time is billable time. The hours of your life have instrumental, but no intrinsic, value.
  • It presumes that all time is fungible – every hour of your life is potentially available for work.
  • Non-billable time has no intrinsic value. The decision to spend time doing anything other than billable work must be justified. Time that does not produce revenue is wasted.

When we internalize this commodification of time, we’re prone to lose focus on what truly matters. Simple acts of kindness, service to our communities, and time spent with family have no value if the only value of time is the money it can earn.

When you hear yourself thinking, “Why should I spend my time having this conversation/listening carefully/going to the doctor/attending my child’s school play/visiting a relative in a nursing home/personally selecting a gift/ reading this newsletter when I could be using it for billable work?” then you know you’ve lost your balance.

Regardless of how off balance you’re feeling, it’s never too late to find more equilibrium. Here are seven steps you can take.

STOP THE ACTION – TAKE THE TIME TO REFLECT

The pressure to bill hours leaves little time for the kind of introspection required to define yourself in a way that unifies and gives purpose to the moments of your life.

Many lawyers wish for greater balance in their lives, but most feel too busy to take the time to make real changes. Balance won’t just happen – you have to consciously and deliberately work toward it by examining your life and determining what is personally meaningful to you.

There’s another reason most people don’t take the time for this kind of introspection: it can be painful. It’s difficult to see the extent to which we’ve allowed our lives to become disconnected from our values.

TAKE A LOOK AT THE RULES AND NORMS OF THE SYSTEM

In most legal workplaces, success is defined as winning, doing and acquiring. A successful lawyer in a private law firm is one who bills man hours and generates significant revenue. The pressures imposed by the legal culture are difficult to combat. The system has a limited view of you – you are a fungible collection of functions. The system ignores critically important elements of who you are as a person. It’s easy to become who the system thinks you are, especially in an economic slow-down, when everyone works harder for fear of not doing enough.

DEVELOP A LONG-TERM FOCUS

Your work environment imposes a short-term focus — you are always focused on the task at hand. Perhaps you are able to think as far ahead as your next vacation. But what about your life? If you want your life to feel balanced, then your actions need to be connected to your fundamental goals and values. Ask yourself what you believe in, what you stand for. What kind of person do you want to be? How do you want to be remembered?

DEFINE YOURSELF BEYOND THE SYSTEM’S DEFINITION OF YOU

Who else are you besides the narrow slice of a person the system values? Just because your work environment doesn’t value your many other gifts and talents, doesn’t mean you have to ignore or devalue them. What one thing could you add to your life that would give it more meaning?

We don’t often think in terms of adding things to our already impossibly busy lives when we try to find balance. But often we achieve greater balance when we add back into our live activities which express neglected parts of who we are. Remember, just because they’re not billable doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.

WRITE OUT YOUR OWN DEFINITION OF SUCCESS

You know how your firm or organization defines success. As Mark Albion [2] asks, “Is it worth it to work hard to send your children to private schools and colleges if the price is not getting to know your children before they go away from home?” Certainly financial success and professional achievement are important goals. But if that’s all you accomplish, will you feel successful? What material things are you prepared to give up in order to achieve what really matters to you?

MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON YOUR OWN VALUES

The legal workplace is typically characterized by reactive decision making with its narrow focus on the crisis at hand. The absence of a longer-term perspective inflates the importance of trivial matters. It’s easy to get caught up in the pace and find yourself looking back on your life with regret. Ask yourself, what regrets do you want to avoid? What will you need to do in order to avoid them? You don’t have to do everything at once – that will overwhelm you. The first task is to craft a strategic plan.

CONSIDER HIRING A COACH

“A coach is an independent, qualified person who can partner [with] you and push you towards achieving your goals. This person acts as your conscience, making sure you’ll do what you say you’ll do. Your coach can also give you an objective view about how you are running your life. Ensure the person you choose is not just a mentor, i.e., someone who you admire and respect, but someone who you will allow to keep at your heels, just like a sporting coach.” [3]

NOTES

1. Kaveny, M. Cathleen (2001) “Billble hours in ordinary times: a theological critique of the instrumentalization of time in professional life.” Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, 33 (1), 173-220.
2. Albino, Mark (2002) Making a life – Making a Living. New York: Warner Business Books, p. 87.
3. Tupman, Simon (2000) Why Lawyers Should Eat Bananas. Simon Tupman Presentations Pty. Ltd.: Byron Bay, Australia, p. 117.

 

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