The Illusion of Balance

“Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.”

- George Santayana

 

Counsel On Call has built its reputation partly on the notion of providing a different measure of work-life balance into the lives of experienced attorneys. It’s still an important part of what we offer in certain practice areas, and we have conversations every day with attorneys who are looking for a new way to practice law. If attorneys working in big firms are sitting down speaking with us about our model, they have honestly given a lot of thought to how their professional and personal lives are going, and that’s an important step. This has given us a lot of perspective and experience to draw from as we educate attorneys on what to expect working in the modern legal model.

But rather than thinking of work-life balance as a goal to be achieved, I prefer to see it as a resulting condition that emerges when an individual accepts his or her own history, circumstances, priorities and values.   We commonly hear the term “work-life balance” used when someone is putting in extended hours at the office, or when someone is worn down because of a work environment that is highly stressful. These are legitimate problems. I once encountered a high-level, legal project manager who was known to work in excess of 20 hours every day in advance of a tight deadline.  It was clear the entire culture around this individual (including his team) was tired, disorganized and chaotic.  

There’s also another extreme.   Too often, members of the workforce (especially lawyers) find themselves under-motivated or resistant to fully engage in their professional lives.   This side of the problem, for obvious reasons, isn’t as widely talked about.  Nobody wants to admit they are apathetic toward their job – or, worse; they’re filled with resentment toward their employer or their clients.  These attitudes are difficult to mask.

And of course we all know the person whose professional reputation remains sound, despite his or her private life being in shambles.   We often read about these folks in the newspaper or in the rulings of the Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility.  

Either way, the question is:  how does one find work-life balance?   Here are 5 steps that can help chart a course to balancing your personal and professional life:

 

  1. Take a minute to reflect on your life. Before self-evaluating, make a conscious decision to accept whatever you find.   Sometimes the truth isn’t pretty, yet it does no good to wallow in self-pity about past decisions or current circumstances.  Make a commitment to live in the world of “what is” as opposed to the world of “what was” or “what should be.”   
  2. Get honest about your baggage.  Let’s face it, nothing ever changes in our lives unless we’re willing to get real about what’s happened and what’s happening.   We can switch jobs or move to a different city and still fail to identify the source of our unhappiness.   Seek help for larger issues like addiction or mental health, if needed.  A useful exercise is to make a timeline of your professional / personal history to see if insight may be gained.
  3. Identify priorities.  I’m not talking about an ideal list of priorities, but rather what really are your current priorities?  Where do you spend your time outside of work?   How do you spend your time at work?  Where do you spend your financial resources?  An honest reflection of where you spend your time both outside of work (exercise, television, internet, community service, hanging with family or friends, yard work) and in work (emails, internet, phone, snack breaks, spinning wheels, redundant work) should reveal what we need to know about our current priorities and where we may be out of balance. 
  4. Identify values / drives.  This is an intensely personal topic, yet I believe it’s impossible to find a balanced lifestyle without determining individual values and examining how our lives as currently structured are aligned with those values.   We all need to come to terms with the forces that drive us and motivate our actions.   Identifying what actually drives us is the key to initiating dynamic change.
  5. Take action. Once we know where our lives are out of balance, we can begin to take action toward greater alignment.   Set small, achievable, one–day at-a-time goals to create momentum and payoff.  Worry less about the big picture and focus on your day-to-day actions.   Sometimes circumstances legitimately limit immediate drastic changes, but there are undoubtedly some small things we can do today to enhance our integrity.   

 

A healthy balance of our lives occurs when we make an effort to evaluate our past and use that knowledge to mold our future. It’s a process and takes time, but the outcome is a more fulfilled and stable way of living (and working).

 

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