Finding a path to wellness and balance
The occupational hazards of the legal profession are notorious. They come up regularly in trade periodicals, including BarTalk (see the October 2014 issue, for example), and for the younger generations of lawyers, at least, they have been pointed out since day one of the Professional Legal Training Course. Lawyers are at increased risk of substance abuse, relationship problems and various health issues resulting from stress, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. The phrase “work-life balance” has become so ubiquitous in recent years that it is in danger of becoming a laughable cliché, especially in light of the heavy demands of legal work and the pernicious undercurrent of machismo that still permeates much of the profession. It may be tempting to dismiss work-life balance as something that doesn’t matter. Make no mistake. It matters.
What does “work-life balance” mean? You might as well ask what “reasonable” means. The answer varies according to context. That said, some common denominators can be identified. Basic components of human wellness include physical activity, healthy diet, social connection and opportunities for self-fulfillment, which might also be termed “interests.” Being a lawyer typically provides satisfaction of basic material needs, and it may address some of these other factors to some degree, but it’s indifferent, if not detrimental, to others.
High stress and extraordinarily long hours are sometimes necessary for lawyers, and go with the territory to some extent, but at what point do they become unacceptable? When you’re looking back from your deathbed, will you be wishing you had put in more overtime at work? The lawyer who persistently subordinates one or more basic factors of wellness to the demands of work will pay the price, sooner or later.
Breaking a cycle of unhealthy habits can seem overwhelming, especially if you find yourself falling short on several elements of wellness. Where do you start? No single element, in isolation, will render a person healthy, but if all or some of them are lacking, addressing one of them may help develop the momentum needed to move forward with the rest of them in turn.
That’s where the thesis of this article comes in: be your own life coach. Those very same “Type A” traits (driven, goal oriented, perfectionist, competitive) that help you succeed in your work, but may also lead to imbalance and ill-health, can be turned to your own advantage. Try offering yourself the same level of service you offer your most valued clients. Are you any less worthy?
Your first job as life coach is to make a commitment to yourself, “the client,” that you will be 100% supportive of efforts to restore balance and wellness, one step at a time, no matter how long it takes. Learning to view your situation from a different perspective, as an advocate for your own health, may help you to see your habits more objectively, and see excuses for what they are. This does not mean you will have all the answers. Quite the opposite. Having all the answers is not the job of the life coach. The life coach’s job is to push you beyond inertia, help you set goals, and encourage you to get whatever outside help you may need.
If you make the commitment to being an advocate for your own wellness, no less than you are an advocate for your clients, how can you lose?
Michael Hargraves is a partner at Stewart McDannold Stuart in Victoria, where he practises local government law.