I have given a lot of thought to the idea of work/life balance as a bar leader, attorney, husband, and human being. Hopefully, we can all agree that we cannot take care of our clients if we are not taking care of ourselves. Although I always look forward to ABA conferences, I often come home fatter and more tired than I was before I left. To arm myself with some helpful suggestions, I researched what bar associations across the country were doing to advance the cause and talked to young (and not so young) lawyers from all corners of the country about how we as lawyers can encourage a more healthy balance. As a result, I developed the Young Lawyer Division’s “Fit 2 Practice” Initiative.
The goal of the “Fit 2 Practice” Initiative was to challenge young lawyers to take better care of themselves. For me, it meant making time for more sleep and exercise, drinking more water throughout the day, eating a little healthier, and occasionally setting aside time to relax and decompress. For others, it meant making time to pray, meditate, listen to music, sing, dance, garden, or spend time at home or with family, friends, or pets. The most important part of the Initiative was to educate young lawyers that we need to stop viewing taking care of ourselves as a luxury that we cannot afford, and instead view self-care as something for which we must make time. As Virgil famously said, “The greatest wealth is health.”
We incorporated health and wellness programming into our conferences and distance learning programs. We also partnered with the American Bar Endowment and Fund for Justice and Education to provide twelve young lawyer leaders with fitness trackers, and those volunteers used video blogs, social media, and the YLD’s website to maintain a sort of diary of efforts, successes, failures, setbacks, and breakthroughs. My hope was that this program would encourage young lawyers to not just increase their focus on their own health and wellness throughout the bar year, but also further support one another in these efforts.
The program caught on better than we expected. My Facebook newsfeed was filled with people talking about everything from “Water Wednesdays” to “Fruit Fridays” to step challenges. By the time the Annual Meeting rolled around and it was my turn to pass the gavel to Lacy Durham, I had lost five pounds and my skin looked better due to more sleep and water intake. More importantly, I heard about a number of individual success stories from young lawyers who had started to turn their lives around after being inspired by the Initiative.
Perhaps the most important take-away for me was that the recipe was different for every single success story I heard. One person achieved success by going for a run each day. Another adjusted his diet to cut down on alcohol and reduce carbohydrate intake after lunch time. Yet another began practicing daily yoga and meditation.
While I lost a little weight during my year as Chair, which I considered an achievement in and of itself, I realized I was not making work/life balance a true priority. I had effectively given up on the idea of finding a balance, because I did not believe that a balance was possible with all of the personal, professional and bar obligations.
Since my year as YLD Chair has ended, I have finally started to walk the walk. I work out every morning, even if it means waking up at 4:30 a.m. My goal is seven hours of sleep each night, and I get close most nights and do my best to catch up on weekends. I drink at least 80 ounces of water each day and I make better choices at most meals. As a result, I have lost another 15 pounds since my Chair year ended, and I feel better than I have in years.
The biggest lesson I learned is to stop thinking we will somehow “find” work/life balance, and instead start creating work/life balance by identifying our priorities and building them into our lives and schedules. Calling it a “balance” is a bit of a misnomer, because the real question is how you prioritize the competing demands on your time—and the result may not feel balanced. This has forced me to schedule workouts, family time, and sleep the same way I schedule meetings with clients, court hearings, and project deadlines. It also means I sometimes need to pass on a social event or dinner with friends in order fit in a workout. Likewise, I may have to skip a workout in order to give my body the sleep it needs. While we all have different visions of how work/life balance looks to us, achieving that goal requires proactive effort and goal-setting, rather than a vague hope for more hours in the day.
About the Author
Andrew M. Schpak is a partner with Barran Liebman LLP, representing management in employment litigation matters. He is immediate past Chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division, where he developed the “Fit 2 Practice” Initiative. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.