I recently read an article on Above the Law about an associate at Clifford Chance, a big New York law firm, who just couldn’t take any more stressful juggling. In her departing memo, she recounted what her typical daily schedule was like as she attempted to balance motherhood and her legal career (excerpted from the article):
4:00am: Hear baby screaming, hope I am dreaming, realize I’m not, sleep walk to nursery, give her a pacifier and put her back to sleep
4:45am: Finally get back to bed
5:30am: Alarm goes off, hit snooze
6:00am: See the shadow of a small person standing at my bedroom door, realize it is my son who has wet the bed (time to change the sheets)
6:15am: Hear baby screaming, make a bottle, turn on another excruciating episode of Backyardigans, feed baby
7:00am: Find some clean clothes for the kids, get them dressed
7:30am: Realize that I am still in my pajamas and haven’t showered, so pull hair back in a ponytail and throw on a suit
8:00am: Pile into the car, drive the kids to daycare
9:00am: finally arrive at daycare, baby spits up on suit, get kids to their classrooms, realize I have a conference call in 15 minutes
9:20am: Run into my office, dial-in to conference call 5 minutes late and realize that no one would have known whether or not I was on the call, but take notes anyway
9:30am: Get an email that my time is late, Again! Enter my time
10:00am: Team meeting; leave with a 50-item to-do list
11:00am: Attempt to prioritize to-do list and start tasks; start an email delegating a portion of the tasks (then, remember there is no one under me)
2:00pm: Realize I forgot to eat lunch, so go to the 9th floor kitchen to score some leftovers
2:30pm: Get a frantic email from a client needing an answer to a question by COB today
2:45pm: postpone work on task #2 of 50 from to-do list and attempt to draft a response to client’s question
4:30pm: send draft response to Senior Associate and Partner for review
5:00pm: receive conflicting comments from Senior Associate and Partner (one in new version and one in track changes); attempt to reconcile; send redline
5:30pm: wait for approval to send response to client; realize that I am going to be late picking up the kids from daycare ($5 for each minute late)
5:50pm: get approval; quickly send response to client
6:00pm: race to daycare to get the kids (they are the last two there)
6:30pm: TRAFFIC with a side of screaming kids who are starving
7:15pm: Finally arrive home, throw chicken nuggets in the microwave, feed the family
7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose
8:00pm: Bath, pajamas, books, bed
9:00pm: Kids are finally asleep, check blackberry and have 25 unread messages
9:15pm: Make a cup of coffee and open laptop; login to Citrix
9:45pm: Citrix finally loads; start task #2
11:30pm: Wake up and realize I fell asleep at my desk; make more coffee; get through task #3
1:00am: Jump in the shower (lord knows I won’t have time in the morning)
1:30am: Finally go to bed
I read another article today about stress. The author, a life coach with a diploma in stress management, suggests that there are really only two causes of stress in our lives: 1) lack of choice and 2) lack of autonomy. Every single stressful experience in our lives could be traced back to one or both of these sources.
Thinking about this in the context of the departing associate, its clear that she felt a lack of autonomy in her job because she had to seek approval from multiple supervisors before she could even respond to a client’s email. Like many women lawyers, she probably also felt like she had no choice but to keep juggling and keep repeating this nightmare day after day with no real quality time with her family, no sleep and never getting in front of her neverending to do list at work. Why? For the sake of maintaining the legal career she had worked so hard to obtain and so that she could support her beloved family. Worthy causes, I’d say.
But does it really have to be this way? Do we really have to endure such misery in order to have a family AND a legal career?
This type of nightmarish schedule is exactly why I decided to go solo and start a virtual law office. Running your virtual law office certainly does not end all juggling (I have a toddler climbing on me as I write this). But having the autonomy to decide exactly what kind of juggling you’ll do changes EVERYTHING. Having the option to take a case or not, to work today or not, to stay home with your child when she’s sick, to make more money or choose more free time, to go on vacation, to work late because you want to, to get enough sleep, to accept a speaking engagement, to go on a date with your significant other – makes balancing your legal career and your personal life SO much more enjoyable.
So what should you do if you feel stuck in a situation where you have no autonomy and no options?
The life coach suggests a reframe. “The whole point of reframing is to change the way you look at things. In other words you’re choosing to decide how you view things and that is very empowering.” Whether we continue to feel trapped or not is entirely up to us. Yes, quitting your job may be scary or creating the practice you have always dreamed about may seem terrifying. There are certainly risks. As the sole breadwinner in my household, I know exactly how scary it can be to put your income at risk when you have a family depending on you. But I find it much scarier to be miserable year after year and doing nothing about it!
Instead of believing that you are stuck with no autonomy and no options to change your situation, why not reframe those thoughts? Accept that you CAN change your situation, if you want to. When you start thinking that way, options you never saw before will reveal themselves and you’ll learn how to transition into a life you love with no catastrophic consequences necessary.
What negative thinking has you feeling trapped? How can you reframe your thoughts to see all the options before you?
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.