The Pitfall Of “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”
It’s summertime and the blogosphere is full of posts about vacation. The best places to see, the best places for adventure, the best places for leisure. But I’ve also noticed a certain kind of post directed at hard driving entrepreneurs like lawyers and, of course, solo practitioners. I call them the “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” vacation posts.
Most of these posts are great. They extol the benefits of vacation: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Some contain data and statistics backing up the value of a good long rest. They are persuasive.
To a point. Why only to a point? Because the highly successful, driven, expert bloggers confess halfway through the post that they don’t take their own advice. One even says she is blogging while she’s on her own vacation!
This is like a parent trying to teach their child not to yell by yelling “Don’t yell!”. Children learn by what we do not by what we say. Similarly, credibility suffers if you’re trying to convince someone to take a break while you are blogging from your beach cabana (and probably also texting to your office.)
Understanding Solo Vacation Pressures
Since I’m presuming to advise you about vacations I’ll say a little about my own “vacation credibility.” First, although I no longer practice law I am a solo practitioner of psychotherapy. I own my own business, run my own office and see my own clients. I am solely responsible for hunting, killing and cooking my own beast. (I sincerely hope you understand I am speaking in metaphor.) Simply put, the work doesn’t get done (and the money doesn’t get made) if I don’t do it.
So I really, really understand the financial and psychological pressures, as well as the actual business concerns, that exist when a solo practitioner goes on vacation.
“Mistakes Have Been Made” And Lessons Learned
I have also made most if not all of the classic vacation mistakes. I have gone on vacation and spent the time texting, writing and working only to return to work still fatigued. I’ve suffered regrets about missing time with my family who socialized and played while I was preoccupied with office concerns. I have skipped vacation entirely because I believed I couldn’t afford it. I’ve gone almost a year without vacation and then had to take two, week long vacations a month apart because I was still exhausted after taking the first week off. I once spent an entire week of vacation sitting in front of a computer developing a website. (My eye doctor tells me it’s coincidence that I developed a huge eye floater right afterwards.)
All of these vacation mistakes were costly. Some cost me in fatigue that my “non-vacation” didn’t alleviate. Some cost me in productivity and finances for weeks and months afterwards. I paid emotionally in the form of lost time with family and experiences that can never be replaced. I have painfully learned that vacation mistakes are expensive.
You would think that smart people like you and I would learn from our vacation mistakes fairly quickly, perhaps in the first few years of practice. Yet I see highly experienced attorneys continuing to make the same mistakes I’ve made. I have a theory about this. You may want to ask yourself if my theory applies to you.
Is “Psychological Hypoxia” Clouding Your Judgment?
I recently saw the movie Into Thin Air: Death On Everest. It is based on a non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer describing his experience of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster which claimed eight lives. One factor contributing to the tragedy was hypoxia, a condition that occurs in low oxygen environments resulting in a lack of oxygen in body tissues including the brain. Hypoxia can result in impaired judgment and difficulty making sound decisions.
As I watched the disoriented actors wander around the mountain I was reminded of some lawyers I’ve sat with who haven’t taken a vacation in many months or even years. (The dubious winner of the “vacation deprived lawyer contest” hadn’t taken a vacation in more than six years!)
Now I’m not suggesting that lack of vacation time causes hypoxia. Or that a lawyer who hasn’t had a vacation is “impaired” in the legal sense. But I am suggesting that a prolonged period of time without true rest can erode one’s perception of the reality of the need to rest. It could even be argued that the high-pressure practice of law itself, particularly for solos, lends itself to a chronic state of “psychological hypoxia”.
Ask yourself if you think you need and can take a vacation. Then ask yourself if you think your answer might be influenced by fatigue, overwork, overwhelm, high expectations, internal or external pressure, financial concerns, stress, or fear around coverage while you are away. All of these may be symptoms of “psychological hypoxia” affecting your ability to accurately evaluate your need for a deep rest. Basically I’m suggesting you might need to question your own judgment if you don’t think you need a vacation. Do I have any takers?
Counteract Psychological Hypoxia With “Good Vacation Hygiene”
If you think you may be experiencing some psychological hypoxia and making vacation impaired decisions, consider following the “good vacation hygiene” steps below. Plenty of “air” and vacation is needed to ensure you don’t find yourself gasping for breath on the (metaphorical) slopes of Mount Everest.
- Engage in a calm, deliberate process to decide on a yearly, optimum vacation schedule. Consider asking friends and family for input on what schedule is appropriate.
- Ruthlessly implement the schedule.
- Devote considerable resources to developing backup systems and coverage so you are able to fully disconnect and unplug from work while you are away.
- Disconnect and unplug from all office technology and contact while you are on vacation. (Many lawyers deliberately choose locations with no or limited internet access to support this plan.)
- Create an emergency gatekeeper system for a true emergency (death, dismemberment and actual malpractice come to mind) if you must be contacted while away.
- Live an affordable life. If you truly cannot afford a reasonable yearly vacation schedule without going into debt, consider downsizing your life, home, car, etc. so that adequate rest can be a reality for you.
P.S. – I am taking a two week vacation in August and will be unavailable until I return. ☺
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®.