To say I was going at it pretty hard this summer would be something of an understatement. Between my family life, work load, increased responsibilities with firm management and the Attorney Wellness Task Force, I have hardly had time to come up for air.
Whenever you enter that space where there’s way too much to do and not nearly enough time to do it, you make sacrifices. There are some things you simply have to give up.
This summer for me it was working out. I stayed so busy, and was on the road so much, it seemed I never had a chance to get to the gym. So, when my fiance told me the local gym was offering discounted memberships, we signed up immediately. And, in what can only be described as the universe’s perverted sense of humor, the very first day I went to the gym I ruptured my Achilles.
Not a sprain or strain mind you. A complete rupture–as in emergency surgery, no weight-bearing for eight weeks, six to eight months for full recovery.
How did I react? Did I resign myself to the inevitability of several weeks of limited mobility? Did I patiently accept what had happened and give myself permission to do the self-care needed to heal? Did I, without complaint, follow my doctor’s advice?
Not a chance.
I was furious. I couldn’t be laid up. I had too much to do. Stay home for two weeks with my leg elevated? Who are you kidding? There was too much at the office that needed my attention. Work that needed to be done. Hours that needed to be billed. Speaking engagements I had committed to. And then there was working out. Over the summer I’d gained weight. I had to get back to the gym
Stay home? No way.
So, within a couple of days of having surgery, I began to devise a plan that would enable me to skip this entire convalescence thing and have me back in action immediately. I rented a knee scooter. When no one was looking, I tried putting a little weight on my foot. I tried to convince myself that I was different. That it really wasn’t going to take me that long to rebound from this. All I had to do was get back to work, stop playing the role of the cripple, force my foot to cooperate, and before long it would be as if it never happened.
You can imagine how that went. It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I wasn’t going to get a free pass on recovery. I wasn’t going to receive some kind of dispensation from being inconvenienced simply because I had a lot to do. In short, my body refused to cooperate with this plan to get right back to work.
It seems that lawyers have a proclivity for believing that the world simply can’t go on without them, and that (no matter the consequences) they have to stay in the game. We love to hear the stories about those who soldier on, regardless of what’ s happening–the attorney who delivers her closing argument after going into labor…the lawyer who completes the second day of the complex and difficult expert deposition even though he has a 101 degree fever and was throwing up the night before.
I understand there are times when we have no choice. In this league there are times when you have to stay in the game even when you’re hurt. But lawyers seem to have turned continuing to play while hurt into an art form. We have a penchant for trying to do it all ourselves even when we don’t have to.
There was no reason I had to get back to the office within a couple of days of my surgery. I have an excellent team of lawyers who are able to handle every part of my work while I am away. The world isn’t going to end if I ask someone to deliver a presentation I am supposed to give.
What is it about how lawyers are wired that makes it so difficult for us to do what we need to do to care for ourselves? Is it because we have become delusional with regard to how important we think we are to our clients and our cases? Or is it that we’re afraid of being seen as weak and vulnerable? Worse than that, do we soldier on and refuse to care for ourselves because that’s what we believe our clients or colleagues expect of us?
Whatever the reason, this obsessive careerism is our profession’s Achilles heel. It’s time to find some consciousness around why we resist taking time for ourselves.
Because, in the end, there’s not a lot of difference between the lawyer who insists on being back in the office a few days after surgery and the lawyer who bills 2800 hours the year he buries his wife. The former might be comical. But the latter is tragic.