A small wooden sign hangs on the dresser in our bedroom. It was a gift from my fiancé and it reads “I have permission.” It’s one of the first things I see in the morning , and it is among the most liberating messages I get all day. Unfortunately, on most days, it’s a message I have long since forgotten by the time I get to the office.
In spite of my apparent inability to carry this message with me throughout the day, it’s a pretty good thing for us lawyers to say to ourselves. Particularly, when it comes to self-care. As a group we are really good at taking care of other people. But we are pathetic when it comes to taking care of ourselves.
The problem is we’re in the business of taking care of people. It’s what we do. A client has a problem and they come to us because they believe we can solve it. We are the ones responsible for bringing in enough work every month so that those who work for us can still draw a salary and keep their health insurance. Our families look to us to take care of them in more ways than we can name. For many of us, our churches, civic groups, and community organizations look to us to be their leaders.
It seems that we are almost always doing something for somebody else.
The thing is we like it that way. We choose to take on all of this responsibility. We are competent and good at what we do. We care about our clients. We love our families and those with whom we work (at least some of them), and we want to help care for and solve the problems that are a part of their lives and the problems of the groups or organizations we’re a part of.
But doesn’t there come a point where everyone else’s needs become almost too much to carry? Doesn’t there come a time when we have spent so much effort doing things for other people that we are ready to collapse under the weight of it all? Absolutely. And when that happens, what do we (as lawyers) usually do?
We soldier on. Telling ourselves that we have responsibilities. We have obligations. And we feel guilty when we consider taking time away from those responsibilities and doing something just for ourselves…something to meet just our needs…something to care for our weary spirits.
My fiancé reminds me that the reason she gave me the sign that hangs in our bedroom is because I am one of the world’s worst when it comes to giving myself permission. So, I’m probably not the best person to be writing about this. Having said that, I do have a few ideas about some things you might want to consider giving yourself permission to do:
Give Yourself Permission to Take A Mental Health Day–I know. There’s all this work to be done. And there is this billable hour goal that has to be met. And there are all of those reports your client wanted yesterday. But your world will not end if you decide to take a day for yourself. Schedule a day at the spa. Go to the driving range. Go shoot some sporting clays. Hire that personal trainer. Go take a new car for a test drive or take in a ball game. Or maybe just take a good book and go somewhere quiet. Whatever it is, make a day of it. And make it all about you.
Give Yourself Permission to Learn Something Totally Unrelated to Law–Take a big chunk of time to learn about something other than how to improve your law practice. Learn Italian. Take a course in bead making. Learn how to fly fish or how to cook great Thai food. Study photography. Learn how to play the violin (or the banjo). Pick something that really interests you and dive in. Buy books on the subject. Take a course. Watch YouTube videos. Just do it.
Give Yourself Permission to Create a Not-to-Do List–It’s amazing how many things we take on that really keep us from doing what we most want to do and keep us from being able to be present to and care for those we most want to help. So, start building your personal Not-to-Do list. Don’t keep working for that terrible client that is responsible for 50% of your stress but is only responsible for 3% of your fees. Don’t answer phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Don’t agree to meetings that don’t have a clear agenda. Don’t carry your phone everywhere you go. Don’t let people ramble. Don’t turn on email alerts while working on something else at your computer. Come up with your own list, and create some space that will allow you to do more of what you want to do.
There you have it. Give yourself permission. Do some self-care. Meet your own needs for a change.