We really want to have our shit together, don’t we? We want to be the lawyer people call when everything’s on the line—because we are that good. We want to end every day with our time entered and released, and all of our emails answered. We want to work out every evening…mediate in the mornings…feed our families only groceries bought from Whole Foods and run triathlons on the weekend.
That’s the life we imagine. The life we actually live is something else entirely.
To say lawyers are overly invested in productivity, is a bit of an understatement. There’s about as much chance of a lawyer stopping and smelling the roses, as there is for an elephant to fly or a river to run uphill. We’re about getting it done. “Lazy” is the unpardonable sin of our profession. Exhaustion is our status symbol.
Even those of us who beat the drum of wellness are charmed by the allure of productivity. We carefully schedule our workouts, our time to meditate, time to journal. On Sunday we prepare the meals we will eat during the week, neatly stacking the Tupperware in the fridge when we’re done. We dutifully check in with friends and family on our commute home.
We work hard at regulating our life.
The problem is life doesn’t care much for being regulated. Life seems to prefer the unregulated. The unpredictable. The erratic and whimsical.
All week you plan to rake the oak leaves in the front yard, and on Saturday morning your daughter decides she wants to make brownies. And before you know it, the kitchen’s a mess, you’re covered in flour and it’s already 11:00. But you and your daughter are laughing as you pull the brownies from the oven and pour yourselves tall glasses of milk.
Or, you brew some tea and you’re about to journal for the first time this week, when your wife walks in and asks what you think about a rug she’s just picked out for the porch. And after talking for an hour you realize you’re not going to get the journaling done, but you have been reminded that there are a thousand reasons to love this woman.
Or you’re walking out the door after work to make the 6 p.m. workout class, and your associate walks into your office, discouraged because she just lost a trial that she knew she was going to win. You don’t get to workout. But you spend an hour talking about disappointment and how our losses are always so much more important than our wins in making us who we are.
Courtney Martin calls these moments “the sacred inefficiencies of the very human life.”
I’ve been trying to do a better job lately at valuing those unpredictable moments that interrupt our days. There is a certain beauty in the unanticipated. Those ordinary and unplanned moments, when life comes to us with all its mess and edges. Those are the moments when the sacred tends to show up in the ordinary. Those are the moments when life can become rich and we learn how to love.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with scheduling our workouts, or carving out an oppurtunity to meditate, or making sure our time is entered before we leave work at the end of the day. But, as lawyers, we are infatuated by a kind of productivity that requires schedules that work perfectly and systems that never break. The result—we don’t live very deeply.
You see, the part of me that wants to control what happens is less likely to be available for a conversation with my son about how tough middle school can be. The part of me that insists on controlling my time is less able to be present to a young lawyer who wants to talk about the challenges of building a law practice, or less likely to to sit down with my wife to talk about our day over a meal at the dinner table. The part of me that insists that everything run on time and stay on schedule simply doesn’t experience life as vividly. And doesn’t love nearly as deeply.
So, if the leaves aren’t raked or if you didn’t quite make your billable hour quota for the day, don’t beat yourself up. After all (to paraphrase Courtney Martin again), what would you rather be–a messy and flawed human being who is able to love deeply or a well-oiled machine?