Litigation ebbs and flows. And I’m in a flowing river right now. I’ve got two matters at the close of discovery. I’ve been traveling every week this month for depositions. And I’ve got a 6-year-old who needs help with her homework every night, skiing on Saturday, and swim lessons on Sunday. How do we do this?
At the very least I’m not alone. With her permission, I’m sharing the text that I received from one of my partners this morning:
“Had one of those mornings where: incorporating client comments to brief, making my child breakfast (including a special request for a sunny side up egg) and getting her to the bus on time, negotiating a severance agreement on my drive to depo prep. And I thought, I’m doing this—I’m totally super woman! And then I looked down and realized I’m wearing my snow boots and don’t have other shoes.”
And this was all before 8:30 am.
Now don’t get me wrong. I want this. And by this, I mean a successful career where clients call for my advice and hire me because they trust my insight, judgment, and approach. But I do sometimes feel overwhelmed by the incessant drumbeat of work and home—my desire to answer client inquiries immediately, my desire to be present at home, and the worries that wake me up at night (“I should run our draft by local counsel tomorrow morning. I didn’t serve the subpoena yet. First thing in the morning, I’ll edit the engagement letter and get it back out…”). The balance that I seek isn’t a balance that reduces my career responsibilities. I know that to be successful, I need to be doing the work (I firmly believe that a density of experiences develops expertise and judgment). And I find my work fulfilling and fun.
I really just want time for a deep breath on occasion. A few minutes more for my work and home.
So how to find it?
Being fully present
I’ve found I do best when I am fully present in each moment, whether it’s a moment with my daughter or a moment with a witness. I might not always be as prepared for a meeting as I want to be, but I can show up, focus, and think. And since I’ve got more than a decade of litigation experience, it turns out that my focus and thoughts add value. On the contrary, when I show up in a meeting and spend time responding to emails or thinking about my oral argument on Friday, my presence at the meeting is a hindrance, not a help.
Same thing with my daughter. She caught me the other day. She was saying something about candy and the refrigerator, and I must have given her a distracted “umm hmmm” because she walked over to me, put her hands on my cheeks, looked me in the eye and said, “Mom! What did I say?” I had no idea. I thanked her for calling me on it. I asked her to do it again if necessary.
And I’m trying to carve out special time just for us. We are reading Nancy Drew each night before bed (“The Password to Larkspur Lane”). We make French toast together at least twice a week (secret ingredient = infinite cinnamon sugar). And we like getting our toenails painted once a month (secret parenting tip: nail salons will paint your small child’s nails for waaay less than the cost of a sitter).
This last sentence (toenail painting as a parenting tip) of course makes me self-conscious that mine are the problems of a very lucky person. I know this. And I am infinitely grateful for my life. But I also recognize that the levels of stress I feel are real (and will impact my health if I don’t address them).
The best way to eliminate my stress is to exercise. I don’t have time to exercise, but I do it anyway. Because with exercise, I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about my task list for the next day. With exercise, I have more energy to accomplish all the things. With exercise, I am happier.
A gym membership is great (and I have one) but even better is my exercise bike. I can get up early (daughter still asleep) and spend 20 minutes moving. I’ve eliminated the travel time to the gym as well as finding a caregiver for my daughter while I exercise.
I’m also trying to find ways to sneak exercise in. When my daughter has swim lessons, I swim laps in the next lane. We’ve started ice skating at Linden Hills Park on Monday nights.
I could definitely do more. But every little bit helps.
Eliminating dead time
Finally, I try to accomplish those niggly little chores that we all have while I’m driving (and I use Siri!) “Siri – call Tooth & Co,” I say, so that I can book my daughter’s dentist appointment. “Siri – call Eye Care Associates,” I say, so that I can order new contacts. “Siri – remind me that I need to return Iris’s library books on Friday.” Driving in a car can feel like a time suck, but I try to think of ways to turn this time into productive time, so I can go back to being fully present when I’m at work or hanging with family (instead of worrying about the dentist appointment).
I have a Yoga video where the instructor takes us through a series of poses and then says, “Now we’ll take it up a notch,” and you do the whole thing again but “up a notch.” I sometimes feel like my life is like the yoga video. Just when I felt like I was getting the hang of being a junior attorney, I become a senior attorney, running cases and facing new challenges. Just when I got the hang of taking care of a baby, I got a toddler, and then an elementary schooler.
But the change keeps it interesting. I’m never bored. I’m constantly facing new challenges. And I find work incredibly rewarding. I am grateful. And when tired or stressed, I need to remind myself that I don’t just need more time for a deep breath. I need to make the time for a deep breath.