This post reiterates some good old fashioned, plain Jane, down to earth advice that is simply this: don’t forget to take care of yourself. It sounds simple, and we all have heard it from parents, friends, colleagues, kids, and perhaps most often from a significant other. My travel experiences these past fourteen years have underscored the importance of this advice and my wife continues to remind me of it every time I head back out. She seems particularly concerned that I get out of hotels to enjoy some sun. Seems I get a little sullen without enough sun and fresh air. Perhaps so. I’ll keep at it.
I really do believe that taking this advice to heart can make a world of difference in our lives and also be an effective risk management tool. During risk visits over the years, I have had employees ask me to talk with an attorney about helping her learn to say “no” so that her workload might finally drop to a reasonable level. The staff at these various firms was always concerned about an attorney’s overall well-being due to the unreasonably heavy workload that was self-inflicted. I have also had a number of attorney spouses ask me to let their attorney husband or wife know that from my perspective (as a risk manager) taking a vacation is a good thing. Please understand and remember that stress-related physical health issues, addictions, and even mental illness (particularly depression) are significant problems within the legal profession and I truly believe that such health issues arise, in no small part, due to an attorney forgetting to prioritize the taking care of one’s self.
I have spent time on the phone with an attorney who was unable to make a decision and thus unable to work any further on a matter that had a deadline only hours away. His personal stress level had reached a point where indecisiveness and immobility were the eventual outcome. He simply could go no further and he literally walked out of his office later that day and has never returned. Unfortunately, this response of immobility is not uncommon. At ALPS, we have handled our fair share of malpractice claims that arose due to the fallout of unaddressed high levels of attorney stress and often these claims do resolve with a loss payout.
Absent a proper balance between our personal and professional lives, all kinds of risks potentially come into play to include stress, burnout, indecisiveness, apathy, forgetfulness, and/or a loss of the various types of personal and emotional support systems upon which we rely to function effectively. Any one or combination of these risks can easily create a situation that is ripe for attorney negligence or worse.
So then, what does “taking care of one’s self” mean? For me, it means eating right and trying to find time to exercise three or four times a week. It means doing what I can to leave work issues at the office so that when I have time with my family I can fully invest in them. I have come to learn the importance of not jeopardizing my relationships with any of my most valued and effective support systems.
Taking care of self also means taking a vacation now and again, at least once a year. It means finding some quiet time for reflection and rest, as well as time to pursue personal interests. Cooking is one of the things that I need to do in order to stay sharp, to stay balanced, as it allows me to get to a different place in my head. I find comfort and am able to relax in a busy kitchen and this physical space has become a special place for my wife and I to talk and just be together.
I am unable to tell you how to best find balance in your own life. We are all individuals with our own unique interests, needs, and desires. I can tell you that the benefits are worth the effort that it will take. Not only will you reduce your exposure to a malpractice claim, but I also believe that it will help keep both your personal and professional life meaningful and fulfilling. Neither side will weigh heavily on the other because both aspects will be in balance and that’s the goal. It is so easy for work to override personal needs. Try not to let that happen by remembering to take some time for you.