You know that moment when you realize you’ve exceeded your limit? When you’ve said “yes” too many times? When the weight of all of your load seems heavier than ever? And then something happens and the mountain of responsibilities comes crashing down on you?
They aren’t nice, those moments.
We’ve all experienced them – myself included.
To keep that feeling from recurring, I’ve asked myself some tough questions: Why does this happen? Does it need to? What have I done to contribute to it? Am I creating a problem where there isn’t one?
The answers to the above are endless and personal and shift from day to day. But the response that remains consistent is BALANCE. And more of it. The subject of many conversations, in law especially but across fields, balance can be an illusory goal, albeit a necessary one.
I’ve noticed that balance is commonly described in hours: finishing work at a certain time, spending so many hours with family, exercising for X hours per week. I, too, have conceptualized it in this way before. However, my notion of equilibrium has shifted recently.
For me, now, balance is about open spaces. It is about leaving room to enjoy. And for things to go wrong.
That might seem like a rather negative approach to the concept; counterintuitive to the idea of balance itself, which is meant to uplift, not bring down. I don’t mean to be pessimistic. Rather, it’s my attempt to be realistic about how to keep the scales aligned (and spirits high) when, inevitably, life gets tough.
Work gets intense. Period. But we are trained to allow it to, to think that is normal, even to seek it out. The legal profession, in particular, is an extreme one. Lawyers face numerous deadlines, great responsibility with greater consequences, and enormous effort required at all times. It’s pretty hectic. Even if you manage to contain work within certain hours, the sensation of pressure remains when you’re off the clock because you feel like you have to keep going, a break is a failure, a lack of ambition.
I also realize that – like many of my colleagues – I put a lot of pressure on myself. To perform. To perform well. To perform well all the time. I am constantly pushing myself to do more and do it the best I possibly can. This drive isn’t a bad thing, but I admit that, sometimes, I’m a bit out of touch with reality. First, it’s impossible to 1001 things really well all at the same time. But also, even when a project isn’t an instant success doesn’t mean it’s a failure. Such reminders have been good for me. And acknowledging how I contribute to my own stress is important to rectify it.
Our professional lives are always going to occupy a large part of our lives. Understanding why and how is important. The question here, however, is how much space do we give this sector of our lives? When we become so consumed by work and let it absorb all of our energy and capacity, we don’t leave any room for the rest of our lives. We take on so much that in order just to function and get through it all, there is no choice but to run at our highest capacity all the time. So, as soon as other aspects of life become complicated, breaking point arrives instantaneously because we haven’t left any room.
Those complications could be as simple as a cold: when you get sick, how much does your world turn upside down? Or it could be a fight with a loved one: how low do you drop when that happens?
But when shit really hits the fan – serious health problems or financial struggles or deep emotional upheaval – then what?
Well, without balance, rock bottom is far closer than it has to be.
On the flip side, when life is going smoothly and we don’t overburden ourselves with work, we have the scope to really enjoy and savour the good times. We are fully present with our loved ones. We are better parents/partners/daughters/friends. Sleep is deeper and more fulfilling. Food even tastes better because now it isn’t simply fuel but ceremony.
Yet if anxiety seeps into every corner of life, the little pleasures are ruined, too.
So this is a call to leave room. Create space. Feel better.