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Work/Life Balance

Resolve to Decide

By Travis Pickens

“Resolution” is not a strong word anymore, especially when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. We may as well use the words “mulling over” or “consider”: “I’m mulling over making my law practice more profitable,” or “I’m considering changing jobs.” And usually, after January, the only people who use the word “resolution” are legislators or tax evaders who try to record their own Constitutions with the county clerk. So, if we want to make real changes we need to change the words we use. Use the word “decide.”

Decide to set goals, annually. After we graduate from law school and pass the bar exam, the only other goal many of us have is to get a job we can unashamedly tell to others. When that’s accomplished, some of us lean back in our chairs, cross our arms and say, “The rest is up to them.” I hope not, but I think that’s true of some of us. We may aspire and work toward “partnership,” whatever that means these days. Whenever that plateau is reached, many of us again lean back in our now better chairs, yawn, and then say, “Well, I can face the in-laws now,” and that may be it for the rest of our lives, keeping that position until we can quietly slow down to retirement.

For some, retirement may be a goal too, but that is sort of like saying, “I really do not find my life or work very interesting, so I want to play golf, travel to Branson and look for sales at Home Depot.” Is that a “goal”? No, I think that is a “reward” or a “glimpse of hell,” depending upon your point of view. Set goals every year.

Decide to improve as a human being. Get in shape (okay, better shape). Find a cause outside yourself and contribute something. Two-and-a-half-hour committee meetings at church or the non-profit where people who rarely make decisions or wield power are making all the decisions and wielding all the power may not be fulfilling. If not, do what a friend I know does. Along with a few others, he started his own IRS-approved charity à la Bill and Melinda Gates. They contribute money throughout the year, and have one meeting (drinks) at the end, when they decide who ought to get the money. It may be a mutual friend who just lost her job or someone who just went through a divorce. They get a write off, they don’t have to listen to an aged flower child sob through a speech on urban blight and they don’t have to spend mind-flattening hours at fundraisers. Improve as a person and an improved attorney will follow.

Decide to advance professionally. Read articles, develop a different but interesting niche or begin speaking at seminars. Join your county bar association. The meetings are well run and you meet the good guys and gals of the profession. Above all, find or reaffirm your true calling in the law. Without it, you are doomed to a passionless career. The best way to lose friends and influence is to hate your job, complain to everyone and to do nothing to change it, sometimes for years. If you hate your job, chances are your co-workers and boss already know it, so move on gracefully.

Decide to get away, several times a year. Most of us are baby boomers, which means we like a little rush from time to time. Adrenaline does not begin to flow at the prospect of fall foliage tours, or “Pot of Gold” night at the country club. Decide to take a short, three- or four-day trip at least every two or three months, and at least one extended vacation of 10 days or more every year. If long vacations to distant places are too hard or too expensive to do, then take several, frequent, long weekends. You must, however, make them somewhere far enough away that your mind has left town with you, and you should make it a different location every time, as often as possible. You will have a few places essential to your emotional well being to which you simply must return, but those places are few.

Decide to adjust your perspective. Decide that the law is sacred, but lawyers are not. We’re just the people who know the rules and argue as to how they are applied. Do not cloak yourself with the arrogance of the snotty tour guide explaining the Picasso. Our job is to know the work, perform it well and generate respect and enthusiasm for the law. We should not be a club, enamored with our exclusivity. Simply put, revere the law, but not yourself.

Decide to care about music and fun again. If the last music you bought was produced in the 80s or before, try again. Sorry, Jethro Tull has run its course. Have you heard of Ben Folds, Jennifer Nettles or the Killers? Great music abounds.

Inject some fun into your practice. That is why you became a professional, so you would have some freedom. Use your autonomy. Work at home a day a week. Write your brief at the park on a sunny afternoon. If you want, get the funky haircut and stylish clothing. Play your music at the office. Keep the law serious, but keep the practice interesting.

Decide to maintain family relationships and friendships. This takes time, but not squandering your family relationships and keeping a few true friends means the difference between enjoying life and simply enduring it.

Decide to find and rely upon a higher power. You may choose a pyramid, the sun or one of the world’s great religions, but find it, commit to it and practice it. It is waiting for you, and it will make a difference in your life that no other thing, job or person can. It will take you outside yourself, provide the balance and perspective you need, fuel your desire to change and sustain your efforts to change. It is the most important decision you will make, and it will influence all the decisions that follow. It will make the difference between a resolution and a decision, and that difference means everything.

About the Author

Travis A. Pickens graduated from the OU College of Law in 1984. He has a general litigation and business practice, and is one of seven solo practitioners in the Oklahoma City firm of Mitchell, Davis, Klein & Pickens. Mr. Pickens vice chairs the OBA’s Work/Life Balance Committee, and he served as a delegate to the OBA’s 2006 Annual Meeting. He also served three years as the editor of the Oklahoma County Bar Association Briefcase.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Jan.13, 2007 -- Vol.78, No. 2