I am pleased to welcome Hayley Rushford as our guest blogger today. Hayley has been an Assist volunteer since she was an articling student, working with us as a peer support volunteer and on fundraising events. I also enjoyed working with Hayley in her capacity as co-chair of the Alberta (South) Articling Students Section and then the Young Lawyers Section. And here is something I have learned from working with students and young lawyers: older lawyers don’t have a monopoly on wisdom!
Thank you to Hayley and Karmen for their insightful blog entries and for giving me a couple of weeks off to recharge.
And, without further adieu, here is Hayley!
by Hayley Rushford
You matter. Not in a self-aggrandizing way, but in a “I value my humanity” kind of way. Of course, we already knew this, right? But let me ask you – when was the last time you prioritized your wellbeing without feeling guilty about it? I admit this is easier said than done. In the early stages of my career I’ve been lauded for “knowing the importance of balance”, but despite appearances, I’m really not that great at it. In reflecting, I think this may be because, at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to act on the simple truth that I matter, and there will always be a reason to put something ahead of myself.
So if you, like me, sometimes struggle to make time for yourself, let me offer you this: you never know how true it is that you can’t pour from an empty well until you get there. In my experience, the lesson becomes how to keep your well relatively full so that you can give the best of yourself to your clients, colleagues, family, and friends. Emphasis on relatively full, because after all, it’s all relative.
Balance varies for everyone and evolves through each season of life. To me, “balance” isn’t a static goal to pursue the same way every day, or a binary division between work and the rest of your life (since when, smartphones?). That balance beam demands perfection. Should you succeed in the balancing act, you make it to the other side. If you miss a step, you fall and all is lost.
Newer thinking refers to “work-life integration”, which feels kinder and more realistic for the multi-faceted lives we live that benefit from the flexibility to adjust, often imperfectly. So maybe balance is more of a mindset, whatever it looks like on any given day. I’m learning to allow myself the grace of knowing that my well will fluctuate. Two new goals arise: (1) avoid letting it be entirely emptied; and (2) accept that some days, I may have more to give than others.
Nothing drove this home more than watching prominent athletes take action for their wellbeing recently. Despite the world’s expectations on her shoulders, Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympics for a week. At some level, as lawyers, we can relate. We carry the weight of letting down those around us too.
Our mental laundry lists might include: Am I representing my clients as best I can to achieve the best results for their interests? What more can I do for my clients and my Firm or organization? Am I meeting my billable hour targets? Am I giving back to my profession and my community? Am I a present and loving family member? Am I a good friend? Am I on the right track? How do I make time for everything?
All of this matters. However, the importance of the above, and your importance as a person, are not mutually exclusive. Yet, the collective pressures of productivity we place on ourselves often lead us to forget to pause and ask, “how am I really doing?”. The irony is that sometimes, this is perhaps the most productive thing we can do to perform at our best for everyone and everything in our lives, both professional and personal.
Simone came back stronger to earn another Olympic medal. She remains one of the most decorated gymnasts in history and her choice to invest in her wellbeing didn’t change that. Her decision illustrates that investing in ourselves doesn’t have to be elaborate or time consuming to be productive. For me, it’s as simple as creating space for three things within my week: something to stimulate my mind (work doesn’t count!), something to nurture my body, and something to feed my soul – but figure out what makes sense for you! I hope you’ll find that taking time to refill our wells doesn’t make us any less as lawyers, in fact, it could very well make us better.
Simone also taught me to strive for excellence, not perfection. Making sure you matter doesn’t mean prioritizing yourself over everything, but trying to make yourself and your wellbeing an equal priority amongst your other responsibilities. We may not always succeed in keeping our wells relatively full, but it’s the trying that matters. If we try, like Simone, we encourage others to do the same, and what a difference that could make.