One of my earliest memories was going to a dress rehearsal for an opera my father was singing in. It was Gianni Schicchi by Puccini, a short little comic operetta. I was probably about 4 years old, but I remember being awestruck by the way the parts of all of the various cast members were woven together to create music that was somehow bigger and more beautiful than any of them could produce individually.
Later in life as I played and sang in various bands, I got to experience this first hand. I learned that to create a sound that worked – a sound that melded into a beautiful country ballad, or a complex jazz piece, or a hard rocking blues number – everyone in the band had to know their part and to play it well. I learned that the other members of the band were counting on me to play my part well, so I practiced and tried to always show up ready to go. I also learned, though, that the other members of the band were counting on me not to step all over their playing. I learned to play in such a way that made my fellow band members sound great. I had to play in a way that made room for others. When we all did that, it was always a good gig.
I’ve taken this lesson into my work life and my personal life. I have tried to always be prepared in my job and my home life. But I’ve also learned that I can’t, and shouldn’t, do it all. When I try to do the job or play the part of someone else – whether it’s a team at work or my family at home – my performance will be less than stellar and it will hinder their performance as well.
We as lawyers can easily gravitate toward the belief that it is all on us. We have to do it all. We have to play all the parts. We have to be the experts in everything. This is not something we just happened to have picked up on our own. To some extent, it’s built into the system that is practicing law. After all, in the end, it is our license on the line. The truth is, though, that it doesn’t have to be that way.
When I worked with the Lawyers Assistance Program, I would often get calls from attorneys who were severely depressed and stressed. To a person, they all expressed the overwhelming sense that they were alone and that they carried the load by themselves – not just in their practice, but in their personal and emotional lives as well. They were hesitant about letting anyone else carry any portion of the load; and they sure wouldn’t ask for help. Frankly, some of them had alienated the very people in their lives who were there to shoulder some of the load, if only they were allowed to play their part well.
Look at your work and your personal life. Are you making room for others? Are you “playing your part” in such a way that allows others to shine? Remember – you have a life of your own. Don’t try to live someone else’s life also. Show up prepared and make room for others, and I guarantee you – it will always be a good gig!