When I first started practicing law, I struggled with the responsibilities and demands from both my employer and my clients. And the only guidance I received from my supervisor was to work more. I was told to read more, put in more hours, immerse myself in the law and my clients’ problems. I was given the mandate to solve their problems, to find cases that would bring the firm income, and spend as much time working as it took. This was my introduction to being a lawyer.
Of course, this focus on taking care of my employer and clients as my priority took its toll on my health. I began to suffer physical and emotional signs of imbalance. During this time I found meditation and yoga. I sought out meditation as a tool to balance my anxiety and never-ending fear-based thoughts of not having or being enough. I also found yoga as a way to help my body heal from stress-based injuries.
I have had many yoga teachers over time who have helped me and my body evolve and become resilient. My relationships with meditation and yoga are for life. And I am excited to see that these practices are becoming more mainstream and scientifically proven as beneficial. My Yoga studies brought me to learn about its sister science, called Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the science of taking care of our own health. According to Ayurveda, we are urged to proactively maintain our health instead of reacting to illness. In order to maintain our health, we need to care for ourselves and stay in balance to be our best selves. This knowledge completely transformed my health and my practice of law. I have learned how to continuously care for my self so that I am balanced. From that place, my law practice is more clear, focused, and productive.
In their latest book, The Healing Self, Deepak Chopra, MD and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. guide us into this new vision of disease prevention, “incremental medicine,” which looks at the trails of most lifestyle disorders with symptoms surfacing later in life. These diseases include dementia (such as Alzheimer’s), hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression. The authors’ assertion about how to be well and prevent disease is simple:
“Suddenly it’s not about isolated factors like not smoking, losing weight, going to the gym, and worrying about stress. It’s about a continuous style of living where self-care matters every day in every way. “(The Healing Self, page 9)
This means that self-care is not just about responding to stress or engaging in recovery time to just overdo it again. In order to remain healthy and prevent disease, we ourselves are responsible for our own maintenance. For lawyers, think of it as “personal accountability” for your own health. This means no one or no thing outside of us can do this job. And this means that if we don’t put our health first, we cannot expect to be disease-free as we age.
But lawyers just don’t have the time, right? Client and firm demands are paramount and we are responsible for other people’s lives. Yes, this is true. But in the end, literally, can we help anyone else if we are not well ourselves? There is a lot of information out there about health and wellness, and it can be overwhelming. It is difficult to discern what is most important and as perfectionists we give up if we can’t do it all.
So let’s start at the beginning. First, we must acknowledge that our health and wellness is our own responsibility. We must step up and become accountable for ourselves. This is the concept in my New Billable Hour™ system. The concept is to bill yourself as your own client first, before you bill your other clients. [For more information on the system, you can get a free copy of my book, The New Billable Hour, at www.newbillablehour.com.] Essentially, as Chopra and Tanzi are uncovering, this is actually the secret to avoiding the diseases that are a result of a lifestyle of always taking care of others at the expense of our own health.
I get it. We have legal and ethical obligations take care of our clients first. We feel guilty for not working on client cases and for taking breaks. We struggle with priorities and our time gets sucked up with work. And then our health suffers. We rationalize that we’ll care for ourselves later and work hard now. But as we know, and the medical world is confirming, we are just borrowing from the future.
The choices we make now will manifest in the quality of our life now and in the future. And if we don’t take personal accountability, how can we expect those close to us and our clients to do so? The time is now, to take small but impactful steps toward healing ourselves and taking our wellness literally into our own hands.