“Help. I can’t keep being a lawyer.”
Nicholas, a 30-something year old real estate attorney working his way up the ladder in a 100 lawyer firm approached me after I delivered the keynote at a conference.
I could see it in his eyes—his tank was empty.
I invited him to join me for a cup of tea to chat for a few minutes. We exchanged niceties. Then, I dove in.
“What’s draining you?”
Nicholas spent several minutes detailing the long and arduous journey from law school to where he is now. He felt “in too deep” to leave his career. But, the idea of continuing life as a lawyer felt intolerable.
So, I started poking around.
Turns out, Nicholas likes the actual work he’s doing. He got animated when he described how he’d learned to love the art of the deal.
He liked his colleagues— and, for the most part, respected his bosses and felt respected by them. He described his caseload as moderate.
So, what was depleting Nicholas and causing him to feel desperate to escape the career he’d built and the job he loved?
Nicholas, like several of his colleagues, spent the better part of every Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the office “catching up” on work.
He described waking up with a pit in his stomach every Saturday morning—dreading the time when he would head into work. No matter how beautiful the week-end or what fun plans he had outside of his time in the office, he spent much of his week-end feeling resentful, hopeless and resigned.
When we really dug down into it, something fascinating emerged.
Nicholas was a really focused and efficient dude. In the 9.5-10.5 hours he spent in the office every week-day, he stayed on top of his work and had time for lunches with clients and colleagues.
But, very early on in his career, a senior attorney had told Nicholas, “Always be the guy who works on the week-end. They go the farthest.”
The imprint from that salty old lawyer had impacted 90% of the week-ends in Nicholas’ life since then.
Turns out, when he surveyed the actual evidence of his current work situation, he recognized several of the top attorneys at his firm only occasionally worked on week-ends only when they were in trial or preparing a big brief.
I asked Nicholas to imagine giving up working in the office on week-ends. He got a far-off look in his eyes. He talked about how freeing it would feel to have entire unscheduled days where he could be lazy at home, or he and his girlfriend could take their dog on hikes.
Still, he felt some trepidation. Part of him still believed working week-ends would put him “ahead.” But, he knew his current situation felt unsustainable.
Several months after our conversation, I got an e-mail from Nicholas. His “no more working on week-ends” experiment had been a huge success. He couldn’t believe how powerful it was to reboot for two full days. He felt brighter about his future and more satisfied with his life.
He still felt occasional pangs of guilt or worry when he would hear his colleagues recount, like warrior martyrs, their week-end time in the office. But, time was taking the edge off that comparison stress.
If giving up working week-ends cold turkey feels too big or scary for you, consider weaning yourself—reduce your week-end time in the office by 30 minutes. Notice what happens.
It could be one of the best long-term decisions you make for your career.
Identifying information and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.