Achieving Balance from the Inside Out

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Lately I have received a rash of requests for coaching and speaking on the topic of attorney work/life balance. You can find some specific suggestions on that topic in my article titled Work/Life Balance: Are You Tottering on the Brink? first published on December 11, 2006 in The Practice Manager.

Clients as Mirrors
Coaches remark that their clients often bring to them the very challenges that the coaches themselves need to address. What a blessing! It is so much easier to see the options available to someone else. Then we can just listen to the ideas and observations we offer our clients, and apply them to our own lives.

I have been struggling to keep my own workload in balance. In my practice I see attorneys reluctant to ask for help. I see them postpone the investment in hiring the additional quality assistance they need. I see lawyers hold themselves to an impossible standard. I see lawyers say “yes” to too many commitments. I see them promise a document delivery at the earliest date possible, without finding out when the client really needs it, or without assessing how much time they need to meet their existing commitments. I see attorneys spend time on low priority squeaky wheels and distractions, instead of protecting their time for more important projects. I warn them to “put your own oxygen mask on first” as I watch them put the needs of family and clients ahead of their own, once again. At one time or another I do all the same things.

Internal Experience as a Mirror
Sometimes the flip side occurs. I recognize something in my own life that I can share with my clients for application to their situation. This week I traveled to Chicago for business. One of my meetings got postponed, and I took the opportunity to visit The Art Institute, with its remarkable collection of Impressionist art.

To my own surprise, I felt a sense of exhilaration and anticipation as I entered the doors. I planned to just sit and soak up some of my favorite paintings. As I entered the Impressionist corridor and caught my first glimpse of some of the paintings, emotion welled up in me and my eyes watered.

“What’s this about?” I asked myself. I became aware of a deep longing. A longing for spaciousness. For beauty. For unleashing my creativity. For permission to just be, without doing. For listening to the still small voice within.

I spent two hours luxuriating in those rooms, and the experience renewed my mind and body. I sat that evening in an airport waiting for a flight delayed by three hours. I knew it would be well after midnight when I touched down in Houston. Yet, I felt refreshed and optimistic.

Nurturing the Soul
Sitting in The Art Institute, I rediscovered the vital importance of taking time to nurture my soul. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The soul’s emphasis is always right.” I had not allowed time to listen for that emphasis.

What nurtures and renews you? Listening to music? Walking in nature? Exercising? Staring out the window or at an aquarium? Laughing? Petting a beloved animal? Watching a baby sleep? Singing? Gardening? Sitting in silence? Painting? Gazing at a fire or a burning candle? These are a few activities that renew and refresh people. They unlock our muscles and free our minds from that compulsive whirring.

Creating Stillpoints
As I sat in The Art Institute of Chicago, I realized how far I had fallen out of the habit of my morning quiet time. As little as 15 minutes in the quiet makes a big difference in the quality of the rest of the day. My clients who try it report more resilience and reduced reactivity to the stressors of the day. A wise person said, “Meditate half an hour every day, except when you are really busy, of course. Then meditate an hour.”

Steven Keeva, author of Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, recommends finding several brief times during the day in which to create “stillpoints,” even if only a couple of minutes. Stop when you hang up the phone, or before you start the next project. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Put your mind on a peaceful place or an inspirational phrase or something for which you are grateful. These little stillpoints can increase our mindfulness, and return us to being “at choice” in our lives.

I’m starting a new regime of daily quite time and stillpoints, in which I will allow the renewing of my mind. Will you join me in seeking balance from the inside out? If you do, please share your experience with me.


One Response to “Achieving Balance from the Inside Out”

  1. Sonia Gallagher on August 27th, 2010 4:01 pm


    Thank you for this post! It reminded me of when I had my law firm in Florida. Two of the most difficult things for me to say were “no” and “I don’t know.” Talk about a recipe for burnout! Lawyers are expected to be capable of handling it all, to have all the answers, and to keep their feelings out of it. These things combined with the deadlines, phone calls from clients, billable hours, and everything else… is a recipe for burnout.

    I love your reference to the oxygen masks. I can’t tell you how many lawyers I’ve worked with that have forgotten to put their “oxygen mask” on first. It’s a really big issue within the legal industry because somewhere along the way, we were programmed to know it all! Being honest with ourselves, we realize quickly that without taking care of ourselves we are not able to take care of others.

    Thanks for the post!
    Sonia Gallagher, JD
    Helping you control the direction of your legal career, get more clients, more profits, more free time, and… be a happier lawyer!

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