“Life becomes beautiful when you learn to be as good to yourself as you are to others.” — Unknown
A few years ago, and about 20 years into my career as a lawyer, I decided to start running. For years, I had been busy running my small firm practice, running my kids around, running errands, and running myself ragged — but I had never intentionally run anyplace! Yet, there’s nothing like a bottle of wine, a best friend, and the promise of a race in an exciting destination to change all that.
So, the next morning I laced up a dusty old pair of tennis shoes. About 10 minutes in, I vowed to never, ever do it again. The music blaring from my headphones was not loud enough to drown out all the questions my brain was hurling at me: Who do you think you are? Do you even know how far 10 kilometers is? Do you know the last time you ran was probably on elementary school field day, and you were also terrible then? Don’t you have a brief to write?
Practice Is Its Own Reward
I spent the next few weeks nursing sore quads, shin splints, self-doubt, and exhaustion. But it turns out that as with most things, running does get easier if you keep practicing — and so I did.
And then a strange thing happened. No, it wasn’t that I became an outstanding athlete! Rather, I started to notice that I actually felt better on the days that I ran. I had more energy.
I had a sense of accomplishment even when other things in the day were messy and hectic or just didn’t go well.
And as my physical stamina increased, so it seemed did my mental stamina. I don’t know about you, but I really needed that.
I’m friends with a lot of wonderful women who are also professionals. They work hard in their careers and care about doing a great job for their clients and their company. But they are not defined by their careers alone. They balance their professional lives every day with the multiple other hats they wear as women: mom, wife, friend, mentor, advisor, volunteer, coach, chauffeur, homework helper, short-order cook, maid, and so on.
I know the type because I am the type. You probably are, too. To top it off, I’m also a perfectionist and I like to do things myself! It’s hard for me to ask other people for help. I feel like I’m supposed to be able to do it all with ease, so I keep trying to do just that.
How to Put Yourself First
I know this isn’t a lifestyle that is unique to me. But I have found more and more that each time I sit down and “get real” with another busy working woman, we confess that our efforts to do and be everything for everyone have left us tired, stressed out, feeling overwhelmed, and struggling to keep all the balls in the air. We run ourselves ragged for our clients, our bosses, our families. We don’t say “no” when asked to do something for someone else, even if it means giving up rare moments for ourselves. We routinely prioritize ourselves dead last, and that needs to change.
But even if you are lucky enough to recognize that behavior in yourself, sometimes you know where you should go before you know the way, right? Things need to change … but how? That was me, and then one day I saw something that seemed like a solution to the problem of how to add myself to my daily mix of priorities.
There’s a meme that floats around the fitness world to the effect of, “A good workout takes one hour. That’s 4% of your day. No excuses.” When I first read that, my cynical self actually did the math. Was that even right? Turns out it is, and pretty obviously so. I decided I deserved 4% of my day! I was worth it! And it was small! It didn’t sound selfish or luxurious or even hard to achieve. Let’s do it! Here I go!
I vowed to run for an hour or enjoy that time sitting on my deck with a great book when Ohio weather allows. I vowed to do it every day.
Change, Even Change for the Better, Is a Challenge
The more I tried, the more I realized that carving out that 4% was not as easy as that meme suggested. And that made me realize the full extent of my self-neglect. Don’t get me wrong. In my family, we work hard and play harder. We love vacations and we do a great job of planning them and taking those breaks. But those weeks away happen a couple of times per year. It was the space between that I had committed to change.
So why was I having so much trouble adding in a 30-minute run or a 45-minute yoga class to my day on a regular basis? Why was it so challenging to carve out just 4% of my day to do something for myself? In the abstract, that seemed easy to accomplish, but like running, I found it takes some practice. I’m still working on doing this every day, but I’m getting better.
Being a sucker for a challenge myself, I hereby challenge you to make yourself the priority in your life for one hour each day. I’m not saying you need to run. The only rules are that your hour must be for you, and it must be intentional. So, don’t try to count that shower you took or the trip to the grocery store without the kids. Those are good things, but not really what I’m inviting you to do. Do something for you that nurtures you and restores you.
It’s About the Things “You Get to Do”
Start by thinking about the things you really love to do. The things you “get to do” as opposed to the things that you “have to do.” The things you look forward to indulging in when you get to take a vacation from time to time. Take a walk without your phone, read a few chapters of that book you’ve had on your bedside table for months, crank up the volume, listen to your favorite music and go for a drive with no destination. Call an old friend just to catch up, meditate, sit in nature, get some exercise, sip coffee outside your favorite café.
You know what you like. Allow yourself to enjoy it, not just once per year on vacation, but every single day.
If you accept the challenge, you will find that when you are intentional about carving out a bit of time for yourself, you’ll not only benefit your own physical and mental health, but you’ll be a better version of yourself for all the people and activities that you spend the rest of your time on. Take care of yourself first so you can take care of everything else you have to do. There’s untapped power there and I think you’re going to love it.
Give yourself time today.
This article is Lesson No. 38 in “50 Lessons for Women Lawyers – From Women Lawyers,” by law firm coach and author Nora Riva Bergman (@LawFirmCoach). With contributions from Bergman and 49 women lawyers from across the United States and Canada, the book provides lessons and inspiration for women at every stage of their careers. Reprinted with permission.
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Also on Attorney at Work: Lesson No. 39, “Slow It Down” by Stephanie Scarborough