“In the quiet hours when we are alone with ourselves and there’s nobody to tell us what fine fellows we are, we come sometimes upon a moment in which we wonder … what good are we doing?” — A.A. MILNE
As women in the legal profession, we are everything to everyone. Counselors, managers, mothers, partners, lovers and leaders. We work at full pace from the time we wake up in the morning until we close our eyes. Even our weekend mornings are ever-filled with duties and commitments as we head off to our tennis matches, take the kids to soccer, or volunteer at our church or temple. We are always organizing, moving and producing. The same is true for me in my business and law practice.
For the past 18 years, I’ve been focused on grinding out more work and growing my business, and it’s paid off in tangible successes. What I haven’t done, however, is slow it down.
I’ve never been well-suited to a slow pace. I’m a grinder. Nonetheless, I have found my insistence on pushing forward actually works against me. Sometimes you need to simply slow down to allow your brain to make the necessary connections. It is in these slower periods of relaxation or meditation that the best ideas and connections often come.
Cycling Lessons for Women Lawyers
As an avid but relatively new cyclist, I am always training to improve my speed and overall fitness level. My trainer tells me that at least one ride per week must be a recovery ride. A long, slow distance ride helps the body recover from rigorous maximum output training. Too much intensity on a recovery ride compromises recovery.
I recently completed a 56-mile ride. I started the ride with the intention of riding at a long, slow distance pace. When I checked my stats post-ride, I realized I spent two hours and 30 minutes in the highest heart rate zone. Seventy percent of my ride was firmly at or near maximum heart rate, which my fitness app tells me is “historic.” That historic ride nearly did me in physically as I pushed myself to the limit. I wasn’t racing anyone. In fact, I had no one to impress or beat as I was riding solo. I just couldn’t bring myself to slow down the pace and listen to my trainer. My inability to slow down was hurting my overall improvement and, that day, almost had me calling for a ride at mile 40 when I was physically spent.
In cycling, we call this “bonking” when we’ve depleted all our stored energy and nutrition. In business and in law, we can’t allow ourselves to bonk.
Following the right nutrition and riding strategies can prevent bonking in cycling. If you follow the right strategies, you can also prevent “the bonk” in your practice.
For many years I’ve kept the A.A. Milne quote at the top of this lesson on my desk to remind me that every day I should be striving to make a difference in the lives of others. Recently, though, the quote has taken on a new meaning.
“In the quiet hours when we are alone with ourselves.”
How often do we have quiet hours? We need to give ourselves the time to reflect and contemplate. Because in the quiet moments, ideas and innovation are born.
As lawyers, our lives are often filled with chaos. Taking time to reflect can marshal our thoughts and help us take transformative action. Reflection can also slow us down, give us time to recharge, and prevent our professional ‘bonking.’
Reflection does not involve a formal planning session, so don’t break out the spreadsheets. I’m referring to mindful and purposeful quiet time. This quiet time can simply be downtime. Turn off and recharge and just be in the moment. But let’s be honest, as women lawyers we are typically Type A. We may start off our recovery time nice and easy, but before we know it, we’re hammering it out and pushing ourselves once again. Slowing down is hard, but it is essential to optimize your mind.
How Does One Slow Down? Time Blocking!
Block off some time for yourself this week to simply be alone in the quiet hours. Be prepared because, for those not accustomed to quiet time, the reflection that comes during this period can make you feel uncomfortable and even vulnerable. Still, your time of reflection can be some of the most valuable time you build into your week.
At first, just allow the thoughts and ideas to come. Eureka moments often happen when we are not directing our minds to search for them. Don’t force your thoughts. If something brilliant comes, take the time to write the thought down. If no thoughts come, that’s OK, too. With time, your mind will become accustomed to the quiet times. Just as your muscles must be conditioned to meet cycling or fitness milestones, the mind must be trained and conditioned to expect these quiet times.
When you’re ready, you can begin to use this time to reflect on specific issues or goals.
Here are some questions you can reflect on:
- Where is my business or career today?
- Where do I want my legal career to go?
- Is my work still fulfilling to me?
- If not, how can I make it more fulfilling?
- What does success look like for me, for my colleagues, and for my staff?
- How can I better support my staff, colleagues or partners?
As you enjoy the quiet moments, you are likely to have a eureka moment, where a previously unsolvable issue suddenly becomes clear and obvious. Be sure to record your ideas and findings as these are the gifts that result from reflection.
Reflection has aided my practice during a recent transformation. My reflection was focused on the broader question of resource alignment. I worried about the issue for several weeks, but it wasn’t until I quietly reflected that my eureka moment came. I needed to reevaluate and change my practice. What followed was a transformation that allowed me to spend more quality time with my family as I started to rebuild the practice I love.
Quiet, solo reflection is the candy bar that restores our blood sugar and heals the bonk. The long, slow distance days and those quiet moments exist to supercharge our minds and energize our spirits so that we can again take on the world.
Give yourself time today for your own quiet hours.
This article is Lesson No. 39 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.
Now available on Amazon.