I’m part of the 57.6% of Arizona attorneys who feel stressed out practicing law and the 70.3% of Arizona attorneys for whom work stress carries over to their personal life. Part of this is related to the fact that there is no separation between my professional and personal lives, but also because I tend to be a workaholic.
I hit a metaphorical wall last November. Although I had more work than ever to do, getting any of it done took a substantial effort. Instead, I’d find myself mindlessly watching YouTube for hours. This had been going on for weeks.
I had burned out (again).
I wasn’t just exhausted, I was drained. Even though I was excited to begin some new creative projects, I had no bandwidth to work on any of them.
Making the Decision
My life as I was living it wasn’t sustainable. I needed to make a change. And it had to be a real commitment, one I couldn’t brush off like the commitment so many people make when they join a gym in January and then stop showing up after a month.
Just outside the Phoenix area is Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary. It’s home to dozens of farm animals, including goats, cows, horses, sheep, pigs and chickens, many of which have special needs. It’s a healing place for animals and humans alike.
Even though the prospect of taking a day off every week petrified me, I committed to volunteering at the farm every Monday morning starting in December. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to maintain my practice and income, and that taking this time off would just add to my overwhelming stress. I also worried about how clients would react.
How Does Volunteering Make Me a Better Lawyer?
Now on Monday mornings, I spring out of bed before sunrise, put on my grubby clothes and rubber boots, and head out to the farm where I spend three or four hours scooping poop, laying out fresh hay, giving the animals plenty of pets and snacks, and occasionally singing to them.
When I’m at the farm, I am completely in the moment. I turn the ringer off on my phone, and for those few hours, I’m no one’s lawyer. I just get to be a person. There’s also a special type of satisfaction in working with my hands that I don’t get when I’m working behind a computer.
Although farm work is tiring, I feel more energized as a person, and able to more easily focus when I’m back in the office. Since I’ve started working at the farm, it’s rare that I find myself zoning out to YouTube when I’ve scheduled myself to do client work.
How Did Clients and Opposing Counsel React?
I set an automatic reply every Monday morning. At first, it was a generic message that said, “I’m out of the office today, and I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Now it says:
“Happy Monday! … I’m volunteering at my local farm animal sanctuary this morning, so while you’re working, I’m probably petting a pig or being nuzzled by a goat.”
Despite my fears to the contrary, the response has been positive. No one has accused me of slacking off. If anyone mentions the farm, they say it’s a good thing that I get to work there.
Am I Ever Forced to Work on Mondays?
Unfortunately, yes. For the most part, my colleagues are respectful that Mondays are my time to volunteer and work on other projects. However, sometimes it can’t be helped.
So far, there have been two occasions where the only time everyone involved in a matter could meet was on Monday, so after the farm, I had to shower and head into the office. I voluntarily adjusted my schedule. (I should have given myself another half-day off those weeks to work on my projects, but I didn’t.)
Also, recently I got a call on a Monday afternoon, as I was sitting down to write this column. A co-worker needed help with a filing that was due to the court that day. Instead of writing for you, my afternoon was hijacked, and I spent three hours helping him.
I’m becoming more aware that time is the most valuable resource I have, and it tends to be things that people didn’t do that cause the most regrets. I don’t think anyone dies wishing they could have billed a few more hours. I’ve wanted to contribute more to this farm, and I made the commitment to make it happen.
Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary Photos by Ruth Carter.
Also on Attorney at Work:
“Workaholic Lawyer: Is This Lifestyle Sustainable?” by Ruth Carter
“Mindfulness Matters” Five Ways to Focus on the Now” by Jamie Spannhake
“Attorney Burnout: 4 Traps to Avoid” by Gray Robinson”
“Office Dogs Improve Law Office Morale” by Ruth Carter
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