Column

Living With Imperfection

I’m a litigation lawyer who practices in Calgary. I was called to the bar in 1997 and I have practiced at two firms in two different provinces. I’m also a board member of the Canadian Bar Association’s Legal Profession Assistance Conference, Saskatchewan’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and Alberta’s Lawyer Assist Program. I know of many individuals who have a better work-life balance than I do.

I’m told work-life balance is properly understood to be a healthy prioritizing between “work” (ambition and career) on the one hand and “life” (family, pleasure, and leisure) on the other. My failings at achieving a perfect work-life balance have been, on occasion, profound. Often in the past when I got busy at work my life shrunk to the office, take-out food, an occasional pub stool and my bed. Telephone calls and visits with family and friends have, sadly, sometimes felt like burdens that got in the way of work.

I thought I knew how to simultaneously have a tremendous career and a well balanced, healthy life. I wanted it all – the perfect practice and the perfect personal life. But then something happened a couple of years ago. I actually took some time to reflect. My legal career had been more successful than I had ever hoped it would be. Even my mother was shocked. However, my personal life left something to be desired.

I realized that I was in my late 30’s and I’d never been off the continent. The vast majority of my trips were work related – not holidays. While I had a thriving career I had long ago stopped playing hockey, squash, and chess, and no longer enjoyed things such as live music or theatre nearly as often as I used to. I hadn’t been on a bike since the 1990’s. I lived near the Rocky Mountains but rarely went out to hike in them. I had unintentionally replaced these activities with my new hobbies: a smidgen of extra work, a speck of extra weight, a little less physical movement, a dollop of angst, a pinch of stress, and a splash of draught beer.

I realized that I am not very good at balancing my work with my life and I have now stopped aiming for perfection in this balancing act. A person can have a brilliant career but that doesn’t mean you must sacrifice having a brilliant life. They are not mutually exclusive. Since I gave up on having it all be perfect (both my life and my career) I’ve made some positive choices. This has resulted in a much more balanced existence.

The small choices that have brought me a semblance of better balance have been profoundly radical decisions such as: take holidays (in the past two years I’ve been to England, Ireland, Argentina, and Uruguay), ride my mountain bike more, go kayaking with a friend, visit with family every chance I get, keep in regular contact with friends, eat healthier and better, make time for things that I enjoy such as reading, listening to music, playing sports, and engaging in other healthy activities that I actually enjoy. Much to my surprise I’m still able to hold down a job. I haven’t been disbarred or kicked out of the partnership while at a concert or on a hike.

I could still shed a few pounds, finally quit smoking once and for all and, in a perfect world, I would not have to regularly throw out half the fruit and vegetables that I religiously buy each week planning to have them consumed by the next weekend. But I don’t let it keep me up at night. My life is actually much healthier than it used to be. And that’s a good thing.

Dana D. J. Schindelka

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