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Introspection and Revelation in Testing Times

It’s been a year of discovery for many of us. Some introspection is called for, so here goes.

1. Silence is best enjoyed in the midst of noise

For years, I have identified myself as an introvert, insofar as personalities can be classified, anyway. I dreamed of owning a cabin in the country, sitting quietly in front of a fireplace, reading a book or surfing the interwebs, looking out into a pristine lake, nothing but nature and me. I gave hundreds of talks to crowds, sure, but returned home exhausted. I hobnobbed, sure, but enjoyed more the company of one than the company of many. And so I concluded that I would be happiest in inverse proportion to the number of people I see everyday. I now know that I was wrong.

Indeed, spending months disrupted, cooped up in a home office, can do that. I used to joke that if my daily life was put in a play, it would need only three scenes: my bedroom, my office, and the coffee shop. Now that it’s been reduced to one scene, well, a monologue is only interesting for so long. There is a gigantic difference between seeing no one vs. seeing three people (my assistant, my law clerk, and a wandering colleague) on a daily basis. There’s nobody to say hello to in the morning, nobody to poke fun at for wearing mismatching socks or inside-out shirts, nobody to drop by and talk files with (more insights are made in these casual conversations than at appointed meetings), nobody to celebrate with and nobody to cry with. Picking up the phone to talk to a colleague feels like a bother – are you available at so-and-so? Can I call you now? – and texting, stripped of nuance and emotion, doesn’t fill the gap. To wit: silence is best enjoyed in the midst of noise.

2. Work from home? Sure.

At the same time, it has been a revelation to live out what I understood to be only theoretically possible: to work from home for long periods of time. At the beginning of the year I had booked a month off in the summer to pursue an experiment: could I travel to France for a month and work at the same time, docketing what I need to docket in the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité? I bought travel books, booked off Airbnb stops and flights, and planned itineraries. I dreamt of spending my mornings walking cobblestone beaches, breakfasting on pain au chocolat, and working from noon to night to deal with the time zone problem. The experiment was ultimately carried out in a far more pedestrian manner: breakfasting on cereal in my kitchen, walking around my neighbourhood, and working the usual hours. But it put paid to what I long suspected: we can all work from home, we can do it a lot, and we can be productive. Maybe it’s a bit much to do it every. Single. Day. But it’s doable.

3. Relationships: bound and unbounded

It is fortuitous that I am middle-aged and have a family, as I see more suffering from those living alone, young and old alike. Stories came down from colleagues and friends: productivity was low among those not lucky enough to have a partner. Big firms and small firms alike became far more flexible, allowing for dockets to diminish, however briefly; the good ones set up mentorship programs that involved regular catch-ups between junior and senior lawyers; and the even better ones gave some time off.

But even that said, relationships have been strained – is it me or is every family lawyer dancing a jig these days – and I remind myself in times of stress that this is a passing phase. In early spring, as the pandemic closed schools, I charged hard, home schooling the kids like I was Upper Canada College embodied. But not so – with tired and stressed kids, cooped up at home, it became clear it was better to prioritize happiness than education. And similarly, with our relationships, it is better to prioritize happiness. If there’s ever a time to rest from the rat race, to let go of the ego, it has to be now. We’re all behind, and it’s okay. A good day, in these times, is less complicated to define: sanity prevails over success.

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