In praise of work-life imbalance

Introductory note: I am a privileged, white, cis/het, abled woman, and this post is intended to address other privileged non-marginalized people. I don’t know and would not dare to guess or pontificate on the self-care or life-balance situation of people outside that category. YMMV.


I started my legal career in a large commercial law firm where we regularly worked 12-hour days and pulled occasional all-nighters. It wasn’t healthy. After Tim and I started our own firm, we pledged to have more control over our time. And we did. We’d close the office for a “weather emergency” when it hit 70 degrees in March and everyone had spring fever. We’d take off to a baseball game (remember those?) on a whim. But we had started a law firm dedicated to something we cared deeply about: disability rights. So there were also long days, weekend hours, and a general blurring of work/life boundaries.

Now, 26 years after we started that little firm, that imbalance still exists.  We set our own hours — a huge privilege — but we also work plenty of weekends and spend plenty of our off-time thinking and talking about our work. 

And that’s OK. 

Younger lawyers now demand work-life balance. They need time for self-care.  And that’s OK, too. 

But I’m concerned that that demand has become the same sort of brass ring/competition that long hours were to us in the 80s and 90s. Then it was cool to brag that you’d been at the office all weekend, or billed 250 or 300 hours that month,* sweeping into the competition folks who might have needed more time for themselves or their families.

Now if feels — at least from the perspective of this late-Boomer/Gen-X-cusper — that self-care has become as competitive as billable hours once were.  And that the quest for work-life balance can sometimes lose sight of clients with even more radically imbalanced lives.

I’m not suggesting we go back to defining our self-worth in billable hours.  Just that long hours on behalf of a cause you believe in may be the source not only of eye bags, caffeine jitters, and piles of unwashed laundry, but also great satisfaction and even joy. 

Work life balance/imbalance balance.


* I was actually present for a conversation among male attorneys comparing competitively who returned to work fastest after their wives gave birth.  Even for the early 90s, that was gross.


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