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Talking with first year associates, I’m always reminded of how young attorneys all wrestle with the same types of issues in shifting from the life of a student to the life of a lawyer. It’s not that the life of a law student is one of leisure, but I have yet to meet a new associate that doesn’t feel at least somewhat overwhelmed by the competing demands on their time after joining a firm. I distinctly remember a conversation in which I vetted some of these transitional problems to a young female parter. I was only a few months into the job, and we were driving back from a late afternoon court appearance. She asked me what plans I had for the evening and I told her that grocery shopping had finally made its way to the top of my to-do list because it had been three weeks since I’d had any milk in the house and I was beginning to suspect I might have early symptoms of scurvey. Once she realized I was not joking – at least, not about the milk part – her surprise at my predicament belied how long it had been since she had struggled with such issues herself. “Don’t worry,” she assured me, “you’ll figure it out.” “It,” of course, was not simply how to manage my personal time to fit in grocery shopping on a regular basis, but, more generally, how to manage my life in such a way that keeping up with it wouldn’t feel like simply reacting to the latest crisis. The problem in feeling overwhelmed is that it often leads to decision-making that seems like a good idea in the short run, but is not sustainable over the long term. Like “saving time” by giving up some or all of a good night’s sleep to finish that project that just wasn’t finishable during daylight hours, failing to buy groceries for weeks on end because you convince yourself that fresh produce is overrated anyhow, putting “dry clean only” clothes through the wash on the off chance the manufacturer was being overly cautious, or failing to do laundry or any number of other domestic chores because there is always “tomorrow.” I’ve found, though, that the most unsustainable long term decision, and one that most of us have fallen prey to at some point in our legal careers, is to combat this sense of being overwhelmed by focusing on nothing but work. No matter how exciting, stimulating and challenging a legal career may be, if time isn’t reserved for other things, I’ve come to the conclusion that you simply end up feeling unfulfilled. I also know I am not alone on this. A partner recently told me that he found Spanish lessons thrilling, as learning a language required him to utilize an entirely different side of his brain. An associate I know takes Pilates because she finds it helps with her alignment. Another still goes trail running to help him connect with himself. For the better part of a year, pottery lessons have helped me keep my inner sense of balance. Yet, even knowing that time spent at pottery does far more good than simply allowing me to bring home a new bowl once a week, the temptation to sacrifice non-work activities to “save time” never really goes away. Shortly before Christmas, with my parents soon to be descending upon me from the Great White North, gift shopping still to be done, and vacation time to be budgeted for, I told a friend that I was going to skip pottery classes so I could finish something for work and then head to the mall for some last minute gift purchases. He and I had previously discussed the need to routinely flex the left side of the brain to keep it from being overpowered by the right. So, I figured that if he agreed with my plan of attack, I could feel less guilty about it. He did not. His response was direct and to the point, “Skip shopping, go get centered, and finish the project tomorrow.” As I sat behind the wheel at pottery that night, I felt myself realigning. The next day, completing my work assignments and the last of my gift shopping did not seem nearly as overwhelming as they had the day before. In hindsight, I’m always glad when I haven’t skipped pottery. But I’d be lying if I said it isn’t always at least a little bit tempting. Amy J. McMaster is an associate in the environmental department at Venable in Washington. Her practice focuses on both criminal defense and civil regulatory compliance.

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