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» Practice in General, Solo Practice » Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

I’ve mostly avoided blogging about work-life balance up to now. I usually have nothing intelligent to say on the subject, as my idea of balance generally consists of letting the pendulum swing. If it swings too far to one side, it’ll swing back to the other with a vengeance. I keep that in mind and try to avoid letting it swing too far to one side or the other, though I’ve encountered varying degrees of success in my quest to strike the perfect balance. These past few weeks haven’t been my most successful.

I recently lost Dakota, my five-year-old German Shepherd, to chronic renal failure. I took her to the vet a few weeks ago because she was limping and seemed in pain. They asked if they could do blood tests, and I got a call a day later saying she needed to be hospitalized immediately. I took her in right away, and she stayed at the vet for a full week.

Vets aren’t open outside of my normal work hours. Taking her in took time away from my work schedule. Visiting her took time away from my work schedule. I didn’t sleep very well. She had issues with elevated creatinine levels in the past, but her other blood values suggested her kidneys were fine. Had I done something wrong? Was it somehow my fault? Should I have done something earlier? I spent an enormous amount of time worrying about her. I felt a lot of guilt.

After a week at the vet, her levels got a little better, but the prognosis was bad. She didn’t have long; likely just a few months, a year at best. She began removing her catheter, which she hadn’t done before, and the vet took that as a sign that she didn’t want to be there anymore. I was excited by the prospect of having her home, though I knew her time was limited.

A month ago, I had a happy, healthy, middle-aged dog. The dog I took home from the vet was neither happy nor healthy. She stumbled instead of walking, and the sad face she used to give me to get treats or attention revealed genuine pain.

I let the pendulum of work-life balance swing heavily in favor of life for the better part of a week. I worked from home while I monitored the dog. I fed her a special diet by hand and gave her numerous medications throughout the day. She required daily fluid therapy, which the vet taught me how to administer. I didn’t give up work altogether, but I wasn’t as productive as I ordinarily would have been. I definitely wasn’t operating at one hundred percent.

Being able to move around my schedule to be home was priceless. I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could take time off. I didn’t have to use any sick days or vacation time. Anyone who knows me in even the slightest personal capacity knows how much I love that dog. Personally caring for her in the comfort of her own home for the last days of her life was incredibly important to me. I don’t know if any firm would have given me that much flexibility to care for a pet.

Work decreased, but it never stopped altogether. I had filings to draft, interviews to conduct, and a jury trial the following week. The only things I more or less abandoned altogether were blogging and Twitter. For the first time in over a year, I had to cut my own hours on cases I billed hourly. I know how much time I usually spend drafting different types of motions, and I was consistently coming in too high for me to be comfortable charging my regular hourly rate. It was good stuff, maybe some of the best writing of my career, but my efficiency was way down.

My efforts with Dakota, unfortunately, were in vain. She quit eating, and her body stopped responding to the fluid therapy. No matter how much I did, she just didn’t get better. The plan shifted from trying to make her better to ensuring her final days were comfortable. Those days were heartbreaking, but I got in a lot of quality time with her.

After she passed, I had very little time to deal with the feelings I was experiencing. I had to jump head-first into a fourteen-hour day of hearings and client meetings, then I began a jury trial the following day. The client was facing a mandatory minimum of 75.5 years if convicted at trial of all counts, and the judge could have given him as much as 240 years.

When the trial ended, I was pleased with the verdict, to say the least, but that was overshadowed by sadness. The reality of losing Dakota finally sunk in last Thursday, the day after trial. Putting all of myself into work only suppressed my feelings. It didn’t eliminate them.

I swung the pendulum of work-life balance all the way to the life side, then it reacted by going all the way to the work side. I expect it’ll still take a few more small swings to each side before it finally settles down. I’m going to be coping with the loss for a while, but my workload is back to normal. I have more time to spend with people who matter to me.

These past few weeks made me appreciate the fact I’m self-employed. They also made me appreciate the fact I’m in a line of work where I don’t have to be someplace in particular from 9 to 5 every single day. Those facts enabled me to do something I felt was very important, but they didn’t absolve me of the duty I owe to my clients. I never expected they would.

When people talk about work-life balance, it always comes across to me as if they’re claiming you can have all you want out of both if you follow their advice. I don’t think that’s possible.

You can always take from one to favor the other, but you’re going to have to pay it back sooner or later. That’s a bitter pill to swallow if you’ve been convinced you can have it both ways, but if you accept that reality, it’s very comforting just knowing you have the choice. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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3 Responses to "Thoughts on Work-Life Balance"

  1. I have always enjoyed your blog, though today I am saddened for your loss of Dakota.

    May the pendulum come to rest sooner.

  2. Amanda says:

    Oh Matt, I’m so sorry. Dakota was so very-well loved. This is heartbreaking.

  3. Zac Hollister says:

    well said my friend… sorry for your loss. hope to see you soon.

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