Cultivating Dynamic and Guilt-Free Selfcare
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
We learn a lot of practical legal skills and theory during law school and the early years of your career, but do we learn one of the most valuable lessons for surviving our demanding and fast-paced practice?
While law schools don’t offer “Selfcare 101” as an elective, learning how to listen to your body and mind is key to being successful and happy (yes, you can have both!). And, it’s not a once-and-done task. Learning selfcare is an ongoing process -- a conversation you should be having with yourself continually as your situation and needs change. By way of example, I’ll offer a personal anecdote…
As someone who has been living “three lives at once”—school, work, social—for over seven years now, I’ve always prided myself on being able to balance a busy schedule and selfcare quite well. However, ever since starting my LL.M I’ve found myself feeling burnt-out and more stressed than ever before; I couldn’t figure out why. I was working less hours than I ever had during my LL.B, my class schedule wasn’t much more demanding, and exams were mostly open-book and less stressful than the closed-book UK format I’m use to.
“I should be able to handle this!”
But some things were different. Being graded on a curve for the first time and entering a new legal system at the graduate level were more straining than I cared to admit. While the quantifiable hours I was putting in to work and school hadn’t increased, more subtle changes to my lifestyle and mentality were creating different types of stress that weren’t accounted for in my usual self-care routine.
That’s when I learned lesson one: things change and your self-care routine should too. What worked in undergrad may not work in law school; what worked in law school may not work at a firm. You need to learn to keep your finger on the pulse and re-balance your life every now and then.
Part of this re-balancing activity also requires that you learn not to feel guilty about taking more time out for selfcare or doing selfcare differently. For instance, I wasn’t feeling great on Monday and Tuesday this week—not sick, but I was lacking motivation and felt very irritable. On top of having a very busy past few weeks, I hadn’t slept well, which probably didn’t help. So, I decided to watch my lectures from home and do none of the extra homework I would normally relegate to Monday and Tuesday afternoons. Most importantly, I decided not to feel guilty about it (that’s lesson two).
Long story short, I got back on the horse Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with more energy and passion than I’d had in weeks. I also got a ton of stuff done! On top of getting my homework schedule back on track, I took care of a bunch of other niggly things like taxes and banking. A few days of guilt-free rest was enough to put myself way ahead of where I would have been had I dragged myself through Monday and Tuesday.
Now, sometimes you will have to put your big girl/boy pants on and muscle through a bad day—especially when you have clients depending on you. But cultivating the ability to give yourself guilt-free space when you can is super important. Normally, I hate missing lectures; even if they are recorded I prefer to be there in person and engage. But this week, I knew I’d get more out of lectures by doing them from home at my own pace.
It’s this kind of self-awareness and the ability to park Type A habits when they aren’t beneficial that is both super valuable and super difficult to develop. It takes time. Be patient and keep working at it. In our profession, your physical and mental wellness are key assets and taking care of them are worth the effort.