Thursday, July 9, 2015

Vacation, all I ever wanted...or needed?

It’s July. Let’s talk about vacation. More specifically, have you booked yours?

I’d like to invite us to consider vacation as a matter of professionalism. Vacation as duty to ourselves, to our clients, to our students and the profession. A bit too far-reaching? I actually don’t think so.

I’ve spent the better part of the past two years researching, thinking, talking and writing about well-being, self-care and work-life balance.  The way I see it, we are a part of a profession with a longstanding tradition of workaholism and compromised mental health, one that leads other industries in depression, alcoholism, substance abuse and career dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, we are doing far to little to turn the ship. It seems that it's a ship that we would want to turn for our own sakes, of course. However, the task seems all the more important for us as clinical professors, given that we spend our days teaching and mentoring the next generation of lawyers. 

The causes and remedies to these problems are by no means uncomplicated, but one central theme continues to surface in these kinds of conversations: the need for self-care. Taking care of ourselves can feel selfish or privileged, especially as we serve clients and communities who cannot imagine such luxuries as paid vacation time or holiday travel. However, thanks to work being done in other people-centered fields like social work, I have become convinced that the best gift I can give my clients and the community that I serve is for me to be alert and energetic, thoughtful and ready to take on the day's work. For me, failure to recharge and step away from the difficulties of my practice results in a burnout that dances dangerously on the border of malpractice.  And I don't think I'm alone. We're finding that, for both individuals and for companies, failing to recharge "simply isn't sustainable." And according to a recent study cited in the Harvard Business Review, it is those who take vacations that are more likely to be promoted.

 Which brings us to summer: the perfect time to take stock of our work-life rhythms and to hit the reset button on our self-care. Studies show that we typically leave over a week of paid vacation unused. In fact, advertisers have begun to realize that few Americans are convinced to take time away for their own sakes, and have begun to use the “kid angle.” Last summer’s Mastercard "One More Day" campaign featured children citing the benefits of even just one more day of vacation per year. The ad featured kids reacting to the fact that over 400 million paid vacation days go unused each year. This year, homeaway.com partnered with internet sensation “Kid President” to promote the idea of a "whole vacation." Clever as always, Kid President contrasts a whole vacation with it’s common competitors: “vague-cations” and “fake-cations,” insisting that parents must unplug from work and other responsibilities and fully engage with their loved ones for the vacation to "count." Apparently, Kid President would not be in favor of the" work-cation" recently suggested in the Wall Street Journal. Those lovely days in Palm Springs for our AALS Clinical Conference do not count.

Much has been said about the fact clinicians have the opportunity to guide students as they learn how to "act like lawyers." Lately, I've been thinking about what it looks like to guide them in how to" live as lawyers." I want to instill and demonstrate a reflective practice that considers what it is to fully live while practicing law. What does a full or satisfied or multi-faceted life look like?  What are healthy rhythms of work and rest in the midst of a productive career? How do we perform differently when we are well-rested and recharged? Do we have any personal experience upon which we might make such a comparison? As we look toward a better balance in our full lives, these are the kinds of questions we need to be processing with our colleagues and our students.

 So take a break, good colleagues! Find a weekend getaway or a last-minute trip abroad on your favorite discount travel site, skip out early for your local concert in the park, book a massage, buy those summer concert tickets, go for a hike or a stroll this weekend. And then, reflective practitioners that we are...let's jot down a few notes about what these practices did for us and to us. How did time away affect the way we relate to those around us? How long did it take us to unwind?  Did any new ideas come to us as we stared aimlessly at the ocean/lake/forest? (Or while daringly climbing Mt. Hood as our colleague, Warren Binford, wrote about last month?) Finally, let's share our reflections with our students and encourage them to do the same. Let's normalize the idea of getting away and encourage our students to embrace opportunities to both work hard and recharge.

I’m gearing up to turn my email to auto-reply, turn my phone on airplane mode, and cram my family of six into a tent cabin in Yosemite. Relaxing? No, not a bit. But we'll have stories to tell! And I’m convinced that my family, my clients, my students, and I will benefit from the time away.

Where are you headed this summer?

 

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