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The Power of Goodbye

Julie T Houth


  • Time away from law practice contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Lawyers owe a fiduciary duty to clients and colleagues to realize when it’s time to say goodbye to something or someone in order to be well and provide sound legal advice and work product.
  • The ABA Senior Lawyers Division (SLD) web page offers resources and tips on how to identify and cope with mental health issues, including dementia and addiction.
The Power of Goodbye
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Lawyer wellness and well-being have been hot topics in the legal community for a while. The ABA Senior Lawyers Division (SLD) offers resources on lawyer wellness on their web page and briefly explains what it entails: “Mental health is vital in a stressful profession, and becomes more and more important as we age, not only in dealing with clients but with ourselves and our colleagues.” The SLD provides tips on how to identify and cope with various mental health issues, including diminished capacity, dementia, and addiction. Lawyer wellness isn’t necessarily limited to senior lawyers; it encompasses lawyers of all ages, backgrounds, and years of practice. The SLD’s brief narrative on lawyer wellness is something all lawyers should strive to maintain on a regular basis because our health should be the most important thing in our profession. When lawyers maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s easier for them to advocate zealously for their clients. The components of a healthy lifestyle can range from regular exercise and a healthy diet to playing with your pet and reading a book for fun. Whatever gives you joy, do it. Time away from law practice is important. It gives us lawyers the mental break we need to do our job effectively when we do return to work. Something also to consider is the power of goodbye. Our time as lawyers (and as people) is too valuable to waste on things that add little value to our lives. As I continue to learn and evolve in the legal profession, I’m slowly learning the power of goodbye.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all had to adjust to the changes that came with the pandemic, and we couldn’t begin to imagine the magnitude of what was happening around us. Many of us had to say goodbye to our routines, jobs, and life as we knew it. Over the past couple of years, other events have changed things, too. The killing of George Floyd and countless others has led to the national discussion not just of police brutality but also of the inequity in our society. There are several themes I’ve incorporated into my life. One of those themes is the importance of adaptability, which I addressed in one of my previous Legal Angle columns. Change is inevitable, so the ability to adapt is crucial in our profession. Along that same vein, the ability to say goodbye is also important because it can provide closure, which is something we may need to preserve our well-being and mental health. Goodbyes don’t necessarily need to be formal. Goodbyes allow us to let go even though what we are letting go of will still be a part of us. It can help us move on to the next stage of our lives.

Saying Goodbye and Not Saying Goodbye as Seen Through Bill Russell’s Life

Many of us have a sense that goodbyes are important even if we sometimes avoid them because saying goodbye can be difficult or awkward. Saying goodbye should still be considered because it allows us to put words to what we are feeling. It can shape how we remember someone. It can also codify our choices. Goodbyes, formal or informal, can provide closure and help us transition to the next chapter of our lives, even if it’s not the closure we wanted or expected.

Bill Russell, one of the greatest National Basketball Association (NBA) players in the history of the game and a human rights advocate, passed away peacefully on July 31, 2022, at the age of 88. Throughout his life, he experienced and survived so much. He has a long list of accolades in his professional and personal life, which include the following:

  • 11-time NBA champion as a player for the Boston Celtics;
  • Five-time NBA Most Valuable Player Award;
  • 12-time NBA All-Star as a player;
  • Olympic gold medalist in 1956; and
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee in 2011, presented by President Barack Obama.

While basketball was clearly a huge part of his life, once he retired, he essentially said goodbye to the game of basketball as a player and a player-coach. That didn’t mean that he erased basketball from his life forever. In fact, he would still often attend NBA games and was a guest speaker at many sports shows after retirement. What it meant was that he was ready to do other things besides play and coach basketball.

Before choosing not to say goodbye to something or someone, think about the possible consequences of that act. By not saying goodbye, you may never fully resolve the matter and might find yourself in a constant state of mourning, wondering what could have been. You may even be left with feelings of regret, anger, and confusion. The legal profession requires that we be competent enough to provide our clients sound legal advice and work product. It’s not always easy separating our personal and professional lives because it’s two sides of the same coin. However, we owe a fiduciary duty to our clients and to our colleagues in our profession to realize if and when we need to say goodbye to something or someone in order to be competent and to continue the practice of lawyer wellness for ourselves.

Most NBA fans know that Bill Russell’s dominance on the court is unmatched in NBA history. His impact off the floor, in my opinion, is also unmatched. He continually fought for racial justice in America, even when he was an active basketball player for the Boston Celtics. Throughout each decade of his life, Bill Russell adapted to his surroundings even when it was difficult to do. He even was willing to say goodbye to the game of basketball to assist the civil rights movement. Fortunately for all basketball fans, he continued to play. But he was willing to say goodbye to something he excelled at in exchange for what he thought would give him peace and a sense of purpose. This is the lesson we should all take from Bill Russell. His entire life is legendary, and his legacy includes all facets of his life, even when he said goodbye to his days as a basketball player.

Final Thoughts

The start of something can be wonderful, exciting, and new. Our endings can also provide that and more. We may have said goodbye to Bill Russell, but his legacy lives on with his family and within American history. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received in life was from my dad: “It’s important to make peace with what no longer is essential because, usually, the most painful goodbyes are the goodbyes that never happened.” I still take this piece of advice with me and sincerely implement it in my life because I understand that my parents were never afforded the opportunity to properly say goodbye to their families, friends, and homeland when they lived through the Khmer Rouge regime and Vietnam War. I’ve learned that the legacy we leave behind is created now while we still have the opportunity to say goodbye (and hello).