In 1982, as a healthy 29-year-old with a brand-new JD, I joined a Washington, D.C., law firm handling class action tort litigation. Workdays there were fast and furious. Sixty-hour work weeks were the norm, but I was young and hungry, the work was stimulating and I leaned in.
Twenty years later, I was managing a successful small boutique firm of my own and facing long unpredictable hours, frequent travel and too many administrative tasks. By then, my diet had whipsawed between takeout food and indulgent restaurant meals with clients. I rarely exercised, juggled acid reflux and stress, and was obese. I assumed this unhealthy brew was the price of success in a competitive profession.
Vanity, a few no-nonsense warnings and missing the things I enjoyed eventually sounded my internal alarm. Getting dressed for work (in suits, not leisurewear) was challenging when waistbands pinched or zippers didn’t close. Photos from law school reunions and partner dinners revealed how big I’d gotten. Medical screening for life insurance put me in a risk category with high premiums. I skipped shopping trips with girlfriends because I was time-starved and feared disappointment in the fitting room. My concert and theater tickets were donated or thrown away when a client had a crisis or needed me on weekends. Commitments to friends and family often gave way to billable hours. Even on vacation, I checked email and messages constantly.
One day, frowning at my cholesterol level and noting my weight, my doctor announced, “I can guarantee you a heart attack.” As dedicated as I was to my work, I was more determined to stay alive. Something had to give, but in truth, it wasn’t just one thing—I had to change almost everything.
I started working on a healthier me by avoiding a restaurant where I lunched regularly. It had a buffet that wasn’t too good, but it was close to my office and open until 4 p.m., which accommodated calls with West Coast clients. (Zoom wasn’t a thing then.) Coming home late, I often skipped dinner and went straight for dessert, usually ice cream. Chewing mint-flavored gum when I had the urge for sweets helped me kick the ice cream habit.
I signed up for personal training, which was billed hourly regardless of whether I showed up. Being too frugal to pay for nothing, I usually went. At 50, I was no longer fat but still overweight and overstressed. Then, after some soul-searching and initial resistance from my husband, I relinquished partnership in the law firm. My goal was to shorten my office hours and serve clients with fewer institutional distractions. Happily, an of counsel role suited me and the firm for more than 10 years until I retired.
Forty years have passed since I started practicing law. In that time, former co-workers and clients have had heart attacks. Stress, disease and depression felled others. Some of my lawyer friends soldier on despite aches and pains or obesity. COVID-19 was particularly unkind to lawyers: Office closings tethered them to home computers; it also shuttered gyms and recreational spaces, and put TVs, refrigerators and home bars within reach 24/7.
For a retiree, COVID confinement was an ideal time to exercise. I remembered activities I had enjoyed in my 20s, including racquetball and squash. Unfortunately, no one I knew played and the courts for those games were indoors where no one wanted to go. I decided to try outdoor racket sports—tennis and pickleball—which didn’t completely shut down during COVID. I took parks and recreation group classes, which were fun, inexpensive and convenient. As I improved, I began to play both several times a week.