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November 14, 2019 Articles

From Surviving to Thriving: Three Ways Attorneys Can Better Their Lives Today

Easy steps that you can take today to move toward the life you crave.

By Regan Walsh

“Is this it?”

I hear that question a lot, especially from high-achieving, professional women—many of them attorneys. Lots of us have silently whispered it to ourselves, haven’t we? We’re living the lives that we set out to live: We earned multiple degrees. We worked our way into prestigious jobs. We earned our way onto charity boards. Married partners. Bought houses. Had kids.

We created the lives that we thought we wanted. But we’re exhausted. We’re on hamster wheels that never slow, and we may have lost sight of why, exactly, we’re running on them so feverishly.

That’s where the question, for many, comes.

So, is this it?

Of course not—but only if you’re willing to do something about it. Here are three easy steps that you can take today to move toward the life you crave.

Shed a “Should”

I preach “shedding the shoulds” more often than anything else.

Our “shoulds” are things we do because we believe we should—things we do almost without thinking about them because we’re programmed to be high-achieving people pleasers. We often gather data from our friends, family, and society and make decisions based on the perception that we want to project to them, rather than doing things because those things are what we really want to do.

The problem is that when we overcommit to shoulds, we no longer have room for “hell, yeahs.” We end up running on autopilot, shoulding our lives away.

When I talk with clients about this topic, I like to focus on that sense of inner knowing. What is your body telling you about this particular opportunity, this particular should? Do you feel drained? Frustrated? Even physically ill? Then it’s probably worth shedding.

Do you want to sit on all three of those philanthropic boards? Do you want to go to that networking event tonight? Do you want to go to that kid’s first birthday party this weekend? If so, awesome. If not, politely declining will free up much-needed time to try that yoga class, start training for that 10K, get to your kiddo’s game on time, enjoy a drink with a friend, or even just grab an extra hour of sleep.

Check yourself before you say yes. Is it a want, or is it a should?

I’m not asking you to shed all of your shoulds today. Just start with one.

Hit the Reset Button

You’re almost out of storage.

You’ve gotten that warning message before, right? Perhaps it pops up on your phone or in your in-box.

You knew it was coming. Things were moving slower than usual. But there just wasn’t time to manage the influx of messages, media, and storage-snatching data.

That’s where a lot of us are.

I have many tricks for restoring space before you simply shut down. But one you can try today is this: Change up just one tiny part of your routine. Try somewhere new for lunch. Shoot an email to an old colleague or mentor just to say hi. Surprise your partner, family, or yourself with takeout from somewhere special for dinner. Play a board game. Take a walk. Schedule a spontaneous day trip for the weekend.

Schedule changes can offer us fresh perspectives, put some pep in our step, and remind us that we are the authors of our own stories.

Set Boundaries to Maximize Holiday Time Off

It was her first vacation in quite a long time, and my client was explaining a strategy that she had determined would help her enjoy her trip while still allowing her to stay in the work loop.

“I’m just going to check my email twice a day,” she said.


Taking time off, after all, insinuates a need to unplug. And doing so allows us to have a richer, more meaningful experience away from our everyday responsibilities.

But, as was the case with my client, it’s often not realistic to entirely disengage while away. That’s why, in the age of constant connectedness, it’s important to set boundaries when you’re preparing for personal time off, as many of you will do throughout the holiday season.

So, I’ll give you the same advice that I gave her:

  • Before you leave, send status updates. Back when I was managing all communication and culture for a nonprofit, I took a trip to Paris. I knew that I wanted to leave work and really leave work. Before I sent my out-of-office message, I took stock of my projects and sent status updates to the necessary folks who might have had questions while I was away. It gave me peace of mind to know that all parties were informed and up-to-date.
  • Fib on your outgoing message. Being totally off the grid wasn’t an option for my client. But that didn’t mean she needed to broadcast her availability. She was definitely going to check in from time to time, but I recommended that her out-of-office message tell others that she was off-line. That way, those who emailed her with nonurgent questions would have a realistic expectation of when she might respond, and she could feel comfortable knowing that they were aware of that delay.
  • Ask your direct reports for a recap. Tell those who report to you to send a briefing the day before you return with info on anything that you might have missed. (And try to stay off email until then.) Those recaps arm you with the intelligence you need as you transition back into your routine, and they empower your team in the meantime.

I’m happy to report that my client took my advice, checking her email once midvacation and once right before her return. “It was actually easy and very freeing for me,” she said. “My team and my assistant all did a great job of supporting me.”

That, my friends, is a win. I hope you’ll start making plans today so that your holiday time off can be a win, too.


Remember, what you aren’t changing, you’re choosing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted, you have the power to fix it. It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. Just take the next best step.

I’m rooting for you to start today.

Regan Walsh is an NYU-certified executive coach based in Columbus, Ohio.

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).