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Litigation News

Fall 2023, Vol. 49, No. 1

Sometimes You Just Have to Reboot

Joseph Beckman


  • In the University Hospital's list of top five stressors, in the past year, I have experienced four of them.
  • The stress allowed for me to replace my good habits with quick and dirty fixes.
  • With this in mind, I accept that it is now time for me to take a step back and reboot.
Sometimes You Just Have to Reboot
Westend61 / Uwe Umstätter

Jump to:

I spent several days in Chicago right before Labor Day. It was my home for the first 32 years of my life. My family is there. I went to get homeowners’ association approval of a project for my widowed aunt. As the executor of her late husband’s estate, I also had to go in the basement and figure out what records did and did not exist. “The basement” is a daunting task: seemingly endless. Boxes and cabinets with 35 years of paper records; oh, and “regular” floods added to the ambience.

Things went more smoothly than anticipated. Among the memories down there was a file on my aunt’s fortieth grammar school reunion (a bit of a thing for Chicago’s Catholic Schools back in the day). Reading through this unexpectedly evoked a raft of warm memories and precise recollections that so animated my aunt (who has dementia) that I quietly took a three-minute video to preserve her obvious joy to share with her grandnieces and -nephews.

Did I Go 4 for 5 on “Top Stressors”?

University Hospitals lists the five most stressful life events as a death of a loved one, divorce or separation, moving, long-term illness, and job loss. I score between 2–4 over the past 15 months, depending on how you count. Finishing the basement project a day early, I met my best friend since sixth grade. At dinner I acknowledged that my life this past year has left me feeling a bit worn, but I’m optimistic that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have woven some of these life events into prior columns. There was the loss the two most influential adults from my formative years (August 2022 and March 2023). There was a voluntary move, causing a separation from my partner (now fiancée) of almost five years. I also was tested by a recurrence of what might stretch to be deemed a “long-term illness,” enduring a third rotator cuff surgery in the last seven years, requiring a difficult and annoying 6–12 month rehab. I am still not released to full activity, and rehab is a lot tougher at 59 than it was at 38. Switching firms in June 2022 was positive but, in a way, akin to a job loss.

Sliding Down a Slippery Slope to Bad Habits

It is easy when these things pile up to rely on quick and dirty “fixes.” Skip putting in the effort to make healthy food and eat “healthy” fast food instead. Have a cocktail (or two? Maybe more?) to take the edge off and go to sleep. Watch TV, videos, or doom-scroll to distract yourself.

There is nothing wrong with these in moderation. The risk is the ease with which these shortcuts can become the default. Then healthier habits of exercise, meditation, and diet don’t just take a back seat—they often fall right out of the car.

With the top five stressors on my plate, my healthy-habit muscles began to atrophy. I focused time and effort on family matters and on trying to keep an amazing romance alive across time zones. Some of this was a predictable impact of my surgery. Some of it, however, was arguably “intellectual laziness.” My morning meditation routine, which had been very good from 2016 through June 2022, fell off after I arrived in Denver. By January, it was nonexistent.

With only my nondominant hand to operate a knife for six weeks, I added too many “convenience foods” to my diet. Beyond physical therapy (a decidedly non-calorie-burning endeavor), I was not even allowed to walk on a treadmill for three months. In fact, I was required to sleep sitting in a recliner (and in a sling) to avoid rolling over and ripping the anchors on one of the delicately reattached muscles and tendons.

When You Fall, Get Back on the Bicycle

In my “shrunken” old age, I am closer now to 6 ft. 4 in. than my “peak” of 6 ft. 5 in. Not surprisingly, basketball is my favorite sport. I have written on social media, if not in this column, of the joy associated with the 6:00 a.m. pickup hoops games I played in for about 15 years. I lost that game and its psychologically important camaraderie after my fourth rotator cuff repair in 2019. My arm no longer had the range of motion to play with any effectiveness, and I hung up my sneakers by the end of 2020.

As I write this, a bit more than six months after my surgery, I am mostly released from restrictions. While I am still barred from lifting heavy weights in my right hand with my arm extended, as well exercises as banal as pushups, I am no longer completely sedentary. I began hiking in the mountains in early May.

Around Memorial Day, I acquired a bike, and despite a warning that a fall “might undo everything, ” I have commuted by bike the seven miles each way to the office two to three times per week. Starting and ending the day with the accompanying beta-endorphin rush is wonderful for both my energy level and focus! I also added daily morning meditation back into my life. Having my “old friend” in a routine of daily visits with me in Denver has done wonderful things for my mental health.

Time to Cross REO Speedwagon Off My Bucket List

In April 2018, “Seeking Paths to Lawyer Well-Being” was published at the urging of a fellow (and more disciplined) meditator, former Litigation News Editor-In-Chief Brian Zemil. I was surprised at the request but excited for the opportunity to leverage my undergraduate training in psychology and to mine the vast trove of my personal psychology library for “life hacks” from respected academics in the field. This is especially true of the work in “Positive Psychology” that came into the mainstream when Marty Seligman was the head of the American Psychology Association in 1998.

Over five plus years, I have had the honor and pleasure of writing a decidedly “outside the box” column for Litigation News. Compared with the dozens of news columns I wrote from 1996 to 2005, this work by far has been more personally fulfilling. It has also (perhaps) been more widely read. I have been amazed and humbled by emails unexpectedly received from readers of this column. I am grateful for every person who has reached out to share appreciation for the effort and, more importantly, for sharing personal stories of how they sharpen their saws and protect their well-being.

Two of my “guilty pleasures” in terms of music are Chicago-based bands Styx and REO Speedwagon. Like many ’70s and ’80s bands, both are (with modified lineups) actively touring. I worked at Chicago’s most popular music venue for two years in high school. I saw tons of bands over that time. That included Styx at least twice, but never REO.

Perhaps my favorite REO song is one from the first album of theirs I owned (You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish). The last couplet of the song “Time for Me to Fly” captures how I feel as I write this about my time in this space: “I know it hurts [me] to say goodbye, but it’s time for me to fly.”

Thank you, to each and every one of you, for reading these past five years. If you enjoyed reading half as much as I enjoyed writing, it was likely not a waste of your time and attention. Until we meet again, may you be happy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.

For my part, REO is coming to Colorado in November. I will risk the ridicule of my colleagues, grab tickets, and enjoy “Time for Me to Fly” at least once live.

Correction: In my last column, I included a link to the obituary of my mentor Andrea. An alert reader noted she died November 1995. I incorrectly reported our visit to her in St. Charles as happening in 1996. It occurred summer 1995, and my visit with her at the hospital occurred November 1995.