Time and Effort

 In Learning to Listen, Office Practice is Life Practice

It’s amazing when I think about all the time and effort I put into becoming a lawyer. The countless hours I spent studying for classes and tests. It was all encompassing. I remember having married friends in law school. I have no idea how they maintained their marriages. It could not have been easy.

Graduating law school was only the start. Next came studying for the bar. I moved to Portland and lived with my sister. I was lucky enough to not have to work during that time. I studied 50-60 hours a week. Hopefully preparing for the test was a one-time job. I remember two thoughts when I passed the bar: first, “I can’t believe I’m actually a lawyer” and, second, “thank God I don’t have to take that test again.”

Now its mind boggling the time and effort I put in to keeping up with the demands that being a lawyer requires. Like all lawyers, I read advance sheets, attend CLE’s, talk with other lawyers and spend a fair amount of time thinking about all that is required to be the best lawyer I can be. If I am not careful, I find work seeping into aspects of my life where it does not belong.

I know there is more to life than work. When I get home at night I want relax, spend time with my wife and have a nice dinner. When I wake up in the morning I get ready to go to work and I’m off and running for another day.

But deep inside there is a part that keeps nudging me. It makes me restless. It’s reminding me to take care of this other part of me that’s not about what I am to be doing, but what I am supposed to be becoming. It can be so intangible, illusive and infuriating.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said it best in 1964 when talking about pornography: “I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it.” The same is true about this deeper part of me: “I know it when I feel it.” I find it when I’m writing, in a conversation or even cooking.

It’s a deep sounding bell that does not ring, as much as it resonates or vibrates inside me. When I feel it happen I make mental note of what I am doing, my surroundings, who I am with, what I am talking, doing or thinking about. Then I seek out that experience as often as I can. With the passage of time I find that I am surrounding myself with the people, places and activities that bring this out of me. It’s gathering the life that surrounds me to support what I am meant to truly feel, be and experience. Not just for me, but for those that mean the most to me.

Like in my post Urgent Is The New Black, I find countless urgent other things to do than spend time understanding this enigma residing in me. Rather then be the intrepid explorer, I do the dishes, call my mom or organize the garage. Just like in college and law school when I looked for any reason to not write a paper or study.

While it takes less time to care for this deeper part of me than be a good lawyer, it takes more effort. I would never ignore a client the way I ignore myself. If I represented clients the way I attend to this part of me, I would be committing malpractice.

Why does it work this way? Because I can more easily get away with it? There is no one other than myself to hold me accountable? I can’t lose my license to practice living? I do know that when I am not taking care of this part of me that I can logically explain it away in my head and numb away my heart, but I still can’t escape the truth.

In order to dive into this part of my life, I treat it like a job. It’s a responsibility, just like work. I’ve spent years figuring out a system that works for me, not what works for others or how I “should” be doing it. What works best for me is to get up early in the morning. The world is quiet. It’s still asleep. I can move around in solitude. I have fewer distractions that call me away. It’s the time I spend taking care of what is most important about who I am and who I can become.

No matter how hectic a day, week or month may be, when I make the effort to take care of this deeper part of me, I don’t have that niggling, nudging or numbing going on inside. Instead, there is a hum, a sense of fulfillment that goes to my very core. And that’s where I aim to live.




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  • Wendy Votroubek

    Jim- once again such a great post and so eloquently written. I totally get that balance that we manage on a daily basis. For me- endorphins do the trick.
    I tell my students that are getting ready to graduate that self care is a something they need to refine and cherish as life goes on. A challenge after having one’s life prescribed by one deadline after another.

    Thanks again!! and enjoy the sun- another way for self care!!!

    • Jim Dwyer

      I wonder if there was a license to practice life and it had to kept in good standing with a CLE (Continuing Life Education), if I would pay better attention. Thank you for your comment.

  • Roy

    Good stuff Jim. I think I need to take a month or two off to find my inner hum. Now to convince my employer. . .

    • Jim Dwyer

      I understand, I work for a task master of a boss as well.

  • David Paul

    I don’t understand this at all. I gotta go work now.

  • Kelly L> Andersen

    Jim, what a well written and thoughtful post! Thanks for your insights.

    For many years I have devoted time early each morning to study and to pray so that I might feel that peace and purpose and joy that you refer to as your inner “hum.”

    I hope you don’t mind that I have copied your last paragraph to share with friends.

    Great post!

    • Jim Dwyer

      I have seen how early you send out emails Kelly. I think you are up before me. I need that time each day to re-center and remind myself what I am about and what I want to be. Sometimes it like a thin thread I can lose track of. You are more than welcome to use any part of my post. Also, I remember well the help you gave me in editing a chapter in my book, thank you very much. You are an excellent writer and editor.

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