In the middle phase of my life, I struggle with the tension between the need to take care of myself after decades of taking care of others (in my professional world) and a sense that I have a duty to continue to take care of others for as long as I can and no matter the cost to my personal well-being.
At a recent business legal conference, a keynote addressed the notion that “pressure is privilege.” The message was clear enough: as attorneys, when others place their trust in us, however much pressure it creates for us, it is a privilege. Fair enough.
In an industry that renders many of its type A members crippled by substance abuse and behavioral health crises, I can appreciate that being positioned to feel stress is part of the job. But running oneself into the ground is plain unwise. In addition to shortening one’s longevity in the saddle, it means we likely aren’t our best selves for the non-clients in our lives back in the corral.
I receive social media comments, DMs, and SMS from clients and their loved ones, urging that I take care of myself. The message is not that I do so for myself or for my loved ones, but so that I can continue to do the work that I was “destined” or “chosen” to do.
I won’t disagree that I have found substantial meaning in my life’s work. And I certainly understand the desire that I continue to help others. But the message makes me akin to a rented mule.
When on active duty, I felt the burden of increased responsibility in my managers’ realizations that others did not work as hard, or know as much, or care as deeply. So, like many institutions, my bosses made the few carry the load that should have been born by many. They weigh down the performers and demand less from others.
One of the clear benefits of private practice has been that my time, talent, and treasure can be valued in a manner commensurate with my ability. But there comes a time (and frankly, it always has been the case) when the rented mule halts mid-trail and refuses to go another step.
I don’t want to be that mule.
I also don’t know how much longer I want to be a mule at all.
The reframing of the demands of a stressful career into it representing a privilege is certainly appealing, and I imagine that it will assist several in the audience of conference-goers to keep at it however much longer fueled by a sense of purpose. The question is, then, at what expense?
I have always told myself that when I stop stepping into the arena, caring in the way that I do for the clients and their causes, it will be time to hang up the gloves. I am not there yet. Yet. But I also know that even though the pressure is a privilege, it is still pressure. And that pressure takes its toll.
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