Before I expound on a few words of wisdom about work, kids, marriage, life in general, let me provide a short introduction. A little context will hopefully help you understand where the thoughts expressed below are coming from.
I am a lawyer – no surprise there. I have been a licensed attorney for almost eight years. I started my career at a small plaintiffs firm in Houston, but for the past four years, I have been working in municipal law. I am currently the City Attorney for the City of Temple and have been in this position for a little over a year. If you have ever driven on Interstate 35 from Dallas to Austin or vice versa, you have driven through Temple. It is home to Baylor Scott & White Hospital, McLane Company, and one of the newest Buc-ee’s in Texas. It is a rapidly growing city with a population of almost 70,000 people. It is a wonderful city, especially for young families and you should all consider moving to Temple as quickly as possible. Or at least stop at Buc-ee’s the next time you drive through town. We love the sales tax dollars.
I have also been married for eight years. I married my high school sweetheart and in many ways I feel like we raised each other. My husband works full-time and is going to school part-time working on his bachelor’s degree. He supported me through school so now I am returning the favor. We have two daughters – 5-years old and 19-months old. They are both extremely strong-willed children and between you and me, I am almost certain they are both smarter than me and my husband. The 19-month old definitely is…it scares us a little.
To sum up, we are just like a majority of couples in their 30’s – we both work full-time, we have kids, a house, a dog, two cars, student loans, college funds, etc. Like most, we are juggling way too much all while trying to enjoy this thing called life.
But to be honest, lately, all that juggling has made me stop and think. I am 33-years old. Remember when you were right out of college and the whole world was in front of you? I remember. I was 22-years old and was going to start law school. Becoming a lawyer had been my plan since middle school. I still don’t know what made me want to become a lawyer. I always tease my father that my desire to practice law can be blamed on the hundreds of Matlock reruns he made me watch as a child. But he also made me watch hundreds of reruns of the Golden Girls…and I have no desire to become Blanche, Dorothy, Rose or Sophia (well, right now I don’t have that desire, but 30 years from now I might feel differently).
Back to my point – at 22-years old, I thought I had my life planned out. I would go to law school, work hard to get my degree, go work for some prestigious law firm and make tons of money. Somewhere along the way, I would get married and have beautiful, well-behaved children. And once I accomplished those things, once I climbed that hill toward all those hopes and dreams, I would be able to describe myself as a “successful” person.
Well, 11 years later, at the age of 33, let me tell you that my definition of a “successful” person has changed. Dramatically. I did become a lawyer and I honestly love being a lawyer. I haven’t managed to make tons of money yet, but I make my student loan payments every month so we are going to put a checkmark in the success column for that fact alone.
I did get married and I imagine we are like most married couples at this stage – we love each other, but we are insanely busy and those long lost times that were filled with date nights and four-hour dinners are a faint memory. If we are able to watch one episode of Game of Thrones in peace on a Sunday night, we put another checkmark in the success column.
And I do have two beautiful girls, but to describe them as “well-behaved” would be stretching it. That may say something about our parenting skills, but as we all know, kids don’t come with an instruction manual and I am not ashamed to admit that five years later, I am still trying to figure out this whole motherhood thing. I mean, if our kids could sit through an entire dinner at a restaurant without getting out of their seats, my husband and I would publicly praise Jesus in the middle of the restaurant. Let’s just say we haven’t had that pleasure yet. But my kids are happy, healthy, giggly, imaginative little people and 97% of the time they both sleep through the night. You know what we call that people? Success.
For some reason, when I was 22 and thinking about all these wonderful things, it never crossed my mind that having all of these things would be difficult…and challenging…and exhausting. Again, I love being a lawyer and I love my current position. I work with incredible people every day and I get to play an amazing role in a growing city. But I currently manage five attorneys and three support staff. Day in and day out, we are in charge of researching hundreds of laws that affect cities. We must be experts in civil service law, the Public Information Act, the Open Meetings Act, procurement laws, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations, and the list goes on. I answer directly to the Mayor and City Council which means I technically have five bosses. And those five bosses come and go because they are elected officials. My office is tasked with ensuring that those five elected officials and approximately 800 city employees follow every state and federal law that applies to cities. Most week days, I am up at 4:00 a.m. just so I have enough time to exercise for a few minutes (because exercising helps me stay sane), catch up on emails, and get ready for work. Throw in a couple of kids and the mornings get real fun, real fast.
But you have waited long enough, I am finally going to get to the point of this blog post – when I was 22-years old, I saw the next 10 years of my life as this hill I would have to climb. I was willing to climb this hill because I thought I knew the wonderful things that awaited me at the top of that hill – successful career, great marriage, wonderful children – and when I reached the top of the hill, life would be perfect and naively, I thought it would be easy. But I have come to the realization recently that there is no “top of the hill.”* That having the successful career, great marriage, and wonderful children isn’t easy. It is actually extremely challenging and honestly, it makes me sleepy – all the time. In fact, I have succumbed to the fact that I might be climbing this crazy hill for most of my life. And just the thought of continuing to climb for the rest of my life is exhausting at times.
But the society we live in demands that we keep climbing and we keep reaching for that allusive feeling of success. Most lawyers, in particular, are wired to keep climbing because we thrive on the thought of being successful. We want to win the next big case or land an important client. We want to become partner or argue important cases on appeal. And at the same time, we want storybook marriages and beautiful, well-behaved babies. So we keep climbing because having and keeping all of those things is a ton of work.
But now that you are sufficiently depressed by this realization, let me offer some advice. And it is very simple advice – keep climbing, but stop and take some breaks along the way. Honestly, it is the only way you won’t go tumbling back down the hill.
A week after Christmas last year, I took off from work on a random Friday. I still took my oldest daughter to daycare and my younger one stayed with my mother-in-law. What did I do all day? Whatever the heck I wanted. I spent 45 minutes wondering around the book aisles in Target. And that 45 minutes was pure happiness to me. I didn’t check my email or worry about work. I knew my kids were safe and my husband was at work. I had nowhere I had to be other than the book aisle at Target. (If we had a Barnes and Noble in Temple, I may have had to take two days off.) The rest of the day involved a pedicure, lunch by myself, and some quiet time reading. I decided to take a break from climbing and it was fabulous. When I got home that evening, I picked up the climb again, but I was refreshed and that made all the difference.
As young professionals, we have lots of years left to build our careers. And God willing, we have lots of years left with our spouses and children. They will be difficult years and the grind will not stop. I have realized that now and have come to terms with it. I have also realized that a life of marathon climbing is not possible for me. So I take breaks from the climb – I waste time in the book aisle at Target, I meet a friend for dinner, read for 30 minutes before bed, or paint my girls’ fingernails because they love it. Those breaks are essential to my sanity and they make the climb much more bearable.
In conclusion my friends, keep climbing. There may not be a top of the hill, but there are rest stops along the way. Don’t ignore them. Those rest stops give you the opportunity to create wonderful memories. And you will be a better lawyer, spouse and parent when you take a break from the climb.
* I have to give some credit for this realization to one of my very best friends. This epiphany occurred to both of us during a four hour dinner where we ate pizza and shared a bottle of wine. It was fabulous and a much needed break from the climb.