For me, finding work/life balance is much less important than balancing the scales of justice. Though I’m just getting started on my legal career, I try to treat every case as if it’s my magnum opus. I’ve taken the duty of zealous representation to heart. I go home after a long day with stacks of case files. I go through paper clips and highlighters as fast as I drink cups of coffee.
While I couldn’t care less about the effects on my personal life, I realized this week that an excessive focus on work can have adverse consequences professionally. It doesn’t seem to make sense. How can hard work not be the answer?
It’s simple. We are not computers measured in operations per second. We are people measured in part by how others perceive us. I was reminded of this fact only after I nearly alienated myself from the rest of my colleagues.
I’m used to being liked by everyone. So when I noticed an increasing number of cold shoulders and a decreasing number of lunch invitations, I knew something was wrong. But recognizing the symptoms of pathology isn’t enough—you have to identify and treat the root cause of the problem.
But I didn’t immediately know what the root cause was. I asked friends and family for advice, but because they could only evaluate the situation through my reports, they couldn’t even see the problem, much less a solution. Next, I tried interrogating a few of my colleagues. Did I offend someone important? Did I come off as rude? Did I wear too much perfume? What is the problem?
It was none of those things. Our office is a social place. People like telling jokes, sharing stories, and finding common causes. People like going to lunch together, getting coffee together, and getting drinks after work. People like getting to know other people.
If you work until you pass out, and sleep just enough to do it over again, you can miss out on many important things. Life devolves into a tiresome cycle:
Wake, work, eat, sleep. Wake, work, eat, sleep. Wake, work, eat, sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. A robotic procedure without sensibility. Machinery gleaming and steaming—never beaming or dreaming. It’s no way to live.
So I decided to unplug. I went to work for others instead of with others. I took some time each day to get to know the people around me. I spent my evening baking cookies for the office instead of highlighting police reports. I listened to my colleagues instead of recorded audio evidence.
Collegiality is an essential dynamic in any efficient human organization. Mutual respect, professionalism, and proper behavior are great—as a starting point. When you go beyond those basics—to mutual friendship, happiness, and camaraderie—you don’t just enjoy your work, you begin to enjoy the people you work with.