A LAWYER LOOKS AT WORK/LIFE BALANCE AND REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL
By: Ellen Hirsch de Haan
It’s coming up on Thanksgiving again. It’s time to eat turkey and cranberry sauce. And, for me, it’s a time to be grateful for another year and for friends and family, and a time to think about how lucky I am to do work I love every day.
On this Thanksgiving Holiday here are my reflections:
We are each a stone cast into the oceans of our lives. The tides ebb and flow. There is sunshine and there are storms, calm and chaos. Thinking of our lives as stones in the ocean leads some of us to feel insignificant in the face of that vast expanse of water which is our lives.
But, instead of feeling small and seeing futility, I see ripples. You know, when you toss a stone into water, there are layers of ripples that emanate out in ever widening circles from the point at which the stone hits the surface of the sea.
When I interact with a client, I can answer a question, or solve someone’s legal problem, and I can teach a factual lesson related to the law or the courts.
Beyond that surface interaction, I can really listen when people talk to me, and hear the words they use. I can also hear the story between the lines, and find my way to what someone really needs from me outside of the actual text of the question asked. For me, this is about the personal relationship I can build with that person, because successful customer service includes seeing the clients as individuals, and interacting with them so they feel understood and valued at a personal level. It is going past the attorney/client relationship to say happy birthday, or congratulations on a milestone, or commiserating with the client during a health or family crisis. It is creating a sense of kinship between two people so we both feel supported.
Too many of those around us live lives of isolation and alienation. Even when we are in the company of others, we can feel alone. And, we are social creatures who need our tribes around us, physically and mentally. Without hugs and human contact, we fail to thrive. When I reach out to someone, it is up to me to make the human connection, in addition to just doing my job as legal counsel. When a client asks “how are you?” and really wants to know, we have created a personal bridge. When I ask clients about their lives, and hear what is going on with them, I cherish the sharing and that time is well spent as an investment in the future. Ripples are created which flow to the next decision makers for that client, and to others in that person’s life, and out to strangers and who knows who.
I teach all the classes on the nuts and bolts of the law: contracts, collections and foreclosures, annual meetings, and enforcement. But, I also teach Avoiding Burnout, Dealing With Difficult People, and Leadership because my priority is to give people the tools they need to create a meaningful life, to deal with adversity and to get through the day. I offer lessons in problem solving, in making healthy choices, in walking in the sunshine.
We are living in challenging times. Mass shootings, fake news, crime, bullying, unspeakable rudeness from complete strangers, hatred and aggression have become part of our daily lives. But, what I do and how I say things matter more than ever. Finding joy, celebrating everyone around us, choosing positive thoughts and actions, performing random acts of kindness – these are critical to making the ripples that can reverberate in the world. It starts with each of us.
So, I am grateful that I have a roof over my head, a loving relationship, and a fulfilling job, and the chance to make a difference for so many people through my classes and my legal services. I am grateful that I can volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and have found a passion for the work they do and the people they touch. I am grateful that I am asked to be on panels, or do a presentation, or speak to a community; and spread a message of hope. I am grateful for those who have mentored me, and for those who have felt mentored by me. And, each time I hear feedback from someone because I made a difference for him/her at all, I am grateful that I can be a stone in the ocean and create the ripples, and in some small way add to the warmth and comfort of my sphere of influence, and beyond.
To you all, may your Thanksgiving be a celebration of your ripples.