Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

How To Hit The 'No' Button (And Keep Your Law Job!), How to Hit the 'No' Button (And Keep Your Law Job!):

NoI have a large red button on my desk that reads, quite simply, “No!”

Push this said button—which is really more of a toy, inspired by the Staples “That was Easy” button—and you hear one of 10 different “No’s,” all of which make clear that you should really stop asking me for things. The button, a plastic novelty not well aligned with my general aesthetic, is also not well aligned with my general personality, and that’s because when pushed, it clearly and easily sets boundaries. ...

Like many people, I struggle with maintaining good boundaries. Not the physical kind, the boundaries I struggle with are knowing when to say no to more work, when to stop working each day, when to take time off, and when to accept that my best was good enough. In short, they are the prototypical boundary issues of many—if not most—people working in and around the legal profession.

Even though I know better—academically, personally and clinically—the struggle to say no is real. My compass is and always has been oriented toward doing rather than dawdling, achieving rather than aspiring, succeeding rather than settling. As a result, if I am not vigilant, I can sometimes find myself both completely overworked and totally unable to appreciate and enjoy just how much I have already produced. In fact, that’s a lose-lose that takes effort and determination to avoid.

This scenario may sound familiar: There is always more to do. The expectations of your constant availability are unabating and the pace of any given week feels wholly breakneck. You find yourself exhausted, while the recognition and satisfaction of what’s already been accomplished quickly fade from view or fail to even register. ...

[T]hink of the proverbial frog in a pot, and begin to do the opposite. Lower the flame, slowly over time. Just as the frog doesn’t jump out of the water because it is heating up too slowly for it to recognize its impending demise, those you work for and with will be less resistant to the reclamation of your humanity if you don’t shock them with it all at once. Small boundary here, small boundary there, and before you know it, you’ve perhaps regained a semblance of manageability. ...

As you look ahead to 2020, start thinking and planning now about how you might begin setting better boundaries around your work. If you don’t, the default pace of your life could easily sweep you away for another year, and your own personal “No” button will just get lost in the shuffle along the way.

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