Push your reset button

I haven't taken a vacation in five years, and it probably isn't healthy. Oh, sure, I've gotten out of town for a weekend; I've been to weddings and funerals. Sometimes I even try to tack a day or two on to the beginning or end just to get away, and justify it by working while I'm away. A couple hours here or there and the work usually doesn't pile up too badly. But no, I mean a vacation. A real vacation.

I live vicariously through my friends' vacations. Poolside in Vegas, clubbing in Phoenix, on the beach at insert popular Caribbean destination here. If the cure for winter is warm weather on the beach, hearing stories and seeing pictures is at least a booster shot. Like a lot of people in small firms and solo practice, I just keep working through other people's vacations. "Want to come see the slides from our week in Paris?" Sure.

It probably isn't healthy.

But so many of us do it. It's not lack of desire; or at least, not exactly. But there's something about winter that, while it gives you the urge to get away, also makes you want to just stay in your house, crank the heat, and binge-watch Netflix. I recommend the BBC's "Top Gear" if you like cars, or British accents, or things that are funny. When the wind chill dips below the freezing point of oxygen and to take the dog outside for five minutes you've got more layers than an episode of "Sherlock" it's too easy to stay at home - or in your office - and try to wait out the cold. And so not only is it easy not to take a vacation, it's easy not even to get out and do all the things you would normally do in the summertime to protect your sanity. And that definitely isn't healthy.

There's the other motivation of course, for small firm lawyers and especially solo lawyers. The work will still come in. If you don't check your email, no one else will, either. If you don't answer the phone, clients will go elsewhere. Solo practitioners don't have 15 days of "use it or lose it" vacation. So we continue to work - partly from fear, mostly from inertia, and always promising that at some point soon you will take a vacation. And instead we work late, stay in, hide from the cold, and maybe dedicate ourselves to learning to cook something because it means you can hover around a hot oven. I recommend croissants. They're great if you don't mind overly complicated, multi-step recipes, or if you don't read all the way through the instructions before you begin and don't realize that they will take 72 hours to make, or if you think you might want breakfast in three days. Croissants aren't particularly healthy either, but that's another problem.

So you continue to work long hours, keep putting off planning a vacation, and go out in the winter far less than you do in the summer. And then you burn out. I've seen a number of solo practitioners either quit their practice or quit the law entirely, complaining of the late nights, long hours, and missed family events. These are the same conditions faced by BigLaw associates, of course, but with a big caveat: if you work in a firm with 200 associates, the work can continue without you. They may not even notice when you are gone. But solo practitioners feel pressured to put off vacation to finish up "one more project" or pull those 80 hour weeks sometimes because there is no one else there to do the work. According to Psychology Today, "[t]aking a vacation helps revive the heart, rejuvenate your body, recharge your mind, and soothe your soul." I have some fundamental problems with any "science" which assumes the existence of a soul, but it turns out there is research behind the vacation part. It turns out that what we all assumed to be true actually is true: Taking a nice, long vacation helps your mental well-being; taking a number of short vacations will help your mental well-being even more. And even though the study doesn't mention it, I'm going to take the proposition to its logical extreme: even taking one day once in a while to just get away from everything is best. Because science!

And now we've made it through another winter. Sure, it's still below freezing most of the time, and I know we'll continue to get snow for the next three months, but the winter - the real, cold, bitter part of Minnesota winter - is over. It's sweater weather. Heck, if it hits 40, it's barbecue weather. We can come out of hibernation now. Taking a day off doesn't have to mean making an igloo.

So maybe you haven't taken a vacation in a while. You should. But even if you don't, take some time to get outside now that you can do it with only a small chance of freezing to death. Get away. Spend all day at the MIA and see everything. Turn off your phone, go to the library, pick out a random book, and read it all the way through. Go to a Wild game at 3 in the afternoon. Solo practitioners, like everyone else, need to take some time away from work, and even away from family and friends, just to reset. Go on. It'll be healthy for you.

Published: Tue, Mar 10, 2015