Get Out of Your House

Ever notice how the days when the kids spend all their time in the house, staring at screens or kicking around with no fixed agenda, are also the days when they bicker the most about the pettiest things?  Like whether X is allowed to go into Y’s room without asking; or whether Y should have to clean up the toys, since X made “most” of the mess and Y cleaned up “everything” the last time; or why X “always” gets to choose which Wii game to play, and “never” cares what anyone else wants; or why Y is allowed to get away with stuff that X was never allowed to; or whether X or Y started the fight; or whether Y or X is being more annoying; or which one said what offensive thing to whom first….

Yikes.  It takes all my best refereeing skills to get through days like that.  Although you and I both know that if I’m smart or have the available time, I can cut all the squabbling short by doing one simple thing: getting them out of the house.

It’s a no-brainer for most parents.  Change the scenery, and you pull the rug out from under whatever drama your kids have gotten themselves wrapped up in.  The funny thing is, we often forget that this technique works on adults too.  And on days when you are feeling cranky or funked-out for one reason or another, it could be just what the doctor ordered.

Here’s how this particular revelation came to me.

I work for myself. From home. Doing legal research, and writing elegant yet compelling memoranda and pleadings and contracts.  It is fairly solitary, intellectual work that requires me to spend a lot of time being intimate with, well, my computer screen, my keyboard, my brain, two or three of the best legal search engines, and the four walls of my office.  Not real chatty interactions, those, for the most part.  Although I have clients (God bless them), I have no co-workers.  And I live in Canmore, Alberta, a town of 12,000 people, about a 75 minute drive away from most colleagues, competitors, and networking opportunities of significance to my line of work.

And most of the time, this is OK with me.  Because, first of all, I like what I do, and I like that I can get paid to do it, from home, for good clients, on my terms.  These are very big perqs, and I know I’m lucky to have them.  How many people can commute from their breakfast table to their office in less than 30 seconds?  How many can look out their office window every day and see things like this?

I’m also naturally a bit of an introvert, so a certain degree of solitariness does not bother me as much as it might some other people.  In fact, there are many days when I quite enjoy it.  No water cooler rumour mill, no office politics.  It makes legal practice almost peaceful.

But there are downsides to this splendid isolation.  I am, after all, human, and subject to certain weaknesses of my kind.  Key among them (at least as far as work is concerned) is that in the absence of frequent opportunities to measure myself against others in my field, I sometimes lose a sense of perspective and begin to fear that I am falling behind, or not as sharp as I used to be, or not as competent as a I should be, or not as good as the next guy, or, or, or…

So it was good for me this past week to make the hour-plus drive into Calgary to attend a keynote luncheon hosted by the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL).  The speaker was Anne Giardini, Q.C., a very accomplished lawyer and President of Weyerhaeuser Company Limited, as well as the author of two novels.  She spoke eloquently, as befits a lawyer/writer, on a provocative topic: “Having It All – On Your Own Terms”.  Well goodness, who among us doesn’t want to know the key to that magic formula!

And her speech was good – insightful, humourous, encouraging, but also – importantly – realistic.  Of course there is no magic formula.  We all know that, although sometimes, perhaps, we harbor a secret hope that someone will surprise us by pulling one out of a hat after all.  What I took away (and I do not necessarily claim to be summarizing Ms Giardini here) was that a meaningful, authentic life is available – but what makes it meaningful and authentic is personal, and so we have to look inside ourselves and find our own way.

But I digress.  At least I think I do.  Because what I meant to convey about why this brief foray into the company of my professional peers was good for me was that it shook up my mindset, cleared away some debris, and settled me down.  By getting out of my quiet office and interacting with colleagues, real time, I got my perspective back.  I remembered what I am good at.  I remembered how I got good at those things.  And I remembered also that although there are some things I am less good at, it’s OK because I have a plan for how I’m going to get better.

One simple luncheon was all it took.  A corrective that is so simple to implement, yet so effective.  I am going to plan to get out of my house a little more often.

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