"There's no proper balance for everyone's life, only a proper balance for each individual's life. Some of us can dedicate 70 percent of our lives to our work and be happy; for others doing so can be disastrous." The Butterfly Hunter by Chris Ballard
In a recent article "Creature Prefers Deadly Scorching Water" I learned of worms that live in water so hot that it would kill other worms.
This unusual preference for the scalding heat may be because of food, since these worms are the only animals that can get to lush carpets of bacteria flourishing around sizzling deep-sea vents.
We speculate that these worms have evolved to prefer and tolerate these temperatures because it allows them to graze on bacterial lawns that no other organism can access.
What would happen if some of the cooler worms (those in the luke-worm, cool-worm, and berg-worm ponds) decided that since hot water is fatal to them it is therefore bad for all worms? Reminds me of some of the arguments and declarations we hear about work-life balance.
I have met many hot worm lawyers and I suspect there may be whole firms composed primarily of hot worms. These lawyers thrive on conditions that might prove injurious or even fatal to other lawyers. I am concerned for the hot worm lawyers and the damage that might be done to them if someone decided that these torrid wigglers needed to swim in cooler waters, to achieve life balance as defined by some other worm. In many cases, a cool, balanced worm may be an unhappy or dead worm. Lawyers come in a wide variety of temperaments, each with a unique, individual, ideal allocation of what and how much goes on each scale of life. That uniqueness is best respected for the sake of the lawyer, the firm, and the client.
Dr. Paul Pearsall in his The Beethoven Factor writes about how we tend to focus on the half-empty glass when we consider health risks.
Much of what keeps us alive or kills us remains a medical mystery. People who by all medical predictions should die young often don't, and those who it seems should not too often do. The answer to this paradox may rest in learning less about why we get sick and die and more about why we don't become ill and why we thrive.
I hear many "health terrorists" as Pearsall calls them discussing the legal profession and how lawyers need to achieve work-life balance. What is work-life balance? While the phrase is ubiquitous these days, there is a definitional void. Perhaps the lack of definition is due to the infinite number of responses one must give to this question in order to be accurate. Balance is a combination of many things -- personality, goals, values, interests, much more -- and in a composite, a blend, for each of us as unique as our genetic makeup or fingerprints.
For a hot worm, work-life balance may be very different from that of a berg worm. One size does not fit all and what may appear to one to be out of balance may be the ticket to surviving and thriving for another. Maybe we should be looking at the thriving lawyers, regardless of their behavior, to learn what factors are a part of resilience.
Health terrorists fail to look at "the other group" in their research. For example, researchers have shown that being overweight, not exercising, having high blood pressure, and smoking result in about a 30 percent chance that we will die prematurely. They fail to ask about the other group, the 70 percent who despite engaging in these unwise behaviors don't die prematurely. This pathogenic view causes us not to see a healthy forest because we are too busy looking for diseased trees.
Are we looking through the same biased lenses when we look at the stress, balance, and health of the legal profession? "If all you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail." I hope that the advocates for cooler ponds will put down their hammers and watch closely the hot worms. Some worms have deep and canny wisdom.
I would not enter on my list of friends
(Though graced with polish’d manners and fine sense,
Yet wanting sensibility) the man
Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
Note (added December 9, 2006, 11:40 AM Mountain): Two more posts on this topic for you: Hot worms revisited: Extreme lawyers often love their work and Is this lawyer a workaholic? Let's look at the fun/fear factor instead.
Note (added June 28, 2009): Another post on this topic: Hot, cool and cold worms: A contrarian look at work-life balance and so-called "workaholism".