Oregon State Bar Bulletin — NOVEMBER 2008
Parting Thoughts
I'm a Lawyer Not A Pigeon
By Debbe von Blumenstein

When the OSB Bulletin comes in, I turn to "Among Ourselves" to read happy peer news. Interestingly, that section is followed by "In Memoriam." Recently, I was struck by how many attorneys had passed on: seven. One was from my graduating class. The average age was 60. The youngest was 41. Three were younger than me. Time to pause and reflect.

As attorneys, our careers are stressful. Our lives get swallowed up by our profession. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has had someone ask, "Can you just not be an attorney for one moment?"

As Popeye would say, "I am what I am." And it’s true: as attorneys, we get our identities from our profession. If we don’t do it to ourselves, others do it for us.

Years back, I came home with an injured pigeon in tow. My attorney husband was aghast, asked what was I thinking and informed pigeons were rats with wings filled with disease. My reply was I wanted to save his life — after all the pigeon didn’t choose to be a pigeon. "It’s not his fault… unlike us attorneys." I added.

It’s a choice. It’s a noble choice. However, we need to consider all our choices.

By choosing our profession, we choose to give ourselves to many masters: clients, judges, courts. Yet boldly I assert we cannot truly give ourselves to anything or anyone until we first give to ourselves. If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of anyone or anything else.

As attorneys, we are so good at dispensing advice to others, solving problems for others, taking care of others’ needs. What about us?

I spoke to an attorney not long ago and told him how I was going to court by bus. He seemed dubious at my recommendation of it. He became more convinced when I pointed out I do not lose time but I get time back. I have less stress. If I don’t have to drive, I am spared traffic irritations as I have my "chauffeur" to deal with them. I get to spend my travel time doing what I want: reading, writing, listening to CDs. I can choose to do these for pleasure or use the time for work activities — the point is, I have a choice. (By the way, I can also choose to take a nap — and for all us achiever attorneys, you can make it a power nap. Again, you choose.)

Now before you all want to come after me with lighted torches and pointy pitchforks for suggesting attorneys can achieve a more calming and peaceful lifestyle, I know that to tell attorneys to slow down or cut back is likely to cause internal hemorrhaging to our habitual system. Yet, I highly advocate it. And I used to be in the torch and pitchfork crowd.

I used to think that I didn’t have the time for me. Well, when I now read the "In Memoriam" section, I am reminded that I could have been listed there. My circumstances forced me to withdraw from the life I was un-living to one of renewal and rejuvenation. I found out the world of law can function without me, and that is the good news. Now, I focus and take care of me so I can genuinely give my legacy while I am living. Guess what? I found the time to run my practice and run — literally — for health and spirit. I found time to create optimal health in my life and not to accept days of just getting by in struggling turbulence. I found time to do activities I love to do. I have reclaimed myself. You can too.

There are many coined terms for self-transition. Maybe you have heard of them — or maybe you’ve been too busy with busyness — but it’s been called: rewirement, encore careers, a portfolio life, changing course, prime time, legacy launching, the time bonus, life-change navigating. I call it: active significance.

I used to brag that my practice covered 12 counties. Now I crow about my practice covering two. I used boast about my insane schedule and the hours I worked. Now, I give a shout-out to flexibility, time breaks in my day for me, creative stability and yes, balance.

I ride the bus. I see life as I hadn’t seen it. I see what I have missed, like seeing the seasons change and seeing the world without law-colored glasses. If you see me, I’ll be able to tell you something positive and wonderful that has happened in the last 24-hours. When you see me I’ll tell you what my next great adventure is. If you see me at the transit mall, I can introduce you to Walter, Jason, Michele, Amy and others while getting a hug from Shane. I can tell you the bus drivers’ names. It is no longer a luxury to connect to people simply because we all live on the same rock third from the sun.

Maybe the pigeon didn’t choose to be a pigeon and be regarded as a disease-ridden rat with wings. But I, like you, chose to be an attorney, and I accept all that goes with that choice. I love my choice of profession. But with that choice, I can also choose to not be only an attorney.

I choose to be a multi-faceted human being with a full and significant active life. Won’t you join me?

The author is a Dallas, Ore., criminal defense attorney. She recently completed her first triathlon.

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