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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 03, 2020

    Reflections: Work-life Balance: An Impossible Dream?

    We might not achieve actual "balance," but if we shift our expectations, we might be happier about our choices.

    Deanne M. Koll

    If I read another article with “tips” on how to achieve work-life balance I’m going to puke.

    Deanne M. KollDeanne M. Koll, William Mitchell 2006, is an attorney and shareholder with Bakke Norman S.C., with offices in Menomonie and New Richmond.

    Turn off your email! Calendar vacations and do not allow exceptions! Set boundaries with your clients! Learn to say no! Um, raise your hand if any of these “tips” have ever worked for you. Now, keep your hand up if you feel as though these suggestions have made you reach Zen in your work-life-balance struggle. Yeah, that’s what I thought, no hands still up.

    In actuality, if you’re lawyering, you can’t reach this altruistic work-life balance – no matter how many “tips” you try to implement in your life. If you do not respond to your emails during the day, clients and other lawyers will call your assistant to see why you’re ignoring them. If you schedule a Friday out of the office and an emergency motion must be filed, guess what, you will be on duty in the office that day to meet the deadline. If you tell your clients you’ll be out of the office next week and unavailable, your assistant will text you if something urgent comes up and tell you to call the office to help put out a fire. And, if a community stakeholder asks you to join a committee or a board, I know you ain’t saying “no” to that offer.

    The truth is, you can tell yourself you’re “taking back your life” until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t happen through implementation of your recently read “5 Steps to Achieving Work-life Balance.”

    Shift Your Expectations

    Instead, you have to shift your expectations. Stop acting as though there is some magical number of steps to achieving this goal. There isn’t. What you can do, however, is accept the work-life situation you chose, and come to terms with it.

    My work requires that I be accessible during all hours of the day and at all locations on the continent. I get that, and I’ve accepted it. But, my work also affords me the flexibility to come and go as I please from the office and take a day off if my calendar clears unexpectedly. My work allows me to watch a surprise press conference if I want, and it allows me to work from the lake, from my sister’s house, or somewhere halfway around the world, if I so choose. These are all benefits. I submit that this is the work-life balance analysis that we should be using instead of the next “hot tip” on how to achieve this equilibrium.

    So, what I’m saying is, stop soul-searching for work-life balance. Stop being so hard on yourself if none of the suggested ways to achieve this has yielded any results. And certainly stop wasting your time reading articles, listening to lectures, and buying books about work-life balance. Quit going on this wild goose chase, people.

    Instead, start talking about the realities of private practice and the pros and cons associated with it. When we accept the career we’ve chosen – the good and the bad – we’ll be happier in the end with the ramifications of that career on our lives.

    Admittedly, this is easier said than done. But, we can certainly help each other along this path by agreeing to quit talking about how to achieve the unattainable work-life balance and focus instead on the benefits of lawyering as it relates to our ability to live our best lives.

    Tell Us!

    What do you think? Is work-life balance achievable? Post a comment below, share it with us on social media, or email us at

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