I began my career when I was 20 years old with my degree and not a lot of real world paralegal experience. Thinking I knew everything, I soon realized I really knew nothing. After a few years working as a paralegal, I felt much more secure in my job and was networking and advancing in my career. At the same time, my personal life was also changing with the decision to marry and start a family. Of course, I believed I could have it all – a successful career, a happy marriage, and well-adjusted kids. All I had to do was figure out how.
There's no secret formula to balancing work, home, and life. You can't learn how to do it from a book, a seminar, or an article. Everyone is different and you have to discover what works for you. And often, what works for others may not work for you. For example, a single paralegal working in a high-stress corporate law firm likely has a different view of a balanced life when compared to a paralegal who is married with three children working for a medical insurance defense firm. The key is to find what makes you happy, prioritizing life goals based on your specific situation and needs.
Instead of rehashing the generic advice about prioritizing, organizing, and multitasking, I've listed several items you may be ignoring that will help you manage a successful paralegal career and a fulfilling home life.
Take a Vacation
Regardless of what you might want to believe, your office will survive without you for a week or two. We all love to feel as if we are needed but no one is indispensable (no matter what your attorney may want you to believe to keep you at your desk 365 days a year). You need time to relax. That may mean lazy days of doing nothing or days filled with fun activities that you never seem to have time to do anymore.
Give Up Multitasking
Multitasking at work or at home isn't something that you should aspire to mastering. When at home, focus solely on your family. Avoid bringing work home, checking work email, and returning business calls when you're not on the clock. While there may be times when it's necessary to work from home, try to limit those to true emergencies.
Take Care of Your Health
If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone. It's easy to give up exercising, live on fast food, and go without sleep when you're trying to balance too much. Schedule time to exercise, commit to eating a healthy diet, and get the proper amount of sleep. When you're healthy and rested, you'll be able to handle the challenges that come with balancing work and home.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
You're not a superhero. You have people who are willing and capable of helping you with what needs to be done each day. Set aside your ego and your pride and ask for help when you need it. Delegating is a skill and a tool, not a weakness.
Learning to say no can be difficult for some of us. We don't like disappointing our boss, coworkers, friends, or family. This leads to taking on more than we can handle. We stretch ourselves thin, committing to more than we can healthily manage. If your plate is already full, pass on another helping no matter how tempting to avoid a mess when your plate becomes too heavy to balance or hold.
Have a Backup Plan
We experience stress when our plans do not work out the way we envision. Having a backup plan that we can quickly put into action means less stress. Whether it's a backup babysitter (or two) or a feasible plan to work from home if your child is sick, having a backup plan in place will make your life much easier to handle at work and at home.
Schedule Down Time
Being organized and having a schedule both at home and at work are essential if you want to stay on top of things. That said, if you don't give yourself some down time, you'll soon find that your schedule is making you miserable. If you try to plan your days down to the very last minute, every day will become nothing more than playing “catch up” as you race to stay on schedule. If you schedule down time, you'll have a built-in buffer for emergencies or unexpected events during the day. Then if you don't need the buffer, you have a few minutes of “me time” to read your favorite magazine or catch up with that friend you've been meaning to call.
Finding the Perfect Balance Between Work and Home
There's no secret to balancing work and life responsibilities. You won't find a “one-size-fits-all” formula to having a successful paralegal career, happy home, and fulfilled life. Your life is what you make of it both at home and at work. Deciding what makes you happy and what gives you satisfaction is the toughest part of having a balanced life. No one can do that for you. The key is to keep trying, be flexible, and do what is comfortable for you.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).
Image reprinted from Parent Map Magazine, May 2007.