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Things Lawyers Do …

I just took my first long vacation in, well, pretty much ever. I’ve taken time off before of course, but this was my first two weeks out of the office in 25 years. And that includes two honeymoons, by the way.
I spent those two weeks in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the perfect place for me. Each morning, my toughest decision was: do I want to swim, play tennis, wake surf, or golf? Or just spend the day strolling, eating and relaxing with my kids? Many days we did all of the above. It was the ideal time “away,” the perfect opportunity to step back from all of my work, to stop thinking about or acting on any of it. But here’s the thing: I didn’t. I don’t mean that I couldn’t bring myself to, or that I wasn’t strong enough to resist my email and to-do list. I just didn’t find it appealing to shut down all my work completely. Doing so didn’t feel right and it wouldn’t have made me happy.

Work Isn’t the Opposite of Life
Every day, I worked at least a little bit. I was in maintenance mode, focusing on the things that mattered the most and staying on top of critical things. As a result, I came home to a clean inbox, refreshed from my glorious two weeks but still confident that I was in control of my work.
We hear a lot about “work/life balance,” that elusive equilibrium between the two halves of our modern lives. It is the professional side, we are always told, that needs to be contained and controlled, or else it will dominate the personal side. We hear that technology has allowed our work to invade our life, and that we must fight those incursions even more in the modern world. I don’t buy it. I don’t accept the premise that work and life are two separate ideas sitting on opposite ends of a teeter-totter, where only one can get the priority at any moment, at the expense of the other. We don’t—we can’t—live successfully in this zero-sum mindset.

An Equation That Never Balances
I think this way of thinking sells work short. If you love (or even just like) your “work,” it gives your “life” purpose and meaning, and work is part of who you are and what you enjoy. Focusing on it and thinking about it, even while on vacation, isn’t bad or distracting or a debit from your personal life. It is just natural. And if you really can’t stand work intruding on your life, the problem might not be that you can’t separate the two. Maybe you just don’t like your job.
Everyone complains about the tyranny of new technology, that it can be such an annoyance and distraction, an intrusion. But that same technology lets us to switch quickly between work and personal modes like never before. It can give us precious flexibility to make both our personal and professional lives better. How many people get to take a little bit more time on that long weekend, tack a few days onto their vacation, or go to a child’s lacrosse game, because they know they will have access to email? Or be able to dial in for that one really important meeting? For people who need to completely wall out work in order to relax … good luck with that. It might work for you but for me, and for many of the people I know, it is both unrealistic and not fulfilling. How often can you take that sort of complete break in a busy life? And how does it feel to come back to complete chaos in your work? Is that relaxing?

Real Balance Means Accepting Work and Life Together
I believe that drawing hard lines between work and life is more destructive than constructive. Fighting against the reality of today’s world will make you embittered and resentful of your “work.” Your colleagues and bosses will see it too and view you through a lens of entitlement and inflexibility, leading to other challenges.
Managing both in harmony really means enjoying your entire life and living it in a way that works for you. That is just as true on a normal Monday standing at my desk in Sunnyvale as on a Saturday afternoon at the lake in Idaho.
So, what did I bring back from this long-awaited vacation, besides great memories? I came back energized and focused, excited to get back to the colleagues and work that I missed during my absence. And I immediately booked my two-week vacation for next year.

Matthew Fawcett

Matthew Fawcett is the senior vice president and general counsel of NetApp, Inc., the data authority in the hybrid cloud. Matt is responsible for NetApp’s legal affairs worldwide. He has overseen the development of NetApp Legal into a global high-performance organization with a unique commitment to innovation and transformation. He is a frequent speaker and author on the topics of innovation in the legal industry and leadership and management issues broadly. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattfawcett.

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About the Author: Matthew Fawcett is the senior vice president and general counsel of NetApp, Inc., the data authority in the hybrid cloud. Matt is responsible for NetApp’s legal affairs worldwide. He has overseen the development of NetApp Legal into a global high-performance organization with a unique commitment to innovation and transformation. He is a frequent speaker and author on the topics of innovation in the legal industry and leadership and management issues broadly. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattfawcett.

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