Striving for equilibrio

Striving for equilibrio
Equilibrio: the Spanish word for balance, my favourite word after three years of living in Spain (tapas was its only major competitor).

At first glance, the word’s appeal seems to come from the sharp “q” followed by the liquid consonants of “l” and “r,” topped off with an exotic vowel; it’s a lot of fun for your tongue. But my affection for equilibrio was much greater than that and after a manageable summer in contrast to a hectic first year, I’ve realized just how much.

Law school makes you appreciate very quickly how utterly important — and seemingly unattainable — balance is in your life. From Day 1 of first year, life shifts very heavily to the work side of the work-life balance and it’s a constant battle to find middle ground.

In the spring, there was a meme going around Facebook that joked that at the law school stage, the basic struggle is between three things: academic study, a social life, and sleep. Choose two of those things and be prepared to fail at the third. I laughed out loud, but I really wanted to cry.

Now, of course, this law school trifecta is oversimplified and we manage lots of other commitments that don’t fit into those boxes. Many of us have families and part-time work to juggle, extracurricular activities to organize, and career workshops to attend. The list of commitments beyond the academic is endless. And you can’t blame someone for wanting a beer at the end of such a week either!

Finding balance is surely tough now, but I imagine it will only get tougher as we begin our legal careers. Talk of this professional challenge has been the subject of many discussions around the world, let alone in the field of Canadian law. But there is one recent article on the topic that has really sparked conversation.

In the summer edition of The Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote about her decision to leave a high-profile foreign policy position in Washington, D.C., to return to a career that afforded her more time with her family. While much of the article — and the subsequent responses — focused on feminism, I feel the issue is practical as well as political. The question of balance arises right at the beginning of your career and continues throughout. Law school is like a practice run to learn how to organize life.

In Spain, equilibrio reigns supreme. Some might argue that the work-life scale on the other side of the pond leans too much toward the life side, but that’s not necessarily true for everyone. Although I must admit I think it’s a fair generalization to say that on the Spanish list of priorities, family and socializing are high up there. Personally, I admired that. No matter how many hours you worked in a day (and many people would finish around 9 or 10 p.m.), there would always be time for a bite with your brother and best friend.

I can say that I attained a good equilibrio in Spain. It took me a while to adjust, but I did. At first, I would work right through the extra long lunch break just because my North American work ethic told me to, but by the time I finished work around 10 p.m., I was toast. I adapted eventually and felt the benefits of making balance a priority.

I was determined to maintain this upon my return to Canada last September — it was one of the most prominent values I brought back with me. However, law school made that commitment really difficult and the pact went out the window. Everything on the to-do list felt urgent and fitting in a 20-minute coffee after class would sometimes be more of a stress than a break. Now, as we approach September and everyone gears up for the next round, I remember my Spanish days with nostalgia and I feel the anxiety returning.

Perhaps as we prepare for another year of summaries, OCIs, lectures, and research papers, we should take a page from the Spaniards’ book and keep equilibrio higher up on our list. It will probably make us more productive and generally happier people to be around (and we all know our family and friends would appreciate a non-law-related conversation once in a while).

So, on that note, I raise my glass of vino and toast to a healthy, happy year of law school!

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