Tag Archives: work-life balance

Work Ethic

Remember Haydn’s 104 symphonies.  Not all of them
were great.  But there were 104 of them.
– Raymond Carver¹

Americans have a reputation for being workaholics.  This makes me feel patriotic.  It is Labor Day, presumably a day off from work in honor of work, yet I am eager to get some work completed today free from meetings and the steady onslaught of email.  I may have a problem.

The term “work ethic” implies that there is some moral element to work, a right and a wrong if you will, and I’m not exactly sure who has cornered the market on figuring that out.  I’m pretty sure that it isn’t me.

A couple years back Pepperdine Law hosted a lunchtime presentation featuring Lieutenant General Flora D. Darpino, the thirty-ninth Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) of the United States Army, and the first female to hold that prestigious post.  From her impressive presentation, what stuck with me most was her dislike for the phrase “work-life balance”—an implication that (a) work and life are mutually exclusive; and (b) navigating the two involves walking a precarious tightrope.  Lt. Gen. Darpino argued that we just have “life” and that work is simply one of its many components.  I liked that a lot.

I like work.  So much that I do too much of it sometimes.  The idea of retirement, with no disrespect for those who enjoy it nor to those who long for it, never has appealed to me.  I want to keep contributing to this old world as long as possible.  To be productive.  To create.

I’ll write about the need to rest on some other day, but today, in honor of Labor Day, I celebrate work.  May those of us blessed to have it do it well.


¹ Excerpted from His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed with Notes by Raymond Carver, in A New Path to the Waterfall (1989).

The Path to Rejuvenation

Family at Sugarloaf

“I have become convinced that the best gift I can give my clients and the community that I serve is for me to be alert and energetic, thoughtful and ready to take on the day’s work. For me, failure to recharge and step away from the difficulties of my practice results in a burnout that dances dangerously on the border of malpractice.” – Brittany Stringfellow Otey

Given my socioeconomic roots, it feels pretentious to say that my family just returned from a week’s vacation in Rio. But we did. Yep, that felt pretentious.

We counted, and in our eighteen years as a family of four, this was only our fourth true family vacation. It was also intentionally our last. My wife and I love our daughters very much, but the oven timer just went off when our youngest turned eighteen, and we are done. People tell us we are wrong, but we stick our fingers in our ears and sing la-la-la-la-la at an annoyingly loud volume and refuse to listen. We are prepared to party.

We chose Rio for our farewell celebration and made the right choice. Brazil—and Rio in particular—is spectacular.

“Breathtaking” is a lousy attempt to describe the views in Rio. Words cannot describe what you see from Pedra Bonita high in the Tijuca rainforest; or at Grumari facing the roaring ocean; or at the Christ statue atop Corcovado; or at sunset as the city lights flicker on after riding a cable car to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain.

And the beautiful people! Holy cow, Brazilians are beautiful. Pull up a beach chair at Ipanema’s “Posto 9” and prepare to feel inadequate about multiple characteristics of your own body.

And the colors! Brazil is not shy with bright colors. The ubiquitous green and yellow of the national flag shine at every turn; the flashy ceramic-tiled stairs of Escadaria Selaron sparkle like a neon rainbow; and the majestic, gaudy costumes of Carnaval at the Plataforma overload the senses entirely.

And the energy! The Samba show in Lapa supplied a beat that is the rhythm of Rio. The amazing athletes on Copacabana Beach never stopped playing Rio’s special brand of volleyball (played without hands). We stood and cheered for Flamengo, Rio’s favorite soccer team, with the raucous crowd at Maracana Stadium where the drums, songs, and massive waving flags never lost their infectious spirit. Rio exudes endless energy.

My friend, Brittany Stringfellow Otey, is a public interest lawyer extraordinaire who serves on L.A.’s Skid Row and writes with expertise on self-care and burnout. While my family vacationed in Rio, she published a blog post on “vacation as a matter of professionalism.” Brittany argued persuasively that time away benefits you, your family, and the people you serve.

Her timing was impeccable.

We went away, and with the deft assist of incredible hosts, embraced Rio de Janeiro as best we could. According to Lonely Planet, we found a way to see, smell, hear, taste, touch—and feel—something from each of the top ten things Rio has to offer. And so much more. We mangled Portuguese. We saw abject poverty, colorful ingenuity, and lovely smiles in the slums called favelas. And I for one prayed more in the crazy yellow taxis that infest the city than at Christ the Redeemer. We truly escaped our lives, inboxes, and routines and immersed ourselves in another world.

Now we are back, and I am magically ready to embrace life once again. Brittany is right: The signs for the path to rejuvenation point directly away from the office. ¹

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¹ For example, we are purchasing chairs and umbrellas to go with our new Frescobol beach game from Rio. It took a twelve-thousand mile round trip for us to realize that Malibu has darn good beaches to use!