After starting my job at a law firm this past week and billing nearly 45 hours of time, I realized that, for the summer, my life would be measured in a different way. Slavish adherence to the billable hour–calculated in six-minute increments–has transformed the legal industry into what it is today, for better or worse. But what does that do to the individual attorney?
The utilitarian view of time promoted by law firms or other such businesses leads me to carry around a notebook all day, recording the details of the latest project I’ve been given, but also recording to the minute how much time I spend on each project. I’ve had to artificially assign value to my time (that is, whatever the firm thinks the time is worth) without thinking about actual value.
When we confuse true value with monetary gain, there comes a temptation. If my time is really so easily translatable into money–for the firm and for myself–then what do I choose when I have two options before me? Do I work another hour at the office, or do I make it home in time to have some play time with the kids before dinner? Do I go in to the office on a Saturday morning and work for a few hours before the rest of the house gets up, or do I sleep in or make my wife breakfast in bed?
The problem with your work life dividing itself into six-minute increments is that some people begin to value their home life in such ways too. What is the value of being home in time to play catch with your son? What is the value of an extra hour with your spouse just discussing the day? In the back of your mind, are you secretly valuing the extra time spent lingering at the dinner table against the potential for one half-hour of billable time?
These are temptations that I’ve seen ruin individuals, marriages, and families. And it is a very non-Catholic way to look at work and work/life balance. Finding a work/life balance is possible, and we can learn how to do it by tapping into the richness of Catholic tradition. As Catholics, we live through an entire liturgical cycle every year. There are times of jubilation, times of mourning or repentance, and times that seem rather ordinary. But the cyclical view of time–fasting and feasting with the Church–can also be applied to work. Attorneys will have times in their career when they spend more time at the office preparing for a trial, finishing a project on a tight deadline, or a similar situation. But there will be down times where they can get away from the office, or leave at five o’clock each evening. The cycle of work allows the individual and the family to balance time and do so in a way that does not compromise either work or family.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of thoughts on work/life balance and how it relates to being a Catholic man in particular. Check back for new posts every few days.