Caring for Yourself can feel daunting wherever you are in your career. Often, it feels like something you can do tomorrow, next week, or next year. 

But it isn’t something you can put off. All the small decisions you make about your health every day add up. Good choices will make you stronger; bad ones will inevitably catch up with you. 

As your career progresses and you become that happy rainmaker, you’ll have more influence over your daily schedule, and it will be easier to make time to Care for Yourself. But you can’t wait until you’ve “arrived” to start; you must Care for Yourself throughout your career. 

This post gives you some ideas about where to start, from the day after law school right through your retirement.  

What can you do right out of law school? 

Early legal careers are not known for flexibility. You can also get by with less focus on your health. Younger bodies bounce back faster from all-nighters and can metabolize a few greasy burgers.

But, while you can survive on less sleep and fewer doctor visits in those early years, believing you can sustain that pace forever is a myth. All-nighters will eventually get the best of you. Even if you think you can manage it, a lack of sleep will make you less productive.

The same goes for your diet. An unhealthy diet of fast, rich, and junk food will catch up with you. Drinking may take the edge off, but it will also impact your long-term health. 

When I spoke to Matt Schwarts, he talked about how his bad habits, from food to alcohol to not exercising or going to the doctor, eventually led to a health scare that caused him to rethink his lifestyle. 

Rather than wait for the inevitable wake-up call, make some changes early.

Matt recommends that junior lawyers treat going to the gym as an appointment with the same importance as a client appointment. Make the space by anticipating partner or colleague needs, ask, if you don’t know, when you’ll be needed, and structure your life around taking care of yourself. 

When it comes to food, remember there are alternatives. One advantage that you have as a lawyer is a reliable, above-average income. So you can hire someone to make food for you, or you can buy better, healthier food. While you’re at it, hire someone to clean your home. This will give you more time and healthy alternatives for taking care of yourself.  

Taking care of yourself early in your career takes conscious effort, but it is possible.

As you become a senior associate, the demands change. 

The junior associate life feels overwhelming until you become a senior associate looking back on the good old days.

Generally, your life begins to shift at this point. You may end up in the suburbs with a long commute. Spouses and kids have a way of showing up and making demands on your time even as you are trying to bill more hours and make the case for becoming partner. 

With so many conflicting priorities, it is tempting to put off taking care of yourself until you have more time.

You won’t have more time.

So, again, finding ways to prioritize yourself is essential. It starts with communication: with your spouse, your colleagues, and partners. At work, set the expectation that, while you deliver quality work and bill time, you also take time to go to the gym.

Double down on hiring help to cook and clean, prioritize living close to the office, or negotiate for some time working from home or in a satellite office. 

This is a conscious effort, and it seems like it will never end, but it will. 

Once you are a rainmaking partner, you set the agenda

Once you are a partner serving your own clients and bringing business to the firm, you set the agenda. 

This doesn’t mean you will always make every little league game and never work on a Saturday – life still throws curve balls. Still, planning for self-care is more manageable as a rainmaker, and if you make it a priority, you can make up for the events you miss. 

But you will have to make Caring for Yourself a priority. 

Make sure you have time on your agenda for your workout. Maybe you have walking meetings and order healthy food for the whole team. 

You can change your work to work smarter, using technology and assistants rather than harder. 

At this point, you also have the opportunity to model healthy behaviors and help your junior colleagues take care of themselves. Take the lead on communication, encourage them to schedule gym time, and let it be known that you expect your team to take care of themselves. 

Just as a lack of sleep and poor self-care impacted your productivity, so will it affect the productivity of those who work for you. So, encouraging your team to care for themselves is as good for you as it is for them. 

And then there’s retirement.

We’ve all heard the story of lawyers having heart attacks at their desks or even making it to retirement and dying shortly after that.

According to many studies, lawyers are more susceptible than most to suffering from heart disease and addiction – so heart attacks are definitely more common in the law. 

 I couldn’t find any research suggesting that death at retirement is a trend or that you are more likely to die because you retire. But I think the stories stick with us because they feel so tragic. 

So, don’t become a tragic story! You should live to enjoy your retirement. 

If you’ve taken care of yourself throughout your career, then there’s a better chance that you’ll make it to retirement and be in good physical condition to enjoy it. 

But if you haven’t planned for retirement, it can be quite a jolt to leave behind the demands of a legal career. It may not lead to death, but it can lead to feeling disconnected and depressed. 

I’ve learned that the key to retirement is finding something that gets you out of bed every day. Think about this before you retire. Will you want to stay involved in law? Maybe you want to travel the golf courses and make deals or act as the wizened expert supporting the new generation.

Or maybe you want to leave it all behind and travel the world or focus on a hobby. 

If you’ve thought about it in advance, you can set yourself up financially and with the right connections to do whatever you want in retirement. 

Read more about planning your retirement in Pillar 6: Design Your Legacy

In the end, it’s about everyday priorities, planning, and communication

It can feel overwhelming to focus on Caring for Yourself, even when you know it’s essential. Making an intentional effort daily, communicating with your team and family, and planning for your health will make all the difference.

It is a challenge to find the time, but if you make it a priority, you will find a way.

Caring for Yourself isn’t about making large changes or doing big things like running marathons. Those will help, especially if you enjoy marathons, but it’s the small decisions and commitments you make every day that will make the difference and add up to happy longevity or being a statistic. 

Start small; if you can’t get to the gym, climb stairs, go for a walk, walk to the printer, or park further away – 30 minutes a day of even light exercise makes a difference. Maybe you can add another 10 minutes to your sleep schedule or eat a happy meal. Start small, act consistently, and let your success build over time. 

Don’t be a statistic; go for longevity.