Two nights ago, I stayed up all night finishing a draft of my paper for a conference this Friday. At 2 a.m., one of my eight-year-old twins emerged from his bedroom and was wondering whether he could have breakfast. I sent him to bed, but he was back an hour later. Of course, I was in no mood to debate, and I sent him to bed again. The next morning, my wife reminded me that he had been sick and had not eaten well for a couple of days prior. Arrrgghh!! Guilt … welcome to my life as a nocturnal father of five.
One reason (among many) that I left the practice of law was that I wanted to see my children grow up. During my short time practicing with Skadden Arps, I worked (in one year or another) every holiday, with the exception of Christmas Day, when I simply refused. All nighters were a regular occurrence, and when we were really busy, I would do more than one a week. (I remember discussing with one of my Mormon colleagues whether going straight from an all-nighter to PEC had any implications for “keeping the Sabbath Day holy.”) Even when I didn’t work all night, I rarely was home for dinner with my family. I could not commit to attend any ward function because I never knew from one day to the next whether I would be in town. From the beginning, Skadden was a way station; I had never intended to “go for partner,” and it didn’t take long before I realized that whatever I was getting out of the experience wasn’t worth the sacrifice.
The main difference between my life as a lowly Skadden associate and my life as an academic tends not to be the total number of hours that I spend working, but my own control over those hours. For the most part, I have much more control in my present position, though as evidenced by this past week, I don’t always exercise that control wisely.
This has far-reaching implications on my attempts to lead a spiritual life, and I have condensed my learning into a simple maxim: stress and spirituality are inherently inconsistent. People who are under stress tend not to behave well, and they are distracted from things eternal by their focus on things immediate. They are inward directed. And generally unhappy.
If you lead a life of stress by choice, you need to repent. Here is a little test: look at this advertisement. If you think that the company and its workers are admirable, people you would like to work with, you need help. If you feel a sense of revulsion, go read another post because you have this one mastered.