All Night Long

April 21, 2004 | 12 comments
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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.

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12 Responses to All Night Long

  1. Zach on April 21, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    I’m a 2-yr law student, and my own little girl consistently combats the amount of time I spend studying by playing the “Daddy, won’t you play with me?”-followed by big tears card. Frankly, I’m worried about what’s going to happen once I get out of law school, and into an actual associate position.

  2. Julie in Austin on April 21, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Excellent post. I have often wondered when, why, and how business became the chief virtue celebrated by our culture.

    FWIW, I had a delicious epiphany once when I was bemoaning the fact that I had somehow ended up as a lowly junior high school teacher. The realization was: per hour, I was making more money than a friend who was an attorney. Cold comfort, I know.

  3. Jim F. on April 21, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    Gordon, one of the biggest advantage of any academic position is the flexibility it allows. I don’t think I put in fewer hours than my children who are in business and law, but I have a lot more ability to decide when I’m going to put in those hours. (Now that may children are grown I also have the luxury of working at home often.) On the other hand, the flexibility of academic life does require some self-discipline. It is easy to mistake the lack of scheduled duties for “nothing to do right now.”

  4. Julie in Austin on April 21, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    Uh, I meant ‘busy-ness’.. not business.

  5. Kristine on April 21, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    I remember right after my second baby was born, I was comparing notes with a friend who was doing the new associate gig at a big law firm. We decided that the hours were quite similar, as was the irrationality of the demands being made–still, she was getting paid, and got to take a shower most days. It is interesting how much having some control (or at least the illusion of control) over one’s time changes the perception of how hard one is working.

  6. jeremobi on April 21, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    Julie:

    ‘Busy-ness’ in the United States is something my Australian wife and European friends struggle to cope with even after years of living in country.

    Add the whole deseret/beehive Mormon cultural expectations on top and we have real problems. I know I do.

    Despite all his lunacy, the Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh offered this point of clarity:

    “Some say don’t just sit there, do something. But I say, don’t just do something, sit there.”

  7. David King Landrith on April 21, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    I can’t really agree with your anti-productivity thesis. The oft repeated cliche states that nobody on their deathbed wishes they’d spent more time in the office. But this is a loaded statement. Plenty of people on their death bed wish they’d done a better job providing for their family or that they’d have more to leave behind.

    Moreover, the fourth commandment (oft inaccurately summarized as “keep the sabbath day holy”) reads “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God.”

    So why should you feel guilty for working six days a week?

  8. Julie in Austin on April 21, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    David, I think the answer to your question is that ‘labour’ isn’t just what you do at the office but your church work, community/volunteer work, family life, etc.

    I think the problem comes when people allow their paid work to shove aside all of the other fields in which they have been called to labor.

  9. David King Landrith on April 22, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Julie, your point about balance is an apt one.

    Just the same, we’re commanded to work. We’re commanded to not just to multiply, but to be fruitful. I don’t say this (or what I say above) to advocate or defend the trading of life’s many joys for a career. I intend it as a response to Gordon’s statement: “If you lead a life of stress by choice, you need to repent…”

  10. Gordon Smith on April 22, 2004 at 1:52 am

    David, After I read Julie’s response, I decided to refrain from responding, because she said what I was thinking, only better. After reading your response to her comment, I have decided it’s time for another story.

    When I was first thinking about leaving Skadden, I had lunch with a very senior lawyer at Dupont, who also happened to be my Stake President. When I told him about my desire to leave, he basically called me crazy. He thought I had a great job, and he could not imagine why I would want to leave. He said that Dupont had worked with Skadden when acquiring Conoco, and he was amazed at Skadden’s efficiency.

    He said, “We negotiated all day in New York, and I took the train back to Wilmington. When I arrived in my office the next morning, there was a revised draft of the merger agreement!”

    Gordon: “Exactly! And who do you think did the revisions? That’s my job!!!”

    [Light bulb flashes on.]

    The point of the last paragraph of my post is that we should neither practice nor glorify this lifestyle. We should not demand that others live that way for our benefit. In my view, that is immoral.

    P.S. One more thing. Everyone goes through patches when life gets crazy and hectic. Sometimes this is a result of bad planning (my week) or dues paying (say, the medical intern) or simply a phase of life (Kristine’s child-rearing example). On the other hand, some of us are tempted to construct our lives in such a manner that this state becomes semi-permanent, and that is my main target.

  11. David King Landrith on April 22, 2004 at 10:11 am

    Fair enough.

  12. Kaimi on April 22, 2004 at 10:17 pm

    That’s a great Skadden story! And I think I can probably relate more than most people. :)

    (Okay, back to my brief-writing).