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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Apr. 4, 201902:50 PM EST

Commentary: Unplug and unwind: The case for taking a sabbatical

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Give yourself permission to enjoy life a little more.

Michelle Bedoya Barnett, JBA Board of Governors

I’m taking a sabbatical.

No, I’m not sick, going to rehab or fat camp and neither of my parents are dying.

It all started a couple of years ago when I was on the hunt for an expert. I called my preferred prospect and his assistant told me he was tied up for the next few weeks, but one of his partners could help me. One of them even called and followed up.

I decided to wait for the expert I was seeking and finally spoke with him. He was as pleasant as could be and told me how he had just returned from sabbatical.

It didn’t seem appropriate to question him, and I remember thinking that he must have been away for one of the aforementioned reasons.  

As I got to know him, I learned that one of his partners died unexpectedly at a young age, and he and his other partners found themselves aimlessly, and sadly, trying to pick up the pieces to fill the void. They lamented about everything the deceased partner wanted to do and never did, and selfishly about how much he did that no one else in the firm knew how to do or could.

Financially, it was a disaster for the firm. They lost clients they didn’t know.

They decided shortly after his death and in the rebuilding phase that the partners would start taking sabbaticals. The reason was twofold: To enjoy life a little more and to make sure that they all knew what the other was doing and how to manage in the event of an unexpected loss.  

After learning about that experience, I impulsively and by pure chance rounded up my partners and somewhat sheepishly pitched the idea.

You see, I’ve had three kids and each time I have worked up until their delivery. I’m embarrassed to say that after each birth I’ve taken new client calls and participated in conference calls from the hospital.

For some reason, I never gave myself permission to unplug. I’m not proud of it and I don’t recommend it.

Intellectually, I also know that no one expected me to do this – most importantly not my awesome partners. Thankfully, my kids don’t remember and seem unaffected by my distraction at the time.  

Perhaps it’s the effect of a friend dying from cancer last year, another one recently being diagnosed with cancer and yet a third aggressively fighting it now.

I’m giving myself permission to unplug for several weeks this summer. My kids are old enough to know when I am there and not there, when I’m distracted and when I am fully present.

My parents are aging. Despite the fact I see them a lot, they deserve some uninterrupted time, including a few undisturbed phone calls when I’m not cutting it short for another call or walking into a deposition. They’ve been really good to me – always.

My husband, God bless him. I will go look at cars or golf clubs, eat barbecue, or whatever else the man wants to do. And me, you should see my Pinterest pages.  

I am a little anxious. What if I come back and the firm name has changed? What if my clients leave me? What if they like someone else better than me? I could go on and on.

Thankfully, I feel comfortable in my partnership and in the team that we have such that when I bring myself back down to reality, I recognize these are all possibilities but not probabilities.

I’ve read many times that part of the therapeutic effect of taking a vacation is the planning of the vacation. I feel like a 5-year-old heading to Walt Disney World, or like a bride planning a wedding.

I don’t expect any major revelations or transformations while I’m on sabbatical.

If history repeats itself, maybe I’ll get back and buy an Airstream and a pickup truck like one of my partners. Then again, maybe not.  

I’ll have to send that expert this article as he inspired for us a new firm tradition and sparked a sense of excitement that is simply contagious.

Michelle Bedoya Barnett is a founding partner of Alexander DeGance Barnett, focusing on labor and employment law.

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