I race into the office at 9:07am, applying the final touch of lipstick and making sure I had brushed off the crumbs from my suit (breakfast in the car). And there was my peer, let’s call him Ben, diligently and peacefully working away with big Bose headphones on. He had evidently been at work for a while already, at least long enough to have finished his large long black.
And so my day started – just like any other day at the law firm – madly whizzing through the work as if the Looney Toons Tassie Devil had a law degree.
At 4pm I start to feel the anxiety building. I had got through a few of the super-duper-urgent tasks already, but I was not going to be able to even think about the very-overdue-but-client-not-chasing-us things. I need to leave at 5pm. It is non-negotiable. Daycare closes at 5:30pm. Those tasks will have to go on the backlog, again and again, until they bubble up to the top of the to-do list.
But Ben will keep working away, until 7:30 or 8 in the evening. Clocking up his standard 11-12 hour day, staying largely on top of the backlog, and free to go on that business trip to Melbourne or Tokyo.
At some point – when I stepped out of the tornado – I realised that I couldn’t compete with Ben on billable hours. I couldn’t even get close. I had daycare pick up, sleepless nights, breaks to pump breastmilk, weekends full of playdates and swimming lessons. I didn’t see how I could possibly squeeze in the extra 20 hours of work to keep up. Maybe I could, but it would probably be from getting 3 hours less sleep each night – and that was premised on the very perilous assumption that my small children would actually stay asleep at night. Or I could spend an extra $20,000 a year on nannies to buy me a few extra hours at work. In any event, I would burn out pretty damn fast.
But then things became clear …
Working longer and harder simply wasn’t my competitive advantage anymore.
I needed to find what I could do to “add value”, that didn’t involve an arms race of 6 minute increments. So instead I decided to aim for what I could do: I could be efficient. I could become a leader of a team. I could train and develop young lawyers. I could be a creative problem solver. I could use technology to my advantage. I could have innovative ideas. I could recruit great people to the business. I could develop my strategic vision. I could make meaningful connections with clients.
In fact, what I had seen as a terrible constraint – having to leave at 5pm – was actually a powerful transformative force. It propelled me to explore what my competitive advantage is. It has helped me start developing the non-legal and ‘soft’ skills which make me a more well-rounded and high-performing employee.
It is also ‘future proofing’: many of these attributes are the trending skills in demand for 2022 (lawyers are listed as a “redundant role” for the future).
Are you doing something that allows you to have the most impact? Step back from the “busyness” of life and consider what your competitive advantage is. You may have more to contribute than you realise.
by Ingrid Bremers
Ingrid Bremers is a corporate lawyer and mum of two based in Canberra, Australia. Ingrid is also the Company Secretary of Campbell Street Children’s Centre. Her work has been featured in Governance Directions, Women’s Agenda, Mamamia and The Pulse.