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January 18, 2009

(OT) "Tip of the Week" - Do You Know How To Have Pleasure?

No, this is not an advertisement for Viagra, although the headline implies it could be.  This is actually a very serious question which has been on my mind since I read this passage from a novel I'm reading by Elizabeth Gilbert called "Eat, Pray, Love.":

"Generally speaking, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure.  Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one.  Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment.  Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today.  But as (it has been) pointed out, we seem to like it.  Alarming statistics back this observation up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes.  Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure).  Americans don't really know how to do nothing.  This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype - the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax."

I don't know how many people can relate to this passage, but upon deeper reflection, I realize many people I know do not know how to 'relax into pleasure' that is uninterrupted. I call this type of relaxation 'decompressing.'  Decompression has no interruptions. Yet interruption comes in many forms including the brain bringing you back to work, projects, unfinished business, fretting about meeting goals, success, money, the future and more all while trying to 'do something else' which is supposed to be the opposite of work.  And that wears on the soul.  It means you are never fully 'in the moment.'

I know I fall victim to something maybe unique.  My brain is always in overdrive.  I am reading constantly, addicted to mental stimulation to the point the only way I can disengage from 'work' is to distract it from what it is doing with different mental stimulation.  I don't know if this is sad or good or pathetic. But it is me.  No matter what I am doing I feel I need to be doing something 'work-related' or mind-stimulating.  I don't feel I've earned relaxation until I've done something more 'achievement-oriented.'  Someone once said to me, 'how sad.'

As a solo practitioner, is this a luxury we are depriving ourselves from more so beyond the stereotypical employed lawyer or even American? Is this really an American phenomenon or crosses cultures?  Or are there many out there who have mastered the art of relaxing into pleasure and are truly able to turn off their working brains and enjoy the sheer joys of life's simple, non-entertainment, driven pleasures?

Please let me know.

..... just typing out loud.

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Susan, as I was reading I, too, was thinking "how sad." I've always needed quiet time to rejuvenate and sometimes look with amazement at people who can just go and go and go. (EPL is such a good book. Maybe it will inspire you to start a meditation practice.)

I think lots of people have trouble disengaging, not just solos, and not all solos. Maybe it's because my identity is not that of a solo-practitioner, but rather as a whole person who happens to go lawyering 4 to 5 days a week.

I recently started my yoga practice back up, committing to 21 day of yoga in a row. That is a marvelous way to quiet the mind, and the 45 minutes of restorative yoga last night was definitely a way to fully relax into pleasure.

I don't know if you know of Susan Piver (@spiver on Twitter) but she's a Buddhist and a writer and is writing an article for Self magazine about how busy-ness is a form of laziness, which is an interesting concept.

I'm rambling a bit,but I guess I wanted to say - yes, some people are able to turn off their "working" brains and enjoy other things. It just might take more practice for someone whose brain is always on overdrive. And your brain-on-overdrive brought the world Solo Practice University, which the world needs.

Maybe now that you've noticed this, you could start integrating small changes, a few minutes here and there to stop, turn away from the noise and media, look out the window and breathe.

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

Thanks, Leanna. What a wonderful perspective " a whole person who happens to practice law 4 - 5 days a week."

I'm a whole person, too :-) but am recognizing that we are a culture driven by achievement and most carry a sense of guilt if we are not moving in the fast lane all the time. We have to earn our relaxation measured by some sort of 'success.'

I saw my brother yesterday for the first time in two months but had to do so at his place of business. I said, 'I have to come to your work because I feel like you are a stranger." He said, "I am a stranger. I'm working two jobs, shuttling my kid to school, karate, basketball while my wife travels for her job. We don't have a second to breathe." That's when I thought to myself, 'why?' His why would be because they are 'building something." What? And what are you losing in the meantime. Life isn't linear and orderly. It should be a smorgasbord.

I think Gen Y has this more figured out then most my age.

I think people do have to train themselves to turn off their working brains so they can truly rejuvenate and feel the pleasure of just being.

Thanks for sharing!

Eric Johnson

try spinning. www.seattlelitigationjournal.com/2008/12/law-tech-practice-fitness.html

Gabriel Cheong

I try to have that quiet pleasure every once in a while, like Christmas and New Years when no one's working, but I seriously get bored. And when I'm bored, i get anxious. Being a fairly new attorney though, maybe I don't need the rest yet.

I do have a fishing trip scheduled for mid-May that I am looking forward to and attorneys in my area is trying to set up a cigar bar social which I also think will be quite relaxing.

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

@Gabriel - I don't think it is a question of rest. It's knowing how to just be in the moment relaxing w/out being entertained so we can tell others about our tickets to XYZ or world tour. And that can be done in any number of ways. I think it is a conscious choice and one that has to be practiced so it becomes part of our normal day.

But, I'm just typing out loud.

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

@Gabriel - I don't think it is a question of rest. It's knowing how to just be in the moment relaxing w/out being entertained so we can tell others about our tickets to XYZ or world tour. And that can be done in any number of ways. I think it is a conscious choice and one that has to be practiced so it becomes part of our normal day.

But, I'm just typing out loud.


I've been struggling with this for the last few weeks. Ironic that as a solo I should have the flexibility to relax whenever I want, but instead I find myself constantly looking at administrative and marketing matters.

I actually decided that I was going to start setting up a firm rule not to do anything practice related after a certain time each night and over the lunch hour . . . I haven't been successful yet, as is evidenced by me responding to this on a Sunday afternoon.


I can relate to this issue quite a bit. I realized years ago that I really do need quiet, rejuvenating time to myself in order to continuously operate at or near full capacity. When you start to feel your productivity slipping and your focus shifting away from center, it is often your brain telling you it needs to relax for a short period.

It's been difficult to maintain my introspective quiet time through law school. Sometimes I only have a few minutes to burn when I know I could use hours out in the woods or on the lake (for me nature works the best to quiet my brain). A few times I've forced myself to sit on the back porch watching the squirrels and listening to the birds while leaving the book, cell phone, and laptop inside.

Like Susan said, it's a choice. It's not going to just happen, because the world is organized to make people work rather than to make people relax. You have to choose the relaxation because it won't fall into your lap often enough.


I think this will hit home with many, many people. The ability to turn off and purely enjoy ourselves after work or on the weekends, without lingering thoughts of work is harder said then done!

Andy Miller

Susan this is a great post! I am very much like you -- my brain works in overdrive. Things have only gotten "worse" since starting my solo practice as now I have another HUGE project to constantly be learning about and focusing on.

And in truly being a poster child for not finding enough quiet pleasure time, I have tried to get into meditation but can never find the time! In 2009 one of the habits I am trying to create is finding at least 15-30 minutes a day to reflect, relax, and appreciate.


Strange timing.... Last week I felt 'out of my body' and my vision was distorted. I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't read and couldn't focus. I felt extremely distressed by this and thought I might be having some medical/neurological emergency. Because I work as a medical malpractice attorney, I was able research (to the best of my ability) the symptoms. Apparently a stroke, diabetes or a severe case of mono can lead to the 'out of body' which I now knew was termed 'depersonalization.' I went to my doc. Blood work normal, and everything fine no 'medical' emergency. I also learned during my research and my doc confirmed that these effects can come about from prolonged stress. At the doc's suggestion, I'm scheduled to meet with a therapist tomorrow. I'm not sure 'talk therapy' will do anything for me, but I'm hoping to find a way to unplug.

Scott O'Sullivan


As a solo for the past year and a partner in a small law firm for many years, I have unconsciously made time for myself to relax and enjoy a moment. Whether it's taking time to sit and enjoy a coffee at a sidewalk cafe in the sun or a good lunch with a beer (while sitting in the sun), taking time during the week or weekend to play golf with my sons or enjoy a quiet dinner with my wife.

Until I read your post I never thought of it this way but I guess I do "relax into pleasure" and just enjoy the moment. I know it is hard for solo practitioners to get the time away. But upon reflection, it usually happens spontaneously for me. I look outside my window which has a magnificent view of the Rocky Mountains and think this would be a great day to have lunch outside and I just put my work down and leave.

While on vacation, (I take several a year) I always take work with me. However, during most vacations I am able to keep work to a minimum and enjoy time with my family and relax.

The whole point of me being in a small practice and now being on my own is so that I can spend more time with my family (two small boys who demand a lot of time and energy) and for other important things in my life.

Sometimes, it is not easy to walk away from work and relax. But as my practice grows I find it easier and easier to do so.

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