Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life – Dolly Parton
This blog post promotes ‘balance’ and recounts how COVID-19 and a humble pair of dungarees helped in my efforts to achieve it.
For many at the Bar, finding balance between making a living and living can be difficult.
Reflecting on my own experience, I am acutely aware that my strengths as an advocate also represent personal obstacles to achieving a work-life balance. I am somewhat a perfectionist; I am analytical, and I am thorough; qualities which are driven by an inherent aversion to failure. These traits help me to excel at work and I am rewarded by the sense of pride in succeeding. However when it comes to life outside of work, these traits prove somewhat more of a nuisance.
In 2016 I enrolled on a 6-week beginners sewing course with a friend. I missed 3 out of 6 sessions owing to “work commitments”. On reflection, I think I had been perturbed that sewing was not as easy as it seemed and that aspirations of making wearable garments would take time and effort; time that I did not consider I had and effort that I was unwilling to make without guarantees of becoming the next Coco Chanel. The result of my attempt was a dreadful zip-less and hem-less “skirt”. My foray into sewing came to an abrupt end, marred by irrational feelings of inadequacy. Naturally, I threw myself back into a comfortable formula that I knew I would excel at; I resumed the cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat. The “skirt” resigned to its fate as a glorified cleaning rag whilst my sewing machine was exiled to the attic to gather dust.
Sadly, this became an all too familiar story with ventures into painting, knitting, hockey, learning Spanish and “the gym” all ending in a similar vein.
I fell into a trap of choosing to work more than necessary. Why? Because the years of commitment, study and practice required to forge a successful career at the Bar have made me good at my work. Working is now less effort than the daunting task of looking to address, develop and maintain those aspects of my life which were neglected during the years spent focusing on my career and which now stand underdeveloped.
The danger of accepting that reality is that I quickly lost my sense of identity which in turn impacted on my self-esteem. I could not identify who I was beyond Nia the Barrister, a thought enough to make anyone feel blue.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, a time of turmoil, uncertainty and isolation, but for me, a timely compulsory requirement to ‘stop’ and a stimulus for creativity.
After perfecting the Battenberg and cobbling together driftwood and shell wind chimes, I set my sights on a loftier ambition. A sewing project. I opted for a garment that wouldn’t matter if it was inappropriately sized and scruffy. Dungarees.
Allowing myself a manageable hour a day I set to work utilising YouTube to decipher how to use my machine to combine the fabric pieces. With each stich, I felt more well-rounded. It took an inordinate amount of time and I made a lot of mistakes but three weeks later I had my own perfectly imperfect wearable set of dungarees! No longer simply Nia the Barrister, I could now say that I was also Nia the seamstress.
Reflecting on the process, as I do now, I can point to several ways that this sewing project has benefited my wellbeing:
- Balanced periods of escapism and “me time” – working within a profession that is focussed on helping others, I had underestimated the importance of taking care of myself. I now know that allowing myself periods of “me time” is important for boosting my own feelings of self-worth.
- Switching off from work mode – I enjoyed a calming effect as the relief from the pressure of multitasking was replaced by absorption and focus on one thing at a time.
- Mindfulness – The benefits of the concept of mindfulness have been explored previously within these blog pages. Sewing can be meditative and mindful. The very nature of the task at hand requires concentration on one thing alone offering the opportunity to fully immerse in the moment. The sight and touch of the fabric and the tap tapping of a machine offer a delight for the senses.
- Time away from electronic devices – The risks of too much screen time are well known. Sewing ‘makes work for idle hands’ whilst resulting in positive and tangible outputs. In contrast prolonged phone and laptop use encourages unproductive / damaging activities e.g. the use of social media and results in sensory overload which in turn impacts on sleep and wellbeing.
- Sense of accomplishment and increased self-esteem – Finishing a project feels like a major accomplishment. I was proud of myself for making the time to start and finish a project and wearing dungarees made from scratch is a deeply satisfying feeling (no matter how imperfect they are!).
- Developing social networks founded on common interests – I have now offered to help making costumes for my local amateur dramatics group. This has resulted to increased social interaction with likeminded individuals. The group are aware that I have heavy work commitments but are grateful for any assistance that I can provide.
- Not everything needs to be perfect in order to be perfect – My dungarees are oversized, wonky and I have doubts over the structural integrity of the seams, but I love them and to me they are perfect. I now know that good enough can produce wonderful and treasured outputs. The pursuit of perfection will never hold me back from giving something a go again.
- It’s good to “give it a go”– I am no longer hampered by the fear of failure. This in turn has seen me turn my hand to gardening, DIY and costume making…so far!
In an ironic twist of fate, just as the COVID-19 pandemic blessed me with stoppage time at its outset, it has since conferred on me a work schedule which is now busier and more demanding than ever.
I don’t profess to have achieved perfect balance and I remain doubtful as to whether such an aspiration is achievable. That said, sewing has certainly provided for greater balance in my life and has certainly had a beneficial impact upon my mental wellbeing. I can confidently say that I have achieved a perfectly imperfect balance which is positive progress.
I’d encourage anyone to give it a go!
Nia is a Barrister at 30 Park Place. Her areas of practice include Administrative Law
Court of Protection, Mental Health, Vulnerable Adults & Community Care
Family & Child Care, and Inquests & Inquiries.