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Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

February, 2004


Kara and the Red Velvet Cake!

By Carol P. Waldhauser

After working in a large firm for more than 10 years; Kara felt it was time to go on her own as a sole-practitioner.   Kara’s goals were twofold:  to have more time to devote to her personal life while successfully practicing law.    Within two short years, Kara realized that she had built a thriving solo-practice; but it was at the expense of her personal life.   In fact, Kara did not control her time; her law practice did! 

Not one to give up, Kara sought ways to maintain her thriving practice while achieving balance in her life – or at this point even having a life outside of the practice of law.   Kara researched the issues; then found solutions.  She took this data and mentally drew up her action plan for managing time in both her professional and personal life.

Unfortunately, Kara still works too many hours; and finds herself in “black-hole”. In fact, Kara wonders if she can ever have a balanced work/life relationship.

Ironically, while waiting in the hall for the afternoon docket to begin, Kara saw her friend and mentor.  She discussed with him her concerns of working so many hours in order to be successful in her practice.  Moreover, Kara told her attorney-friend that she had been trying for a year, or more, to achieve a more balanced life-style.  After listing to her, he asked:  “Kara, have you ever heard the story of Max and the Red-Velvet Cake?”  Kara shook her head, no.   He proceeded to tell her the following: 

Max decided that he would surprise his significant other by baking a red velvet cake.  Subsequently, Max left his law office; stopped at the food store; bought the box cake mix and other ingredients needed.  Once home, Max read the directions while preheating the oven. However, to this day, Max has never baked that red velvet cake. Do you know why?  

Again, Kara shook her head, no.  And again, her friend began to speak:

Like many of us, Max had good intentions and sound plans; however, he failed to implement   them.  Implementation is often the single most overlooked phase of change.  In other words, just reading the directions off of the box is not enough to end up with a red-velvet cake.  You must implement the directions by mixing the ingredients and putting the finished product in the oven to bake!

This time Kara shook her head in the affirmative because she understood clearly his message.  No matter how elementary it sounded, there are components to a process!

For Kara, knowing what her problems are and knowing how to solve them - were not enough.  She needed to create a consistent routine that would implement the desired changes which in turn would lead to her reaching her goals.   

Being an astute attorney, Kara understood that it took fitness and renewed stamina to be a competent, successful attorney. Furthermore, fitness meant not just fitness of legal expertise; but also those qualities of physical, mental and psychological health that enables a lawyer to carry out these responsibilities.  In other words, attorneys must maintain stamina. Accordingly, stamina is not obtainable by working 24/7 throughout one’s professional life. Rather, a balanced, meaningful lifestyle is most conducive to long-term stamina, wellness, and ongoing high performance.   

Kara identified from her research that the benefit of a balanced lifestyle is that it nourishes your whole being:  your mind, your body, your emotions, and your spirit.  In other words, your mind needs to think positively, your emotions need to manifest love, your spirit needs to find purpose, and your body needs fitness.  A balanced lifestyle addresses your needs at all these levels – and without this balance – the risks are high that you may burn-out in the long run.

Plus by learning from her friend’s story, Max and the Red Velvet Cake, Kara understood that all this information was great; but in order to actually acquire a balance in her life she had to implement what she had learned.    Kara needed to implement a comprehensive plan which consisted of techniques, strategies, and baby-steps.

The Plan:  Managing Herself; Not Time

Kara referred to it as Personal Management - managing her dominant interests.  Dominant interests are the major areas of life where Kara spends time.  Of course, dominant interests vary, so Kara created a unique chart to clarify her lifestyle focus.  

She also learned that the ideal number of dominant interests is usually 3-7.  With less than three, you may find yourself out of balance.  With more than seven, you’re likely to be stressed out, or worse, burned out.

Then in order to achieve balance in all of these areas, Kara planned the following:

  • Spiritual: Prayer, meditation, active participation at her places of worship; or even a walk in nature and/or community projects.

  • Mental: Whether it’s reading, listening to tapes, working cross-word puzzles, writing, playing games or whatever, make time to stimulate her mind apart from work and the daily grind of practicing law.

  • Physical: Considering aerobic exercise like walking, running, hiking, dancing, biking or swimming – even team sports like volleyball or basketball; working in the garden, etc.

  • Emotional: Day or weekend getaways and vacations; retreats; family  reunions; calling friends for a monthly time-out; even getting back to having relatives over for dinner and old home movies to celebrate  a special occasion.


Consistent/Small Steps – One-day-at-a-time.   

Spiritual:   On the days that I am not in Court – I will force myself to take a mid-day walk – giving thanks for the blessings I have. 
  1. I will read from a good book at least 15-30 minutes each day – something entertaining – and not law related.
  2. Traveling home from my days in Court – I will listen to music.
  3. I will attend at least one worthwhile seminar each  quarter on health and well-being.
  1. I will join a dance class and attend once per week;
  2. I will take my dog for a walk at least 2x per day, every day;
  1. I will make it a point to call my closest friends at least once per month, more if possible;
  2. I will make it a point to schedule a quarterly lunch or dinner with my friends;
  3. I will start having family re-unions to celebrate a special occasion or just to enjoy a sports-event.

Similarly, Kara knew that finding time for relaxation was essential.  Furthermore, to maintain serenity in both her personal and professional life these guidelines where incorporated:                     

  • Focus on the today.

  • Maintain Your Perspective.

  • Accept what you cannot change.

  • Control & Change what you can and let go of the rest.

  • Feel the Fear but don’t wallow in it.

  • Keep Your Cool and LAUGH.

By taking personal responsibility in her own personal management, Kara is realizing her goals of a better balance between work and the rest of her life. Implementing her plan, one-day-at-a -time, one step at a time, Kara is in charge and she is managing her time; her law practice is not.  In fact, Kara has even found time to bake a decadent, red-velvet cake!

For more information on quality of life issues call the MSBA’s Lawyer Assistance program (410) 685-7878 Ex. 252/410) 685-3993/or e-mail


Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2004

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