I graduated from college 16 years ago. I enrolled in law school the next fall. I have been practicing law as a large part of my career since that time. When I graduated from law school, I took upon myself the label of a “lawyer,” without any real effort to evaluate the boundaries of that definition, or whether there were alternative definitions. Whether it is law, or business, or medicine, or any other profession, it amazes me that I encounter professional after professional who has subjected himself or herself unnecessarily to the idea that there are only two parts of life: (1) work, and (2) not work.
I can identify. I wrongly accepted this dichotomy for the first twelve years of my professional career. I sweated away for three years at law school and then five years at a corporate law firm struggling to finish my legal “work” so that I could turn to my other interests – my wife, my family, reading, running, fishing, cooking, and so on. As a lawyer at a corporate law firm, I routinely spent entire days and many weekends focused on demands from the office. I then left “BigLaw” and joined a small boutique practice, where the intellectual and emotional opportunities were more fulfilling, but which often required even greater demands on my time. When I was able to turn away from those demands, I viewed that as “free time.” “Free time” meant time was time that I believed I could spend with my family or on myself. In other words, my entire worldview stood upon the belief that I was either “working” on office work, or “not working,” by focusing on personal matters.
I dare say that the majority of people in today’s world view their existence in the same way. Does anyone realize how ridiculous this is? This artificial dichotomy rests upon one very problematic presumption. It assumes that the endeavors in which you engage while away from the office are not part of your “work.”
The meaning of “work” is admittedly the subject of a much deeper and more easily debated questions. That question implicates our economic system and the values that it advances. But there is a fundamental issue of worldview and perception in play here — specifically, the reading and writing you do away from your day profession is still your “work.”
If you practice law, or are an executive, or manage a nonprofit, or are a freelance creative, or any other type of a thousand different professions, then exceptional performance in your work requires strategic thought. Reading books related to strategic thinking and planning are, therefore and naturally, work-related. If you read General W. T. Sherman’s Memoirs, you will gain perspective and observations on critical thinking, mission planning, and strategic execution that will impact varied daily tasks and projects. If you read Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, you will read of hundreds of historical incidences and characters that may be applicable to negotiations, deals, and encounters in your professional life. If you read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, you will learn of one great creative mind’s process and ideas about process. These are mere examples. Any book you pick up will likely provide some insight, anecdote, or lesson applicable to your professional life. And from that, your professional life will benefit.
It is too rare these days to find a professional injecting periods of reading into their daily creative or business life, but that is a tragedy. I will often break from case work during my day, to sit and read some text that I am working through. It is ALL work. It is all effort expended towards excellence and developing as complete a perspective and sharp an insight as possible.
Read. Read at home. Read at the office. Read at lunch. Keep your books near you. Carry a book with you. Do not fall into the false belief that reading is only leisure. It is all work.