What’s the most valuable thing you do for yourself to create a measure of work/life balance?

Abou Amara, Jr.

Abou Amara, Jr. is an associate attorney at Gustafson Gluek PLLC, and is vice president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (MABL). 

Since joining the bar, my life has increasingly been consumed by the practice—and lifestyle—of law. To be clear: it’s been an amazing journey thus far and I feel extremely grateful. But I firmly believe if a lawyer doesn’t know who they are outside of the law, my sense is they won’t be able to sustain themselves in it.

So, here’s what I do to create a sense of work/life balance: I schedule time on my calendar for me. Now I’m sure you’re saying, “Ok, lame, Abou.” Let me explain. This time I block off on my calendar isn’t some abstract “me time.” This time is specific, unambiguous, and immovable from my calendar. When you think about it that way, it becomes something much different.

For example, two Fridays ago, I set aside time in my personal calendar to “Shop for new pair of Black Nike Dunk Shoes” from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.
With this level of specificity, I find a sense of liberation and balance in my life. Once I scheduled time to look for new Nike Dunks (yes, I am an avid sneakerhead—a subject for another time), I no longer had to think about it and could focus on work. But conversely, when that scheduled time came, I could solely focus on the different types of shoes I wanted, without the fear of impending deadlines on a work project. To me, that is the essence of real work/life balance—mental freedom, and the ability to be truly present in all aspects of life without one aspect of life (often work) leaking into other aspects of life. 

Jean Gustafson

Jean Gustafson practices elder and mental health law in Brainerd and Long Prairie. She is the 2017 Greater Minnesota Lavender Bar Association Fellowship recipient. Jean recently married the love of her life and has been a happy camper ever since.

I get out in nature as often as I can and walk—or just take a long lunch at a local park. I try to get out in nature for weekday walks at the Rotary Park in Brainerd, where I can watch the changing seasons, look at the water, listen to the birds, and feel the wind in my hair. When I get really stressed out, I take a more determined approach that I call a mental health break and go to the Crow Wing State Park, where I can walk along the banks of the Mississippi River and imagine what life was like in the old town of Crow Wing, escaping my troubles for just a little while until I return to my office refreshed and renewed.

We have some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, so you don’t have to go far to find them. This spring and summer found me discovering many new city parks in the south and west metro areas. I also discovered the love of camping, including camping at a former logging camp on private land in Aitkin, camping near Crosby. And a very special day at Jay Cooke State Park with my wife. 

Getting out in nature centers me in a way that working out in the gym doesn’t. While I plan on making exercise more of a priority in both the work and life side of my work-balance equation in the future, getting out in nature is something that anyone can do just about any time, and I recommend that to everyone.

Tom Pack

MSBA Secretary Tom Pack is a litigation shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, focusing his practice on defending medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies in product liability litigation. When not working, you’ll find Tom hanging out with his husband and friends in Minneapolis, or outside enjoying every bit of Minnesota spring, summer, and fall (but not winter).

 My biggest struggle when it comes to work-life balance is not hours or travel but rather finding ways to turn my brain’s “work mode” to the “off” position when I’m not working. I, along with my husband and friends, find it frustrating when I carve out non-work time and spend it lost in my mind thinking about work issues, or perusing the endless stream of emails on my phone. The sure-fire way I have found to turn my brain “off” work mode is exercise. Getting some hard exercise—on my Peloton in the basement, outside on a bike, or at a gym class—overwhelms my brain and forces me into the moment. It is not possible to think about brief edits or an upcoming hearing when I’m completely out of breath and trying to force my legs to keep moving at 105 repetitions per minute. It is similarly not possible to check emails while cruising down the Midtown Greenway on a sunny afternoon. Once I get off that bike or out of that class, drenched in sweat, my brain has received a much-needed infusion of dopamine and I feel “reset” and ready to engage in quality time with family, friends, or even recovery time alone by myself.