The perfect analogy for juggling work-life balance

Lawyers often struggle to keep all the balls in the air when juggling work demands, family, health and hobbies – but remembering what is most essential to well-being can help, according to Katie Malyon.

Ms Malyon, a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), shared her philosophy on how to have a satisfying career and personal life at a Women Lawyers Association of NSW event in Sydney last week.

A former PE teacher, Ms Malyon didn’t begin her legal career with Clayton Utz until she was 30. In 2005 she founded her own boutique immigration firm, Katie Malyon & Associates, which was later integrated with Ernst & Young.

Ms Malyon calls her concept for work-life balance ‘WooW’, which stands for work and out of work.

In this framework, she identifies four aspects of life beyond work that are essential to personal fulfilment and satisfaction.

“There are a lot of balls that we juggle in life,” she said. “Our first ball is health. How many of you have health issues or family members who have health issues? When you don’t have your health, you have nothing. That’s the first thing.”

To represent health, Ms Malyon drew a crystal ball out of a bag and handed it to a member of the audience.

“When I talk about health, I think of it as being a crystal ball,” she said. “If you don’t look after your health now, be prepared to pay a lot of money later on.”

She said all three aspects of health were essential: physical health, mental health and spiritual health.

“One in three of the legal profession suffers depression to the point where it is actually categorised as disabling,” she said.

“[According to] the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation and the Mind Research Institute, one in three solicitors, one in five barristers suffer levels of depression associated with disability,” she continued. “I was surprised that the numbers were so high.”

Additionally, one in 10 lawyers contemplates suicide on a regular basis, indicating that mental health was a serious issue in the profession, she said.

Spiritual health are the sources in life that “inspire and uplift”, she continued. For some, this might be religion or communicating with nature – but for Ms Malyon art and music are sources of inspiration and renewal.

Handing out another crystal to the audience, Ms Malyon said: “The next ball I think we’ve got to juggle is relationships with people – or furry friends.

“Family, friends (including furry friends as in dogs) work colleagues, the wider community – these relationships with people are a crystal ball. You can’t drop those. Crystal balls will shatter or break. If dropped, they won’t be the same.”

However, what takes up most of our time is work, continued Ms Malyon. “That’s not a crystal ball though, is it?” she said.

“It’s a rubber ball. You can bounce this ball on the spot, you can bounce it high if you are doing a really interesting matter,” she continued.

“You can bounce it over here if you want to go work in Hong Kong or Singapore. You can bounce it over here if you want to work in Melbourne. Or, if I want to go home and look after that baby, you can bounce it over here to somebody else.”

While work can be flexible, personal responsibilities such as taking care of kids cannot wait, according to Ms Malyon.

“If your crystal balls need you, you don’t get that time back to take your kids to cello, to flute, and ice skating,” she continued.

“[Your kids] are young for such a short time – you blink and you are at their 21st birthday party. Really, it is such a short period of time.”

The final ball thrown into the crowd was an audible ball. This ball represents ongoing personal and professional development, according to Ms Malyon. “These audible balls [say] ‘hear me. This is me talking. I need to grow’,” she said.

Lastly, Ms Malyon handed over a baton to a member of the audience to represent the final pillar in her philosophy – one’s legacy passing to the next generation. it might be community work or, in Ms Malyon’s case, mentoring.

She recommended several books to the audience during her talk, including 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

But she rejected the idea that people should seek to be efficient rather than fulfilled and satisfied.

“Do I want to be on my death bed though and have someone say, ‘Oh, Katie was so effective’?” she asked. “What is the adjective that you would like?”

 Felicity Nelson, Lawyers Weekly,    

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