New Zealand Law Society - In praise of a post-Christmas zoom out

In praise of a post-Christmas zoom out

In praise of a post-Christmas zoom out

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And lo, it was Christmas time again. That time of jingly bells and clinking glasses and frantic end runs at work, followed by frantic grocery runs at home. It’s a busy time, but I hope for you it is busy in that nice joyful way where even amidst the stress there are salutations and Lindt balls.

I love this time of year. I used to love this time of year solely because of Christmas. For most of that time I was a child. In my house there would be tiny Christmas stockings on the tree throughout December. They were made of felt and had individual sequins sewn on, and sometimes there were Mackintosh toffees inside. Sometimes the Mackintoshs were mint. I was a strange child who loved mint-flavoured caramel, and Christmas was my Christmas.

Even as a teenager, when most of the tiny stockings had been lost, and the ones that remained had long gone fallow, with nary an egg and cream to be found (I promise I was born in the 1980s), I still loved December mostly for Christmas.

But now, even while I have a grown-up Christmas where I submit to proper grown-up drinks over the Appletise of my youth, December delights me for another reason: I get to do an annual zoom out.

I may love nothing more than zooming out. Taking stock. Seeing big pictures. Joining dots. Reflecting. And altering course. I love to calibrate my days against the trajectory of my life, looking to see what needs attention. In this way I am extremely cool.

Relaxed brains

Part of the joy of zooming out in December/January is that brains do their most fun zoom outs when they’re relaxed; by the very fact that a zoom out is creeping in, you can probably be sure that you’re feeling rested and enjoying yourself. I know you can be forced to zoom out by terrible and sudden life events too, but terrible and sudden is not the timbre of a December zoom out. No, a December zoom out speaks in the language of time, and space, and late lunches, and being near water, and reading a book about bees, and looking at a tree, and forgetting what day it is.

You spend a few days in that headspace and brains zoom out of their own accord. Ideas bubble up. Notions invite themselves in. You spend three days doing a jigsaw of a very boring flowerbed, and suddenly, there in your mind, is the blueprint for an initiative that will solve three of your most intractable problems at once. Or it is suddenly clear that you REALLY need to do a Masters. Or have another child. Or the thought occurs to you that your life is pretty damned authentic and beautiful, and isn’t it nice to have this moment to pause and take it all in.

Lucky lawyers

Lawyers, or should I say most lawyers, are lucky when it comes to December zoom outs: most of us get a decent break over Christmas. And the benefit of that is not just the holiday itself; it’s knowing that most of the other lawyers are also on holiday, and no-one is wondering where you are or why you haven’t sent a draft of something somewhere. I know there are exceptions to this by necessity, especially in the family and criminal jurisdictions, but I am glad at least that, as a profession, we can mostly agree to stop for a little while.

I’m pleased because taking a weeks-long break is a particularly important thing for lawyers to do. Stress is so much a part of a lawyer’s job that it seems often to be the job. (“Oh, what do you do?” “I experience chronic stress for 49 weeks and then they give me money.”)

Brains that are under stress are nearly incapable of zooming out. Chronic stress takes a while to recede, so the risk of spending your working life as a lawyer without regular, complete, breaks, is that you can spend your whole life zoomed in. The immediate, urgent, thing, requires immediate, urgent attention, always.

Living this way for long periods means you can go quite far down roads you didn’t mean to, carried there by the momentum of life’s conveyor belts. The post-Christmas zoom out gives you a chance to check you still want to be on this conveyor belt. It allows room to consider the promise of belts conveying in different directions, or even, indeed, to step away from the idea of conveyor belts altogether, to try out a staircase, or a sailboat, or even a hot air balloon.

A sense of things

This isn’t about New Year’s resolutions. Those can be fun, in a shame-inducing, self-punishment kind of way. This isn’t even necessarily about goals, which can take on a dictatorial momentum of their own. This is about a sense of things. This is about taking in everything there is to take in. Thinking about where you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re going. Thinking about the things you thought you might do with your life, and whether you still want to do them, and what that might look like. Thinking about things you don’t like and how you might lead change about them. Thinking about things you do like and really, deeply, savouring them.

In the course of zooming out in my own life I have learned many things. Once I learned that I needed a lot more help with my mental health. Once I learned I needed to change jobs, urgently. More than once I learned I needed to break up with someone. Several times I have seen the scale of good things in my life, and felt anxiety at my incapacity to feel them properly (the key is to start small, and accept that you’ll never be done).

You can, of course, zoom out any time you like. But I like the post-Christmas zoom out the best. I like it because, in the southern hemisphere at least, it’s a bit like the whole world is also zooming out. Taking a deep breath before the next year starts in earnest. Like we’re all taking a pause on the riverbank, before we link arms and jump right back into the stream. It feels renewing and collective.

So let me raise a glass to you, New Zealand lawyers. I wish you any number of lovely Christmas moments this year – not least that you encounter the Mackintosh of your choosing – and I wish us all an even more beautiful post-Christmas zoom out.

Katie Cowan is a former lawyer. She is now director of Symphony Law, a consulting practice for lawyers. Kate is advice columnist for LexisNexis NZ’s Learn Law Life platform and hosts The New Lawyer podcast.

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