How Many Vacations Will Be Lost Before You Make a Change [TFLP233]

Summer has arrived! On today’s podcast, Sarah asks listeners the question, “How many vacations does your job have to ruin, cancel, impinge upon, or maybe make you not even plan before you decide enough is enough?” Many lawyers struggle to take vacations, and when they do, it’s a challenge to shut off work and enjoy themselves. 

So many of the people Sarah speaks to face this challenge. They might travel somewhere new but feel like they are expected to remain connected and available to people at work. She knew there were partners senior to her who would go on vacation but still work six hours. If you love working on vacation, that’s great, but for most people, that’s not the case.

Vacations and time away are not just a luxury, they are essential to rest and recharge. When work is constantly lurking in the back of your mind, and you have to be ready in case someone needs you to do something while you’re out of the office, that can be a serious drain on your energy. Remember, prioritizing your well-being is not selfish, it’s necessary for your productivity and happiness. 

Lawyers are often needed for work-related reasons while on vacation, and they try to tell themselves that it’s a one-off situation. But the reality is that it happens over and over. People will start to think that they need to plan better before taking time off and turn the blame towards themselves. There’s a feeling that your time is not your own. 

Many people justify this feeling and assume that everyone deals with this, but that’s not true. There are only so many vacations and breaks that are interrupted before you burn out. The function of a vacation is to get away from work and take a break. If you are constantly being distracted by work, you won’t be able to receive the benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Think of your vacations this summer, and if you feel like you’ll be interrupted and unable to enjoy a break, it might be a sign that something needs to change. The legal profession approaches work in such a way that can damage people. If you are trying to figure out what it is that you want to do, you can start with the Collab. This is Sarah’s entry-level program for lawyers to help them figure out what it is that they would like to do. Check out the Collab and start planning your summer vacations and dreaming about a getaway without any work interruptions.

Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.

If you like the idea of the Collab but would like to do some one-on-one coaching in addition, then you should consider the Collab Plus One-on-One Program. It's a hybrid program which combines the Collab with one-on-one coaching, three months of one-on-one support from me to help you move through The Former Lawyer Framework.

The way that it works is that you get everything you get in the Collab including lifetime access to the Collab, you get four 60-minute one-on-one coaching calls with me that you can schedule anytime over three months. You also get a free video resume review where you send me a copy of your revised resume during those three months and I will send you back a video reviewing it giving suggestions for how to change, add, etc, and then you're also going to get two free assessments that are otherwise paid: one is a strengths assessment and one is a personality assessment.

The goal of the Collab Plus One-on-One Program is to give you access to some one-on-one coaching and also all of the resources of the Collab. So, if you're someone who's thought about the Collab but is also drawn to the idea of one-on-one coaching, then definitely go to the website and check out the information. It's

Well, it's June, which means we are officially moving into the summer months here in the Northern Hemisphere. I wanted to take the opportunity here at the beginning of summer to ask you a question. That question is: how many vacations does your job have to ruin, cancel, impinge upon, maybe make you not even plan it before you decide enough is enough?

One of the biggest things that comes up so often with my clients in all sorts of different roles and all sorts of different organizations is the fact that they really struggle to take true vacations, like yes, they might travel somewhere, it might be a vacation in theory, but so, so often, so many of us know the experience of knowing that we're still expected to be responsive or still potentially expected to be doing actual work.

I would often watch partners who ostensibly were senior to me at the time because I was a junior associate go off on vacation and do four, five, six hours of work. That was often considered to be not that bad, essentially.

Listen, if you're someone who's like, “I love working on vacation, I love never being able to fully turn it off. I love knowing that I could still get a call or an email while I am taking a break from work that would pull me back into work,” if that doesn't bother you, then amazing.

But for most of us, that is a huge drain on our energy in particular, that lurking always knowing that something could come up really takes a psychological toll in a way that is very hard, I think, to describe, especially if you're talking with someone who doesn't have the same on-call expectations in their job.

I know so many lawyers, and I've been there too, who will have this experience of taking some time off, then something comes up, and they end up working some, a lot, or whatever, it depends, and you tell yourself like, “This is the exception. Okay, this happened, but there were these circumstances,” essentially trying to talk yourself into believing that it's not always like this.

Look, the reality is yes, is it going to be exactly the same every time you take a vacation in terms of how much work you might be expected to do? No, for sure not. But the reality is that so many of us take vacation after vacation or cancel vacation after vacation, telling ourselves, “This is a one-off. This is random. The next time, I will plan better,” as though it's really all down to you and your specific planning as opposed to the general work expectations of the entire organization.

But anyway, we tell ourselves these things because it maintains this sense of like, “This isn't actually how it is, that maybe in the future it could not be this way. I would be free to take a vacation and not have the specter of work looming over me.”

I can remember multiple times some sort of vacation or even holiday rolling around and just thinking, “Ugh, I don't like that my time is not my own.” I know there are so many people listening who have that experience. Sometimes when you experience it over and over, you start to feel like, “This must be how it is everywhere,” and it's really, really not. It's really not.

The reality is you can only work on so many vacations before you are just going to be utterly burnt out because as lawyers, we don't want to believe this but the reality is because we are humans, we do actually need breaks.

Part of the function of a vacation is to get away from work and take a break. If that doesn't happen, then you are not getting the types of breaks that you need as a human to function in an emotionally, physically, mentally healthy way.

Listen, I'm not saying this to be like, “Your vacations are getting blown up by your job and it's all your fault, what's wrong with you?” I'm not saying that. But I am saying like as you roll into this summertime, I can remember in summers, particularly for me, having gone straight through from undergrad to law school, I’ve been on that cycle of school where you have a summer break, I can remember as summers would roll around realizing, “Oh, there is no break here.”

In fact, even though people are going off on vacation, they're often working on those vacations and something about it being summer just made the grind feel even more inexorable.

If that's how you feel, then I invite you this summer as you watch people go on vacation, as you go on vacation potentially, or don't go on vacation as the case may be because something comes up and you have to cancel, which been there, just ask yourself, “Do I really want to be doing this this way?” because it's not the only way.

The way that so much of the legal profession approaches work and vacations is not the only way and if you're someone who realizes that you are done with that way of working and you're trying to figure out what it is that you want to do that is not practicing law, the best place to start is inside the Collab which is my entry-level program for lawyers to help them figure out what it is that they want to do; that is not practicing law.

You can always go to to see all the information. I hope everyone has a wonderful summer. I hope that if you have a vacation planned, you have a vacation that is free of any interference. If that doesn't happen, since statistically speaking, that's relatively unlikely, I hope that you're able to really think about what it is that you want, where you want to go next, and what it would take to find something that is the right fit for you career-wise. Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you next week.

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at Until next time, have a great week.