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  Jennifer MacDonnell  Gjineta Sulaj 

By: Jennifer MacDonnell & Gjineta Sulaj (Guest Blogger)

Double the fun! You get 2 bloggers for the price of one today, folks! One of The Paralegal Society’s fabulous mentors and a fantastic TPS member collaborated and co-wrote this piece to offer up some survival secrets on the ultimate paralegal juggle. You know the one! The work/life balance juggling act…otherwise known as your life! We hope you enjoy it…  

When I was a child my worries were small. When will the sweet song of the local ice cream truck pass by my street? What stinky vegetable will I be forced to eat at dinner tonight? How many more agonizing days until summer vacation?  Will Santa bring me all the Christmas gifts I wished for this year? Okay, I have to admit I secretly worry about these things, but now as an adult with a demanding paralegal career and a family, my childlike worries have escalated into unchartered territory.   

I constantly worry about whether my paralegal career and family will survive the onslaught of daily obligations. Will I finish the mediation brief on time so I can take the kids to the park and get dinner on the table? If I work a few weekends and late nights preparing for the big trial will I be able to finally take a relaxing family summer vacation? Can I manage without sleep tomorrow, labeling and organizing trial exhibits, if I shop the Toys R Us midnight madness Christmas sale tonight to buy the kids presents for under the tree? Seriously, at some point, you have to ask yourself how our parents effortlessly crafted the balancing act of sustaining a career and a family without voluntarily moving into Crazy Town as a permanent resident. 

Indeed, our parents somehow kept their sanity intact and we survived our childhood. Although, I am quickly learning, our parents would have never had balanced a career and a family without a much needed sense of humor and taking note of a few of the following survival secrets.

1.  Leave the Diaper Rash Home:  If you have ever read Winnie the Pooh books, you are familiar with the low drawl, whining tone of Eeyore, the gloomy and depressed old grey donkey. Don’t be that new or seasoned parent that spreads gloomy grumbles to everyone at the law office about your late night feedings, baby blowouts, and every little diaper rash in between. Whether you realize it or not, you will only be setting the stage to be alienated by your coworkers and ultimately your boss. Leave the diaper rash stories and the Eeyore attitude at home with the experts, your kids. 

2.  Just Say No to Saying No:  The daycare supervisor will charge you $20.00 for each minute you are late picking up your kids and there are only thirty minutes left of your workday. Out of nowhere your boss approaches you and desperately asks, “Can you work until 6:30 p.m.?” Of course you can’t, so immediately you say “No.” Wait!!  When does the word “no” actually enter the vocabulary of any paralegal?  Aren’t we trained to rationalize every detail of a case in the client’s favor?  Ultimately, you should have informed your boss about your daycare pickup duty prior to this predicament, but since you are forced to explain your situation, offer a compromise of coming in early or working late tomorrow. You are better off professionally if you attempt to negotiate with practical options, rather than just saying “no.”           

3.  Excuses are for Sissies:  So really, how do superstars Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie balance their professional careers and manage to raise six children with such ease. Okay, okay, they do have a gazillion dollars to spend on nannies, personal assistants and private chefs. But you also never witness a glint of blame casted upon their children or themselves for the reasons why they can’t have more productive professional careers. In fact, they appear to strongly embrace their family unit, as if this is what fuels them to carry on. On the other hand, I have observed parents with larger-than-life sad puppy eyes openly place blame on their children for their shortcomings in the professional paralegal arena. Instead of using your children as a definitive excuse for the lack of a paralegal career, rather find the strength in your family to set a positive example by accepting your current career status or choosing to move forward with your paralegal endeavors. 

4.  Will Work for an Adult EscapeEvery mom has seen the Nyquil commercial depicting a woman in bed with the worst cold in her life. At her bedside, the loving husband convincingly says, “After all, if you take Nyquil, you will sleep like you did before we had kids.” [Insert your over exaggerated eye roll here] Really? Nyquil will help you escape parenthood and give you a good night’s rest? Any parent understands there is no escaping or forgetting about your 24 hour a day family obligations. Although, diving into your paralegal “adult” work-life, for example, by drafting a trial brief can be a great escape, even if it is just for a little while. That one small moment of escape will rejuvenate the “adult” in you, and reclaim your inner works of a paralegal professional.

5.  Bad Attitude DiseaseHave you ever walked into work wearing your happy paralegal game face, only to be greeted with a severe case of bad attitude disease? The receptionist fails to return your cheery morning hello, the legal secretary is threatening a mass email alert if her stapler is not returned, and your supervising attorney is on the hunt for whoever stole his blue pen. This is all within the first five minutes of your day, and you are pretty confident that you will be the next victim of the bad attitude disease, only to eventually infect your family after work. Instead, don’t be an active participant of the problem. Sure, you can lend a sympathizing ear, but then put on your happy paralegal game face and move on. In the scheme of the day, these petty attitudes and complaints are not your own.    

6.  Stop the Blame GameAs hard as we try, parents often find themselves in unfortunate situations beyond their control. For instance, missing your child’s acting debut in the school play because you worked late to meet a court filing deadline.  Yes, this would make any parent feel like jumping off the proverbial deep end, and believe me, you are not alone. Although, crying real tears or playing the “blame game” is simply no way to diminish the fact that you missed a memorable family moment.  Obviously, planning ahead would have saved the day, but as many paralegals know, the best plans can be hijacked. Don’t be afraid to tell your boss that you cannot work late, but then make sure to offer a compromise. Otherwise, if you must work late and miss the school play, stand tall, meet your filing deadline, and stop the blame game, as you will have future opportunities to witness many memorable family moments.           

7.  A Paralegal’s Job is Never FinishedYou firmly believe the next episode of A&E Network’s reality series, ‘Hoarders’ will feature your home unless you come up with a solution, and fast. Endless piles of laundry are strewn across the family room waiting to be folded, the kitchen sink is stacked with dirty dishes, the kid’s toys are scattered everywhere, bills are piled up waiting to be paid, and the bathroom needs a full overhaul. To top it all off, your paralegal briefcase is loaded with a 200 page trial transcript for your review. Don’t panic! Take a deep breath!! After all, you are a paralegal, right? Put on your paralegal game face, remain calm while prioritizing, and then divide and conquer the situation. I know you thought you left your paralegal tool bag at work, but by utilizing your savvy paralegal organizational devices, you will be able to resolve the most overwhelming family home conditions. 

8.  The Big Picture StrategyIt’s 6:30 a.m. and you have already started to break a sweat over your work/family to-do list for today. As you rush to get ready for work, prepare breakfast for the family, make lunches for the kids, and herd everyone towards the door, you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I grow up be a fortune teller and join the circus.” Since fortune tellers can see the future you could at least build a strategy on becoming less stressed out! Take your blinders off my paralegal friends, because we are conditioned to foresee potential problems and then distinguish those fires before they start. Through simply calendaring your family’s routine activities, you will clearly foresee the big picture, predict your daily stress triggers, and then alleviate them with a preplanned strategy.      

9.  Cartoons are for KidsI remember when cartoon heroes like the Super Ninjas, Super Friends, and Scooby-Doo dominated Saturday morning television. I would watch these cartoon characters solve the world’s problems, assuming that it was perfectly normal that they never had any real life responsibility. As a busy parent, with a demanding paralegal career, it is all too easy to transform into the cartoon heroes of our youth, solving everyone’s problems, but your own, and without accepting any help. Temporarily put your pride in your back pocket and pass your hero costume to a family member, friend, neighbor, or even coworker. By accepting a little help, you will effectively manage your time to solve life’s responsibilities.       

10.  Work Anxiety BusterOnce again, you are stuck sitting in after work rush hour traffic with a full blown anxiety attack. Did Susie Secretary follow my direction and schedule the transcriber for the mediation tomorrow? I think I received a confirmation email. Did my supervising attorney receive the message that the mediation was pushed back one hour? I think he confirmed he received my message. The banter inside your head could go on for hours or worse, all night!  Instead of torturing yourself, unwind your day at the office.  Just take a few minutes to check your calendar or email, speak to the support staff or your supervising attorney, and you will surely minimize future anxiety attacks.       

In a single fleeting moment, most parents humbly realize they are not superhuman. It can happen anytime between the daily race to get home from work, the rush to drop the kids off at soccer practice, the moment those dinner plates hit the table or as you sink down into the comfy cushions on your couch for the first moment of quiet time around 10:00 p.m. So before you jump the next train to Crazy Town, recognize your sense of humor and keep your practical decision making in the forefront. You can either allow the daily frustrations of a career and family life call the shots, or you can prevent them. In any event, remaining positive and proactive will help you survive the daily balancing act of a family and a career.

Gjineta Sulaj emigrated from Albania to New York City on March 2, 2009.  During her residency in Albania, she gained a tremendous amount of experience working eleven years as a Judicial Assistant for the District Court of Tirana, and she successfully earned a Bachelors Degree in Legal Studies in 2008.   As a newcomer to New York City, Gjineta conquered difficulties learning English as a Second Language, and in 2011, she continued her studies at Grace Institute, where she furthered her proficiency in Business Administration and graduated with honors. 

In 2011, Gjineta also worked as a Filing Clerk at the Law Office of Marku, Beno & Tsamblakos PLLC, where she performed daily administrative duties, implemented an improved filing system, and directly assisted the firm’s partners in matters involving Personal Injury Law, Real Estate Law, Immigration Law, and Family Law.  Gjineta is an Associate Member of the New York City Paralegal Association, and a devoted Events Committee Volunteer.  In an effort to transfer the legal experience and education she obtained in Albania and then acclimate to a professional life in New York City, Gjineta has become an intricate part of the LinkedIn legal community.  Further, in order to realize her goal of becoming a professional Paralegal, Gjineta has set her sights on earning a secondary Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies at the City of University of New York.

See the “Meet the Mentors” page to view Jennifer MacDonnell’s profile!

It’s so great to see you again, TPS readers! You’re looking fabulous!

We hope you found these tips on work/life balance helpful. Do you have any tips you’d like to add to the list? If so, hit that comment button and tell us about ’em! After all, one can never have too many tips for that starring role in the grand juggling event…otherwise known as your life and mine! Onward and upward TPS paralegals!

Seize the day.