Our focus, for this episode, is the importance of having a healthy work-life balance and taking time for self-care. As entrepreneurs, we tend to put our work first, which can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. To discuss this topic, we are joined by Kathryn Burmeister who is an attorney, speaker and coach. In addition, she is the author of the book Overcoming the Addiction to the Status Quo, which was inspired by her own difficult journey of overwork. After surviving her rock bottom, Kathryn has been passionate about sharing her experience to help others. Seeing other attorneys suffer with stress, overwork and burnout, she implemented the Happiness Lawyer Programs. Her compassion doesn't end there, she's a participating supporter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
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Center for Animal Law Studies Lewis and Clark Law School
Like this topic? Check out Episode 54 of the podcast (10 Inexpensive Ways to Bring More Balance to Your Life)
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From the Interview
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Kathryn Burmeister, welcome to Get the Balance Right podcast.”
Kathryn Burmeister: “Thank you for having me I really appreciate it.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Yes. This is going to be a fun conversation. I've got to ask you about a few things that I saw on your website. So it says that you are a personal injury lawyer. You're the author of the book overcoming addiction to the status quo and a, saw a little blurb on your website that says, I love this unconventional author, speaker and attorney focused on helping. Can you explain that?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “Unconventional in the sense that I am willing to go against the status quo to really do whatever I need to do for my clients and to make my life happier. At the end of the day, I'm a huge proponent of happiness being our purpose here and living the most fulfilling version of ourselves is how you get to happiness.
And that's my measure of success is having. So very unconventional in terms of your stereotypical lawyer, I have an unconventional practice. I've run a remote practice since before it was cool. Before COVID, since 2018, I've had a remote practice. I have three paralegals that are all out of state and I've had them for about three years now, even now I'm still more financial, non-traditional even more non traditional practice.
Cutting back my cases by the end of next year, doing strictly motion practice and then pushing forward with my other business, which is the writing and the speaking and the coaching of lawyers.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “I love that. Well, I'm an unconventional CPA and you're an unconventional lawyer, but I want to add that we both work within the realm of the law. Yeah, we're on conventional, but it's within the means of the law. Okay. Got that out of the way. Can you explain what the title of your book means exactly?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “I hit my rock bottom in 2018. It was October of 2018. And basically it was my body shutting me down for lack of a better phrase.
I've dealt with anxiety and depression for most of my life actively managed, but that doesn't mean it goes away. And I had a number of tumultuous events occur that led me to that rock bottom. In a nutshell, my founding partner at my dream job, he had been practicing for 30 years. Everybody loved him would give you the shirt off of his back.
He ended up committing suicide. He had been stealing from clients for eight years and left notes detailing it, left myself and two associates to deal with the fallout, aside from the obvious, just not even knowing where to start. And I tried to salvage the law firm with the most senior associate myself and one paralegal.
And so I basically ran that practice for a year because the senior associate now my new part. He checked out mentally and physically, he just was not engaged and I'm extremely empathetic and sympathetic to what he was going through and what we were all going through. But we were all going. And so myself and my parallel is still showed up every day to deal with 70 some odd cases and litigation and, and everything that that required after a year that my body just said, Nope, your time.
And adrenaline's not going to keep going. So I hit my rock bottom, which was, I started having suicidal ideations. Luckily I'm aware enough to know with mental health where I was and call my husband home. And he met me at home. And it's almost as if a switch was flipped overnight. Now, looking back on it, when I was writing my book, I realized what finally happened.
I finally proven to myself that I was enough. And up until that point, I'd never really believed that no matter what I did. At the time, I didn't know what I had done. What had happened. What, you know, is that paramount, shifting what I call it as Addiction to the Status Quo. And I don't use the term addiction flippantly.
I genuinely believe that it's a addiction to the point where people are doing detrimental things to themselves, to others, all in the name of keeping up with what's expected of them society. And that they impose on themselves because those expectations, I want people to overcome that addiction to the status quo.
And my message with the book is that you don't have to hit rock bottom. Like I did before you start making changes in your life and start actively managing your health, mental health and pursuing half.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. That is just really horrendous in my notes before we met, because I knew that you are a lawyer, I'm a CPA.
We both had to go through rigorous studying, tests…in itself is already difficult. We are expected to work really long hours. Really know everything. There's a lot of pressure on us to be able to be up on all the laws that's already rough enough. And now you've got this on top of it. That was a lot to deal with.
I didn't have your situation, but this past year, my mother passed away during tax season. I was having to deal with that and still help people with their tax returns. It's something that I don't want to relive. So it's really rough. And I found myself in this situation and I talked about it a little bit on the podcast before and right after my mom.
It was a situation where I found that I didn't have enough buffer. Like I needed more help in my business. I needed to have more hours to myself. I didn't have the time built in to grieve because I didn't have any extra hours set aside for myself. This is something I'm really passionate about as well as.
I still haven't found that balance yet. I'm still working on that balance in my business and I'm dedicated next year to finding that. So I'm so glad to have you on the show and to talk about this, because I feel like I can learn from you because you've been through all of this and you're working your way out of this.
You've written a book entrepreneurs. We work our butt off. We're passionate about the business. We get all this. We start to forget about families, friends for me, housework, and then our health and exercise and all these things. So where do we start? Where do you, where do you think that we can start with this?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “First we have to recognize is the concept of work-life balance. It doesn't exist. Let's just throw that out the way. And realize that it's not possible. Okay. Think of it as a pie. It's a pie of how we allocate our time during the day, any day, any week, any month, every year. And that's what we need to focus on how we're allocating.
So it's not going to be a balance between work and life because we're the common denominator. We're the one that's in every area of that. Especially as entrepreneurs, you can't just leave work at work, come home. Do that. It would be nice if it is black and white, but it's not. It's a lot of gray really focusing instead on, okay, I've got a pie, a finite amount of time. How am I going to allocate it? And that's what you do. And you realize that one, there's no such thing as perfection. So let that go. It's literally impossible. I put a quote in my book from Stephen Hawking. If perfection existed, we wouldn't exist. It just is not possible. So that's really a relief because we still think if we try hard enough, we'll be no, you can't.
So let it go. And the other thing is realized and that's going to change from day to day. It's not always going to be, I'm a great business owner. I'm a great wife. No, sometimes it's going to be okay. I got out of bed and got dressed. That is the threshold. You know, it's going to fluctuate. It's not going to be equal parts of the pie either.
So really giving yourself grace and recognizing, okay, these are the things I have to do. I'm going to have to allocate a certain amount of time, sleeping, eating, mental wellbeing, and hours to work. And then all this other stuff that can fluctuate amongst those other areas in your life. Getting away from that idea that it's just one or the other.
And it has to be the same every day. And you have to be perfect at it is a hugely freeing concept. Because I think it takes the pressure off of it as well.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “What makes it also harder, I think for so many folks right now is that we are working predominantly in our house. So there's no separation between our business now and our personal life.
Do you have any suggestions on that for people that are in their house working?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “What I do, this is actually technically like a sitting room because people have this. But this is a sitting room on my house. When you come in the hallway here that this is what I have, and I've converted it into an office. I think having this separate from my couch, even though I'll work on the couch, sometimes it's just nice to have a separate area that is like, okay, this is my work mode.
I say that. And then I also think it's hugely important to be able to take breaks or change your scenery. Go work somewhere else. Or like I'll even go to a brewery sometimes, honestly, on a Friday afternoon. Have a beer and do some work. It's just changing it up a little bit. I think having a little bit of a routine.
Getting up, even if you don't do your hair makeup, because I just don't need to every day. So I'm not going to get coffee, get your breakfast, sit down at reasonably the same time every day in the same area. And that way you feel a little more centered in terms of what you're doing and what your mode is.
I'm in work mode. Now, as much as I say, it's not separate your, you go across all areas of your life. You can have certain things set up to make it easier to bounce back and forth from your personal life and work.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “I want to really stick to calendar blocking. And this is one of my goals for next year's calendar blocking.
I'm actually going on a CEO retreat next week, just to plan out next year and to make sure that I have enough time for myself for vacations and everything that I want to do in my business. Instead of being like, oh, I got this great idea, and now I want to implement another thing. Do you have any ideas about how to block off time?
Do you have any tips on that?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “I love that idea too. It's harder for me in my legal practice because things come up, especially if you're, you know, an entrepreneur, you get new client calls or, you know, new business calls. Like you don't put those on the back burner. Right. So those are the only exceptions to the rule.
But for me, I generally like having conversations with clients or even other attorneys in the afternoon. So between two and five, that's when I scheduled those calls. If I'm networking, I only do it certain days a week, networking in person, but I still even try to only keep it to two days a week, whether it's in person or not, I can get my mind geared up.
I'm an introvert at heart. So I kind of have to gear myself up to go out and network and be kind of on, for lack of a better phrase. So having my mind set about, okay, this day, I'm doing this this day, I'm doing that. It makes more sense. If you're networking all in one day or two days, it's more efficient than spending five days a week, bouncing to lunches, and then bouncing back to, you know, substantive work that you're trying to get done.
It's just, you're going to be all over the place, knowing your strengths and weaknesses are a big thing too. I don't want to have conversations early in the morning with my class. I want to get an ease into my day, get things going. And then by the end of the day, everything's rolling knowing yourself and then generally doing time blocks.
So it may not be specific tasks. Like I said, it to be more general for what I do, but you can do those calls, networking, following up on emails, things like that to keep yourself on track. But what you have to remember is you have to include time for your. And I think it's so easy for us as business owners to say, okay, I'll put that there, but then I can move it because I've got other things to do.
We always have things to do. I mean, there's never not going to be something for us to do as business owners. So part of you being a business owner is taking care of yourself. It's like wearing an oxygen mask on a plane. He put it on yourself before you put it on a kid because you can't pass out. We've got problems then.
So you've got to do the same thing with your business. You've got to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “You explained in your business that it's being a lawyer, it's difficult, you know, that things are gonna come up. Do you try to put some sort of buffer in there? Or how do you try to accommodate for those types of things?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “I think about setting boundaries. I've always been good about it personally. I'm kinda cut through it when it comes to. With business. It was a little more difficult for awhile, but then I started realizing that people will survive. Nobody is going to die. Generally speaking, if they have to wait until two o'clock to have a call with me, clients or otherwise, setting boundaries, managing people's expectations.
So not just doing that and then not telling people, you know, if you don't tell people they're not going to magically read your mind. But I also set boundaries by cutting off my day. I start at eight 30 in the morning and end at five in terms of accepting calls. After a certain point, if a client contacts me, the biggest thing is you can't respond via text.
If you respond to a text, even though they've texted you, you're still going to set that precedent that you'll start answering texts after your day is done. I do emails after hours. That's another thing it's separate. But generally just setting those boundaries about not being willing to have communication out a certain timeframe.
So you can't hold them to that standard and not hold yourself to the standard, because then it's just going to go out the window. I have to make sure I have time for myself. I'm like I said, introvert heart. I'm a deep thinker. I think being an only child is part of it too. I just need me. Like I have to have it or else I will not be functioning well, so really blocking that off.
And whether it's has to be certain times during the week, say today, I had a lot of meetings back-to-back back. So I may take most of tomorrow to decompress, whereas normally it would just be each evening type of thing. I tapped into it myself enough to know what I need. And that's one of the biggest hurdles I think people have.
And I work with lawyers specifically as the happiness lawyer to help them figure out where are you? Where do you want to be? And how do we get you there? But if you don't know yourself, How can you possibly make changes about where you want to go from there?”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “I love this about boundaries. This is another thing that I struggle with other people struggle with because we want to help our clients.
We mean, well, and then we send text messages in the evening or answer email. And again, it's tough because you're at home and there's that work life separation is really different. But I love the idea of like maybe switching it up, going someplace else that you talked about, like going to the brewery and maybe just having that kind of something like that's a cut you off from that idea that it all molds together and just mixes together now.
And when it does that, it's really hard to have boundaries. You mentioned something that I wanted to ask you about, which is this happiness lawyer. Yeah. I saw that on your website. So what is that?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “In my spare time…Like I said, I'm winding down my traditional practice of law and going to be focusing on motion practice only by the end of next year.
But with my personal brand and business, I write and speak on wellness, female entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship in general wellbeing. And then I looked at coaching lawyers and not that other people couldn't benefit from overcoming addiction to the status quo, but I know lawyers, I am one, so I can relate all the, more to it as a branding tactic.
And because it's true when I wanted to stand out from other coaches, I branded as the happiness lawyer, because that's first of all, such a, like, like a oxymoron. It's not even funny. It turns out the domain name was very free for. Because nobody puts some lawyer together. So that worked out well. My goal is to help lawyers be happy to me.
Success is being happy and being happy as being the best version of yourself. And I think people just get so lost, trying to figure out what that is, or they think it's being successful in the traditional sense, which is making money, having a big law firm, winning all these cases. Those things can be good, but defining yourself by what you do, as opposed to who you are, I think is the downfall of so many people just in terms of happiness. You know, the reality is none of us know when our time is create tomorrow, it could be, and you know, 50 years from now. But the saddest thing to me is that you could get to the end of your life and look back and say, wow, I really wish I had done something differently. And by that point, it's too late.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Now, what about the self care part of it? If we want to live, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to eat well exercise. I'm guilty of not exercising. I've spent a lot of stuff. I've done a lot of sitting during COVID. I've got the COVID middle going on and self care is definitely someplace.
I mean, granted, I do take showers! So, when you say self care, like it doesn't mean pedicure or something. What is it? What does it mean?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “I actually, yeah, I made a post about that. Not too long ago. I was getting my hair done for, I think the first time. And I can't remember how long was. Not all self care is beauty based, but you know, beauty based stuff is self care.
So yes, getting a pedicure can be self-care, but self-care, it goes far beyond that. It is, you know, setting time aside for yourself to just reflect it's time to meditate. It's spending time with your family, knowing yourself well enough to know what feeds you and gives you life and makes you who you are.
And then building that into your life. That's the part about that balance? Making it a pie and a pie that reflects what you need out of. All of that self care. I'm passionate about what I do, but it doesn't consume every waking minute of my life. It can't, it used to, and it's easy to fall into that trap, but you will not be a happy individual.
I don't care how much you love your job and your business. If that is all consuming, it's just not what makes humans, humans. There's so much more to it. And there's so much more to who you are, then what you do, even if it's like the best job and altruistic, and you're helping people, you still have to be the individual that you.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “You kind of touched on this a little bit earlier about having me time. And for me, I'm an extrovert, but I have to have me time. Otherwise I go insane. What are your suggestions about me time? Like, should we set some time aside for that or set boundaries so that we have our me time? You have any thoughts?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “Yeah, I do. So I think it's easier when you are introvert. It's almost like a default, right. It's default program to go, like I'll just stay home, but I know I need to get out there and be with my friends, you know, and I have a small collection of really, really close friends that I've known for. You.
Allocating your weekends. That way. My husband's an extrovert by nature and we've adapted to each other over the years, but I can't do something every weekend night. You know, like Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, like I just can't go all three nights. I will not be a happy individual and nobody will want to be around me.
So if I know I'm going to do one big thing that weekend. Great. That's what I plan for maybe going out in the evening and then doing brunch the next day. Obviously like COVID being the exception to things, but generally speaking, getting together with people and doing like one thing on the weekend and then maybe an a three verse for you.
Maybe if you're an extrovert, you'd go out, you know, two nights and stay on one. But building that time and for yourself, because nobody else is going to do it for you when he gets to that point, it's easy to just brush it off or put it to the side and say, oh, I'm going to go do this, or I'm going go do that.
If you build an end, it's easier to be more intentional about what you're trying to do.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “I have to ask you about some of your volunteer work that you've done. I noticed that you work with the animal legal defense fund and that you also request vegetarian for events. So tell me a little bit about this, you must be an animal lover.”
Kathryn Burmeister: “I am. Yes, I was rescuing animals and like fifth grade scaling, eight foot fences to get kittens during recess, my best system principal coming out, like, what are you doing? Like clearly I'm saving a cat. Like I said, that's the most normal thing in the world. So it started with. But yeah, I've always been an animal person.
I've done animal rescue and I've volunteered with a number of organizations, but the animal legal defense fund is a great group. They're all attorneys and they're based out of California. But what they do is they advocate for domestic wild entertainment, farm animals, all that, all different types of animals to enforce the laws, make the laws better and ensure that they're being treated.
The way they should be treated within the realm of the law or making the law better so they can be treated better at the end of the day. So it's really just a great group of people and they, that's what I love. I think it's, I kind of nerd out on it with the law because he can make so much change with something that people wouldn't have normally thought you could.
It's just like, oh, we have to appeal to everybody's compassion. Well, not everybody feels the same way we do. And do we think they should? Sure. But the reality is they don't. So where can we make a change? And what can we use to make a change for the animals? And so the law is something that governs all of us.
So being able to use that is really powerful. I think.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Cool. Before I went back to school to become a CPA, I was thinking about going back to a school to study law. And I live in Portland, Oregon. We have the Lewis and Clark, which has the animal law department. I really thought about that. But then I looked at the student loans.”
Kathryn Burmeister: “We actually had an animal law seminar at my school. So in the Southeast is notorious for animal issues and things like that. It's not as progressive as you know, you're in the country. It was great to have that seminar and really be able to delve into different topics. I wrote a paper on. Basically not personhood of animals, but animals having standing in cases.
So that's one of the biggest issues. Like how can, like somebody has to have standing. It has to infecting you can't go to court on my behalf for something that I've been injured for. That's not the way it works. There are a couple of exceptions. If I'm somebody who has a mental capacitation, you know, or mentally incapacitated, I can have basically somebody represent me because I don't have the ability to, and that was my argument is having a human.
Be appointed on behalf of animals because they don't have the capacity to represent themselves much like a child or somebody who has a mental handicap do the same thing. It's not that they shouldn't be afforded the same protections by the same laws that are literally written to protect them. So how do we actually enforce those protections other than at the kidding that somebody represent them or be appointed to represent them?
It's just really interesting. And I think there was actually a case recently. The argument that you've made and the appellate court actually upheld it in terms of giving them that option to have a representative.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Really neat. And you're a member of the ACLU, I love the organization. I was on the youth outreach committee here in Portland.
Why do you like the ACU? I know there's a lot of controversy around ACLU, but from your stance, what is it that you appreciate about them?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “I just appreciate the vast scope of what they accomplish and what they do. And. I'm a huge proponent of protecting civil liberties in particular, it was always stood out to me is one of the cases, or one of the instances, I guess was, I guess it was back in the seventies.
Maybe there was a, a black lawyer who ended up representing a member of the KKK and a free speech lawsuit as a lawyer. It's challenged me. And as a person, individual person it's challenged me like, okay, of course I have abhor what the KKK stands for and represents all. As a lawyer, I think one of the most paramount things of our country, that's, you know, it makes us who we are, is the ability to say what we think.
Even if I think somebody is horrible. And what they're saying is horrible. And there are ramifications that, right? You can't have, you know, incite violence. You can't just go anywhere and say anything. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater. There, there are things that limited, but generally speaking, just because I don't agree with it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be able to say.
I think, I can't remember whose quote it is. Like, I may not agree with you, but I'll defend your rights to say it. And that's, that's really stuck with me again. I don't agree with it, but if I start drawing that line, even though I feel like I'm right, where, where do we stop drawing that line? And at what point do we say, okay, now we're just going to say only what this subgroup of people say.
I just think that's so crucial to who we are as a country and our identity. And literally like why we broke off from England is to be able to have our own identity and values and say what we wanted to that is just one issue that I'm passionate about, but clearly advocating for underprivileged and minority groups.
It gets to my soul. I just am so passionate about the idea of people not being treated differently, just because they're different. To me, it sounds so logical. Like why would you even treat anybody differently? But obviously. Not the reality that we're in. There's plenty of people that don't think that that should be the case.
So having an entire group dedicated to that, and again, it's the same thing as like what the animals are using the law, because just because we believe it doesn't mean everybody does. So what can we do to force sometimes people to do what's the right thing, using the law to advocate for people and the voiceless basically at that.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Freedom of speech is one of the things I'm very passionate about. I used to live in the south. I lived in Florida and I remember, I remember the KKK were going to come to a park in my neighborhood and people were really upset about it. Again, I don't agree with what they have to say. I'm an activist, human rights and animal rights activism, and they should, this sounds terrible, but they should have as much right to speak as I do about their subjects.
As long as they're not injuring somebody. They're not burning things down or whatever.”
Kathryn Burmeister: “Absolutely, or intimidating people.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “Yeah. Yeah. Because if we silence them, then who knows who's going to silence me next. And as an activist, it's actually kind of scary because they make these laws where it's now you can't do animal rights activism, and there's gray lines.
What might happen if you do certain things. And if you say something about a corporation, what might happen? And so it's pretty scary. It is a topic that I'm passionate about.
How can people work with you besides you being their lawyer, your public speaker, people must hire you tell us?”
Kathryn Burmeister: “Absolutely. So, the best place to reach me is on my website, Catherine F Burmeister, or the happiness lawyer.com, working with me as a speaker. Again, speaking about female entrepreneurship, being a business owner, wellness, self-care all those things I write as well. So for blog posts or. And then lawyers that want to work with me as their coach and their guide to happiness. You can reach out to me there as well. And of course, social media is on there and linked there as well.
And my book is also available for download and purchase on Amazon.”
Heather Zeitzwolfe: “We'll have links and the show notes as well. Kathryn, it's been great to have you on, and it's been an interesting conversation. So thank you so much.”
Kathryn Burmeister: “Thank you for having me, Heather. I really appreciate it.”