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Moving Away From Stress: Fleeing the Big City for Small Town Life

Sept. 9, 2021, 8:01 AM

Life before the pandemic for me was similar to life for many other New York City attorneys—nonstop. From the minute I woke up in the morning, it was rush to get ready, rush to say goodbye to my family who I wouldn’t see again until late evening, and rush to travel to the office. Every morning was a reminder of just how fast-paced our lives had become. But I couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than Manhattan—the center of the universe.

The typical week for me was very long and busy. Phone calls, emails, one-on-one meetings, group meetings, lunch dates, drink dates, networking events, speaking engagements, dinners, etc. I had a hard time saying no to anything I thought might lead to more business, which meant I was over-committed most of the time and out socializing a fair amount.

By March 2020, every waking moment of my life was consumed with work, and while I was very happy with the way my practice was going, I often questioned whether this was the best I could do for myself and my family. I wasn’t sure a different life was possible, but it was definitely something I thought about quite often.

Right before the pandemic, my family and I desired a bit of a change in our lives, which is why we decided to buy a house in upstate New York. The idea was to have a place to escape to on weekends and holidays, a place to enjoy life together with a little less stimulation than our existence in Manhattan offered. Little did we know how much this decision would change our lives for the better.

Working Remotely and Re-Prioritizing Time

Fast-forward to a year after the onset of the pandemic. Forced to work from home in upstate New York, I was able to see a path toward a better work-life balance. For me, that involved re-prioritizing my time.

When I think back at my time in the office and the number of social engagements that filled my weeks, I realize a lot of it was not what made me successful and frankly wasn’t always the best use of my time. Travel time alone often took multiple hours out of my day that could be spent servicing clients or with my family. Proof is that my business has been thriving during the pandemic without attending in-person social events on a weekly basis.

Work is still extremely busy, but I work more efficiently and take advantage of the flexibility my firm offers by working remotely, and when needed, from my offices in Manhattan and Albany. My colleagues and I have regular weekly check-ins, alternating between telephone calls and Zoom. We have done an exceptional job of remaining very connected, and everyone on my team is quite happy and performing optimally.

Over the last 18 months, I have met in-person with clients (and prospective clients) in Manhattan and Albany when they requested face time. I have also learned how to limit the amount of time I spend on extracurricular and social events, achieving a better work-life balance. While my calendar is still back-to-back most days, I have managed to add exercise into my daily routine, and have prioritized dinner with my family most evenings—something that pretty much never happened weekdays before the pandemic.

Expanding Business Outside the City

The pandemic also made me think more strategically about my practice and opportunities to grow geographically—something I didn’t think was possible without a substantial in-person time investment. Turns out, I was wrong.

Expanding my practice into the Capital District, around Albany, N.Y., was a strategic goal for me; I just needed to figure out how to make it a reality. Getting acquainted with clients in upstate New York turned out to be easier than I thought. After putting out some feelers, I started to get developer clients in the area rather quickly, and like many of my clients in New York City, many were referrals by word of mouth.

The pandemic has been a very humbling experience for me, as well as so many others. Personally, it forced me to use my time more wisely and efficiently, which has actually resulted in growing my business and improving my quality of life at the same time—something I never would have imagined was possible. While we are all anxious to go back to life as we once knew it, for me, that is no longer possible.

I have come to realize that I was unfortunately living a life I didn’t need to live, believing it was the only way to achieve happiness and success, which is simply not the case. Sometimes less is more, and more is less, which is one of the many lessons I have learned during this unprecedented pandemic.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Erica F. Buckley is a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP and leads the firm’s Cooperatives & Condominiums practice. She is the former chief of the Real Estate Finance Bureau of the New York Attorney General’s office.

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