ThirdPath

Ben’s Story

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community… This month we are putting a spotlight on Ben Applegate – founding partner of Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen.

Ben’s Story

Ben founded his firm on the “counter cultural decision” that instead of requiring excessive work hours in order to meet an inflated bottom line, their firm would value time for life alongside earning “enough money.”

Ben Applegate: “We founded our firm in 1998 after leaving a larger firm. It’s a boutique practice providing housing and community development work funded primarily through tax credits and the government.

“Our mission statement has always been to be the best at what we do on a nationwide basis while balancing profitability and lifestyle for all of our employees. Anytime we bring someone into the firm we talk about our shared vision – to make a good living, but not necessarily the greatest of livings. That filter has served us very well. If we get a sense that someone who we are interviewing is only negotiating hard on salary, we know it’s not going to be a good fit.

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“When I look back, I’m not sure if all of our success is do with our shared vision, or if it’s also to do with being a mission driven law firm doing community development work. But I do know that we never have to recruit, and we have a waiting list of people who are willing to abandon the “golden handcuffs” at their big firm positions to work with us.

“At many big firms the target is now 2,000 billable hours in order for you to get your bonus, and you may not even get your base salary if you don’t hit that target. We have been able to build our firm on a 1700 target. It’s a good trade-off. The discount on their salary is made up with more time for life.

“It doesn’t always work that way. We go through periods of ‘episodic overwork’ – when things pick up. But when this becomes ‘chronic overwork’ we know it’s time to go hire more people.

“There have been times when someone bills over 2,000 hours, and what we do is counsel them to see how we can help them get their lives more in balance. Obviously this was the opposite kind of conversation they were having at the large law firms that they came from.

“The benefits to our clients are clear. If you can operate within the 1700 billable hours model, that leaves capacity for the inevitable periods of episodic overwork, but you can meet these upticks in demands with greater efficiency and less burn out. If you are already at 2000 billable hours – if you are already running the factory at over capacity – then when you get another order in, something is going to break.

“The whole dollars trade off is something I’ve been preaching to Jessica and the other ThirdPath Pioneering Leaders forever. It’s really about making that counter cultural decision that enough money is enough, and that we don’t have to make it all about maximizing profits.”

To learn more about Ben Applegate and two other inspirational leaders who have created thriving law practices that support people to be successful at work AND successful in their lives outside of work, click the below SoundCloud icon. These three leaders are:

  • Ben Applegate – Founding partner of Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen – see below for more information
  • Tony Doniger, Senior partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen – read his commentary on this topic
  • Peter Lando – Founding partner of Lando & Anastasi – read more about their firm’s philosophy

Thank you Ben, Tony and Peter for leading the way to creating truly 21st century workplaces!

Creating A Whole Life

Every few months we feature the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community… This month we are putting a spotlight on the authors of the book, Equally Shared Parenting.

Read on to learn how Amy and Marc Vachon put their ideas into action, and created a life that supported equal investment in every aspect of their lives – work, family, and personal interest.

Marc and Amy Vachon

Marc had always pushed against societal norms that demanded long work hours and the expectation that men should be the primary breadwinner for their families. Amy – a strong advocate for gender equity – knew she wanted a partner who would share family responsibilities. Together, they knew an important ingredient for crafting this “whole life” was sharing in the work – and the joys – of caring for their family.

Marc and Amy described how they began their equally shared lifestyle, and how they continue it today with school-aged children and increasing responsibilities at work. We then asked B. Hibbs, who also participated in the call, how she would describe Marc and Amy’s lives. We think she hit the nail on the head when she said they had a true spirit of generosity and a collaborative model where everyone feels satisfied, and each has honestly and openly communicated their wants. B. should know, she is a therapist and author of Try to See It My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage.

Listening to Amy and Mark you can quickly see how sharing home responsibilities helps create a better way for each parent to manage their overall workloads.

However, we also learned that people who want to create a “whole life” not only need a team at home, they also need a team at work. For example, Amy and another mom both work 32 hours a week. Together they have created a one-and-one-half job share arrangement and they co-direct their department together. As Amy says, “MaryAnn is my equally sharing partner at work, and Marc is my equally sharing partner at home.”

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Marc, like Amy, had negotiated with his employer to cut back his work hours. He also described a point in time when a more collaborative approach at work made a difference. A while ago he was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work he was managing. He knew there had to be a better way – one that included more planning and less fire-fighting. Talking with his boss, Marc made a number of suggestions, ideas that would help him and his other team members step back and think smarter about their collective approach. In hindsight, Marc can see he was motivated to have this conversation with his boss because he knew that the overwhelm was negatively impacting his ability to achieve his family’s equally shared parenting goals.

Marc and Amy’s story helps illustrate how healthy boundaries are good for employees and good for employers.

Through trial and error both Marc and Amy were able to determined what needed to be prioritized at work, and think ahead more as they planned for the long term – both at work and at home.

Marc and Amy show us how it’s possible to create a family life where both parents can be supported to live whole lives. One that creates space for equal investment in work, family and personal interests. They would also argue that clear communication, boundary setting, and out of the box thinking were the keys to their success.

Andrea’s Story

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community . . . This month we are featuring a parent who knew even before having children, how to craft a life that supported time for both work and family.

Andrea was clear early on that she wanted to live a life that included time for both work and family. To accomplish this, fresh out of law school, she began taking the steps she believed would most likely help her achieve this goal.

Andrea began her journey by securing a position at a large law firm. While there, her goals were to work hard, gain experience and respect, and to save as much money as possible so she would have more financial freedom later on.Andrea Twins

Unlike some of the other newly hired lawyers at the firm, Andrea lived well below what she earned as an attorney and put all her extra savings towards paying off her student loan. Once debt free, she then kept up this modest lifestyle in order to build a nest egg that would fund a year off and let her travel and see the world. After working long hours at the large firm, she needed this time to relax and breath. She also knew taking this time would play a crucial role in her ability to search for the ideal firm that would support her longer term goals.

During her year off Andrea traveled and spent time with friends and family. She even met her future husband. After about 6 months, she began looking for a new place to work. While being interviewed at each law firm she was very open about wanting an integrated life, and she looked for firms where people were already living this way. Did people have children? Was life outside of work important to them? Could people work reduced hours? To really understand the culture of the firm, she also looked very carefully at the leaders. Were some of them role models for the type of life she was looking for?

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Ultimately, she turned down opportunities where an integrated approach was not encouraged or otherwise feasible, and eventually she found her current firm – a litigation boutique that felt very aligned with her vision.

When she began working at her new firm, Andrea worked full time. She also got engaged, married, and then began looking for a house with her husband. While doing this she saw it as another opportunity to think ahead about their future goals. For example, she advocated for a house that would support a short commute. She also knew the importance of finding an affordable house so they could cover other important expenses like the cost of day care and her goal to work reduced hours when they started a family. Soon after this was all put in place, they got pregnant. In fact, they learned they were going to have two children not just one!

After the birth of the twins, Andrea began experimenting with working flexibly and reduced hours. The benefits of a reduced schedule allowed Andrea to take off most Fridays for almost 2 years. She then had a year where one of her twins required numerous doctor’s appointments, so instead of taking Fridays off, she used the company’s flexibility to work half days to attend the appointments. When the twins were in preschool, she continued with an 80% schedule and flexed her hours for different family responsibilities, including helping out at their children’s co-operative pre-school. When the twins entered first grade, Andrea went back to full time hours, though she continues to flex her hours as needed for family responsibilities.

Andrea’s determination to live out her dream of having an integrated work life informed her decisions early on. She made financial decisions that allowed her to live debt free and save up the funds necessary to hunt for a firm that embodied her vision of work life balance. Many of her fellow employees and leaders have families and work flexibly themselves. She also sought out a life partner whose goals for work and family were similar. And she took time to interview prospective employers until she found a good fit.

What are your goals for an integrated work life? What steps have you taken, or do you need to take, in order to get closer to your dreams? Listen to our full interview with Andrea and be inspired by a story that will help you think about how all the different pieces – work, money, partner and family – can fit together to support an integrated whole.

Non Profits Leading The Way

Every few months we feature the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community… This month we are featuring two nonprofit leaders who prove you can be committed to the mission of your organization and have time and energy for your life outside of work.

Read on to learn how both leaders proved that by prioritizing what was important to them outside of work, they could become more effective at work AND even build a better organization.

Sometimes it takes an important conversation or an urgent need from a family member to recognize that work can be done differently. In fact, it was just these types of situations that allowed both Eric and Ana Lisa to make the changes required to find a more satisfying and “integrated” approach to work and life.

Eric began his career as a community organizer. Doing this type of job required a lot of evenings and weekend work.

But when he and his wife began thinking about their family goals, he knew this would need to change. After talking with his wife, Eric began looking for work that would allow him a 4-day workweek, where he could also work the majority of time from home. By doing this, Eric knew he would have a work schedule that allowed him to have days where he would be the primary caretaker–something he truly desired.

Ultimately Eric found a leadership position in an organization that was willing to meet his family’s needs. There were trade-offs, working 80 percent time also meant a 20 percent pay cut, but he knew this was the right decision. With his parents and brother close by to support him and his wife as they became new parents, Eric was able to enjoy fatherhood on his own terms.

Ana Lisa was a self-described workaholic when she was a mid-level leader at a domestic violence organization.

Then a family medical health crisis suddenly demanded the family’s time and attention. For the next six months, either Ana Lisa or her husband were required to be at the hospital every day. Ana Lisa experienced this crisis as a wakeup call to modify her working habits. No more working evenings and weekends. Instead, Ana Lisa learned how to delegate more. She also discovered her coworkers liked the change since it meant no more 2am emails. Ana Lisa is now very clear how modeling a balanced life gives her team permission to do the same.

Since then Ana Lisa changed jobs, and in the process, negotiated a 4-day work week. Her new job was with a foundation that supports regional non-profits by funding leadership development and internal infrastructure. She also participates in an intergenerational working group rethinking leadership across generations. The topic of work life balance is a popular one in the group. Many of the younger employees see leaders who have had their lives consumed by work and don’t want to do the same. Together, they now discuss how leadership can be done in new ways.

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Eric and Ana Lisa both see a growing number of skilled employees who want the same kind of flexibility as they did.

Eric has also experienced being able to afford to hire excellent talent at 80% of the cost – people they couldn’t afford at 100% cost. They also see how these types of arrangements create a lot of loyalty amongst employees and employers, and even a competitive advantage for nonprofits who make this kind of culture change.

During our conversation with Eric and Ana Lisa, they were very open about the challenges of working in the nonprofit sector — lots of work, limited funding, and the lingering belief that true commitment to an organization’s mission requires a willingness to work yourself to the bone.

Yet, their personal experiences have helped them see there really is a better way. In fact, with role models like Eric and Ana Lisa, we are confident more will follow in their footsteps.

Listen to the full interview with Eric and Ana Lisa to be inspired by their stories. Or check out the many resources we have on our website for leaders who want to design an integrated approach to work and life.

Take Back Your Time

Every few months we feature the pioneers who are part of the ThirdPath community… This month we are featuring John de Graaf – Founder, Take Back Your Time.

John believes … Using our time, not just for both productive work, but also for enjoyment in life, is pivotal if we want to improve our overall quality of life.

He joined one of our Thursday webinars to talk about the work he does and the organization he founded – Take Back Your Time. John’s organization is dedicated to redefining the cultural perceptions of how we utilize our time. Although this type of work can be done on the personal and organizational level, John has a long and impressive history of fighting for public policy change.

It’s about improving our health and the communities we live in …

John started the call by describing his work fighting for paid parental leave, sick leave, and vacation time. As he pointed out, without the opportunity for vacations, the likelihood of heart attacks and depression increases for both men and women. And when workers can’t afford to take time off, including to care for their own health, research shows they come to work sick, stay sick longer, and spread illness to coworkers.

John went on to describe some of the important work he’s done around mandatory paid vacation time. John even drafted and proposed a paid vacation act, which would offer 1 to 2 weeks of guaranteed paid vacation time depending on the size of the organization. Though the US is one of only five countries not offering paid vacation time, many were still rigorously against this proposed bill.

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What can we learn from success stories?

During our conversation, John provided a perfect example of people embodying the “whole life” mentality John believes in. In Bhutan, a small country settled into the hills of the Himalayas, instead of just prioritizing the importance of gross national product, this small progressive county has been focusing on increasing gross national happiness.

In service of this goal, Bhutan has created an index for looking at 9 dimensions of life that lead to sustainable happiness, one of which is time balance. John then provided a number of inspiring details of how he ended up working with the people of Bhutan as they drafted a proposal on a happiness index for the UN.

And what did we fail to learn …

John also shared a powerful story about the Kellogg corporation. In 1930, Kellogg allowed one location of its workers to change to 6-hours shifts, 5 days a week. Within two years of this shift, the company discovered it produced the same amount of cereal in the 6 hour shifts, as it had during the 8 hour shifts.

However, in 1985, because of the high cost of benefits, these workers were forced to return to an 8-hour workday. Around this time, John interviewed a number of the men and women who had been working the shorter schedules to better understand how it had impacted their lives. No surprise, he discovered the shorter work day brought many benefits, including extra time for divvying up housework, enjoying hobbies, and volunteering.

Clearly our conversation with John underscores how supporting people to have time and energy for their lives outside of work leads to happier and healthier individuals and communities.

Keep up the great work John! And thank you, for being such a long-term advocate for this important cause!

Our Mission

Assist individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community and other life priorities. Develop a growing community of individuals, leaders and organizations to influence wider change - both within organizations and at the public policy level. Support a new mind-set where everyone can follow a "third path" - an integrated approach to work and life.

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ThirdPath Institute
P.O. Box 9275, Philadelphia PA 19139
Phone: 215.747.8790
Email: time4life (at) thirdpath.org