Jeff Sherr recently posted on vimeo a terrific video on the importance of having a third thing. Most of us in public defense spend time on our work, and we spend time with family and friends. Some of us try to develop or sustain spending time on a third thing– a recharging, recreational third thing. Jeff traces this concept back to his mom’s advice to him as a child: to pursue multiple extracurricular activities in addition to school and family.
Not only does a third thing expand our learning and experience, but it helps us diversify in a useful way. To put it bluntly, with three things going, they probably won’t all suck at once.
Renate Lunn has written about the importance of having a third thing here on NAPD’s blog, where she wrote: “Having a Third Thing makes you a healthier, happier human, and a better attorney. Healthy, happy people tend to have the energy to do the work and the emotional energy to listen to clients, and remain calm in the face of judges and prosecutors. Outside hobbies give us new perspectives, introduce us to new people.”
Lauren Anderson, an amazing public defender in New Orleans, who I know and love through Gideon’s Promise, posted a beautiful post on Facebook (shared here with her permission) about how music recharges and refuels her.
One magical characteristic of a third thing is that it can inspire other people just by sharing it. I am energized when I see Lauren post photos of herself at concerts, or dancing in parades. When I see Renate on a circus trapeze or Jeff doing improve, I feel renewed optimism for a bit more balance in my own life. If they can find the time and energy for a third thing, so can I.
For the ten years we lived on our little apple farm in Sonoma County, my third thing was farming. Gardening, canning and pickling was a tried and true happy place for me. Bringing fresh honey or apple butter to friends was reliably delightful. Knowing that I’d picked the fruit and made the jam in my trial PB&J sandwiches reminded me, in the deepest of trial tunnels, that there was life outside the trial.
Since we moved to Santa Barbara two years ago, I’ve been casting about a bit to find a new third thing. As the child of an artist and a musician, I’ve wondered if art would be my next third thing. Perhaps the museum days I take three or four times a year will become more frequent. Or my daughter and I will continue to enjoy theatre and art events together. She has blown my mind in recent months, sharing with me poetry like Ode to the Little R and Magneto Eyes Strange Fruit, and patiently explaining to me how they related to the song If It’s True in Hadestown. Revelation. Revolution! Last year, I may have texted co-counsel on a capital case from the intermission of San Francisco Ballet’s Frankenstein to gush “we need to spend more time studying Frankenstein! This is the best mitigation presentation ever!” Ava Duvernay is right in saying there’s a direct line between art, imagination, and justice. (Video of her saying this much more eloquently is here.)
A year ago, Dave and I were getting ready for a workshop on well being and we put out a request on Public Defense Zen that asked people to send us photos of themselves doing their third things. The resulting slide is my favorite of any slide we’ve ever put in any presentation. I feel overcome with appreciation each time I see it, for the incredible work these public defenders are doing, and the ways they are trying to care for themselves to keep doing it. Each time we project this slide, I think if they can find time for these amazing third things, I can too.
If you are a leader in public defense, support people having a third thing. From the earliest stages of recruiting, ask people what they do to recharge. Examine ways to use flex time or other schedule flexibility to encourage people to engage in a third thing. If you train or mentor others, weave in discussions of recreation and having a third thing.
I hope you’ll help advance this movement to inspire and support each other. Post a comment and/or photo below to share your third thing!