Honorable Sandra Upchurch

Honorable Sandra Upchurch headshot, Caucasian woman with short brown hair and a pearl necklace is pictured in a large leather chair with an American flag behind her

Name: Honorable Sandra Unchurch
Job Title: Circuit Judge, 7th Circuit
City: DeLand, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: I have a very supportive and understanding husband and two terrific sons all of whom keep me very busy and very “on my toes!”

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
I think “having it all” is unrealistic AND overrated. I think “having it all” is a judgment we cast upon others without knowing them and their lives. I think if you ask someone who appears to “have it all” if they feel that way they would likely laugh and say “if you only knew..”

What does having “it all” mean to you?
To me having “it all” is possible if you define “it all” very simply and not in an all-encompassing way. To me it means health for me and my family, family members that love and nurture each other through good times and bad and a career that can help sustain the real and recreational needs of my family. Yes, I’ve got that.  Does that mean that every day of my life is easy and perfect and smooth?  No way. Life is messy. Some days I deal well with the mess, some days the mess drives me insane, some days I am the mess.

What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
“Love the life you live and live the life you love.”  It’s simple but says it all.

If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
This reminds me of the question of “what would your greatest regret be on your death bed?” Would it be not working more? Of course not. For my extra hour I would spend it reading Harry Potter with my 8 year old son, talking politics with my oldest son or just enjoying a quiet evening on the back porch catching up with my husband.

Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Two things:
1) Learn to love the learning process because you will spend your whole life doing it. 2) Spend time learning to write, write well, write forcefully and write with passion. There is power in the written word whether it is a love letter, a work email or a letter to the editor.

Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
I read somewhere that the most wasted emotions/thoughts are worry, guilt and regret. With worry you are concerning yourself and expending emotional energy on something that has not happened and may not happen. With regret and guilt you are concerning yourself and expending emotional energy on something that has already happened and cannot be changed. I try to live my life in the present – trying to become a better person, each day, now.

What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
I would love to see large law firms begin to understand and accept that hours logged at a desk to not necessarily correlate to increased profits.  If a workday could be defined in terms of work accomplished, tasks completed and/or satisfied clients instead of number of hours worked, we would see happier, healthier lawyers who are more productive and more professional.

What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
I worry sometimes that I am going to leave this world not having made any lasting impact on it and then I realize how very egocentric that is. I need to realize that my sphere of influence is very small and manageable and if I can leave this world knowing that my friends and family have wonderful, warm, fond memories of me, that is enough. That’s just perfect actually.

What part of “balance” are you improving at?
I am learning to embrace the concept that sometimes simply have a task “done” is good enough – perfection is no longer my goal. And yes, I read that somewhere too – I read a lot!

As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
I had to realize that I am not the only one that can have a positive influence on my children and I am not the only one that can give them love and attention. I have learned that they don’t need me 100% of the time and that they benefit immensely from being under the guidance of others with different priorities and skill sets than what I can offer. My children started as infants in daycare (which I always insisted be called “school”). Because of  early schooling (as opposed to “in spite of” early schooling) they are self-sufficient, well-adjusted, independent, social and flexible. My husband and I are huge pieces of the child-rearing puzzle but we are not the only pieces – that’s the balance. But after a long day, it’s important to get home and plug in 100% to your family – a distracted parent doesn’t count.

How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
This is a tough one for me – I feel thankful and empowered by my professional involvements and I have lucked into wonderful career choices and life-long friends because of that involvement. I however have faltered in the civic involvement department. That’s the area I have had to let go of. I have always envisioned myself finding my true civic calling or passion once my kids are in college and I have more free time. I hope that happens.

What’s the advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
Try to do what gives you joy that day. Sometimes it feels great to get out in the sun and watch your kids play soccer, or go for a run. Sometimes it feels terrific to dig into work, hit your stride, work late into the night and experience that sense of accomplishment. I would say each and every day is a new balancing act and you just need to be in tune enough with yourself to know what YOU need each day to keep you moving joyfully into the next.

Any other parting words of advice?
In the true spirit of the Balancing in Heels Project my advice is “never underestimate how terrific a great pair of shoes can make you feel!”