So I feel like I can finally see the finish line on some big things in my life that I’ve been allowing to bring me down for quite some time. After three nights in a row of not being able to sleep, I made the decision back in December to limit my law practice solely to criminal defense work, despite the seemingly obvious negative consequences to my pocketbook. By late August, I should officially no longer have any non-criminal cases. When I was helping open Get Yogafied back in February, I was quoted as having said that I was working on trying to “get out from under my own life”, an expression I’d been using for a while. I don’t know, maybe other people can relate.
I’ve felt for a good while now about my legal career like the lyrics to a Sublime song – “well the girl I knew and the bonds we grew, turned into a ball and chain”. Basically, I worked my ass off for the past nine years – studying for the LSAT, making it through law school, passing the bar exam, surviving two different District Attorney’s Offices and forging it out on my own – all for the privilege of having to have permission from the government to take more than a couple of days off (despite being self employed), and running the risk of being jailed for calling in sick. It’s not that I don’t enjoy practicing law. Anyone who’s been in court with me can testify to the fact that I love trying cases. In law school, I was on the University of Miami’s competition mock trial team. I used to say how great it was that I’d finally found something to do that I loved so much that I’d be willing to do it for free.
The realization, of course, is that anytime something is rooted in expectation and obligation, rather than desire, the affectionate bond turns into a ball and chain of resentment. A common phenomenon in relationships as well (like the Sublime song is talking about). You start dating this great guy. Maybe he sends a text message every morning without fail, telling you how beautiful you are. Maybe he sleeps with his arms around you every night. Maybe he says “I love you” every time you’re hanging up the phone. These things grow bonds, make you swoon, and feel great about yourself. But just like my legal career, nothing can be all fun and games all the time. So one day, several months or years down the road, he has a really bad day at work and doesn’t tell you about it because he doesn’t want you to worry. He calls to tell you he’s running late for dinner and hangs up the phone. No “I love you”. You wonder – have his feelings for me changed? He ALWAYS says it. Did I do something? Is there someone else? SOMETHING’S HAPPENED. It happens again the next day when he calls from work, and this time he says he’ll be missing dinner all together. When it happens a third time, you decide there’s obviously a problem, and decide to bring it up. So on day three, when he gets home at 10pm, you lay it on him, explaining how you feel about his lack of consistency with the “I love yous” lately. He assures you it has nothing to do with you, but has to do with work, but will start making sure to give you the required “I love yous” to keep you feeling confident about yourself and your status in your relationship with him. So, he does it. But now, when you hear “I love you”, you think “She’s making me say this, I don’t really mean it”. So you get weird and then he gets weird and then everything is just, well, weird.
I wrote an article for the summer edition of La Mode Magazine called “Life Without Expectation – The Beauty of Intention”. It discusses the importance of checking in with your intentions, and evaluating not just what you’re doing, but why. If you find yourself miserable in some area of your life, how committed are you to that misery? Can you find the courage to prove yourself wrong? Just because you made the seemingly informed decision to get into a situation, does that mean you’re shackled to it for life? Sometimes the pursuit of happiness is worth being wrong. Sometimes, the pursuit of happiness is even worth the disapproval of loved ones. Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. Isn’t it interesting that in our society, happiness is deemed a luxury, yet its pursuit is one of our constitutionally protected rights.
Isn’t it also interesting how a little difference in perspective can change everything. I house sat for part of last week, while my dad, stepmom and little bro were on a vacation that I was supposed to be taking with them. Thanks to worry of the above-referenced legal cases, combined with getting set for court despite having put in vacation letters, combined with worry about the status of another business venture, I cancelled my second vacation in a row and took my boxes of files over to my dad’s place. When I got there, there were leaves and gunk in the pool that I’d so desperately been wanting to swim in and I thought, GREAT. And sighed.
Fast forward a week. The worries of the above-referenced business venture had subsided and ended on a positive note. I wound up getting to spend a ton of time that week with my special someone, and wound up having a really great time. I made it through the file I needed to get through, and made substantial headway in getting ready for the upcoming trial. As I swam alone yesterday in that very same pool, all suddenly felt right with the world. Then I looked over and saw a leaf. Likely from the very same tree whose leaves the previous week I’d found so offensive. Only this time, as I watched the leaf bobbing in the water, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful it was. I stared, taking in all the subtle nuances of the leaf that made it special and amazing. The little cracks. The varied colored speckles. The shapes. The ripples in the water it created. I kept my eye on it from above, floating on my raft, thinking how I could enjoy this leaf for hours (remember – I was having an “all is right with the world” moment). No sooner did I think that thought than the leaf began its descent over, and then into, the pool drain. Poof! Gone.
So I think life is like that sometimes. When we have something great going on, at some point we form an attachment, project how great things will be in the future, and stop enjoying the present moment. Invariably, that seems to be about the same point where the object of our attachment begins to go down the proverbial drain. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I’d be sharing with you about how I’d figured out the way to earn my millions (or live without money entirely for that matter), freelance-style, and am now blogging from a beach in Bali, while drinking rum out of a coconut shell. But for most of us, our current reality looks more like spending the bulk of our waking hours doing something we either severely to moderately despise or tolerate (maybe we even like our job, but most people I know would still answer that they’d prefer not to have to do it, if given the choice). Like me, most of us can’t just up and quit on our jobs. We have obligations. Expectations. Responsibilities. So how do we find happiness in all of that? I’d argue that happiness is in the pursuit. Most things worth having take time and sustained effort, and aren’t obtained via instant gratification. If, like me, there’s an area (or two) of your life that you think could use a tune-up – just start thinking about it. Action springs from thought. Maybe not overnight, maybe not even in a year, but change happens. If you let it.
IN SUMMATION: Happiness is in the pursuit.