My patient was telling me about his new job.
On the face of things, there was nothing to complain about. He’d hated his old firm — a Biglaw institution that he called “soulless.” The new place, a New York City-based securities boutique, was different. The people were smart – practically cosmopolitan by comparison. And for the first time, he wasn’t being treated like a junior. They respected his judgment – no one was correcting his work.
I offered congratulations.
He looked thoughtful, and I asked what was wrong.
“This is going to sound crazy.”
“Crazy is my business. Try me.”
“I didn’t want to get this job. I was hoping the old place would fire me.”
“I wanted to be free.”
He’d gone so far in pursuit of his secret fantasy of getting fired that he’d planned a trip to India and investigated moving to Oregon, where an old friend lives. He had money saved up, and was ready to apply for unemployment and sell his apartment. It was all worked out. He was going to escape – to chase a dream of living near the mountains and surrounding himself with laid-back, creative people.
Now – by a stroke of luck – he was sitting in another big city law firm, earning a large salary, continuing with his career.
He had nothing to complain about – but he was crushed.
The problem was simple. He was going nowhere – or, at least, nowhere he wanted to be.
This guy could stick around at this firm for twenty years and end up a senior securities attorney – maybe even a partner. He’d be wealthy. He’d attend bar association thingamabobs and sit on panels. He’d have his own clients and bring in business. That was where he was headed if he stayed on his current track, passively charting the course of least resistance.
But he didn’t want any of that. He didn’t like securities law. He didn’t really like law, period. He just fell into it because he needed something to do and stayed for the money.
Now he sat in my office, crying – talking about what might have been.
“My friend owns a restaurant, in Oregon, on an old wharf. They specialize in organic, locally-grown food. I was going to move to Oregon and manage the place for him. I wouldn’t earn much, but my friend says I have the personality and the talent to run a restaurant. And I love Oregon – living near the forest and the sea.”
I asked him what was stopping him from quitting right now to pursue his dream.
“I’d never have the balls. I couldn’t give up this money.”
“Not even for your dream?”
He shook his head. That was that. It was decided.
Stasis is a trap between anger and fear. Anger that you aren’t living the life you want. Fear that if you let go, you’ll lose everything.
I’m sure you have your own problems. You might not feel sorry for a guy earning over $200k at a top firm. Fair enough. But whatever this guy was earning, his misery was genuine, and I see people like him all the time, trapped in a dead end because they cling to stability instead of chasing a dream.
Stability is a pointless goal. It’s a myth. There is no stability in this world. The child in you longs for stability because children are helpless, vulnerable creatures. But you’re not a child anymore, you’re an adult. You don’t need to spend your entire life worrying about your retirement savings. People manage, somehow. They just do. If you’re doing something you love, you’ll do fine. You’re going to die anyway, rich or poor.
The real point of living – adult living – is to chase a dream. That’s how humans work. You need to chase something you truly desire, or you’ll never feel fulfilled.
If your dream is making it to the top at the legal profession, and that’s the path you’re on, good for you.
But if you’re only in this field because of the money, or because you’re too scared to follow your dreams – it might be time to break the stasis, overcome your fear, and try something new.
Life is a brief opportunity for joy. It’s about chasing a dream, and it should be exciting and risky and surprising. Somewhere off in the distance, there’s a place you want to be – a mountaintop you want to climb. You have a short time in which to race off and see if you can get there.
Go ahead. Break free and chase your dream.
Otherwise you’re going nowhere – at least, nowhere you want to be.
[This piece is part of a series of columns created by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.]
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book.