A Funny Little Thing Called Regret

Sometimes in life, you find something that inspires you and causes you to pursue it with wild abandon as a driving direction in your life.  Not just a passing whim that somehow catches your attention, but something that alights like fire in your heart.  Now THOSE are moments I think everyone seeks out and they are difficult to find.  Obviously.

For quite some time, I had something like that.  When I was in high school (maybe around my junior year), I began participating on the mock trial team and I completely caught the bug of wanting to be a lawyer.  My focus on this became almost single-minded, especially when I got to college.  I worked my tail off for 4 years because higher grades meant opportunities for better law schools.  Heck, I skipped a single class in college… and… umm… that was to study for a different class.  Not exactly “Rebel Without A Cause” kind of defiance in any way, shape or form.

I then got to law school and sought to apply myself with a great deal of rigor there as well.  Now, let me be clear on something… law school is hard.  I don’t care which school it is, if you went through or are going through that special kind of Hell, I tip my hat to you.  It’s an experience that’s difficult to describe to those who have not gone through it.  Suffice it to say, no one really enjoys law school… except for a few people.  And they scared me.

I got out of law school… got myself a nice shiny associate job with a law firm… and quickly realized, the life of a lawyer really wasn’t for me.  At all.

That’s quite an epiphany to experience at age 25 when you’ve spent the last 9 or so years (more than 1/3 of my life at that point) going full-bore at becoming an attorney.  I can’t lie – it rattled me.  How could it not?  I mean… what in the world would I do now?

But the funny thing about all of it… at the moment of clarity I had those close to 15 years ago (holy crap… 15 years?!?!?!?) through all the years that followed thereafter… I never regretted my decision to pursue being an attorney.  Really.

Is it because I’ve mastered some secret Zen technique that allows me to redirect all of life’s disappointments in a form of mental aikido?  Not really.  In fact, I  wouldn’t even say I am all that special in this regard.

It just came down to 2 important facts I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts:

1) Everything that has happened before in my life has brought me to where I am today and caused me to be who I am today.  And I like who I am… so why would I regret that?

2) I have absolutely zero ability to change or affect any event that has happened in the past… so what good is beating myself up over it endlessly?  Should I learn from it?  Hell yes, but beyond the learning and seeking to do better going forward, there is nothing to be gained in dwelling on missed opportunities or decisions that went an unexpectedly negative way.

I think the other major gripe I have with regret is often works from an assumption that whatever was “missed” before can never be obtained again.  I don’t buy that for a second.  Yes, if you always had a crush on Mary-Jo Hooper, never asked her out and she is now happily married with 3 kids, that ship has sailed my delinquent Romeo.

But many other things?  They aren’t necessarily closed off… it just depends on how bad you want it.  People go back to school and change careers and start new businesses.  New habits are formed and old ones broken.  The fact you are now 40 as opposed to 20 should not mean all is lost IF (and this is a critically big if) whatever you missed before has remained hugely important to you since.

Just don’t be the guy or gal who is always looking back to the days gone by and chances that appear to be nothing but cloudy memories.  Be proud of who you are now and what you have… and if you aren’t?  What’s really stopping you from making yourself anew?

You Can Always Start Over

The scales of justice

It’s always interesting for me to talk with people about their jobs (or the jobs they hope to have one day if they are still in school) because the views on work are so wide-ranging depending on the individual.  One common theme that I always seem to come across is a sense of trepidation about finding just the right career.  I can certainly understand why.  I was utterly focused from my senior year of high school on that I wanted to be a lawyer.  Nothing could possibly dissuade me from that mission and, truthfully, no one really tried to anyway.  Why would they?  Despite all the jokes to the contrary, being an attorney is widely viewed as a very respectable career choice, so it was all systems go.

Well, it took me less than a year of actual law practice for me to realize I simply hated it… and that’s a pretty ugly feeling when you’ve spent the previous 8 years studying and preparing for that role.  Now what?

I think a lot of people fall into that same fear – what if I don’t like it?  What if I put in all that time, effort and money to pursue this career and it just doesn’t work out?  Believe me… I understand that trepidation and sense of caution.  Ohhhhh how I understand, gentle reader!

What got me thinking over all of this was an interesting piece at MSNBC about high profile career changers.  It’s actually quite the list and for a number of them, I never knew they started off doing something else beyond what they are so known for now.

What’s just so striking to me about the list?  The number of them who started off as lawyers and moved onto something completely different.

I suppose that really shouldn’t be all that striking to me after all.  While there is still a certain amount of glamour and sexiness to being an attorney, I can hardly count the number of conversations I’ve had with friends of mine from law school or just in the legal profession at large who talk a lot about how they wish they could get out.

From the billable hour pressures to the often soul-crushing nature of certain kinds of legal work (seriously, some of it is numbingly repetitive) to the cut-throat style of many larger firms, there are a just a lot of lawyers who wish they were something else.  And I don’t blame them one iota.  The worst part for many is they are locked in by the golden handcuffs.  They make an absolutely great salary, but their lifestyle is right up to the edge of what they can afford… and if they want to leave for something different, many cannot afford to do so.  Crazy situation to find yourself in, eh?

It’s obviously not every lawyer and I know a fair number who love what they do and find true meaning to their efforts.  Kudos to them for sure.

However, the point is not just about lawyers… that’s just an easy jumping point for me since that’s my own background.  Heck, I’m not sure I ended up getting completely away from the law given that I work within a corporate legal department now.

The point is that you always, always, ALWAYS have a chance to start anew.  It was really liberating for me when I did and heck, maybe I will again some day.  Even having gone through it before, there is still that scary moment at the edge of the precipice where it looks like a 1,000 foot drop to certain doom… but really?  It’s an illusion.

It’s actually more akin to that moment in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indy has to take a leap of faith step across a yawning chasm… only to realize that there is a bridge there, cleverly hidden to blend in with the canyon below.  It was just a matter of steeling himself to take that step in the first place.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about taking that step is that if you truly need a change… if you really see some other path that utterly calls out to your heart and will not be silenced… the step is scary until you take it.  Once your foot lands, you would be surprised how quickly the ensuing steps will come.

Heed the Calling

In Latin the word vocare is a verb meaning “to call” and is the fundamental root of our modern day word “vocation”.  These days a vocation is often used as any term to connote work in a general sense, but it’s important to get back to the old, dusty Latin to bring fresh life to the word.  To me, not everyone’s job is a vocation… although I believe pretty much any job can be.

It’s less about the job itself and more about your own personal feeling and passions towards that career.  In other words… is it your true calling?  The thing that gives you juice and life and purpose?  The thing you cannot imagine NOT doing on a daily basis?  The thing that while the money may be nice (or maybe even not so nice), you do first because it speaks to you on a deeper level first and on a financial level a very distant second.

Today was a day I was privileged to interact with two very cool groups of people at the Gengras Center in West Hartford, CT: the students who go to school there and the teachers for whom their work is their vocation.

Gengras Center The Gengras Center is (as their Web site describes) “a unique, special education program for elementary, middle and high school students with intellectual, developmental, learning disabilities, and related behavioral challenges.”  I was invited over for their Career Day and to talk a little bit about my job.  Now, I was a little anxious leading up to this as I was thinking, “How in the world do I make ‘ethics officer’ sound interesting and keep their attention?”  I opted with the easy solution… free schwag.  Shameless, I know, but gosh darn it, worked like a charm! 

I handed out these squishy stress toy fire trucks (one of the products my company makes) and everyone seemed to love them.  Believe me, I needed it.  There were guys there with Harley-Davidsons and soldiers and the guy from ESPN next to me with the sports highlights and 2 laptops.  I was just the dude in a suit next to a table covered in little foam fire trucks… but thank God for those suckers!

But I ridiculously digress.

I truly enjoyed myself today because of both groups of people I got to spend time with.  First, the kids are fantastic and had enthusiasm and excitement to spend some time talking to me… even if I was not nearly as cool as a soldier in uniform.  The smiles and their eagerness to introduce themselves to me just won me over instantly.  I am very much hoping for an invite back at some point.

And the people working there?  There is something that grabs my attention of seeing someone who is committed to what they do.  It can be completely mesmerizing.  During the moments where I was waiting for the next round of kids to come through, I did my usual people-watching where I observed the staff just going through the regular “stuff” of their day.  I could see many staff members who just beamed when a kid smiled or was polite to one of the Career Day guests or did something well… and as corny as it sounds, it was heart-warming.

And that is a lesson in perspective, my friends.  Those are people who are working one damn challenging job that would leave anyone drained at the end of the day… but those moments that I was privileged enough to witness with them being immersed in what they do and loving it?  It’s inspiring and humbling all at the same time.

So the lesson I took from today is this: regardless of someone’s circumstances or the life they find themselves in, there is always a chance in any given moment for some real happiness (even if fleeting) to be found.  Every single one of those moments, whether long or brief, is completely worth it and is worth taking a moment to savor.

Thanks to everyone today… students and teachers alike… who gave me a chance to savor a few of their own moments.

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