I’m sitting at court, about to be substituted in one of my three remaining litigation files. The rules of procedure have changed in Quebec, and we now need court authorization for a substitution if a trial date has been set, even if all the parties consent. In case anyone is interested in the legalese stuff…
We’re on a break, I’ve got 50 percent battery left on my computer, an espresso allongé, and I’m going to get these thoughts out of my head and into a post.
I have always remembered the words of Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata”. And a band called “Lazyboy” made a great song around those words… But one passage has been particularly meaningful to me in the last few years. “Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time”. It has occurred to me that humans have to “work”. Not just for money. But for purpose. For sanity. For a sense of fulfillment. A decade in commercial litigation will confirm some life lessons, one of which is that having money with no purpose tends to lead to some form of spiritual madness or emptiness. Humans need purpose. We need to create. We need projects to keep our minds busy. We need to be valued, to feel productive, and to be productive if we are not to get lost in this world.
In the last couple of years, I have tasted what it feels like to lose interest in my career – a career that I had spent a decade building. And in a way, it’s kind of like losing interest in life. I never fully lost interest, and I always plugged away and worked as hard as a I could. If not out of a total passion for the profession, out of a total dedication to my clients. And out of a genuine and bona fide fear of failure and looking stupid. If nothing else, people are driven by the preservation of their image and reputation. And I could never stomach anyone thinking of me as anything less than knowledgeable, hard working, and uncompromisingly dedicated to the interests of my clients.
This total devotion may also have had something of a destructive effect on my psyche… They say that the best doctors have to be able to dissociate themselves from their patient. That the best lawyers have to be able to remain emotionally detached from their clients’ problems. I have always disagreed with that, and still do to this day. I believe that the client’s problems have to be the lawyer’s problems if the lawyer is to give them the attention they deserve. But that level of emotional involvement takes a toll. But I digress… This is a post for another day.
I always remained totally invested in my career. It bears my name. My reputation. But I cannot count the number of times I sat at my desk, mesmerized by the stack of paper staring back at me, shouting to myself as loud as I could in my own mind “WHAT THE F*&K ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE???” This is the legacy you want to leave for the world? Oooohhhh… He was a pitbull… He was relentless… He would fight to the finish… But for what?”
I often joked with my dad that I could have been the best drug dealer in the world. I’m neurotic. Meticulous. I think out every angle, every risk, every aspect of danger before I do something. I could have been great at it if that were what I wanted to dedicate my life to. I have spent the last decade of my life dedicated to law, yet I could not escape this feeling of emptiness that I imagine comes when one fully loses interest in their career.
Another expression, much more uplifting, had also been doing circles in my head. “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”. Which bought me back to that question from the classic movie “Office Space”: Money aside, if I could do something every day for the rest of my life, what would it be? When my first video went uber-viral, when I was discovering an industry, doing interviews, seeing my material pop up on National Geographic, Mother Jones, Der Spiegel, in newspapers and on websites across the globe, my awesome colleague Julia one day casually remarked that I looked happy. She said that she was under the impression I had found my calling.
Money aside, if I could do something every day for the rest of my life, I would create. And over the last 3 years, I have concluded that I am reasonably good at it. In the beginning of my foray into YouTube videography, I was shocked to realize that I could even make money doing what I would have been doing anyhow for fun. I was ecstatic to come to understand that there is a place, an industry that is built on, and rewards, authentic creation. Having grown my channel to 14,000+ subscribers, 20 million+ views, 34 million+ watch minutes has to be more than a fluke… There is certainly an element of chance to it. After all, it is not always the creation that required the most work that generates the most interest. But beyond chance and good luck is the result of years of obsessive, compulsive, and relentless creation.
And through my venture into YouTube videography, I have come to realize that a person’s relationship with their career is no different than their relationship with their spouse. You wake up together. You go to sleep together. You live together. It is possible to stay in a relationship that is based on convenience, financial security, or necessity, as opposed to genuine passion or love. But chances are that if the relationship is not built on genuine passion and love, it will have some difficulty at some point in time. Chances are it will fall apart at some point in time. And even if you manage to make it work, it just doesn’t feel good every day to wake up and go to sleep with someone or something you are simply not passionate about.
The other thing I have come to realize is perhaps even more important. They say that people are afraid to fail. The proverbial “they”. I don’t know who “they” are, but they say it… People are afraid to fail. Or so it goes. But I disagree. People may think they are afraid to fail. But they are not afraid of failure per se. They are actually only afraid that other people will see that they have failed. They are afraid of what other will think of their failure. People will take incredible chances when there is no risk of others witnessing their failure. It’s why people dance and sing in the shower. It is the fear of what others will think of their failure that leads to constraints. Despair. Even suicide. In my career, I have seen multiple friends and clients give up, I am certain, out of a perceived shame of what they must have thought others were thinking of their failures. One incident in particular ultimately became a turning point in my life. This too may the subject of a future post.
It’s the reason why when it comes to relationships, some people want to keep them quiet until they are reasonably confident they will succeed. Others make them public right away, and then if they don’t work out, they recoil in the shame of what they think others are thinking. They go back and delete Facebook and Instagram posts and photos. They try to conceal all evidence that they ever opened themselves up to a relationship that ultimately failed. All of this internal strife is brought on (I might even say fabricated) by a person’s fear of what others might think of their failings. I am not pretending to be above it. On the contrary, I have been, and to some extent continue to be, guilty of it as well. But it is an objective, outright, and utterly useless hindrance. A hindrance to success. There is nothing constructive about it. It is a reflex to overcome.
You will never succeed at poker if you are playing with scared money. You will simply get chipped away to the felt. You will never attain total greatness in sports if you are afraid of face-planting in front of a crowd. You will never have a truly meaningful and gratifying relationship if you are held back by the fear of it ultimately not working out. Flukes aside, success requires total dedication.
And the same holds true of a career. You have to dedicate yourself fully to your career, however humble. But it is easier said than done. No one wants others to know of their “failures”. That it “didn’t work out”. That they failed at something. It’s why divorce is so spiritually and morally devastating. Marriage, like a career, is one of life’s biggest projects. And its success or failure always occurs in the most public of venues.
I am convinced that progress and greatness is most ripe to occur when people get past their fear of other people judging their failure. don’t get me wrong – failure might also occur. Even the greatest of success stories have their fair share of failures. The only people who can say that they have never failed are either extremely lucky, extreme liars, or extremely boring and have never tried anything of importance in their life (or possibly a combination of the three!).
So that’s it. My coffee is cold. My battery is about to go dead. My meter is up. And there is a day to conquer.