On February 1st I made a one line entry in my journal. “Here we go!” was all it said.
But that one line contained two decades of soul searching, introspection and discernment. After practicing with the same firm for 29 years (and after toying with the idea of leaving for many of those years) I was about to resign and start my own law practice.
To those who did not know me well, this came as something of a surprise. I had no reason to leave. To the contrary, I had every reason to stay. I had a thriving law practice. The firm was a comfortable place to be. It wasn’t perfect. But I liked the people I worked with, and it was a good firm with a great reputation and strong future. It also allowed me to earn a really good living. At 56 one would think I would be content to ride out the remaining years in the safety and security of the firm I’d been a part of since graduating from law school.
But those who knew me well knew that I had dreamed of starting my own practice for a long time—creating a firm that reflected my values and priorities. A firm that could succeed financially while caring for the well-being of those who worked there, and a firm that would be intentional in its creation of structures that would allow us to bring our best selves to the practice of law. For years I had dreamed of building such a firm. And now it was time to stop dreaming, and actually give it a shot.
Why did it take so long? If I’d nurtured that dream for years, why was I just now getting around to trying to make it happen?
That question actually has a fairly easy answer—fear. Uncertainty as to how it would play out. Apprehension made all the more palpable by the fact that I had a family to support…a lot of obligations…a lot of people depending on me. If I was going to try something new, I needed some assurance that everything would be o.k. I needed a guarantee that I would make it. That I would be successful and that everything would be alright.
Of course, no one could make those promises. There are never guarantees when you talk about leaving the box that defines comfort, ease and security. There is always the real possibility that you could try this and fail.
So I stayed put. Year after year biding my time. Nurturing this fantasy. And feeling that I was a fake…speaking to groups across the country about the importance of following their hearts and living their own lives. All the while being too afraid to do it myself.
Slowly, however, it began to dawn on me that this space of not knowing how things will work out is the space where true potential arises. If you know how the story is going to end, it’s not much of a story. So, if I was going to live my life the only possible way forward was to move forward with no guarantees. To move forward without knowing how it would turn out. Without knowing whether I actually had the resources to pull it off or whether I had what it would take to see it through.
And as I pondered all of this, it became clear to me that this was how it had to be. If there was some formula or some script I could follow that would assure me everything would be alright, then I would be living someone else’s story. And the point here was, for the first time, to live my story.
The mythologist, Joseph Campbell, observed that when the Knights of the Round Table decided to go in quest of the Holy Grail, they thought it would be a disgrace to go forward in a group. So each entered the forest at the darkest point, where there was no path. If there was a path, it was someone else’s path. The point is, the entire quest depends on each entering the forest at the most mysterious point and following your own intuition. Only by entering the unknown are we able to bring forth our own potentialities.
So as I write this I have no idea where this journey will take me. This new firm might be immensely successful. Or it might crash and burn.
There are no guarantees.
All I can do is remain faithful to the path, trusting that I have the strength and resources necessary to see this through. And hoping that so long as I remain committed to the path, I will end up where I need to be.
And that is really enough, isn’t it? To know that when I come to the end of my days I won’t have to wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to live the life I was here to live.