The Fool-Proof Guide to Failing with Flair

Everything you need to know about getting it wrong.

That Lawyer Thing



OK. So the lawyer thing.

What I should say is: “Ugh! The Really Big Failure Thing.”

Before I begin, I would like to say that I had a nice weekend. (Yes, I’m aware that it’s Tuesday now.) I spent Saturday working on other writing projects and doing some housework. On Sunday I had a lovely brunch with a group of lovely women, then drank wine and laughed all afternoon and evening. At the end of the evening, after a hysterical conversation about Minions and punching bartenders, I went outside for a smoke. The wine must have fogged my vision because, on my way out, I slammed straight into the career-ghost from my past.

A couple of my friends were already outside, smoking and having a conversation. As I walked out, one friend (I’ll call her Sparkplug) said to the other (I’ll call her Minister), “There’s the person you should be talking to.”

Uh oh.

Those words, when used in reference to me, often mean that someone has a legal problem or question. My typical reaction involves turning tail and running, after mumbling something about not being a lawyer anymore and having never had any experience with whatever area of law is in question anyway. For my friends though, I am happy to listen to their issues and then tell them I never had experience in that area of the law. If the problem is serious enough, I tell them they should find a currently licensed attorney who specializes in their problem area. Often I can recommend someone. Pointing someone in the right direction is the only thing I am legally allowed, or willing, to do now.

Since Sparkplug and Minister are my friends (and the wine, as wine does, had already drowned my better instincts), I allowed nicotine and curiosity to dampen my flight response and waited for an explanation as to why I was “the person” Minister “should” be talking to.

Minister did not have a legal problem. No problem then, right? Wrong. That would have just required me to listen, deflect and direct. I wish it had been that simple. As it turns out, Minister is thinking about going to law school. My typical reaction to someone who says this is some variation of, “Why the Hell do you want to do that?!” I’m pretty sure I didn’t deviate too far from my norm with Minister. I may have been a little more polite and possibly skipped the reflexive, accompanying eye roll. Unfortunately my skepticism must have been too subtle, and the rhetorical nature of my response query, if noted, went unheeded. The result was a two-hour discussion on the practical, economic, and ideological pros and cons of law school and lawyer-dom.

[I should say here that, even when I was a licensed, practicing lawyer, my response to anyone telling me they were considering law school involved skepticism and eye rolling. That could have been a sign . . .]

We talked about LSATs (law school entrance boards), the potential cost, employment, possible income, and the reasons why Minister thought she wanted to take on a bazillion dollars in student loan debt and engage in conflict for a living. The conversation was lively and not unpleasant in any definable way. Minister is a thinker and debater by nature and I have no doubt that she will be a more than capable attorney if she does decide to take that path. Neither her desire nor her reasons for wanting to go to law school were a problem for me. Then what the heck was my problem with our conversation?

My problem was my career ghost. All through the conversation, I could feel that ghost brushing against my skin and whispering panic and humiliation in my ear. I don’t like to think about the fact that, if you count preparation for law school and the Bar Exam, I spent more than three years of my life, and a whole boatload of money, on a career I can barely even reference in a résumé any longer. Knowing I disappointed my family and friends and let my clients down is also not a great feeling. I failed as a professional and as a provider, but even that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is the Question that raises the ghost: “Why?” Why did I cut my career nose off to spite my relationship face, and why did I follow that up with an excellent ostrich imitation? I don’t like the Question. I don’t like when other people ask it and I don’t like asking it of myself, but I have. A lot. And I’ve spent a lot of time working through the complexities of how to answer it, for myself, for my friends and family, and for potential future employers. I’m pretty sure I know the Answer now, but I don’t like it any better than I like the Question, and I have been fearful that it will never be enough to satisfy anyone else or put my ghost to rest.

As a result of that conversation, my ghost has been restless these last two days. On Monday, the echoes from Sunday’s wine masked some of the chain rattling. I was also busy cat sitting and work-men supervising for an out-of-town friend, and the hammers, drills, and caterwauling gave some additional sound-proofing. The bugger screwed with me in other ways though. Yesterday and most of today were plagued by writers’ block and it was 9 o’clock last night before I noticed that I had been wearing two vividly different-colored socks and had my shirt on inside-out all day.

I have been known, when highly distracted, to get in the shower with my underwear still on, so today I skipped a shower. I tried to drown out the moaning and chain rattling with Candy Crush and last night’s recording of The Voice but eventually I realized that the ghost was not going anywhere until I let her speak. I’m glad I did. She told me that time and new experiences will help her rest and that, if I keep my head out of the sand, forgive myself and move forward, I will be OK. Today I realized she is my own ghost and not some stranger come to frighten my future away. She is the past. I am the present. The future is not afraid of either of us.



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