Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Do you know what's coming?

"If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path." -- Joseph Campbell 
Lawyers like to know what is coming. Jobs that students take after their second year in law school often remain homes for years, if not an entire career. Interviews for judicial clerkships are in September for jobs beginning the following August. In interview preparation, we are coached to ask what the partnership track is for a law firm - often 7-8 years. Salaries and bonuses are posted on national websites for all to see. In other words, lawyers do not like to take chances.

Then why does the average lawyer today change jobs 5 times in his career? Why does the average lawyer leave his first job within three years? Why are so many judges people that have done both criminal and civil litigation? Certainly, part of the answer is the economy. When there are fewer jobs, people move around more. But the bigger answer, I think, is that lawyers are wising up to the importance of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. While scary, there is a certain feeling of anticipation and excitement that such an opportunity creates.

The law is about providing answers. We look to the past, see old cases and statutes, and we decide, based on that, how the case before us should resolve. Yes, I mean resolve. Because, at the end of the day, there is a resolution. One side "wins," and the other side often goes home empty-handed. In complex civil litigation, juries are often asked to determine how much at fault each party is and then calculate to the penny how much each party should be awarded. Some cases take years, but what each step will be is usually easy to determine. 

But we all know that real life is not like that. Life throws us for loops all the time. We can plan out every minute for the next thirty years, but tomorrow, we could be without a job, our best friend could die, or we could be hit by a bus. Of course, tomorrow, we could win the lottery (only if you play), meet a new best friend, or discover that someone we love is pregnant. In other words, life changes. Lawyers, like all of us, must learn to navigate those changes, and the first step is accepting that we cannot determine how life will proceed tomorrow, let alone next year.

This is why I love the Joseph Campbell quote so much. His point is that you can think you know what tomorrow, and the rest of your life, will bring, but you will be wrong, no matter what. Even Yoda said that the future is difficult to determine - always changing. (Now is probably as good a time as any to out myself as a super Star Wars geek. I will try to spare this blog from that, but sporadic Yoda quotes will prevail, I'm sure.) 

Yoga provides us the tools to confront these changes. Yoga is the reminder that our true nature does not change, even if we move across the world, change jobs, or start a new family. I have been lucky to travel the world, and live in various places for long enough for people to get to know me. What I find is that while my outward way of being has changed (I used to make Mac-and-Cheese with a friend everyday after school, and now I'm a health nut, and I used to be a percussionist prepared to study music in college, but now I'm a lawyer-yogi), people tend to react to me the same way. I hear the same things about me from people I met in France to people from Michigan and Arizona, to my friends growing up in California. This includes that which I like about myself and that which drives me nuts about myself. 

When I was growing up, many people told me I would be a lawyer. I said it would never happen. Ooops. And guess what? I'm proud of it! When I did not get the "good" jobs my third year in law school, I was upset. Then I got the best job I could have ever asked for, followed by a second amazing job, and together they gave me the time and opportunity to apply for a Fulbright and get my yoga teacher certification, neither of which are traditional plans for post-law school. I certainly could not have told anyone at the beginning of law school that I would be moving to New Zealand for ten months and teaching yoga during my lunch hour at work.

So, we can plan all we want. We can think we know what tomorrow will bring, but we waste our energy. The legal community is slowly shifting towards a system of change, of breaking the status quo, and being okay with not knowing. Yoga teaches us to always come back to our breath, whether sitting in meditation or doing a hot yoga practice (which I do not actually practice, unless you consider Phoenix hot yoga). The breath never changes. Our essence never changes, no matter how much the external forces try to change us. We can work to better ourselves and society, but the point is that there is nothing these external forces can take from us, only give us more opportunities for growth.

The funny thing is that I learned the same thing in law school. We are taught over and over again in school that it is perfectly acceptable, even honorable, to answer a client's question with four simple words, "I do not know." Of course, those words should be followed with, "let me look into it and get back to you." That openness to the unknown is a step toward the freedom that yoga can provide as well as the recognition that when we do not know, there is always an opportunity to learn. .

Namaste and Blessings!


  1. As always Bec, it is terrific to read your posts and see how your thoughts are turning. I have lived similarly in that I do not know what tomorrow will bring, and it drives others near to me nuts because they want to write my address in perfect penmanship in their address books, or keep me in a box on a shelf in their memory. Even if I had stayed in one physical space, I would still not know what tomorrow's path may be. This last year, I have consciously tried to open myself up to the possibilities before me, and agree to what sings to my heart. I want to be able to say yes all the time, and I am not at all sure where I will be next year, what I will be working at, but I know that I will be more of who I am--fulfilling what is basic in me. Like a garden, plant seeds but be surprised at what grows.

  2. I am always looking out these days because I feel like the universe sends me signals and puts things in my path to help me head where I'm truly wanting to go. I'd have never guessed seven years ago, when I was a tv producer in NYC (training to move up) that I'd be teaching worksite yoga in Vermont while working as a wellness professional and health insurance broker (and teaching Bikram on the side).

    Setting goals perks up the brain and you're more alert to the cues you get around you that are really doors opening to your future. Great thought provoking post!