I am forty-eight years old. I am a Michigan-licensed attorney who practiced law in the metropolitan Detroit area for twenty-one years. From 2001 to 2007, I was a hard-working, high-billing litigation attorney in an employment law firm, the fifth firm I had worked for during the course of my career, earning a six figure income and generous yearly bonuses. Although I can honestly say that I never really “loved the law,” as do many attorneys, I fully expected to continue plugging along on this same career path for another twenty years. While I had always harbored a deep-seated desire to write a book before I died, feeling that if I didn’t accomplish that I would die with regret, I pushed that desire to the side for the last two decades and even had myself convinced that I could otherwise “die happy.” I just could not envision a life without “lawyering.” I had been at it too long and a law degree is not something that one just tosses aside.
Without warning, however, life happened. In December 2006 I was told that I would be receiving a large bonus but not a salary increase because the sole corporate client I worked for was struggling financially and the firm’s future with that client was unstable. Then in January 2007, without reason or explanation, one individual associated with that client became disgruntled with me personally, and my entire caseload was ripped out from under me. With no other clients or business to tend to, I resigned from the firm. The day I walked out was the first day in years I felt myself breathe. I never shed a tear. I never mourned the loss of the job or the work. I missed my boss, for he was and still is a good man, but the enormity of relief that flooded every cell in my body was the proverbial red flag that life in the firm had not been “life affirming.”
For most of my adult life I have been influenced by outside negative forces, always feeling inferior and always defining myself by what others thought or said about me.
Admittedly, there were many days when I felt like a huge failure, but gradually, I considered that perhaps I didn’t fail the profession; it was the profession that failed me.
For the next six weeks, I went to the gym, met my lawyer friends for lunch, and yes, began buying and reading a magazine called MORE, something I had first discovered in a doctor’s office waiting room. I was shocked when a recruiter called to say a firm was looking for a part time, temporary contract attorney in my field of employment law. I agreed to have her submit my name as a candidate, but was not overly excited to get back in the business. When I received an offer and accepted it, I did so not for financial reasons, but because as a contract employee I would not be married to the firm, would not have to bill a defined number of hours, and would have the freedom to come and go as I pleased. The flexibility of this job would allow me to reach deep inside and ponder what to do next.
I began absorbing every article in MORE and other magazines that referred to “second acts” or “reinventing” oneself, terms I had never heard of before. The stories of other women who had hit speed bumps in life and used it to turn their lives around were compelling and inspiring. I began to feel less like a failure and more like a person who had just been handed an opportunity.
While still working as a contract attorney, I applied to become an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association. This much I knew: I no longer wanted to be a legal advocate, but wanted to keep a toe in the profession to some degree. Arbitration was an attractive option. I solicited the required letters of recommendation and completed the demanding essays as to why I thought I was qualified to serve as an arbitrator. My application was accepted and I completed an intense training period. This process rebuilt my confidence and confirmed that all was not lost.
In August of 2008, I resigned from the contract position. My only child was about to enter kindergarten, and the commute to the firm was no longer viable given its proximity to her school. More importantly, I was beyond professional burnout. In fact, I had reached a state of apathy with the practice of law. New cases no longer intrigued me. Meeting with clients and witnesses had become as stale as old bread. Going to court and taking depositions were activities I found completely aggravating instead of exciting. When I left this firm I knew it would be my last foray into the private practice of law.
When the economy crashed a few months later, I was consumed with guilt about having quit my job. I could not have picked a worse time to go without income, although my husband, thankfully, had a stable, high-paying position and I had adequate savings. We were never in danger of losing our home or anything else of significance. Nonetheless, I felt as if I had bailed out on my profession at the wrong time. A few friends and family members echoed this concern, adding to my angst.
Whenever I found myself spiraling down emotionally, I reached for books and magazines that I thought could pull me back from the brink of depression. I took to heart anything that mentioned taking risks in life, following your dreams and pursuing your passions. One particularly profound statement came from Bahram Akradi, the Founder and CEO of Lifetime Fitness gyms. In the April 2008 issue of Experience Life magazine, Akradi shares the following:
“Sometimes, despite our best thinking and most earnest efforts to make something happen, it just doesn’t come together. We can’t always know why. Maybe it’s the karma or divine plan of life, maybe it’s some internal wisdom telling us our energy is better spent elsewhere. Whatever it is, when we encounter immutable forces that put the kibosh on our big plans, I think it can be a sign that it’s time to regroup and, as the brilliant Byron Katie suggests, cease our ill-fated ‘arguing with reality.’ This doesn’t mean we should give up on our dreams. It just means we should be willing to take a moment to rest, rethink and then recommence our efforts with a different energy, a different consciousness or a different sort of plan. One that sets our heart racing all over again.” [Experience Life, April 2008, Letter from the Founder, p. 10]
I also frequently reminded myself of that time-honored phrase, “do what you love and the money will come.”
Inspired by such writings and thoughts, I started writing my first book, a primer for law and college students which outlines the downsides to working in a law firm. That book, entitled “Firm Conviction: A Case Against the Private Practice of Law,” was published and is now available on www.amazon.com.  I also started writing three other books, all novels.
The struggle to reinvent myself still requires encouragement from outside sources, but now, the outside sources influence me in a much more positive way. I thrive, for example, on comments from others like actress Bonnie Hunt, featured in the February 2009 issue of MORE magazine, that “You can go the route of the what-ifs and why-nots, or you can say, my life is exactly as it’s supposed to be.” Her comment mirrored the acknowledgement from Mr. Akradi that life does not always go according to our intentions or best-laid plans, and while we can obsess about why something bad happened to us, we can also decide to view it as all part of one’s divine plan to become something more, something better. For years I had deluded myself into believing that playing lawyer was my destiny. When circumstances beyond my control shattered that belief, I felt screwed, lost and hopeless. Yet what I thought was a mid-life crisis was actually a mid-life epiphany. Had that client not forced me out of what I thought was my life plan, I never would have achieved my dream of becoming an author.
I have always been a late bloomer. I married at age 38. I had my only child at age 42. When my brain recalls these late life events, I retrieve a past copy of MORE, find the “FAME AFTER FORTY” page and re-read it. It gives me hope and reassurance that I am on the right track.