By Julian Summerhayes
“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real…and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists. (295)” ― Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
I’m acutely aware of the plethora of material espousing passion. You might say there’s a whole industry around follow your passion.
But really, do you need anyone (including me) to tell you to do something that you’re passionate about? (You may want to hold fire with your response until you’ve read the rest of this post.)
Yes and no.
First, the no.
You’re not an idiot, and whatever your stage of life, I’d like to think you’ve figured out what floats your boat. Of course, in a leisure setting this is easy to articulate: “I’m passionate about [insert].” And if you’ve got any sense you work to live and make sure you carve out as much time as possible to follow your passion(s), not at all cost but certainly in a way where you manage to find a space to be you.
What about work?
What do you?
Do you follow your passion?
Be honest, please.
In answering the question, please don’t subconsciously give me the blithe aphorism “Because I want to help others.” Who doesn’t? No, I need you to go much deeper. What is it about the practice of law that truthfully brings you to full expression?
Arguing with your opponent? (*Sighs*)
Settling a mega, mega case? (*Double sighs*)
Making law firm partner? (*Feints*)
Nope, I don’t buy any of these. Why? Because having been around law for over 20 years, I’ve rarely met a lawyer who was passionate about any of these. In fact, the truth is I’ve rarely met a lawyer who can articulate a sensible answer to the passion question because they’ve lost touch with their inner, true self. You know the person whose skin you feel most comfortable in, where you don’t have to shapeshift to fit in.
I know, I might be so wide of the mark as to make this post dismissible in a nanosecond, but unless you know the answer to your core, all you’re doing is contriving one boring day after another…and living for retirement. Harsh? Yes possibly, but given you only get one crack at life (isn’t it amazing?), I wouldn’t try to pretend that’s it all hunky dory when it’s not. To be clear, I’m not asking you to trip out on some happiness lark, rather I want you to think very carefully why you practice law.
And now for the yes.
Yes, I do need to tell you.
Well, I’ve already touched on it: life is special; but I want to go a bit further. It may well be by the time you’ve investigated your current role and considered if there’s any chance of realising your passion, you draw a blank or manoeuvre yourself into a deep, dark place.
In fact, this was me back in 2010.
I’d done everything in my power to avoid asking what brought me to full realisation. To keep the backstory super short, I worked so hard that I didn’t leave any space for the self-doubt to creep in. It took a period of hospitalisation for me to be brought to my senses. And of course, during my convalescence, when I had oodles of time to think, you guessed it, I drew a big fat blank. I didn’t have an answer beyond the money, and given my age (43), I took the view that if I didn’t go off and follow my true passion I would live with one massive regret. Worse still, I’d go to my grave with my song still inside me.
Jump forward the present day. I’m still invested in law but now I run a small law firm. I wouldn’t say it’s completely resolved the passion question but it sure as hell doesn’t leave me denuded of soul as I walk through the front door every evening, as years of private practice did.
Does this mean I’m asking you to leap? No, not at all. In fact, it probably doesn’t mean you have to do a great deal to change your job save in one fundamental respect; namely, you have find time for you. To be more specific, you have to apply a new discipline to your life where you deliberately carve out time to see if you can do something, preferably following your commercial as well as your artistic muse.
In my case, I wish now that as well the day job I’d written poetry, practiced calligraphy and read more widely. I know it doesn’t sound revelatory, but it would have detuned me in a contemplative way from all the high-octane stress that proliferates in law. (At the time mindful colouring books weren’t around but they might have sufficed – ha ha.) You might go further and reconnect with your childhood passion and that might lead on to a new way of living, i.e. work is no more than a platform for you to do the things you really want to do.
Again, if this has a familiar ring then that’s not a bad thing but the ‘trick’ is to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING – duh! You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learned on my own journey is that work is insidious and if you’re not hard as nails with your time, you’ll find all of this nice stuff being squeezed out by the inner voice that always says: “You haven’t got time for this right now.” Oh yes you have. Even 10 mins every day is enough. (Forget what you know about habits and that old chestnut of 21 days. Habits always take a lot longer — easily over 100.)
And, as I always say to those I work with, all of this is a choice. It’s not my job to persuade you to my point of view. You either want to do it or you don’t, but please don’t make the same mistake as me and leave the passion question alone because you know no different. The landscape is there not just to support your passion but to make it real.
Now, go make it a reality!
– Julian Summerhayes’ personal website is found at http://juliansummerhayes.com.