Do You Hate Your Job? Or Do
You Follow Your Bliss?
I carry around in my wallet a little piece of plastic issued by the Supreme Court of our state. It is the size of a credit card. It is my attorney's license. It took me seven long years to earn this license; four years in college and three years in law school. At the end of these seven years, I also had to take a three day long bar examination to test whether I had learned enough to meet minimum standards as a practicing lawyer. This piece of plastic cost me a great deal of “blood, sweat, tears” and money to achieve. Yet it isn't me.
"OBJECTION, YOUR HONOR!"
You can go to a clothing store and buy a suit considered to be a high end product, perhaps a designer product. This suit may cost you $1,000. But, if the suit is two sizes too big or two sizes too small, despite its name brand cachet, for you it would merely be a piece of cloth---perhaps even a rag. Upon my graduation from college, I chose law school. One factor in choosing was, no doubt, my mother's ongoing love of Earl Stanley Gardner novels featuring successful attorney, Perry Mason. When this became a TV series in the 1950s, our family watched it every week. Every week Perry Mason managed to extract a confession from somebody through cross-examination, exonerating his client, and defeating the hapless prosecuting attorney, Hamilton Burger (Yes! Ham Burger). Another factor in my choosing to become a lawyer probably was my youthful dream of growing up to become President of the United States. More likely, I followed the false 1970's belief that by going to law school, I was “keeping my options open.”
BLISS FIRST; THEN MONEY!
The mantel I donned, the suit that I chose to wear, being an attorney, never quite fit me. It wasn't my bliss. The late Joseph Campbell in his book, "The Power of Myth", and in interviews by Bill Moyer on PBS-TV advised young people to find work that makes them feel blissful. That they should follow their bliss, and money would readily follow their choice. To work a job you hate, but pays well would become slavery, ultimately resulting in a wasted life.
"ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE..."
My bliss was to become an actor or a performer. I tested the waters by dipping my toes into acting from time to time. But I did not take the leap of faith needed to become an actor. Instead, I became an attorney, which involved some performing, but under stressful and litigious circumstances. The practice of law is often filled with struggle and conflict. Attorneys sometimes will tell other attorneys they love the practice of law, except for the damned clients. Also, attorneys say the attorney representing the other client is not doing his/her job until you start thinking he/she is a real SOB. And you aren't doing your job, until the opposing attorney starts thinking you are an SOB.
BUT I LIKE COTTAGE CHEESE
Have you ever been to a nice restaurant with friends? They order expensive, delicious dishes they want, but when the waiter/waitress comes around to you, you order the diet plate. You know---a few leaves of lettuce upon which is lain a dollop of cottage cheese, half of a canned peach, and a couple of pieces of toast or rye crisp! To top it off, you decline the real coffee with real cream and sugar. Instead you order decaffeinated coffee, with artificial sweetener and a non-dairy creamer, no less! In all the years of my law practice I felt a gnawing feeling that law practice was not right for me. Yet, you might say that I kept ordering the diet plate. Over and over, I ordered the diet plate.
NOTHING LIKE A CUP OF JAVA!
As I approached my 45th birthday, I became terribly dispirited with my practice of law and with my life. At times, I felt great despair. I struggled with this for several years. This despair tested me. From time to time, I would think that maybe there was another path for me, a path that would inspire me. It took me a long time to “Wake up and smell the coffee!” Usually, I smelled a slight coffee aroma, but it was decaffeinated coffee, with artificial sweetener and a non-dairy creamer! One day, seveeral years ago, I did wake up.
A NICE, QUIET VACATION. THAT'S WHAT YOU NEED.
At the time, my daughter was studying "The Diary of Anne Frank" and the Nazi Holocaust in her 6th grade English class. I had about $3,000 burning a hole in my pocket so I suggested that during spring vacation we go to Amsterdam, the Netherlands to see the house where the Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years during World War II. On the first day of our vacation, we saw the Anne Frank house early in the day. We then wandered about looking at old houses and canals as we made our roundabout way to the Van Gogh museum, something I had wanted to see.
We visited the Vondelpark, a large sort of Central Park. In front of the Film Museum, I consulted my map for directions to the Van Gogh museum. We could take a walking path in front of us, or we could go up a short street to our left to a busy street which would take us towards the Van Gogh museum. On the walking path before us were five or six men, Mediterranean looking men, several of whom were wearing black leather jackets. For some reason, I unconsciously wanted to avoid walking past these men, so we walked up the quiet street to our left.
A minute of so later, we were shocked to hear gunfire from behind us. We looked over our shoulders. Running up the street towards us was one man. He had a look of terror in his eyes. Behind him by about 5 or 10 yards came another man who had a cold look of determination in his eyes, as he fired what looked like a .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun, not in the automatic mode, but, in the single shot mode. As the victim desperately ran up the street towards us, he zigged and zagged. With each traverse, the gunman fired a shot. Most of the shots were very quiet “poofs”. I was transfixed by this. Why didn't I hear a BANG with each shot? I did not know at the time that soldiers and others receiving gunfire get a sort of tunnel vision along with a filtering out of the loud gunfire sounds. This filtering out of sound is called auditory exclusion.
Because I have been a gun owner most of my life I have great respect for guns and, in some ways, even a love of guns as beautifully crafted tools. While my daughter and I dumfoundedly watched this chase happen right before our eyes, I found myself largely focused upon the gun rather than upon the gunman. This is called weapons focus. As a result, I would probably have difficulty identifying the gunman or the man he was chasing, but I could readily identify the gun!
A NEAR MISS!
Five or six shots were fired in about thirty seconds time. One of the shots struck the car next to which I was standing. As the victim and the gunman came abreast of us, separated from us only by a little more than the width of the cars parked along the curb, I came to my senses and thought that at any moment the victim might reach into his pocket, pull out a handgun and start returning fire. I therefore ordered my daughter to “Get down!” as I pushed her down and over against the bottom step of a lovely old townhouse. I then covered her up with my body and told her, “Everything is going to be all right.” I was amazed that I had no second thoughts about shielding my daughter from gunfire, even if the gunfire might injure or kill me. No second thoughts, not one.
"GO AHEAD. MAKE MY DAY."
A minute or so later, the gunman returned to us. Standing over us with a jammed gun, he unjammed the gun of a brass cartridge casing and rammed the bolt down, thereby loading another cartridge into the gun's chamber. He was ready to fire again. He paused for a moment. He then commanded us to “Stay down” as he ran off towards the Vondelpark. After another minute passed, my daughter asked, “Dad, what has just happened?” Uncertain of the events that had unfolded before us, I told her, “Either an under-cover cop was chasing a bad guy, or a bad guy was chasing another bad guy. But I don't know which.” I then began to think we would both be safer if we were surrounded by a lot of people at our intended destination, the Van Gogh museum. We therefore scurried off to the museum.
I DIDN'T SEE A SINGLE PAINTING!
At the museum, we looked at three floors of Van Gogh masterpieces. I didn't see a single one. The 45 minutes or an hour we were there, I tried to make sense of what we had just witnessed. I pondered my—our mortality. I wondered what duty did I owe to the law, to society, to law and order? How could I best model good civic behavior to my daughter? As we left the museum, I told my daughter we had to find a policeman, or we had to go back to the crime scene. Of course, when you need a policeman, you cannot find one. Therefore, we went back to the crime scene, which by then was a bee-hive of forensic activity. Yellow tape cordoning off the area. Police officers, photographers, forensic specialists, police dogs,----and crowds.
"JUST COME DOWN TO THE STATION HOUSE. WE HAVE A FEW QUESTIONS WE'D LIKE TO ASK YOU."
We ended up giving witness statements for several hours that afternoon, with the police trying to mine some reliable bit or bits of information we might possess. I spent the remainder of our vacation looking over my shoulder, paranoid that the gunman or his associates were on our trail.
THE JOYS OF PTSD!
When we returned home to America, I got in touch with a psychologist who is a retired police officer. With his help, I spent many months working through the terror and the trauma of that day, of those 30 seconds. All during that time, all I could think about most every waking moment of every day, was what had happened---did I do the right thing?---could I have handled the situation differently?---was I a coward?-----could I have been more heroic?---did I behave properly as a father?
A BOUNTEOUS TABLE SET BEFORE ME
As these issues resolved themselves, my psychologist and I began working on more important issues, including, why did I always order the diet plate with the de-caf coffee? I finally realized that life had set a table for me and that I should partake of the bounty set upon this table. That I should follow my bliss during the time I have remaining in my life.