Did You Just Miss A Message?

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The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. – William Butler Yeats

A couple of years ago a colleague wanted to discuss the possibility of joining him at his firm. Ever since I had joined my current firm I had been saying it would be my last. I had grown tired of many aspects of practicing in a large firm and felt my clients and I would probably do better on our own. I had been working for almost thirty years and had been longing to be free of the constraints of a large organization. I knew what I was doing and had been convinced for some time that I could do it best.

I knew I wouldn’t stay forever at my current firm but I also had no idea what the future looked like. I was happy for the moment and had faith that the next step would reveal itself. When my colleague suggested I meet some of the people at his firm I hesitated initially. All large firms were essentially the same, so I had no intention of moving once again only to encounter the same constraints. ‘Why bother’, I thought to myself, but I’ve learned to always take the meeting. You never know what will come of it.

I came away from our meeting learning that I would have an opportunity to make more money while handling a workload that I could accomplish in only four days a week. I had often hoped I could take Fridays off at some point in my career – a luxury some of my older colleagues were enjoying – but I didn’t realize I could have that so soon.

It had never occurred to me that I could start to have more balance in my life while still advancing in my career. It sounded too good to be true, and yet as I looked around I saw quite a few people who had already found the same arrangement. Why didn’t I see myself as one of them? Now that I thought about it, why not me? Why not now?

Another meeting was scheduled. They were interested in bringing me on. And then, like so often happens, everything went quiet. A new decision-maker had come on board. The person I was supposed to replace delayed retirement. Could I wait a few more months? I had enough experience to know that when things came to a screeching halt, the opportunity was gone.

I was pretty frustrated. I hate it when the universe dangles a great big carrot in front of me and then yanks it away. That’s just mean. I wasn’t even looking to change jobs. Now that I had seen a better situation, I wanted it! I had now raised my standard for what I wanted. I wailed to my husband that I wish I had never heard about the opportunity so I could have avoided the disappointment and frustration it brought.

What I’ve learned since that time is that when the universe dangles a carrot in front of you, it is to wake you up and start you on a path to something new and exciting. When it yanks it away it is telling you that the first carrot was just the beginning – and something so much better is on its way for you. You can find it if you don’t lose your faith and trust the universe never means to disappoint you or cause you pain. That can feel like a really tall order after a big yank.

So, now what? I asked for a sign. I prayed for guidance.   What did I receive in return? A whole lot of silence. A few months went by.

Throughout my career, whenever I felt overwhelmed by my schedule and workload, I would sit down and write out a list of what I wanted my everyday life to look like. I wrote things like, “I want to be able to work from home. I want to be able to take Fridays off. I want to have time for my hobbies. I want to make the same or more money than I do now. I want to have flexibility in my day to do whatever I need to do – professionally or personally. I don’t want to ever have someone looking over my shoulder again. I want to have a good balance of quiet worktime and social networking time with colleagues.” Ultimately what I wanted was more freedom.

A few more months passed. “OK universe,” I would think as I walked out the door in the morning, “Just send me any sign you can think of today. Really. Anything. Make it really obvious, too, so I don’t miss it, OK?”

No sign.

I mentioned my frustration to some friends. One invited me to a lunch with an attorney who had just made the jump to self-employment and was raving about it. She was tired of hitting the glass ceiling at her firm and found freedom and advancement was available to her as a solo practitioner. I realized I had been hesitant to consider self-employment because I didn’t want to be seen as someone who was “out of the game”.

I realized self-employment was, in fact, an avenue to implement all of the practice management ideas I had wanted to pursue for years, but had been prevented by my firm – all while keeping all of the profits for myself. Hmmmm.. this was beginning to sound good. It sounded even better than the first opportunity that had come along. But…. I couldn’t be self-employed. That was too scary. What if business came to a halt? I dreaded the thought of being stuck with my anxiety about finances.

More time passed. It began to irritate me when people would spout off spiritual advice like “everything happens in its own time” or “what is meant for you won’t go past you” – you know, the kind of advice I spout on a regular basis to others. I wasn’t sure what spiritual principle was at work in what was becoming a year’s worth of limbo. I had been waiting for that feeling of “YES” so I could make the next step.

A recruiter called me and convinced me to take an interview at another firm. During the interview I heard the same old claims about the work situation – none of which ever seemed to pan out – and saw the same difficult personality types sitting around a large conference table. No thanks. I went home and to my own surprise, crumpled on the couch in tears in frustration.

The recruiter called me later to say they were surprised I didn’t seem more excited about what they had to offer. They never mentioned how they might be excited about what I had to offer. I realized that I never again wanted to be someone’s employee. Trying to stick to someone else’s management style – or lack thereof – and working with clients who matched someone else’s personality but not mine, was exhausting. I needed my freedom. Badly.

A short time later I went to lunch with an attorney who needed someone to come in and take over her clients. There was something about her that made me really open up. I confessed I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. Well, what I really wanted was to run my own practice but was afraid to do so. I trusted her when she put aside her own needs to find a successor to tell me, “You’re ready. You need to go out on your own.”

Then, I felt it. YES. I finally found that feeling of clarity I had been waiting for over the past year. Somehow all of the exploration of the previous year had come together in one moment and I knew what I was going to do and that it was the right decision.

In about a year’s time I went from a state of ignorance about how exponentially better my work-life could become, to actually realizing it. Looking back, that doesn’t seem like a long time to make such a life-changing transition. However, while I was groping my way through the dark, it felt interminable. It was not one big epiphany that brought me from the universe’s initial nudge to my moment of clarity, it was a series of small ones along the way.

First, I had to figure out that I could actually have something better than my present situation. That was revealed to me when my colleague suggested I consider joining his firm. After that, I had to come to terms with the reasons I was clinging to a big firm while complaining about it incessantly. I had to shed that as part of my identity and not worry about how other people might interpret self-employment.  Interviewing with another firm brought into focus how tired I was of patronizing law firm culture and how badly I needed my freedom. Finally, I feared the financial risks of self-employment and I was reassured by a very trusted mentor.

All of these experiences helped to clear away several obstacles I had in my path in order to realize a situation I thought I could only dream about, only a year earlier.

The universe happened to be guiding me in the area of my career in this instance. I find that it has worked in very much the same way in every other area of my life as well. It rarely hands me an opportunity outright or guides me in an obvious, linear path. (Wouldn’t it be great if it did? Would it be SO terrible if it just shone a great big light on the love of your life so you could just go shack up with him or her and that would be that? Well, that’s not how it works.)

If the universe did work that way, I wouldn’t have experienced all of the small epiphanies on my way to the realization of a dream. I think those epiphanies are the real purpose of any struggle anyway. The dream is what motivates us to keep going after the universe has waved a big carrot at us as if to say, “Over here! Start moving in this direction!” After a lifetime of collecting my small epiphanies together, I’m better to go along with the universe’s flow, without necessarily knowing the outcome, while remaining at peace on the inside.

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