This week’s Dungeon Prompt:
Share with us something that you worked hard for – put your heart and soul into – only realizing after achieving it that you wanted nothing to do with it. Don’t take this as a trot down memory lane. Rather let it be a learning experience for someone else that might not be aware of the full impact of such a decision.
I’m not sure that there’s anything I poured my heart and soul into that I’d say turned out to be a mistake. The biggest sojourn down the “wrong” path for me is easy to name: going to law school, hating it, finishing anyway, becoming a lawyer. My heart and soul were never in it. But I worked harder and at more cost to my health and spirit than any time before or since. But not heart and soul.
I always wanted to be a musician. One of the few times various members of my family agreed on what they wanted me to do: no, no, no to musician. So I went to Northwestern in liberal arts instead of the music school and majored in history with no particular intention or notion of what to do with it.
I entered college in 1970. I didn’t much take to the Greeks but there was a big radical/hippie crowd there at the time and I landed in that group. Became radicalized. In those days, one of the paths for a radical became law; get in the system and use the law to create change. I’d tried academia for a while, but short of my PhD couldn’t take it. Flailing around for something to do that wouldn’t send my family into a tailspin, I landed on law.
The “change from within” spell in law was short-lived and pretty much over by the time I finished law school. I loathed law school so much my friends were surprised when I showed up for the second year. I managed to pick a particularly tough law school and they worked us about to death. I didn’t like any of it, so the hard work and the tension of it all led to not sleeping and terrible migraines.
I have kind of a determined side and, since many of the professors were openly trying to break us, I became determined that they weren’t gonna break me. So I graduated. Found my way to a job in which most of my cases involved trying to stop nuclear power plants from being brought into the rate base of the utilities that built them. A job like that was a pretty rare find at the time and initially I felt elated.
Over time, though, I realized the boring law of law school was still boring as a lawyer. And you can’t imagine how deadly dull those cases are or how tough if you don’t have a background in nuclear engineering or econometric forecasting; thousands of pages of testimony to go over on those topics for every case.
Had a boss I really liked. Was working for a cause that mattered to me. We won a LOT. The boss left, I got his position –for which I really wasn’t prepared — and the guy above him suddenly became my enemy and caused me all kinds of trouble. I noticed each time the news came that we’d won a motion or a whole case I didn’t feel excited or even particularly care. Eventually I started throwing up every day before work.
During the last couple of years as a lawyer, I was studying yoga and took a nine month teacher training class at the Temple of Kriya Yoga. I found myself using lots of techniques I learned in yoga and meditation classes to stay calm in the midst of hating my work. Eventually I realized I had to do breathing exercises or a centering practice or a short meditation multiple times a day because everything about the atmosphere around me drew me into the tension and adversity of the law.
I felt I couldn’t keep on and live. So I gave notice. Nothing about the path I’ve followed since then would be called a success by most of America. When I took that leap of faith to leave and follow my heart, I never imagined how long the free fall would be. Never dreamed of how many blocks and issues and health problems I’d have to release, overcome or transmute. I’ve lived pretty close to the edge of financial disaster ever since I walked away from the decent-sized (by no means huge) paycheck of a public interest lawyer.
Following my heart has meant I’ve put my heart and soul into many projects. Nothing has been a success as to the outward trappings most people value. But I’ve never felt anything I tried was wrong or a misstep as long as I followed where spirit led. I’ve worked hard at many projects I loved but it never felt hard because my heart and soul were in it.
I think the big mistake about law for me was that I cast about for something I could live with when I felt I couldn’t follow my bliss– traveling the road of the least bad option instead of listening to my heart has never turned out well. Not that I’ve completely learned the lesson 🙂
I find myself wondering whether heart and soul are ever in it if something feels like hard work or a big struggle to achieve so I’m going to be interested to read other responses to this prompt.