In 2007, I hung up my attorney hat and left legal practice. At the time, I wasn’t sure about my next move; it took a few months for me to decide to go into business as a residential real estate broker.
The overwhelming reaction of people to the news was one of two comments.
Wow. You’re so brave.
When I decided to sell my prime-location apartment without a plan for where to go next, people thought I was crazy.
Why would you give up your home without something new lined up?
To many in the “outside world” — meaning those outside myself — my actions have at times seemed beyond reason. Picking up to leave a stable career or a comfortable home, without the next thing lined up, seems rash and impulsive.
But neither move was as sudden as it appeared from the outside. Both — and other moves in my past — resulted from a process of going within and being honest with myself.
I’ve never considered myself to be particularly brave for leaving my life as a lawyer.
To me, it was clear that my way of living wasn’t working for me. I was miserable all the time. Even with dozens of side projects, my creativity was stifled. Staying in that way of life wasn’t an option.
People who told me I was brave for leaving my law job were focused on the stability of income I was giving up. It’s a funny thing about money: we often think that more of it will give us freedom, but it usually shackles us with fear about what we might lose if we give it up.
This is the golden handcuffs problem.
It took me years to realize that the real moment of bravery — or, more accurately, courage — was the willingness to look honestly at what wasn’t working.
It was the willingness to allow myself to feel the sense of hopelessness and despair, the emptiness of life meaning and purpose that I felt in a job that was sucking my life away.
This type of self-reflection and self-honesty is the step before the big moves that people see.
Most people don’t engage in this type of deep work. They expect that rational factors will drive them to change. That rarely works.
If you don’t find the courage to look within to see what’s not working, you won’t find the motivation to make the changes that last.