Showing posts with label happiness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label happiness. Show all posts

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Feeling LIke a Stranger to My Happiness (Happy Anniversary, BMNB, and I Want to Be a Dapette)

I'm a huge fan of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.  On this day, my eleventh wedding anniversary, their song "Stranger to My Happiness" sums up how I feel.  Not Pharrell Williams' "Happy," but "Stranger to My Happiness."  Here's why.

I've finally gotten to the point in my life where all the pieces seem to fit together pretty well, and what doesn't fit, I've discarded.  Changing jobs was a huge part of this happiness that I haven't felt in a long, long time.  I don't wake up dreading going to work, I don't hold my breath until the weekend comes, and I'm not sour and cross with my long-suffering husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB).  My stress level is much lower, I sleep better, I feel better.  I haven't felt this happy in a long time.  I have, in fact, been a stranger to my happiness.

We don't realize that when we're stressed out, we stress out the folks around us.  We take them through the same changes we're going through, and they didn't sign up for that.  I just assumed that my more-centered, Teflon-spirited better half was immune to what I was feeling. He wasn't.  Needless to say, he's happier, too, because I am.  If you're stressed out, take a moment to consider how you're affecting the people around you, and take another moment to figure out how you're going to change the situation.

I've also given achievement a hiatus, if not a permanent injunction.  After a lot of reflection, I realized I've felt like I'm an underachiever, having not lived up to the expectations I placed on myself and allowed others to place on me because of the opportunities I've had.  My dad, in his twilight years, still longs for me to be the trial lawyer he thought he was raising and paying for college and law school for.  Friends often say, "I thought you'd be on the bench by now."  Old friends are surprised that with my credentials I'm working for the State of California, not even the federal government.

There's more to life than the law brass ring.  It took time, reflection, and my career coach, Jennifer Alvey, to help me figure that out.  Now, I'm tailoring my career to the life I envision for myself at this stage of my life.  I don't want to keep achieving or attempting to achieve career success at the expense of time with my husband, connection with family and friends who have patiently waited for me to mend my neurotic ways, and fun.  The things I really enjoy?  Gardening, low-cost  home redesign (I'm a Home Depot and thrift store junkie!)  reading, hanging out with family and friends, listening to music, and writing.  Instead of trying to shoehorn those vital, spirit-building activities around my work, I'm doing it the other way around.

So, on this, my eleventh anniversary, I thank BMNB for hanging in with me and sticking it out through the hard times.  We've struggled with money, family members' health, clients we wanted to throttle, pets dying, and our own aging.  I know there are many struggles ahead, but for right now, I'm just enjoying this state of happiness with him that  I've been a stranger to, of my own making, no less.

That said, I want to be a Dapette.  Not because I'm trying to add another achievement, but because, as you will tell from the video posted above, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings know how to have a good time.  Ms. Jones has survived cancer (hence her bald head), and with an undefeated spirit and a voice that would make James Brown shout from the grave, she rocks her bald head AND their song, "Stranger to My Happiness."  I'd love to be one of the Dapettes, the background singers who make the song rise even higher.  I'd be happy just to lip-synch with them and dance to the music.  More than anything, I want whatever it is that has made Ms. Jones not only a survivor, but a happy fighter. Her music and her spirit remind me so much of my mother.

So, if you're reading, Ms. Jones, Dap Kings and Dapettes, I'm ready to go on the road . . . .

Happy Anniversary, Black Man Not Blogging.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Don't Know Where I'm Going, but I Can't Stay Here

"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

~ Host of any black house party to remaining guests at 2:00 am

If you've ever gone to any black house party, a good black house party, you know the party starts to have its own momentum and takes on a life of its own.  Left to its own devices, the party wouldn't stop.  That is, until the host or hostess, mindful of their next day's obligations, says to the remaining guests, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."  No one is offended.  It's just natural to note that all good things, even a really good party, has to come to an end.  At that moment, the party goers have to make a decision -- Do I go home?  Do I take this party somewhere else with this really cool group of people?  Or do I just take someone home with me?

Well, my not-so-good party of an occupation has reached the same point.  I don't know where I'm going, but I can't stay there.  I think my season as an attorney is over. Truth is, it's been over for a long time.  It's just been lingering on life support.  No one who knows me well would tell you that I'm a happy attorney, even if they say I'm a good one.

The life support on which my time as an attorney has been lingering is my fear of letting go.  I know what it is to be unemployed and underemployed, and when I was both (It's a long story), I promised God that if I could just find a secure attorney job, I'd be grateful and shut up about expecting to be happy and fulfilled within it.  Happiness and fulfillment are not even on the radar screen when you're unemployed and underemployed

Well, I'm neither happy nor fulfilled, and I'm writing about it.  Promise to God broken.

I have practiced law because I couldn't possibly imagine what else I could do that I would enjoy that someone would pay me a decent salary for.  Because it was secure.  Because it was the one thing I could do pretty well, even if I tend to be rather pedantic about it and impatient with others who don't work as hard at it or do as well at it as I do.  That's not to say I'm some kind of law goddess - I'm just saying there are a lot of slacker lawyers out there getting paid far more than they should for shoddy work. For me, I'm doing the same thing, and using the same skills, over and over again.  When I've tried to use other non-legal skills in the work place, I've been told to pretty much stay in my job description lane.  That is, despite the fact that at least one of my ideas has been enacted into law and others have helped advance others politically, none of which I've benefited from.

None of that really matters.  I've gotten to the point where I physically can't do this law thing anymore.  Right now, my body has literally shut down.  I've been ill for going on two weeks.  The tedium of doing legal research and writing, shutting myself in my office, and trying to make myself concentrate on factual details and analyze countless cases has manifested itself in illness.  Added to that is the stress of working for well-meaning people who don't understand what it takes to do what I do but want to control when and how I do it.

Then there's the guilt.  Guilt about all the time, effort, and money put into my education by my parents.  Guilt about the efforts of mentors like Derrick Bell who saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, who saw the potential for me to do great things in this profession.  Guilt from all the family and friends who say, "But this is what you've always said you wanted to do since you were a child." Guilt from watching my husband get up and go to a far more stressful legal job and come home without complaint.

And before you lawyers out there tell me, "It's not the profession, it's your practice area," well, you're wrong.  I've taught, I've been a law clerk, I've worked for a non-profit bar association, I've done all kinds of litigation and advice and counsel, and I've worked for law firms, a Fortune 500 corporation, and the government.  I've done just about every feasible permutation on this law thing that can be done.  Enough.  Many of you well-meaning attorney friends of mine have only made it worse, asking me why I'm not on the bench or doing something more prestigious within the profession given my credentials.


It's.  Just.  Time.

And, quite frankly, I don't know what I want to do.  I'm what author Barbara Sher would call a "scanner" -- I have lots of interests, and pursuing them makes me seem flighty and unfocused to the rest of the world. I'd like to write a television series and books, sell real estate, start a charter school for gifted children of color, rehab Victorian houses, and live in Maui during the winter.  Right now, if I could just sit out for six months and write, I'd be happy. Who doesn't have that dream?  I want to analyze less and create more.  I've burned out my left brain, or whichever side is supposed to be the logical and analytical side. Heck, I'd be happy to have a job where I actually get to talk to people -- that is, people who aren't in conflict.

So, in 2013, I'm hiring a career coach who specializes in helping "recovering lawyers" find their way out.  I'm going to just start the process of looking into other options. 

I don't know where I'm going, but I can't stay here in this profession.  I'm pushing fifty, and I can't imagine continuing on this path.

Stay tuned. Oh, and note to self:  Never let a child choose an adult's profession.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Pretty Damn Good Life

Last weekend, I started my Saturday in my garden with my great-nephew M. He stayed over the night before – I was at a campaign meeting and didn’t get home until 11:00 pm, so we didn’t see much of each other – but we started the morning together in my garden, with him clipping the flowers off of my collards and mustard greens (they’re bolting, but hey, they’re still good, fresh food) and me watering the seeds I’ve started for my summer vegetable garden. I pulled a carrot out of the ground, washed it, and we both ate it, remarking at how sweet it was and so unlike the slightly bitter carrots we get in the store.

After going out to breakfast with M and BMNB, we all went to “Clayfest” in Lincoln, which included “Camp Clay,” a free event where kids could get as much wet clay as they wanted to do with it as they pleased. As I was sitting at a table that sunny Saturday listening to M and BMNB playfully argue over what M should do with the clay, (I finally told BMNB, “Get your own clay!”), I thought to myself:

You’ve got a pretty damn good life.

Mind you, I didn’t say perfect life. What makes my life a pretty damn good one at this point is that I’ve let go of a lot of things and no longer allow the perfect to get in the way of the good.

Yes, my house is a mess and I have grain beetles in my pantry (Who knew?). I still haven’t unpacked and organized things to my liking. But my roses are in bloom and fragrant as ever (Heirloom and Fragrant Cloud, to be exact). I can pay my bills, even with this freakin’ furlough. I’m not hungry – in fact, I’m overweight. My husband adores me and I adore him. I live in a nice neighborhood where my neighbors share in lawn care duties and weeding of each other’s properties.

But I’ve let go of a lot.

I’ve let go of the aspiration that I will find my work thrilling and motivating. My job doesn’t excite me. The practice of law doesn’t excite me. I like the people I work with, I like most of the work I do, but I can’t say I went to law school to do what I’m doing or that it propels me out of bed in the morning. I’ve long stopped trying to live up to others’ career aspirations for me, too. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, “I thought you’d be on the bench by now,” without anyone ever asking me, “Do you want to be a judge?” The answer is “no.” Quite frankly, I don’t know what I want to do, and I know that my civil rights forebears, like my late soror Dorothy Height, would probably be disappointed in my current lack of direction given all of the educational capital that’s been invested in me. But I’m happier than I’ve been in a long, long time. Although I’m sure this is my last attorney job, I might stay in it for as long as it supports the kind of life I want – the ability to put my family first without a lot of pushback, as in private sector legal practice. My job does allow me a great deal of flexibility, and I work in a very parent-friendly workplace, which gets me to my second point:

I’ve let go of the idea that there’s a perfect time to start a family. There isn’t. You just do it. BMNB and I have probably waited far too long, longer than most, but that’s been the tenor of our lives – we’re late bloomers and over-achievers, always trying to get our ducks in a row before we embark on something huge. But not this time. So we’ve started to plough ahead on the adoption front, and I’m excited and scared all at the same time. And I wonder whether I’ll even care as much about my career when we have kids in the house. My advice to anyone, whether you’re single, married, or just breathing, is that if you want kids, go make some or go get some. There is no perfect moment to start a family.

I’ve let go of the idea that I would be wealthy. Mind you, I wasn’t chasing wealth for the purpose of buying oodles of crap. I wanted to be financially secure in order to be free to do whatever the hell I wanted. And deep down inside, I think I expected that that was what others expected of me. But as I look down the dual paths of retirement planning and child raising/college saving, unless I become the Donald Trump of Placer County in selling real estate, the likelihood that I’m going to be wealthy isn’t very high if I stay in my current position. Mind you, BMNB and I make a comfortable living for two folks with no kids. But the idea that one day I won’t have to watch my pennies, invest and save aggressively, clip coupons, or shop meat sales at Safeway is gone. I’d rather be less well off and surrounded by happy kids. My definition of happiness has definitely changed.

I’ve let go of the idea that I’m going to be a size eight. Now, I just want to be healthy and feel good. I’ve got this one body (I’m starting to sound like a “Boniva” commercial here), and I’ve got to stop waging war against it. It serves me, and I need to serve it, no matter what size it is.

I’ve let go of the idea that I have a lot of time left to do the things I want to do. I don’t. Nobody really does. I was listening to Joan Rivers on “Forum” on my way to work, and she said that she lives well because she believes you only live once. As a Jew, she remarked that they believe in “heaven and hell, all right here on earth.” I’m one of those people who puts fun things off until I can pay cash and I constantly say, “We can’t afford that right now.” Well, to borrow from an old civil rights refrain, “If not now, when?” I’m not saying I’m going to run out and charge a bunch of trips and rack up oodles of debt. I am saying that I’m going to find a middle ground and plan for more fun. As nerdy as it sounds, I’m looking forward to studying places with my kids and then traveling to those places, like Civil War battlegrounds, Washington D.C., California missions, the Underground Railroad, and the like. BMNB and I love to travel, and I want to build more of that into our lives.

I’ve taken a break from achievement and gone off on a path of fun. Right now, I’m running a local political campaign and I’m having a blast! I’m using all of my skills – writing, organization, planning, creativity – to put together a winning strategy for a candidate I believe in, and I’m meeting all kinds of intriguing and passionate people along the way. I don’t know where this might lead down the line, but right now, I’m having more fun at this than at trying to figure out my career path.

We finished our Saturday with a trip to the library (M loves to read – gotta love that in an 8 year-old), two trips to Burger King (don’t ask), and an evening watching kid videos we borrowed from the library for free -- Shrek, Madagascar, one of those Narnia movies – while I crocheted an afghan for his cousin. The next day, consonant with Donkey’s prescription for a good sleepover, I made waffles – buttermilk waffles from scratch, mind you. I’ve spoiled M to the point that he expects waffles from scratch when he stays with us. But the smile on his face when he eats them is more than worth it.

Yep, I’ve got a pretty damn good life, and it took an 8 year-old to remind me of that