I got a call from a reader who meant to text but accidentally called (it happens).
It took a minute or two to get there but it turns out her question was, “how did you find time to go to law school when you were in your Thirties?” (ah, you saw THAT workshop!) and how did I overcome the anxiety I felt in order to mentally get to a place where I could do it?
First of all, put out of your mind that a three year hole opened up in my schedule. Things like that don’t happen. It will NEVER be a convenient time to chuck it all and go back to school, so anytime is as good as any other time to do it.
Think about how freeing that is.
Because no time will work out, literally any time works as well as another.
The anxiety. That is a longer discussion.
At any fork in the road of life remember, regret lives at the end of all paths we took because they looked easier than the path we wanted to take.
Wow. That came out much more “fortune cookie” than it sounded in my head.
The point is still valid, no matter how faux-zen I may have stated it. Any time we give up what we really want to spare ourselves anxiety right now we lose a little of our potential.
WOW. Faux-zen, fortune cookie AGAIN.
By the way, I’m not talking about Clinical Anxiety. That is most DEFIANTLY not the point of this Note. I’m talking about “Cowardly Lion” type COURAGE. Courage locked away by too much everyday, run-o-the-mill, nervousness and self-doubt. I’m talking about the anxiety that tells you in your head that you can’t (usually in the voice of someone that you trust would tell you things like that) before you even try.
That voice? That voice is you. You, by the way, have a horrible habit of underestimating yourself. You are the last person you should listen to in matters requiring an honest evaluation of your abilities.
I’m going to try this one more time.
My son came to me once and said he really wanted to ask a girl to a dance but “she will just say no.”
I told him that there are many many girls in this world who will reject him, don’t do their work for them.
It’s worse when our anxiety has help from someone whose opinion means nothing, but we give it power over everything.
My hero when I was young was my fathers best friend Roger. Roger had the coolest job I could imagine; he was the city attorney. They PAID him to ARGUE with people. I got punished for doing that, BUT HE GOT PAID! In my heart I knew that job was what I wanted.
Growing up with ADHD (they didn’t call it that back then… I’m not sure they had a formal name for it, at least not in Utah. I think I was considered “clinically obnoxious”). I had many people willing to tell me who they thought I was, and the exact limitations on the level of success I should expect (hint: no much).
In the middle of my elementary school years (10 of the longest 7 years of my life) I had a teacher who would have us ask questions by lining up in front of his desk. One day I was in line and when it was my turn he looked at the student in line behind me and asked what her question was. I stood and waited (well, I bounced in place and counted ceiling tiles or looked for the shapes of animals in the multi-colored industrial carpet, as I had taught myself to do when I was around adults who scared me). When he answered that student’s question he addressed the next one in line behind me. I started to speak but the teacher put his finger up to shush me.
I continued to bounce in place. I found a shape that looked kind of like a giraffe.
This process continued until I was the only one left. The teacher never looked up or acknowledged me in any way. Suddenly he said, “you should have noticed I skipped over you?”
I said I had noticed that.
He said, never looking at me, “that is because every moment I waste on you is time I could be spending with an intelligent student. Sit down.”
So I did, and I did not voluntary ask or answer a question in class for several years. But more important I put away silly ideas, like being an attorney, because such dreams were for smart people.
I became a interpreter (without ever considering the brains required for this work, see Rule 1)
Interpreting drove me back to law school. Interpreting and outrage.
I worked for the State and they kept sending me to interpret in court and jail hearings. I saw so many hearing people giving as little attention as possible to the rights of Deaf suspects. I saw prosecutors and defense attorneys being so very condescending toward victims and witnesses who are Deaf. I kept saying “someone should do something about this! Until the day I finally figured out what a phrase my dad always said actually meant. He would say, “the helping hand you are looking for is right at the end of your arm.
I suddenly realized I couldn’t wait for someone to fix it. I had to be that someone! So I quit interpreting (that is a whole other story) and moved to Boston to go to law school. (I chose Boston for two reasons. First I knew I had to leave Utah because I can’t say no to, “please for me,” as in “please for me interpret this important appointment.” I had to go somewhere where (at least for a while*) no one knew me. Second, I loved everything about Northeastern University. I loved the fact that it’s law school was focused on public service justice. I loved that Dennis Cokely and Harlan Lane both taught there. Oh and as a side note Boston has always held a place of wonder to me-has not had-I’ve lived there and it still fascinates me).
I had a good job that I loved. My life was on track. I had a wife I love and who could put up with my scattered thought processes. I had house in a neighborhood I loved and two kids. There was nothing in my life at that point that said “you need to make a change.” But I did, because I had to. It was not in any way convenient. It threw everything into disarray and 15 years later I am still paying for incidental costs (both monetary and other) but I have never regretted it. When students, friends or peers ask me how I justified that big of a decision at 28 knowing that I would not graduate and pass the bar until I was 33 years old I tell them the same thing I told Rusty Wales, the first person to pose that question to me. I would be 33 years old anyway, why not be 33 years old and an attorney. It may be a silly mantra, but it got me out the door.
Ok, full disclosure, I still felt like I was too stupid to go to law school. Even when I did well on the LSAT, I knew I was too dumb. I just hoped I could make up the difference by working very hard. Very very hard! I spent a lot of time yelling down the voice of my elementary school teacher that was always ready to offer his opinion on my lack of ability and my chance of success (Psst. According to the voice of my teacher it was zero). I still had plenty of fear, anxiety and self doubt! But I was also angry. My determination that something had to change the way people who are Deaf were treated in the court system as well as obvious issues with Deaf education kept my head just above the anxiety that sought to swallow me whole.
If the disclosure is going to be full I must admit that in my first semester I did not buy anything with the Northeastern University logo on it. Not a notebook. Not a pencil. Not a shirt. I did not take a picture in front of the school or write anything about the first semester in my journal. Nothing I would have later to remind me if I failed.
I didn’t do this part of a conscious plan. I didn’t even realize I did it until after I got my final grades for the first semester and realized I didn’t fail out; in fact I did well. My first act was to walk to the bookstore and buy a cheap gray tee-shirt with a very small NUSL (Northeastern University School of Law) logo on it. It was my reward for making it (I told my wife all this later and she, playfully, lost it! I SOLD MY HOUSE! I LEFT MY FRIENDS! AND YOU WEREN’T SURE???)
Here is the point (yes there is one), eventually I graduated. I was a law school graduate. On the day of graduation I walked across the stage and they handed me my degree and at that moment my first thought was “#%*& you Mr. Teacher!”
That threw me.
For over twenty years I had let that jerk live rent free in my brain. I had let him tell me who I was and what I was and was not capable of doing. At that moment I evicted him.
I evicted him and invited a man named Steven Timothy to take his place. Dr. Timothy worked for my father and when I was a teenager he became a mentor to me. He took me skiing with his family and told me I was worthy of respect. Dr. Timothy loved me for me and I never fully appreciated that while he was alive because I never gave his support and encouragement the attention and power I gave to the words of that teacher who tore me down. It is so much easier to believe people who agree with the negative views we hold about ourselves than to hear the voice of those who tell us we are wonderful.
This most important lesson is BOTH VOICES ARE TELLING US THE TRUTH!
We all struggle. There are things we all wish for that an honest examination of our abilities will confirm to us we just can’t have. But this number is small, almost insignificant, when compared to the power we have inside that we fear to tap.
Sometimes we fear failure.
Sometimes we fear success and the expectations that places on us.
But most of all we fear the voices inside that are willing to confirm our worst fears about ourselves.
I replaced the voice of my teacher with Dr. Steven Timothy on that day. I listened to what Dr. Timothy had to say. You know what he said?
“You did it. And if you’re surprised you could then you are the only one who is.”
Live your life as an act of courage. Anytime you need to, hear my voice in your head saying, “you can do it, and if you think you can’t, well, then you are the only one!”
*for those keeping track yes that is a parenthetical inside a parenthetical!