As you know, I've been frustrated by my slow progress in figuring out my new direction. I've made so little progress and have been irritated with myself for having squandered so much time. It has been eight months since I got booted out of Paul Hastings, and I have very little to show for it. This period has been the most unproductive since I left law school. I keep asking myself, why can't I get it together?
During my plane ride to Israel, I read an eye opening article about a new book called Immunity to Change by clinical psychologist Robert Kagen and Lisa Lahey (to be released in mid-February). Essentially, Kagen and Lahey believe that when we fail to bring about the change we want, it could be because we are at odds with ourselves. When we find difficulty implementing changes, despite ourselves, our defense mechanism may be kicking in to protect ourselves from a deeply buried layer of anxiety. It is, as the article quoted, having "one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake."
It may not be because we are lazy or lack willpower. (Well, not always.)
"What you see as demonic is actually in some ways a very tender expression," says Lahey, "a protection of something you feel vulnerable about."
I find this theory fascinating. I have been treating this transition mainly as a job change, but it is also a transformation of identity and realignment of values. The article made me realize that I need to be more attentive to the psychological transition I am undergoing. Considering how I spent the past ten years talking myself into accepting my lot as an attorney, I should recognize that I am buried under layers of psychological shields I put in place. And it will take time and patience to dismantle them.
When I was a third year law student, I went to a friend's wedding. My friend put me at the same table with an accomplished documentary filmmaker knowing how much I appreciated her work. I sat two seats away from the filmmaker, and between us was another young woman about my age. When the filmmaker asked us what we did, I stammered, "Well, I'm in law school..." and the woman in the middle said, "I'm a writer," even though she soon clarified that she had not yet been published. The filmmaker asked me one or two polite questions about law school and then turned to the writer with a host of questions I wished she had asked me, like what kind of writing do you do, who are your favorite authors, what do you think about this or that book, etc. That evening, I realized for the first time what my career decision meant for me. Others would cast me in the role of a lawyer, with all the stereotypes and assumptions that go with it, just as I had stereotypes about politicians or actresses. That was probably one of my most depressing days in law school.
So for the past ten years, I built up some defenses to help me come to terms with my unhappy choice. Some of it came in the form of being overly sensitive to lawyer jokes, talking a little too insistently about the practicalities of making a decent living and setting up for retirement, rolling my eyeballs at the artsy, fartsy types. Some of it resulted in arguments with my sister, who obtained an MFA in writing. Some of it manifested in the smugness of buying $15 martinis and taking a cab because my time was too precious to be wasted on public transportation.
So I am going to sit down and sort through these issues, one by one, and try to disentangle myself as much as I can.
And then maybe I will be ready to start writing seriously in about ten more years...