Most mornings I wake up and go through the daily routine. Shower, coffee, commute, get to the office, work a long and hopefully productive day, leave for another commute, if I get home in time, kiss the kids before they go to sleep, perhaps talk to my wife for a couple minutes, maybe eat, and fall into bed.
Most weeks, I’ll find time to get one workout in, check the bank accounts, pick up a book and read.
Writing that down, it sounds like a pretty dull existence.
I’m not doing everything I want to do.
Ultimately, I am doing what I want and love to do: My law firm is almost four years old, my staff is happy, my clients are happy, and I am grateful. The firm is doing well and growing; my kids are growing and are happy. My wife, although not unhappy, allowed herself to accept what I had left to give.
Then last fall, as I was nearing the end of a long trial, I was hit with blood clots in the legs and ultimately a small pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). If you have read my blog (I understand posts are few and far between), you know I’m a kidney transplant patient. I had two transplants, one at 13 years old and another at 32. Because of those experiences, I’m used to what I call, “being in the (hospital) bed.” I figure I’ve been in the bed enough that my children don’t have to be. I hope that is how the universe works.
Having that pulmonary embolism—a small one at that—really put me on my ass, both physically and emotionally. One thing about having a kidney transplant at 13 is that it taught me to appreciate life. I learned to live well, have fun, and enjoy life. By time I hit the second transplant at 32, I was engaged to be married and did not have children. At that time, there was a knowledge that I hadn’t lived all of my life—but I was happy about the life I had lived, so if something happened while under anesthesia, so be it. At 32, I had had a good run at it.
Then at 43, I was hit with blood clots. With an extensive medical history completely devoid of blood clots, my doctors and I were a bit flummoxed. Medically I had been through much worse, but the diagnosis put me on my ass. After the pulmonary embolism was found, on my daughter’s fifth birthday, it took roughly one month to come back physically. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was asking too many questions to myself: could I continue to work? Could I continue to be a father? Could I die? I have two young children—I can’t die. For the first time in my life, I felt mortal.
Because of my mortality, I woke up anxious. I was anxious in my car. I was anxious walking to the office. I was anxious in the courtroom—which isn’t particularly good when you’re a trial lawyer. All I could think about was the blood clot in my lung—was it getting better? Worse? Staying the same? Was I going to fall over right now? Where did it come from? What the fuck is going on?!?
Fear had overtaken my life.
Usually, when I’m in the midst of a medical issue, I keep it to myself. Before my transplant when I was 32, maybe 10 people knew what was happening. I don’t want pity. I don’t want people looking at me differently. So I kept all of what I was going through inside.
My fear and anxiety was a bit different, I actually talked about it. Something told me it was right to normalize it. And talking about my struggle, made it better. One day after work, I was talking with a friend at dinner and a few days later a power of the mind-type book was delivered. He warned it could get a little hokey but there were some good messages in it.
And there were. That book, along with others, ultimately got me stronger. I’m physically strong again; I’m mentally stronger than before and enjoying life again. The anxiety is gone.
Happily, I was able to get back into my regular routine: Shower, coffee, commute, work, commute, eat, bed, repeat.
But as the routine restarted, there is a gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right. This routine isn’t everything I want.
I’m not planning on closing up shop and traveling the world. Fortunately, I love what I do. I love coming to the office. I love the people I work with. I love my clients. But I’ve been consumed by building the firm that it didn’t leave time for much else. Maybe dinner. Maybe a work out. Maybe seeing my kids before they go to sleep. Maybe talking to my wife.
There were are too many maybes. There were are too many things I wasn’t doing: writing, seeing my kids during the week, working out during the week, eating well. Being present.
I was am consumed with building the firm so I can do these things one day in the future. My “plan” is to actually be present after the firm is built. My “plan” is to write after the firm is built. My “plan” is to be more present with my children after the firm is built. One day, I’ll be present.
I am deferring my dreams until tomorrow or next year or next decade: until I have X clients and Y in the bank and Z people working with me at the firm.
That mentality is off. I’m not doing what I need to do today. What if next year doesn’t come? What then?
Did the blood clots wake me from my slumber of routine? The slumber of rise, shower, coffee, commute, work, commute, eat, sleep, repeat. The slumber of not being present, thinking about what’s next, and next after that and that. The slumber that if I can achieve or accomplish X then I can have Y.
Worse, this mindset isn’t even true. On that journey to Y you realize X is really 2X or 3X; it isn’t static. The fluidity of X puts you on a hamster wheel where you can never get to Y—or when you get there it’s too late. Or when you finally get achieve X and get Y, the whole process starts over because Y turns into something else.
We similarly qualify happiness. I’ll be happy when…. I’ll be happy when I buy a new car. I’ll be happy when I get married. I’ll be happy when the weather gets warmer. Why do we qualify happiness? Why not just be happy?
So rather than focusing on doing X and getting Y, should we focus on the journey? Should we focus on having Y now? Doing X and taking Y at the same time?
I’m still learning. Above, I purposely crossed out “were” and kept them visible with respect to maybes, because I’m not whole. There ARE and will be maybes. I’ll get engrossed in work again which will lead to maybe not seeing my children during the week and maybe not eating dinner.
I’m not cured.
Hopefully though, the knowledge of the slumber is the first step. The knowledge that there is more than the constant working on X and reaching for Y.
I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I can tell you that what I’ve written here has taught me a few things. I didn’t know what I was going to write today, I just sat down and said “write.” Seeing it on paper is teaching me a bit about what I’ve learned over the last seven months—and hopefully will continue to learn over the next seven.
I know I’ll digress. I know I’ll fail.
But I have been more present. I am more present with my wife. I’m actually listening to her, rather than being in the same room with her when she’s speaking while thinking about all the shit I have to get done. I’m working on being present. In that area, the “needs improvement” marks I was getting two semesters ago have gone up to a solid satisfactory.
Hopefully, I’ll stop deferring dreams more and start living them. Hopefully, I do that more in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Hopefully, you do too.