Have you always imagined that you would be married with children by a certain age? Or that you would be further along in your career than you are today? Or that you would be successful only if you became a partner in a prestigious law firm/opened your own medical practice/became a prize-winning journalist/ran for political office? What other beliefs do you have about what your life should look like?
We all have a personal blueprint – a story that we tell ourselves about why we are where we are in life, and what our life path should be. While goals and dreams are important for everyone to have and aspire to, it’s dangerous to tie our happiness to the blueprint we have created for our lives.
What if the conditions of your life match your blueprint, but you feel frustrated, unfulfilled, or stuck? Well, you suffer. You become self-conscious and self-doubting, and fear that you are a failure. How do I know this? Because it happened to me.
In high school, I decided that I was going to be a lawyer. I made that decision primarily in response to the (dysfunctional) messages that I received from my parents during my teenage years. My mother often told me that I needed to pursue a “high-powered” career in order to be happy and attract a man who truly respected me. In her eyes, that meant I needed to be a doctor or a lawyer. Given that math and science were not my strong points, and because I “always had strong opinions and no problem expressing them,” she loudly encouraged me to pursue a legal career. I wasn’t convinced. Yet . . .
My father had a very different perspective about my career potential. He clung to traditional, old-school views about working women. Although my father was a CPA, he felt compelled to caution me about how difficult it is to go to law school, graduate, and actually practice law. He also felt compelled to remind me that nobody in our family was or had attempted to become a lawyer. His biggest piece of advice? Pursue something less ambitious than law that you could do reasonably well until you retire.
OK, NOW I WAS CONVINCED. GAME. ON.
I graduated from UCLA Law School in 1999. In 2003, I was a fourth-year associate working in a prestigious law firm in Los Angeles. When one of the biggest rainmakers in the firm selected me as his mentee and go-to associate, my legal career really began to take off. I maintained a huge caseload, argued and tried federal and state court cases, ran strategy meetings with CEO’s and high-level executives, and pitched new firm business. I had earned the respect and trust of my colleagues and clients. I was firing on all cylinders at all times with ever-mounting responsibilities, and no end in sight.
And then I snapped. I billed 2,000 hours/year for two straight years, and I hadn’t taken a vacation in three years. I carried (and slept with) a cell phone, blackberry, and a pager to ensure that my clients and my boss could reach me at all times. I couldn’t breathe.
I was a mess. At work, I put on a brave face and soldiered on, but I cried endlessly in the safety of my apartment. This wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life. It was where I told myself I should be, but it wasn’t right. I wasn’t being true to myself. I felt like a fraud.
So how did I close the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be?
I CHANGED MY BLUEPRINT. I gave myself permission to let go of my old story and reinvented myself. I released the emotional ties that came with my identity as a lawyer. I learned that my job as an attorney, and the years of study that got me there, did not define me or my full potential. That was merely the vehicle I used to travel the road of life to get to where I am now. Today, I am living my dream of being a life coach and helping people create massive personal and professional change and live life on their terms.
So, here’s what I want you to realize: sometimes failing to achieve what you had believed was your path can ultimately get you to your destiny. And no matter what happens in life, you are always more than your story.