Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Changing Lanes, Climbing Peaks

One year ago exactly, I quit my job as a lawyer.

The exit was swift and sudden. Those who knew me well - or thought they did - were caught by surprise and left perplexed. They thought I was a fighter, that annoying little prick who always wanted the last word in any argument.

Many asked me why I quit. Out of curiosity, out of care. I tried to explain. Some understood, some didn't.

So let me explain again, one more time. Not because it sheds light on my life. Rather, because it may help shed light on yours.

"I Quit!"

One year ago exactly, I quit my job as a civil litigation lawyer at a top local law firm, and immediately joined a top multinational company as a corporate legal counsel. Was it a big shift? Yes and no. Yes, because I could no longer stand before the court, as I had used to for the previous four years, to argue cases before the Honourable Judges. No, because my current job still involves rendering legal advice – to those who need it, and also to those who think they don’t (and they are usually the ones who need it most).

I hung up my robes and bib. It’s like a doctor hanging up his white coat and stethoscope. To those in the service industry - marketing, advertising or consultancy - it’s like jumping over to the client’s side. Or, more extravagantly, like a battle-weary knight hanging up his sword, settling down on a snow-capped mountain top, vowing never to shed blood again and to preserve cosmic harmony.

Like him, only better hair and complexion, I have.

Changing Lanes, Passing Milestones

Think of it as changing lanes. I’m still driving on the same freeway. Not exactly a big step-up. Ideally, I would rather be off the road completely. Like, you know, to be on a starship, tearing through warp space, shooting for the stars. No, I haven’t made it yet. The journey is long and winding. There are many more milestones ahead.

But I did still pass a major milestone.

It's not about the money, nor the benefits. There is still pressure to perform. I have toned down on legal jargons, but now have to pick up on corporate buzzwords.

There is, however, one major difference. Now, I have more freedom and control over my life. Now, I have more time and space for myself. I feel liberated. I feel free. I feel me.

I have a loooong way to go, to be that executive in the suit.

Do I miss being in the fighting ring? Not really. Most of the time, there is no fighting in the courtroom. You spend the whole day before poring over the tactical board and sharpening weapons, only to find out the next day when you march up to the battlefield that your enemy’s out with a flu, and you have no choice under the rules of engagement but to turn around, go home and come back in a month’s time when everyone is free and fit.

And when the fighting does take place, it’s nothing as epic as what you see in 'The Practice'. The questioning of witnesses is mostly mundane – what does this document say, what does that document say. Closing arguments are littered with technical legal jargons – sentences stretch on endlessly like a freeway, punctuated by commas like rest houses with leaky plumbing. At best, it’s like watching an excited bunch of robed and bespectacled wizards from Hogwarts waving their hands and shouting loads of Latin gibberish: Prima facie! Bona fide! Res ipsa loquitor!

Don’t get me wrong. I did not leave legal practice because I hated it. It’s just that I found something else that I enjoyed doing more. Did I find a better job? I found a better life.

Of Peaks and Plateaus

Life is full of peaks and plateaus. Right before I left legal practice, the peak was not a long way off. At the rate I was trekking, I knew I could reach it soon. But one day, as I reached a plateau, it dawned upon me that the question wasn’t whether I could reach to the top. Rather, the question was whether I should at all.

I looked down. I looked up. Peeking over the distant horizon, there are other mountains. This is not the only peak. It’s still not too late to scale down, and start a new climb. And that's precisely what I did. I started afresh - at a mountain with a higher peak, yet less frigid and filled with many more plateaus where I could chill out and enjoy the panoramic view.
 
Henry Thoreau once said: “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after”. Damn right. Sure, I like sushi, but I also like a bloody steak, and there ain't any cows in the water. I want to see the world and all its splendours, and not just be stuck to a small pond all my life.

If Bruce Wayne – Prince of Gotham, Princeton graduate, and billionaire heir to Wayne Enterprise – can scale up and down the Himalayas... so can you!

It's natural to take the wrong lane. It’s natural to make mistakes. It’s natural to be afraid to face our mistakes, and stay in denial. It’s natural to look down into the yawning abyss below and think: “I’ve reached this high, might as well go all the way up.” It happens to the best of us.

It's natural to feel that way, but it doesn't mean that we should. No, we must always be bold to check our inner compass and search our souls. Don’t be afraid to change lanes and scale new peaks. There's nothing wrong climbing up, climbing down, and re-climbing the same peak again after exploring other peaks. Take Steve Jobs - he co-founded Apple, left Apple, and after about twenty years, returned to steer Apple to its present dizzying heights. If you're not exploring, you'll never get to where you want to be most. If you're not exploring, you're not living.

Then again, at the other end of the spectrum, there are some who change lanes as often as James Bond changes partners. They tell themselves that they’re exploring. But most times, they’re deluding themselves. Paralysed by vertigo, they’re afraid to climb higher above a certain plateau. They’re stuck moving horizontally, never moving upwards. Perpetually switching lanes is just as bad as being stuck in the wrong lane.

Ultimately, it’s all about finding the right peak, and reaching as high as you can climb. You may be happy where you are now, and what you do now. But always ask yourself: Is this as good as it gets? Are there other peaks of happiness I would rather reach? Can I be happier than this?

Repeat this each time you wake up in the morning: “I don’t want happiness, I want EUPHORIA!"

Shoot For The Stars

For now, I've only changed lanes. But feel free to careen off the freeway into the dark woods, if you're up to it. Or, like our ancestors, pack all your possessions, buy a one-way ticket, and start a whole new life in a whole new land. Don’t mind me. I only took a big step. You can take a giant leap. All you need is faith.

Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. If you like dancing, then put on your damn dancing shoes and dance the night away. If you had always dreamed of opening a cafe, then instead of splurging on that new designer bag, save the money and open that damn cafe.

No time? No talent? That’s nonsense. Real dreams aren’t the kind you forget once you wake up. Real dreams are the kind that keeps you up all day and all night long working hard to transform them into reality.

It's never, never too late to shoot for the stars. Tommy Franklin, 29, from Byron Bay, Australia, knows this and show us how it's done.

Here and now, I feel good about myself. I’m doing what I enjoy doing, like writing. And much, much more. In time, I’ll share more about what’s going on in my life (and in my head).

Me? I'm not finished yet. Changing lanes is just the start. I’m still building momentum to lift off and shoot for the stars.

You can, too. And you should.

 

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