I often think about, struggle really, with who I am. Not so much in an esoteric, inner turmoil way, but more in a "what makes me tick" kind of way. There is no question that we are influenced by many aspects in life from situations to friends, and that often we change along with the situations we face and people we meet. But really, I think we just adapt to our surroundings and evolve based upon who we choose to spend our time.
So here is a prime example, I grew up very outdoorsy. Because as a 6 year old, I had a burning desire to hike up mountain trails, go pheasant hunting, shoot clay pigeons and go fly fishing? No. Of course not. I did those things because my dad wanted to do those things. I learned about conservation and the environment, gained a deep appreciation for nature and wildlife, understood the arguments regarding the second amendment, and despite my dad's exciting description of the activity, I learned that turkey hunting is not like "big game hunting" - like at all (nice try dad.)
But then, I went away to college in an urban area. The most outdoor experience I probably had was walking to the corner convenience store for cigarettes (when they were $2.00 a pack and smoking was cool - wait it wasn't?) or the annual Delta Gamma "hayride," which was essentially a field party fueled by hormones and bottles of Boone's Farm.
Moving back to my home county in New Jersey in 2006, 12 years after I initially left for college, I assumed I would get back to my roots and former activities. Do some hiking, maybe obtain my bow hunting license - the stuff I would talk about on the phone with my dad. But I didn't. At this point, at 30, I had new friends, a new career, new boyfriend, new apartment and we just didn't fish or hunt or shoot anything. No one really went outside anymore. My dad wasn't well and trying to get him organized enough for an outdoor activity was a cumbersome and daunting challenge that I could not make a regular habit.
So, I adapted. I sipped wine instead of beer, I went to fancy dinners, had wonderful opportunities to travel. I pursued other interests like music and dance. I drove in Audis instead of pick up trucks. I began to enjoy a more sophisticated and mature life as an adult. Camping by the riverside in NY state became stays at the Hyatt Regency. And that was all okay. Really. (I certainly prefer a nice hotel bathroom over squatting in the woods.)
And then I am driving down my road the other day, and I see a giant tom turkey. He's all puffed up and showing off in the middle of my road. I am instantly flooded with the memories of 4 am wake ups in April, of sitting on freezing cold ground in the woods, calling turkeys with my dad. I remember him reminding me that "the turkeys can hear you, you really need to shut up. Lauren, shut up." (So sweet and kind, my dad).
Once it was time to call it a day, I recall my dad recounting all of the things I could do differently next time to draw the turkeys we heard in the distance closer to us (I didn't hear anything, because I was probably talking). And hearing my dad's romanticized stories of his childhood growing up in the "deep woods" of Parsippany, New Jersey. I can smell the crisp spring air - I can feel the sun, now risen, warming my face as we trudge through the woods to our car. I remember knowing that not every 16 year old girl or (boy for that matter) was turkey hunting this morning, and that I was having a unique experience with my dad.
Looking at that scene with nearly 40 year old eyes and perspective, I worry that I've adapted a little too well to the sophisticated, indoor life and maybe I've lost part of who I am. The last time I sat around with my dad, waiting for a turkey to show up in the woods was probably 15 years ago.
I'm grateful for the experiences in my life and I know I am lucky to have been exposed to so many unique ones from an early age, whether it was farming or the arts, sports or the outdoors. All of those experiences do make up who am I now. I know a little about a lot of things - as my dad would say, "you "don't realize how competent you are" (and then proceeds to take credit for all of the successes I have earned in my life).
Perhaps I feel a tad guilty that I have lost touch with those aspects of my early life, but the good news is, between my sister's kids and my own, I have a new generation to whom I can introduce the fine art of the "J-stroke" in a canoe. I guess I know who I am, after all. I'm a lot of things.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. For me, when the going gets tough, I get going...away. When I can, anyway. Last week, I was able to make my great escape to the sunny and warm Treasure Coast of Florida, except it was not all that sunny and not even close to warm. (This photo was taken of Anna on the beach last August - I didn't think me wrapped in an afghan was worth sharing. For some reason, 50 degrees in FL is colder than 50 degrees anywhere else).
Despite the so-so weather, I was able to recharge by batteries with family visits, some great runs (weather was perfect for that, at least), a shopping run to the Outlets (unavoidable), quiet time for editing and pondering my future. I had the unique and much-appreciated opportunity to travel on my own, which made this experience extremely productive. Don't get me wrong; I do enjoy traveling with my 4, almost 5 year old on our "girl trips," but this time, mommy needed a break.
While I did hope for warmer weather, I knew it was going to be cold and blustery in the days leading to my trip, thanks to my mother's constant weather updates (because none of us northerners have a TV or the Weather Bug App, of course). Point is, I was able to plan ahead in a sense to have a routine when I arrived in Florida. I'm a person who needs a routine.
So my days looked like this: wake up at 7, have coffee, catch up on email from the day before and check off items on the to-do list (I had some office work to do, mostly related to transitioning my responsibilities to others). By 10:20, I was ready for a 2.5 mile run and by 11:30, I was out the door to visit my new friends at Grind + Grape - coffee shop by day, wine bar with live music by night. Here, I rewrote and reworked the ending to Queen Makers and edited. And when I felt sufficiently satisfied with my caffeine intake and productivity, I would take a nice walk along Ocean Drive.
I took a few hours on two occasions to meet with local realtors. Now that I was wandering about town as if I lived there, I figured I might as well see if I would want to live there. I told both realtors that they had an hour to show me 3 properties and that at the end of the hour, I would choose which place I wanted to buy, just like on HGTV. The one realtor laughed and the other explained how real estate purchases work - guess which guy I'm going to use going forward?
And while I have no immediate plans to buy my dream condo on the ocean - although I was really, really close to making an offer on one condo in a remarkable tennis club - I began to envision my future. I liked it. A lot.
So when I got back to my mother's house with all of my property paperwork, I was very excited. Not only was I recharged, but reloaded personally and professionally. I could see how Blue Suit Trial Strategies, my new professional adventure, was going to operate - how, with whom and where; I could see my "routine" developing. Suddenly, my new painted picture, with which I have been struggling mightily to draft over the last 5-6 months was becoming clear to me.
Although I probably would have done just as well with a week relaxing on the beach, meditating or something, last week turned out to be pretty great for me. I avoided being home in NJ with a sick kid - dodged a bullet there since the stomach bug is not my favorite kid thing to manage - and I proved my Wheel of Fortune prowess. More importantly, I moved another step closer to fulfillment. Success!
As promised, here is a little insight into my newest project and why now. The crisis of mid-life has led me to a few discoveries about myself. I am restless. I have always been restless and impatient. Those who love me the most will confirm this description and that's not the newly discovered part. What I have uncovered recently is that I value my creativity above all things (I don't mean my child or my family, I mean professional attributes). I am at my most content when I am able to float freely from one creative endeavor to the next, whether it's the chapters in one of my novels or a new idea for a legal seminar or even the new decor for my home office (which looks pretty great, by the way). I have also recognized that my creativity and imagination require some freedom that the confines of my normal day do not provide. So, in an effort to fulfill my passions while also fulfilling my professional obligations, I have freed myself of my office chair, regimented calendar and traditional office hours. I quit.
That's a bit of an overstatement. I didn't really quit my job. But in the traditional sense, I've turned in my punch card and have chosen to be a work at home mom. For the longest time, I could not stand the fact that I was arriving home from my day, and I had missed dinner with my daughter. Knowing that a phone conference or a meeting was going to keep me from picking her up from school and taking her to dance class had been killing me. But there was more...
The stress of accomplishing what "I had to do" each day knowing there were so many things I really wanted to do was ruining everything from my ability to create to my relationships. The pressure of everyday began weighing heavier and heavier upon my shoulders. I started projects that I couldn't finish. I started feeling empty and anxious.
I had felt this way for a few years and the only obstacle, I realized, between what I had and what I wanted, was fear. I had been afraid - who am I if I am not a partner at a law firm? Will I make enough money to live the life I have chosen, support myself, my kid? What will everyone think of the person who "could do it all" if I can't? Will I even like not having a full work calendar? Will I lose my edge professionally if I am not showing up to the office every day? Who will do all the things I do at the office? How do I tell them this is what I want to do?
And then one day, I woke up and decided I didn't care about those concerns. How could I possibly know what would happen if I didn't just do it? So I did. And while I am still working out the details of my professional and personal future, I have never felt so in control of myself and my own future.
Not only do I have time to spend with my daughter, but I have time to devote to writing, developing my newest project, Blue Suit Trial Strategies, the consulting arm of the PI department at my firm, AND of course, laundry. I have time to exercise, to run, to travel, to play tennis and dance. I was trying to jam all of those activities into an already packed work week. But now, I don't need to do that. With the support of friends and family, I'm checking all my boxes, at my own daily pace.
Welcome to the new me. I've crossed to the other side of fear. The path still is not clear, but already, it's a lot brighter over here. Life at the office goes on without me each day, but now I get to be a constant part of my daughter's day. How I spend my time is up to me for the first time in a very long time. It's a wonderful feeling.