Sailing in Mexico’s Gulf of California during high winds and heavy seas, I reflected on the importance of being present and (one of the reasons) so many lawyers are unhappy.
Rounding Punta Concepcion
The sea that morning was calm, but we knew heavy weather was coming. After analyzing the conditions, forecast, our route, and the crew’s skill level, we decided to press on around Punta Concepcion and begin heading south toward San Nicolas.
The wind speed increased and the sea state built, and we were sailing downwind in Force 5 winds with 8’ – 10’ following seas. As my course-mates put it, the conditions were “sporty” and the sailing was “game on.”
The Importance of Being Present
Sailing on the mainsail alone, driving down the backside of waves, and planing in a 20’ Drascombe, we turned to a discussion of why we enjoy sailing.
Reflecting on where we were and what we were doing, I mentioned that outdoor education generally, and sailing specifically, usually entails doing intense things in difficult conditions with great people in beautiful places. This combination allows – indeed, even requires – an intense focus on the present.
I reflected on my career choices and commented on various reasons I didn’t enjoy the practice of law. After reading The Power of Now, by Ekhart TollIe, I concluded that one reason lawyers are a generally unhappy bunch is because we so rarely have the chance to exist in the present. The notable exception, which I will get to shortly, is during the course of a trial.
Living in the Past
Consider the life-cycle of a typical case. A client comes to you because of an event that happened in the past. It could be a crime that was allegedly committed, or because they were the victim of an injury or financial wrong.
For the next 1, 3, or more years, every time you work on that case you will be drawn to the past, reliving, every time, the events that gave rise to your client’s case, the injuries they suffered, or the fall-out from someone’s bad decision.
Living in the Future
Then, being a conscientious lawyer, you must look to the future to protect your client’s interests; you must anticipate what opposing counsel will do, how you will respond, and how they will respond in turn. Meanwhile, in the back of your mind, you must at least consider the possibility that any decision you make could be the subject of a claim for legal malpractice and be scrutinized even further down the road by your client, another lawyer, or a judge.
Not Living in the Present
In short, whether you are focusing on the past, reliving the events that gave rise to your client’s claim, or the future, contemplating how opposing counsel or a legal malpractice lawyer will evaluate your decision, you never truly live in the present.
Yet, according to basic tenets of most of the major philosophies and religions of the world, the key to happiness is being present.
It’s no wonder, then, that lawyers suffer depression at a rate that is twice that of the non-lawyer population. Our jobs require that we never live in the present!
The exception, which I alluded to earlier, is in the heat of battle during a trial. This is, perhaps, one of the few times that a lawyer can be truly present in the moment, with (comparatively) little regard for the long-term consequences of a decision.
As I was considering my own break with the law, a more senior colleague asked me what I liked best about the practice. After a brief pause to consider his question, I replied that I was most satisfied while in the midst of that vanishing art, the trial.
During a trial, whatever question is raised, whatever objection lodged, there is an arbiter presiding over the matter whose job is to make a decision, then and there. While you might disagree with the decision, and indeed may consider how the decision might play out on appeal, the matter has, at least temporarily, been decided.
For my money, I prefer the exhilaration and psychological freedom to exist in the moment, rather than to constantly be looking over my proverbial shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
If your group, organization, business, or community could benefit from learning to live in the present, contact the Cleveland Zephyr Outdoor Academy today. Explore our website, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up for one of our classes.