This is Not the End

A few months ago I had a call with a friend of mine who’s a pretty successful lawyer in San Jose. Kevin had been so busy handling cases at his firm, we hadn’t spoken with each other in a long time. Even so, within mere minutes, we picked up our friendship right where we left it off.

As we were connecting I started sensing Kevin was holding something back from me. Since I am who I am, I asked him straight out what was bothering him. He owned up to being pretty depressed about his work and scared he might lose his place at the firm.

Being the guy he is, Kevin takes all his cases very seriously. He spends a lot of time with his clients and they become like family to him. Over the past few months he had won several cases, which he was quite proud of, but that also meant his time with those clients had ended. Instead of feeling happy about his work, he felt he’d lost friends he had grown close to. He had helped them out, and once they got what they needed they had gone away. He wondered if they were ever really true friends at all.

Kevin was losing his enthusiasm and his drive to win cases. On top of this, the closed cases left openings in his schedule, and he felt pressure from his fellow partners at the firm to bring in more revenue quickly.

It was clear Kevin’s view of his current work life was limiting his opportunities. In Kevin’s experience every closed case meant a lost friendship. Of course it made sense that he would come to resent that experience. But this was the service he provided to people, and it was his livelihood. The way he was looking at the world he was going to either lose his friends or lose his job. How was that view helping him move forward?

I asked Kevin, what if he instead accepted that these cases had come to their natural conclusion, and saw the openings in his schedule as big opportunities to make new friends and win new cases? Clients like to hire lawyers who win, and it was clear that Kevin could leverage his success to gain new business. And Kevin didn’t doubt those clients could become friends. He just needed to shift his attention from what he was losing to what he was gaining.

With this new perspective, we devised a plan by which he could get his sales funnel churning again. After about a month of diligent outreach and a few networking events, Kevin is now on retainer with some new cases he’s excited about, and working with new people he likes.

It’s natural to want to resist endings. We think they are anomalies that can be avoided with diligent action. But they are not exceptions; they are the rule. People and jobs come and go. Each day comes to an end and it gives way to a new dawn. Every inhale requires an exhale. And thoughts that limit us one day can be gone the next.

Rather than a straight line, life is more like a series of circles. Each one builds on the next in a continual dance of transformation as our outworn understandings, possessions, habits, relationships, and ways of being evolve to new ones. If nothing ever ended, there would never be any room for us to meet new people or have new experiences. Without endings we could never discover new parts of ourselves and of those around us.

Think of an ending that you have resisted, even while knowing that resisting is not serving you. Maybe it’s letting go of a relationship or an obligation. Maybe it’s simply dropping an old story or habit of thinking and opening yourself up to a new possibility. Now imagine it – whatever it is – burning away, and turning to ashes. We each have a phoenix inside of us, and we must experience ashes in our lives in order to be born anew and reinvigorated for what lies ahead. What new possibility can be born from those ashes? Where might it take you?

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” – C. S. Lewis

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