What I am only now slowly realising — with the sort of bluntness of wit I would never have dared to apply to my professional work — is that I haven’t just quit my job; I have left a whole career behind. It’s still there, it still exists. I just won’t be using it anymore.
That’s one of the reasons I changed my name on Linkedin. Michelle Chowdhury was a lawyer. She was dual qualified in England and New York (i.e. twice as qualified as she needed to be). She was a published writer and invited speaker at legal conferences. She worked for some of the best law firms in the world, as well as government agencies and international institutions. While no one actually ever used the phrase “legal whizz” out loud, you could tell they were thinking it. She was dependable, reliable; a “safe pair of hands”. She was, in short, a workerbee.
Michelle Meagher is going to be something else entirely. And being free is only the start of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my achievements as a lawyer, and the skills and experiences I gathered in those eight unforgiving years will be invaluable as I go forward (please god let this be true). But I also feel compelled to draw a line under my past and to shed that cloak before donning a new one – one that fits me a little better. And (hopefully) makes me look taller.
So I am having my second bite of the apple, my second turn around the merry-go-round. And it’s so different this time.
When I left university I was so ambitious and I was convinced that “great things” lay in my future. This conviction, though fairly baseless and arbitrary, was very strongly held, if only vaguely defined. I thought as long as I pushed hard it didn’t matter much which direction I channeled my efforts. The destination was clear – I wanted to achieve “success”. So I plowed ahead, undeterred that my life didn’t really resemble my original idea of a happy existence. You see, I thought this was a necessary pain. I thought I was paying my dues.
You probably already know what the punchline is. It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. It’s the stuff you do on your way there. It turns out that, as Alan Watts, the man who brought zen teachings to the Western world, so beautifully said “we missed the point all along. It was a musical thing; we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was playing”. Because, without wanting to sound too morbid, the “destination” is actually, er, how do I put this? It’s the end of the line; the point of no return. The ultimate end; the one we’re all headed to. It’s death.
How did this massive confusion of ends and means arise? The popular trend these days seems to be to allege a nasty generational conspiracy, in which all elders are supposedly complicit. They told us if we worked hard then we’d be happy. Trickery! They told us we’d have a job for life. Deceit! They promised us an easy life, easy money, and bags and bags of happiness and contentment. Lies!
But I don’t think I can claim to have been duped. My unfortunate conclusion is that the only person I can hold accountable for my decisions is myself – I have tried blaming my parents and they’re not having any of it.
I’m wondering if what was at play was less a large-scale fraud and more the natural way of things. Here’s how I look at it: in your teens, you do as your parents say (or I did anyway, aside from a few minor transgressions). In your 20’s you do as you like, but guided by the collected wisdom of your parents, teachers and other well-meaning advisers, whose advice, in turn, is based on their own experiences of young adulthood, which will have taken place between 10 to 60 years previously. Now I’m coming up to my 30’s and the ground appears to have shifted. I’m doing as I want, but this time I have a clearer idea of what those wants are, unjaundiced by the hopes and desires of those around me. The cumulative effect of decades of good advice has either worn off or is finally paying dividends because I feel much better equipped to view it with objectivity. I am also able to supplement it with my own experiences of what it is to be this age in 2013 – something about which my well-intentioned elders knew nothing.
So this time it’s different, it feels different. This time my eyes are open and my vision unblinkered. This time I can see further in front of me. This time it’s all about the journey – not where I’m going but how I get there. This time I’m not alone because, along with my husband Dan I’m part of a team now (“Team Awesome”). This time I’m going to love every minute of it.
It’s Act 2. Take 2. Part 2. A second chance. A do-over! Once more around the block. Once more, with feeling!
Love links, hate distractions. Now that you’re done, here are some internet bits to put this article in context: