Overcoming Fear (One Year Later)

It’s been a year since I last practiced law.

Note I didn’t say it’s been a year since I quit.

A year ago, I was more than 40 weeks pregnant with Gwyneth. I worked right up until my due date, and then waited.

My water broke the evening after Prince George was born -- coincidentally moments after telling G that it was her turn since the royal baby was a boy and no one seemed to care anymore. Our girl has had a sense of humor from the beginning.

Although, I wouldn’t call 30 hours of labor over three days that ended in an emergency C-section all that humorous. Especially since neonatologists whisked our precious babe away before we could even see her little face. Forget about getting to hold her.

Once the doctors stabilized Gwyneth by pumping 100% oxygen into her tiny lungs, they told us she had to be transferred to a higher level NICU. In a neighboring state. Oh, and they’d need to intubate her first. In front of us.

Looking back, all that would have been enough for me to realize I could never go back to practicing law. But I didn’t have time to think about anything other than how I could get discharged ASAP.

My husband followed G’s ambulance and stayed with her until late that night when I needed his help back in Pennsylvania. I needed help pumping. And peeing. And staying on track to get discharged the next day.

But the funny thing is that once Ed was with me, I just let him sleep on the air mattress while I woke up to pump, shuffled to the bathroom, summoned the night nurses and did my best to rest.

The mama in me had been awakened.

I was unstoppable.

And exactly 36 hours after surgery -- the hospital’s minimum time -- my husband and doula wheeled me out of the maternity ward. Next stop: A.I. Dupont NICU.

We raced down the freeway so I could get there in time to feed Gwyneth myself. And hold her. And see her without an oxygen mask on her face.

It wasn’t until the moment when I first held my baby girl and nursed her amid the beeps of the monitors that the thought of quitting interrupted my mama bliss.

I’m never going back.

To the job I hate.

To the practice of law.

To anything that stifled the feelings of joy, love and contentment I was experiencing.

I’d been planning to quit eventually and had been coaching and running JD Nation on the side for nearly a year. But I wasn’t sure if I’d quit during my leave. Or go back just long enough to pad our nest egg a little more.

But now my decision was easier than ever.

Yet, I still didn’t quit until the end of my paid leave. Just in case.

Looking back now, I’m like: Just in case?

Just in case what??!!!

What on earth could have possibly changed my mind at that point?

I vaguely remember in the moment being concerned about the cost of our week-long stay in the NICU. But even crazy bills wouldn’t have gotten me back to lawyering. I know that.

The “just in case” was a euphemism for fear.

I was afraid that I’d change my mind once we were home and my hormones calmed down. Scared that if I quit right away my firm wouldn’t give me all the paid personal leave I had accrued. Worried that I’d suck at the mama thing and need an escape. 

Fear’s not a great place to live.

I had so many other demands on my energy -- surviving the NICU, healing from surgery, managing Gwyneth’s colic, recovering from PPD. Living with fear about my job was an unnecessary drain.

Sometimes I wonder if all these things happened because I needed them to reinforce my intuition that quitting was the right thing to do.

Or maybe I’m fortunate that I had been preparing for my departure from law so that the decision to not return wasn’t yet another stressful scenario to endure in my crazy postpartum existence.

Who knows? And it honestly doesn’t matter. I would make the same decision to leave today.

The one thing I would do differently?

Act out of intention rather than fear.

I had already laid the groundwork for quitting my job. Shit, my dream goal for 2013 was to not return to lawyering after Gwyneth’s birth and coach full time. And I worked damn hard to make that goal a reality.

I wish my 2013 self could have said,

I’ve decided not to practice law anymore because I’ve got a beautiful baby who needs me (and I her), a budding business I love, and the financial means to make it work.

Would I still wait to quit until my paid leave was up? You betcha.

But it wouldn’t be out of fear. It would be to give myself the time and space to enjoy having our baby at home, understanding that quitting involves a bit of work.

Notifying my boss and HR. Packing up my office. Turning in keys. Saying goodbyes to coworkers. Switching my license status to inactive. Transferring insurance policies. Rolling over my 401(k) (effffff, still need to finish that...).

See the difference?

The way I went about quitting was based in fear -- that I’d lose some anticipated income and that my only “real” career option was lawyering. Fear that I would fail in my new ventures as a mama and business owner.

But in reality, I had already saved up more than enough money to quit my job. And JD Nation was ready and waiting for me to run it full time.

I trust that the underlying motivation for leaving my job was choosing a life that excited me and filled me with joy and satisfaction rather than with dread and apathy. I just wasn’t handling the act of quitting with the same intention.

Sure, it may look like I'm splitting hairs here.

But to me it’s the difference between living a life filled with hopelessness, anxiety and fear and living the life I once only dreamed of having. One filled with intention, integrity and joy.

Fear keeps us where we are. Stagnant. Paralyzed. Apathetic.

Fear prevents us from disrupting the status quo under the guise of protecting us from harm. Because change is scary.

Not to say fear doesn’t have its place. It does. 

But after fear is felt and overcome, it can be left behind. Not carried as a lifelong burden. 

What would your life look like a year from now if you lived out of intention rather than fear? What’s one step you can take today to get started? You can do it, brave one!