The last month has been one of the most trying times in my life. EPIC5 has nothing on what I have lately endured.
After the “high high” of my EPIC5 Hawaiian tour, I returned home and took a couple weeks off from training. A time to focus on my law practice and my family. But more importantly a time to ruminate on our life together. What kind of person I want to be, not just for me but as an example for my children. And what we want to collectively experience as a unit in this short lifetime.
The answers are coming and the plan is slowly forming. But nothing is easy. This must be what childbirth feels like.
Until recent years, my entire life has been about following direction; staying within the lines & doing the “right” thing; staying focused and “on track”. My longstanding belief had always been that this has served me well, and I had plenty of ammunition to support the notion that “my will” could solve any problem and take me all the way across the goal line. My focus in high school provided strong support and results from this philosophy. 8th in the nation in the 200m butterfly in my age group and acceptance to all 8 colleges I applied to, including Harvard, Princeton & Stanford. Next up? Getting into a good law school. How about Cornell? Check. Then getting a job at a top law firm. Check. Keep working hard and make the World your oyster. But never once did I stop and ponder what I actually wanted. It was all about playing the game. And playing it well. Over the years, I became progressively disconnected from my true self in pursuit of goals set not by me, but by society. I was completely unconscious that what I was pursuing did not compute with my higher self. Mentally disconnected, my body took charge instead. The revolt manifested in the form of a mean case of alcoholism. What started out as all fun and games morphed into scenes out of “Leaving Las Vegas”, or chapters taken right out of “A Million Little Pieces” – jail; wrecked cars; multiple DUI’s; egregious lying; a first marriage that collapsed on the honeymoon; and total alienation & isolation that could be salved only by the daily morning vodka tonic in the shower.
After a series of predictable cataclysms that marked my degenerate lifestyle, I finally hit bottom in 1998 and through the grace of God and the support of my family and friends, I was able to get sober. Spending 100 days in a treatment center in rural Oregon, I learned that “my will” — something I always felt was the solution to any dilemma — could not solve this problem, an insanity that could only be addressed through an institutionalization that without exaggeration literally saved my life. It was only by learning to “surrender” and “let go” that I was able to begin to get well. That the solution to all my problems lie not with my strong discipline but with aligning myself with a power greater than myself. When I was able to grasp this, everything changed. It’s why I have the life I have today.
On June 6 I celebrated 12 years. And most of the last decade has been an experience in piecing my life back together and a hard-fought and mistake-laden education in a new way of living. A life based on spiritual principles. And despite great progress, my practice of these principles is more often than not rather uneven. So much personal growth, yes. And yet so far to go.
Professionally, I still have so much work to do when it comes to practicing these principles of recovery that have transformed my life for the better in all other categories. I have been a lawyer since graduating from law school in 1994. I have had my ups and downs in this career, but in the balance of the equation, it has ALWAYS been something I do to make money. It has never been a passion. It has never been a “calling”. It has always been a bit like jamming a square peg into a round hole. Motivated by the pain caused by trying to live this life, in 1999 I left high-powered high-stakes big law firm litigation. But rather than having the courage to completely let go of a path I knew in my heart of hearts was not truly “me”, I opted for a softer landing by re-inventing myself as a solo practitioner entertainment attorney. In so doing, I think I have created one of the most fun-filled experiences possible as an attorney. I make my own hours. I choose my clients. And I do really enjoy my clients and what they do. Artists, writers, directors & producers. Together I help facilitate their dreams, which result in tangible realities — independent movies, television programs, screenplays and books. Its pretty cool & definitely something to feel proud of. But at the end of the day, it’s what Julia Cameron in her book ” The Artist’s Way ” (awesome if you have never read) calls being a “shadow artist”. Someone too afraid to to pursue their own dreams who safely resides on the sidelines helping others achieve theirs. A last hold out recepticle for applying my self-will, with predictably mixed results.
I have been able to reconcile this path over the years as it has been a decent means to semi-enjoy what I do for a living and provide for my family while simultaneously allowing me a certain freedom to pursue my passion as an endurance athlete and wellness advocate.
But what about my own personal “Artist”? I see my art as expressed in my love for endurance sports & wellness advocacy. And as much as I have begun to express this “art”, it remains only partially developed.
The simple hard truth is that my continued pursuit of the law is simply not in alignment with my inner artist. And yet I have lacked the courage to take action. Cut the ties & tightrope walk without a net. Maybe I just didn’t have the true faith I preach.
But the financial hardships of last few months have caused enough pain (the best motivator) to bring the issue to a head, compelling me to re-evaluate my path. To the outside observer, my life appears pretty darn awesome. In most ways this is definitely true. I am a very blessed guy who in all truth should probably be dead given the way I used to live my life. We live in this incredible home with an amazing wife & children. I support them and also have the freedom to pursue my passion as an athlete. But there’s always more to the story when you pull back the curtain. With the economy in the tank, my law practice has taken a nose dive (to put it mildly). Its painful to admit publicly, and many would probably ask me why I would or advise me against being so frank and vulnerable. As a man, its not what we are taught to do. These things should be suffered privately and solved in silence.
But I know I am not alone. My hope is that in sharing my experience, another may find comfort or some small inspiration in my approach to what are very real (and unfortunately all too common) life challenges.
This past month has been the worst. New business has dried up. And many clients are either not paying or are late in doing so. Not because they are bad people but because they are likely in a similar boat. I have barely been able to provide much beyond putting food on the table; we are behind in our mortgage payments. And I have not been able to give my kids things every parent wants to be able to do — horseback riding lessons for my daughter Mathis; a proper summer vacation. Even our TiVo is turned off right now – no World Cup for my soccer fanatic stepsons & no Tour De France. Its been awful. And very emasculating. The only solace is in my spiritual connection to a power greater than myself; my time with my wife and children; those precious hours spent riding my bike or running a rural trail; and the small amount of help and guidance I am able to provide others based on my experiences, whether with addiction/recovery, weight loss & nutrition or fitness.
As I celebrated 12 years sober last month, I reflected deeply on all I have to be grateful for. So much. An amazing marriage and incredible children. My sobriety and health. My passion for life and what I feel is a rebirth and calling in pursuing endurance sports and a path as a wellness advocate. In truth, everything in my life is a bonus. Like I said, by all accounts I should be dead. So I try to perceive everything in my life — including my challenges — as just bonus time.
And yet it is difficult to not feel a bit humiliated – a failure for not being more financially stable at this juncture in my life.
It is beyond painful. And yet my wife and I have never been more in love. And my kids are all fine with everything – they have really risen to the occasion in collective support of what we are going through. It has been a challenge that has actually brought us all closer in so many ways.
And it has forced some deep thinking about what the next move is. I could give up on endurance sports & return to big law firm life, 80 hour work weeks and everything that entails. But this is suicide for me and contravenes everything I try to advocate and live. I would rather lose the house and live in an airstream than insert myself back onto a path that in my experience was very dark and quite literally almost killed me. For the record, Julie is in total agreement on this point, because that would be a decision based purely on fear. Something I would be pursuing solely and only for money. After everything I have done and endured, this is simply not an option. I refuse to make decisions based on a fear of a yet to be determined outcome.
Instead, I choose to perceive these challenges as yet another wake-up call. Like hitting bottom with alcoholism, there is a moment of clarity. Akin to getting sober, “my will” is not the solution to this problem. As odd as it sounds, my experience dictates that it is a time to let go. To surrender to the Universe and its perfect way of course correcting. To pay attention to the dissonance as a call to a new trajectory of action. In short, its time for a change.
Julie and I have committed to the more difficult path. The road less travelled so to speak. Harnessing the courage supplied by a faith fueled by our spiritual practices and a deep sense of calling, we have decided — at all costs — to throw caution to the wind in an effort to live genuinely. To pursue what we love with all of our selves. With a deep knowing that in doing so, we will be cared for. For Julie, it is music, yoga, cooking & travel. Sharing her love of music, yogic knowledge and plant-based cooking with the world. For me it is sharing my love and knowledge of endurance sports, nutrition and long-term wellness with the world. These are our passions. And in pursuing them, we are putting faith in practice. In my heart of hearts, I know that this is what we were put on this Earth to pursue and share with others. And I know that if we fully commit with total faith, everything will work out perfectly.
I am good lawyer. And I have always taken it very seriously. But in my practice I have never experienced the satisfaction that I get from helping another feel better about who they are. Whether its spreading the plantstrong message, or inspiring others through exploits like Ultraman & EPIC5, I know based on the countless e-mails I get that in doing this I am having a positive impact on others’ lives. This is what motivates me. And this is a feeling I do not get in my legal profession. And doing it not to make a buck, but from nothing but a place of pure love and joy. And so I can’t help but know that this is the proper path for me to pursue.
But how do we do this and provide for my family? Many would say I am being irresponsible. That I should “Man Up” — bite the bullet and get back to practicing law. Join a firm and get real. Start the 401(k) cranking and forget all this nonsense. I would contend that this is tantamount to embracing fear. Of acknowledging the maya (illusion) as real. Of living small.
What does it actually mean to “Man Up”? In my frank opinion, that is the cowardly move. A decision based on fear. If I have learned anything in my travails through recovery and various spiritual practices, one theme continually resonates — get real with who you are; live in love and faith; and believe that if you are pursuing what you love that the Universe will conspire to support you. That you will be taken care of. Easy to say. Hard to practice. As the adage goes, it’s easy to have faith when everything is going your way. And its easy to be spiritual when you live in a cave. But we all live in the “real world” – where things often don’t go our way; where external pressures all too often create reactive fear-based responses that further distance us from our true selves. Putting faith to the test when you are up against it? Different story altogether.
It been an interesting experience in mining the depths of my ego and my attachment to “things” and “stuff”. It is difficult to admit not just publicly but more importantly to myself just how much my identity is tied up in things that in the macro sense don’t mean anything — the home we live in, the car I drive, where I went to school, my identity as a lawyer. As for our home, Julie and I perceive it as a living breathing thing; like a child, it is something we birthed. Having built it, its difficult to imagine anyone else living in it. Its our house and we have all of ourselves in it. It is who we are. And yet it really isn’t — its just a house. Maybe the spiritual test and true growth experience can only come in letting all of this go. A necessary step to start anew. A requirement to progress in our evolution to becoming more actualized beings. And if that’s what needs to happen, then I can honestly say I am ready and OK with it. Not that it won’t be painful if we need to move on, but that I am willing to do so in order to downsize and free ourselves to do and be not just what we want to be, but what we are meant to be.
I have come too far to u-turn at this point. And together Julie and I are united in moving forward in love. We are willing to let the house go if we need to in order to get to the next level. We are willing to let go of social pressures to live our lives a certain way, drive the right car and be members of the right club. I don’t care about any of that stuff anymore. All I care about is loving my family and together pursuing our dreams in the face of too many obstacles to name.
You may disagree, but in my opinion, this is truly what it means to “Man Up”. To have courage in the face of tremendous fear, many naysayers, and social/economic pressures to not cave and stay true to yourself. I hang on to the belief that as difficult and trying as this is right now on not just me but our family as a whole, that this notion of pursuing what you truly want out of life sets a positive and resonating example for my children.
So if you are going through something similar, know that you are not alone. Change is hard. And something I rarely do until I am in so much pain there is no alternative. And I have to remind myself that every single time in my life experience I have made a hard decision to implement a change and pursue something that is in alignment with my heart and who I truly am, things have worked out fine. In fact, better than fine. Each time. Every time. Without fail, I have never been let down – and I have countless examples in support of this mysterious spiritual equation.
Situations like these are nothing if not growth opportunities. And growth should always be paramount. For if were not here to grow, then what is our purpose?
The first order of business is always to crawl out of denail and fear and connect with who you truly are – your deepest wants and desires. Your inner fears and character defects. In a sense, what makes you tick. And then translating that self-awareness into change-based action. What is it in your life you need to change? What needs to go and what are you missing? Where are things out of alignment? From there you can make a list and begin making baby steps. Small achievable interim stepping stone goals. Because contrary to popular belief, true lasting change doesn’t dramatically happen over night – its the accumulation of microscopic actions taken consistently over long periods of time. Do this, and not only will more be revealed, I can promise that you will be quite literallty amazed.
Don’t get me wrong. Its damn hard. I admit I’m scared. And the prospect of sharing these challenges publicly makes me feel very raw and exposed. But I just felt compelled to speak openly and honestly in the hope that if even just one person gleans some small insight, then its worth it to me.
Julie and I are committed. We hope you join us on this wonderful and amazing journey!