This was back in the Ice Age, when I was a solo practitioner in Charleston SC. From the tiny window of my attic office in the Rosen Building I could see the lighted spire of St. Philips, the giant wreath on City Hall and the undiapered horses pulling carriages of carolers down Broad Street.
Career-wise, things weren’t working out quite like I’d planned. After unsuccessful attempts to market myself as a divorce attorney, litigator and lawyer-slash-softball coach, I had settled into a General Practice. By that I mean I was generally unemployed.
Embrace Your Inner Frosty
Meanwhile, back on Sullivan’s Island, miniature human beings had begun arriving at our home.
One of them – six-year-old Charlie – would quiz me on Life’s Great Imponderables: Can reindeer really fly? Why is there fruitcake? How can Santa come down our chimney if we don’t have a chimney?
To which I would respond the same way I responded to the many clients I didn’t have: by looking serious, lowering my voice to an authoritative baritone and making something up.
Deck Your Own Halls
At Christmas we trekked to the North Pole – also known as Citadel Mall – to visit Santa Claus.
As North Poles go, this one was rather underwhelming. A bored Elf led children up some rickety plywood steps to where a singularly second-rate Santa sat on a folding chair. His fake beard was ratty, his suit was too big and he appeared to be channeling the St. Nick in Trading Places.
But Charlie was thrilled. He threw himself into Santa’s lap and began chattering.
“I want Masters of the Universe and Big Wheel and a puppy ….”
Then he noticed the band-aid on Santa’s finger.
“You have a boo-boo?”
Great, I thought. The real Santa never gets hurt. This one was practically dripping blood. Probably cut himself opening a bottle of beer for lunch. And when the seedy impersonator cleared his throat to speak, I sunk even lower. The magical mask of Christmas was about to be cruelly ripped off, exposing tender young Charlie to the harsh reality underneath.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Real Life
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This injured, Billy Bob Santa proceeded to spin a long and delightfully intricate story of how he’d been preparing his sleigh for this very trip to Charleston when Rudolph – the best and brightest of his reindeer team – accidently stepped on Santa’s finger, resulting in a non-life-threating, not-very-bad-at-all injury to his forefinger.
“Here,” said Santa, reaching into his pocket. “A band-aid for you just like Santa’s.”
Of all the gifts Charlie received that year – including a grossly-overpriced and quickly-discarded Masters of the Universe play action set – he prized none more than that band-aid from Santa.
We Become the Stories We Tell About Ourselves
Recently I sat on a CLE panel with an expert on Imposter Syndrome. She said lawyers are especially susceptible to self-talk like “I better not fail,” “I’m expected to have the answers” and “I feel like a fake.” If ignored and untreated, this mindset can cause stress, burnout and depression.
The alternative is to keep it real. The way to do that is not by pretending to be someone we’re not, but by presenting our true selves to the world.
For me, this is a daily choice. Though it gets easier as I stumble along.
A young child and a bandaged Santa helped remind me that below the gift-wrap and glitter of the Imposter Christmas lies a deeper truth. We all have our wounds. Our scars make us real. That is a wondrous thing, both joyful and triumphant.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. He wishes you and safe and happy holiday season. Want a storyteller-speaker for your next bar meeting or CLE? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-619-2441.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.