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Instructions for an Astonishing Law Life

by Jay Reeves |

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver

Here’s a tip for a terrific Law Life: make room for a little astonishment each day.

You may find it’s easier said than done. Nothing surprises us anymore. We’ve seen and heard it all. We can stream any movie ever made, listen to any song ever recorded, google the answer to any question ever asked.

We can even tour the Seven Wonders of the World without leaving our La-Z-Boy.

And when a pandemic turns the world upside-down, it’s not long before even that becomes the new “normal,” and we’re back to being bored, anxious and vaguely dissatisfied.

Which brings us to The Case of the Confused Counselor.


Meanwhile, the World Awaits

Here was a JD who had seemingly cracked the code. He had a nice law practice, a solid reputation, a happy home.

And yet.

“Something is missing,” he’d tell himself as he lay awake at night with a knot in his stomach. 

This made him even gloomier. He felt like a whiny brat. He had much to be grateful for – and he was grateful. Who was he to complain?

But still he felt a yearning.

For what, exactly, he wasn’t sure. He had questions but no answers: Shouldn’t things be getting easier? Why is life so often a grind instead of grand? Shouldn’t I be there (wherever there is) instead of here?


Life is Not a To-Do List

To escape his predicament, he did what he always did, which was to put his nose to the grindstone and stay busy.

“We’ll do more marketing,” he announced at a staff meeting.

Because more marketing meant more business.

“We’ll hire more people.”

Because they’d be needed to handle the new business.

“We’ll expand our practice areas.”

Because that’s what he should be doing – expanding, striving, seeking the next conquest – right? 

And therein lay the problem.

All his life he’d done what he thought he should be doing. He had faithfully followed the script given to him by parents, teachers, family, friends, society at large.

Mostly they’d meant well. They wanted the best for him. And didn’t the results speak for themselves? Why, just look at what he’d already checked off The Great To-do List of Life: law school, good job, marriage, children, Samsung 85” Class 8 Series LED 4K UHD Smart TV.

Meanwhile, the knot inside him tightened from a half-hitch to a monkey’s fist.


A New Voice You Slowly Recognize as Your Own

And then one night at home, he saw his teenage daughter standing in the driveway gazing up at the sky.

“Don’t you have homework?”

“I’m doing it,” she said, her head tilted and eyes wide.

When he looked up, all he saw was sky, moon, stars. The usual stuff.

“But …,” he said.

“Shh. I’m studying.”

He looked again. This time something shifted. It was one of those gorgeous Carolina nights when the sky was clear and high and impossibly wide, and the moon bright as a searchlight, and a million stars like diamonds on black velvet.

“Wow,” he said.

“I know, right?”

And just like that – standing awe-struck beside his daughter, swept up in the immensity of the heavens – the Confused Counselor felt the knot inside him loosen.


Don’t be a Visitor to Your Own Life
In “Instructions for Living a Life,” poet and mystic Mary Oliver provides the recipe for abundance in seven words:

1. Pay attention.
2. Be astonished.
3. Tell about it.

Step one is to be present. We can’t appreciate where we are – right now, in this moment – if we’re focused on the moment to come or stuck in a moment that has passed.

Astonishment will follow – that is, if we get out of our heads and come to our senses. Take a cue from children. Watch a toddler at play. They’re saucer-eyed, fully present, soaking up one marvel after another: a blue pebble, a singing bird, a dandelion.

As we grow older, we lose our way. We misplace our sense of wonder in the multi-tasking frenzy of our busy lives. Before we know it, we’re burned out, blasé, blind to the daily miracles of this extraordinary life.

But take heart. The way back is closer than you think. An astonishing life is only seven words away.


Jay Reeves practiced law for 38 years and wonders where the time went. He recommends anything by Mary Oliver, especially New and Selected Poems. He does not have an 85” television. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC and is available for talks, in-house Zoom staff meetings, and confidential consultations.




About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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