I’m probably not the only lawyer who tends to second-guess decisions I’ve made and roads not taken.
But I doubt many others have given their regret a name. Mine is named Walterboro – or at least it was until I stumbled upon a secret that changed my life.
In 1981, I graduated from the finest law school in South Carolina, and by finest I mean the only one in the state at the time. Like other new JDs I began applying for jobs in quest of the Greatest Law Career Ever.
One interview was in the charming and historic town of Walterboro SC. There is much to love about Walterboro, including its origin as a bucolic retreat for malaria-ridden Low Country planters and its wondrous old water tower, which resembles a nuclear reactor and has prison cells in its base.
But I did not take the job in Walterboro. Instead I ended up in Charleston, where in a moment of giddy abandon I opened a law office on Broad Street.
Thus began a lonely sojourn in the wilderness of solo practice, where for days I would gaze out my tiny window in the Rosen building with little to do but regret not being in Walterboro.
The Grass Is Not Always Greener
Not that I was unhappy in Charleston. Just the opposite. It was there that I met my wife and began creating miniature human beings. I had a wonderful life.
What I didn’t have was clients. And so when any unwitting individual happened to wander too close to my desk, I’d latch onto them like moss on a magnolia tree.
One such person was Mrs. Hines, who thought her neighbor’s fence crossed over onto her property.
“Encroachment!” I cried, grabbing my camera and legal pad and hopping into my Datsun B210 to rescue this poor victim of a willful and wanton boundary violation.
The only problem was Mrs. Hines lived way out in Ladson, near the fairgrounds, and I soon found myself hopelessly lost. This was back in the stone age before GPS and cellular communication, when clueless drivers were dependent on pay phones and cryptic parchments called maps to get from one place to another. When I finally made it to her house, my spirits plunged even lower when I saw that the “fence” was actually a few strands of wire that could easily be moved if strung encroachingly. Which they weren’t.
On that sad drive home, my thoughts drifted inevitably to the sweet, hickory-lined streets of Walterboro, where an easier life and regular paychecks could have been mine for the asking.
Why Didn’t I Choose Door Number Two?
Eventually, I began getting work and managed to make a go of it in Charleston. Over time Walterboro faded from my rear view.
But still I was plagued by the demon of regret. I would brood over cases declined – or those accepted. I would kick myself for choosing the beef entrée instead of fish. I would dwell on decisions long past their expiration date.
Until my lawyer friend Nick introduced me to the concept of radical acceptance.
“Stop fighting reality,” he said, in his annoyingly Buddha-like way.
“But what if I don’t like reality?”
“You are where you are,” he said. “Start from there.”
Being Present For Life
I’d like to be able to say I no longer second-guess myself, but that isn’t true.
Recently I bought a new pair of running shoes. For years I’ve happily stuck with the same model. But for some reason I tried another brand this time. From the start I hated them. They felt different. I convinced myself I just needed to break them in, so I went on several runs – enough to make them visibly worn.
Finally I decided to clean them up and try to return them. My son Bo happened to be in the kitchen as I stood at the sink scrubbing the soles and moaning about my footwear woes.
“Wow,” he said. “Beautiful.”
I thought he was mocking me. But when I turned I saw he hadn’t even been listening. Instead he was looking outside at a glorious sunset. Bands of crimson and gold streaked the sky.
Together we watched the miracle of light. There were no regrets, no looking back. There was only that moment, my hand on the shoulder of a son now taller than me, and no thought or desire to be anywhere else.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. He waved as he passed the Walterboro exit off I-95 on a recent trip to Florida. He kept the shoes. Want to jump-start your law marketing or improve your law messaging? 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.