“Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.”
Once upon a time there was a lawyer who had a bucket list.
This was not just any bucket list. It was the Best Bucket List Ever – a carefully curated compendium of grand plans ranging from Learn to Speak Russian to Bungee Jump Off Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England – that he kept in a little notebook by his bedside table.
He had started the list in his teens. Quickly he discovered that his competitive, Type A personality made him a bucket-list beast. By the time he finished high school he had already checked off Run a Marathon, Take a Picture of a Double Rainbow, and Get a Full Scholarship to College. New items – including Go to Law School – were being added all the time.
And he was just getting started.
“Wow,” said his law school peers, marveling at his stellar grades, his Moot Court skills, his Law Review status. And still he found time to hike the Appalachian Trail, teach himself to juggle, and dance in the Samba Parade in Rio.
He basked in their bucket-list envy.
And before you could say “over-achiever” he had opened his own law practice, scratching yet another item off his list.
Welcome to Whack-A-Mole
But there was a problem. As the years passed, he noticed that every time one item dropped off the list, more would appear. When he Hired an Associate, he also had to Train the Associate and Pay the Associate. When he bought an Awesome Condo at the Beach, he then had to Get More Paying Clients and Work Even Harder to afford this slice of paradise.
It was like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole. Only this was no arcade, it was his life.
Even worse, the nature of his bucket list had changed. It had begun as an inventory of fun and exciting things he wanted to do before he shuffled off this mortal coil. But somehow it had turned into an increasingly weighty to-do list. All the fun things had either slipped to the bottom or vanished altogether. Just looking at the list made his head hurt.
“I’m worried about you,” said his mother, because that is a mother’s job, to worry about her children. “You sound tired.”
“I’m fine,” he said, checking his watch, knowing he had a mediation that afternoon, plus a meeting with his accountant, and a pleading to draft. “Just busy.”
Human Being vs. Human Doing
And then two things happened. First, he met a law school classmate he hadn’t seen in years for lunch. She was a star partner at a big firm in Atlanta. He looked forward to commiserating with her about the stress and struggle of private practice.
But when he arrived at the restaurant, he was surprised to find her relaxed and happy. She said she loved her job. And clearly she was great at it. But it was just as clear that she loved her life, which went way beyond the law to include friends, family, health, hobbies and hanging out with an old pal from Real Property 101.
What was her secret, he wanted to know? How had she managed to put all the pieces together so well?
“No secret,” she said. “In fact, I have a habit of getting ahead of myself. So I just try to show up and not miss the moment.”
That night he added Don’t Get Ahead of Myself to his bucket list.
Be Here Now
The second thing that happened was that he moved. This new house was smaller. But it had a nice backyard – something he’d always wanted – and a little bench under a big magnolia tree.
But when he went to get his bucket list to check off Sit in My Own Backyard, he couldn’t find the notebook. He searched and searched. It must have gotten lost in the move.
At first, he panicked. What will become of his life without his list? But the next morning he felt better. He got an idea. He went outside and sat on the little bench beneath the big tree, and he started a new list.
On it, he wrote: (1) Relax. (2) Stop trying so hard. (3) Laugh more.
Then he made a telephone call.
“Hi mom,” he said, because number four on the list was Call Mom. “I’m having a wonderful morning and hope you are too.”
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.