Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Am Not a Failure - And Neither Are You

You are not what you do. Got it?

Whether you practice law or drive a cab, you – the you that likes toast with butter and cinnamon sugar or smoking cigars or playing with the grandchildren or taking a good nap – are not a lawyer or a cab driver. You are not what you do, and confusing your work with your self-identity is a surefire route to misery.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with working hard, enjoying our achievements and the recognition of our peers and clients.  But how often do we confuse our self-worth with our title, our work, our billable hours or our rain-making? These are all important things and we can and should take pride in them.  But you are not your work or any other label people apply to you.

I am not a lawyer - I am a person who practices law.  I am a person.  Success or failure on any given day is not me. I may fail, but I am not a failure. And, no, this is not an exercise in semantics.

I do other things and have other interests besides being a good lawyer. For example, I’m a photographer in addition to being a lawyer. I’m a poet in addition to being a photographer. I’m a skier in addition to being a poet. My self-worth resides in none of these things. I can take a huge fall skiing, write a terrible poem, shoot a photograph that is poorly executed and lose a lawsuit. All of these would be very disappointing, and all are failures, but I am not a failure.  
Do I feel upset when I fail at something? Of course I do. But not confusing who I am with what I do allows me to take risks that I might well not take otherwise. Failure is nothing to fear when we don’t mistake our sense of self with our work.

So go out there and fail mightily at whatever it is that is important to you; discover the power of knowing that failing does not mean you are a failure.

By the way, if you’ve read any of my work before, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that practicing mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to realize and keep clear the distinction between who you are and what you do.

As the Tao te Ching says: 

"Do your work and step back, the only way to serenity”

Thanks for reading.