About two years ago, Michelle and I made the decision to change course just a little bit. We had spent 13 years in the wilderness as we now think of it, first in the D.C. suburbs for three years while I was in law school and she finished her degree, then 10 in the Charlotte area. Neither one of us was particularly happy with living and working in North Carolina.
As with a lot of things, it came down in a lot of ways to money. There was a time when I enjoyed my work--the challenges of small-firm practice, the feeling of us-against-the-world that comes from being a very capable person with limited resources and unlimited enthusiasm for hard work--but the perils of a terribly down economy along with some unfortunate, if foreseeable, occurrences on a personal level made small-firm practice a bit too challenging.
I have been lucky enough during my entire career to have new clients step in as old ones faded, just at the right moment to keep the doors open sometimes, but there comes a time when it's hard to justify the long hours for little money. A lot of people assume that lawyers are rich by default; they don't quite make the connection between lawyers having money and clients paying their bills on-time and in full. I drive a 9-year-old car with a wobbly rear end and an annoying tendency to think one of the doors is being repeatedly opened and closed (and to sound the "door ajar" alarm accordingly), but it is paid for and has been reliable transportation. As much as I'd like to replace it, there are higher principles at work.
We made the decision a couple of years ago to simplify our lives. Until that point, we made ample use of borrowed money to make ends meet; we invested in our businesses but lived on more than we made, believing, as optimists often do, that better days are around the corner, without evidence that they were.
We got rid of cable television, quit going to the movies, and vowed to spend more time reading and exercising and entertaining than before. Eventually, we held a giant garage sale to dispose of the detritus of fifteen years of a shared life. Things--physical objects, I mean--became less important than time. Our dreams changed. We no longer wanted the fancy house, the new car, the expensive office, the rich clientele.
Whether these changes were a symptom of the rapid onset of the disease from which no one escapes alive--old age--or simply a guttural impulse driven by the despair of an empty life, I'm not sure. I'm not sure it matters. Both could apply, though neither one exactly fits.
When you're not happy with your life, the only thing you can do about it is change.
About a year ago, we realized that with a bit of planning and a lot of luck, we could make a big change. We had a handful of friends in North Carolina, but fewer than we might have. The problem, aside from general introversion, was that we simply worked too much to make friends. Friendships are born from shared experiences. They are forged from time spent together. Work too much and you don't spend enough time with others to become friends. Even when we met new people, work tended to tread heavily on those green shoots.
So, after things went our way for a change, we moved to Little Rock. At first, we were cautious, keeping one foot in North Carolina and one foot in Arkansas. I restructured my law practice to cut costs and confine it to work that I could do from anywhere. What was waiting for us in Little Rock were the shared experiences of our former life--old friends, close family, familiar locales--along with new and brilliant friendships that I suspect will last a lifetime. It has taken some doing, and we're not to the point where we want to be yet, but I am happier today than I have been in years, even though from traditional measures we have less than before. My optimism has returned. I am excited about what the future holds, once again.
It is a new start. But it is only a start. In the coming months and years, Michelle and I have more changes planned. We are looking before we leap. But we will leap.