Perspective and options

It doesn’t hurt to take a hard look at yourself from time to time, and this should help get you started.

During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what criterion defines whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

“Well,” said the Director, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a
teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub.”

“Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the
bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.

“No.” said the Director, “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?”

So why, you might ask, is this joke featured on a legal (ish) blog? Because as lawyers, we so often develop tunnel vision. We may be creative when it comes to case work — ready to dream up new and inventive legal theories to help our clients achieve their goals. But when it comes to our own lives, we often fall into a rut. Of course I have to be at the office from early til late; that’s how it’s always been. Of course I have to continue practicing a particular kind of law; that’s my specialty. Of course I went to work at the biggest and best law firm in town; that’s the goal everybody worked for in law school.

And the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with any of those “ruts” unless they don’t fit. If I hate practicing criminal defense work but I’ve been doing it for 10 years, the point of decision comes when I realize that I could switch to a different specialty that might be more within my area of interest, or one that better complements the personal life I want to lead. Not to say that there are no costs involved in making a change, because there may well be enormous costs. But the highest cost of all lies in failing to see the options.

If we feel stuck, without options, in an uncomfortable practice (or in a firm that isn’t a good fit, or in a relationship that doesn’t meet our needs, or anything along those lines), chances are good that we’ll fight for a little while but eventually give up the struggle, succumb to the familiar even if it’s uncomfortable. But if we see options, the struggle may be more intense because we’re struggling with the situation as well as the options we’ve identified, but eventually we’ll have the ability to make a choice. The choice may demand a huge investment from us, but we avoid the impotent sense of surrender. Choice provides power.

Sometimes the answer is both as clear and as obscure as pulling the bathtub plug when presented with the options of a bucket, teacup, or a spoon to use to empty the tub. Alternatives that may be obvious to someone standing outside the situation may be invisible to the person facing it.

What challenges are you facing? What options do you have? Can you identify all of the options (including those hidden in plain view) and the results of each? That’s the moment of decision and the moment of power.

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