This excerpt was taken from HEED YOUR CALL: Integrating Myth, Science, Spirituality and Business by David M. Howitt and reprinted with permission of Beyond Word Publishing/Atria Books, Hillsboro, Oregon. We’re excited to have David on tomorrow’s Power Up Living show – tune in here to join us. ~KG
The abyss. We all know it—that deep, seemingly bottomless chasm of the soul. Many of us have experienced this burden on our spirits at some point in our lives—and for many, those experiences probably took place while at work. I used to be a corporate lawyer, so I know from experience. At the law firm I worked at right out of law school, success amongst partners and associates was solely defined by who could bill the most time. I found myself bogged down in detailed research, writing, and billing time in six-minute increments. I was completely cut off from all human contact, but I thought I was doing what I had to, what was required of me in order to be successful.
Since the eighth grade, every academic and professional pursuit had put me one step closer to becoming an attorney, but when I finally landed the job, only a very small part of me felt I had arrived. As I took a seat at my oversized mahogany desk, only a fraction of me was proud. Amidst the tinge of relief for having arrived was a more pronounced, very real, and truly terrifying sense of dread. There was a black cloud of uncertainty that accompanied me.
While I sat there taking it all in, I thought, Wait a minute—everything I have pursued for the past twenty years of my life has led to this? Is this really what I want? Do I really want to be dressed in a suit every day, choking on a tie, and numbering my legal pads? It wasn’t until I had exhausted myself for years that I actually stopped to think about whether or not I really wanted to be there. Unfortunately, I very quickly woke to the realization that being an attorney was unequivocally not my calling, that this had all been an act and in no way represented who I truly was. I realized that, up until that point, I had been in service to something that wasn’t true for me. I’d been living someone else’s idea about what I should be doing—not mine.
On that first day, I was already suffering and went home that night nauseous and thinking, You’re totally fucked, David. My mind raced with petrifying thoughts: Everyone in my life thinks this is who I am and that this is what is best for me. In fact, it is what they’ve all helped me to achieve. My dad paid an exorbitant amount of money for me to attend a prestigious and private law school; teachers pulled strings and wrote glowing recommendations. If I turn my back on this now, I will disappoint everyone. So I sucked it up, and starting the very next day, I became an actor who, for a year, would play the role of an attorney. I promise you, faking that role is painful. It’s tough enough to be a lawyer in a big firm when you legitimately enjoy it, but when you add to that the energy required to “fake it till you make it,” it’s untenable.
In a law firm, there are partners and associates. Partners are owners of the firm and are the decision makers. They have earned their spot at the top, and once a partner, you become a tenured teacher—or in many cases, a tenured torturer because you have likely spent six, seven, maybe even eight years as an associate earning your rank. Much like being a part of a fraternity, once partner status has been achieved, those who lasted that long are welcome to abuse associates. You might say it’s a partner’s rite of passage to do so. Granted, the dynamics of firms vary, with some partners being very kind, but generally, they get off on making the lives of associates miserable—it’s considered earning one’s stripes to get through it.
Unlucky for me, I had to endure some of the “rites of passage” engrained in this particular culture. I won’t go into too many details, but an example of a very common law-firm torment occurred at 5 pm on the Friday before Labor Day. All week, I had exhausted my every breath by pulling ten-hour (at the minimum) days. Putting in seventy-hour workweeks is not unusual because you are only as successful as the time you are able to monetize, but in this particular case, I was experiencing an extreme deficit of energy. More than ever, I needed a break. I needed a reprieve from my attorney role. As I was packing up my belongings for the weekend, a senior associate walked into my office and said, “What are you up to this weekend?” Before I could reply, she said, “Actually, don’t answer that. This is what you are up to,” and she threw a huge packet on my desk. It was a brief we needed to respond to ASAP and the research would need to be conducted over the weekend and delivered first thing Tuesday.
I spent the next four days in the office working. At that point in my life, if I had let people see me fail, it would have felt like dying to me. This is not meant to be overly dramatic; failing would have meant my identity and all I knew of myself—all I thought anyone else knew of me—would die, which was not an option for me. So I pressed on, being sure I wasn’t “disappointing” anyone.
My emotional suffering was so severe, it was causing my body to breakdown. My stomach was bound in tightly twisted knots, and I was sure my gut lining was plagued with ulcers. After the Labor Day incident, I couldn’t take it anymore.
In fact, I was having a nervous breakdown. I was in my very real and terrifying abyss and had to ascend, or I was going to die—not just figuratively but also quite literally if I didn’t change the unhealthy trajectory I was on. I was utterly broken and couldn’t fake it anymore. I didn’t think I could overcome my abyss.
We all use coping mechanisms to overcome our challenges, but we can’t and shouldn’t overcome our abyss. I realize that sounds crazy, but doing so means we move into survival mode. We use ego-minded techniques, like placating, faking it, and manipulation, in order to get by. These are all strategies we call on to just get through the grind because our ego tells us giving up is not an option. But that is a lie. It is the Protestant work ethic that says life is supposed to be hard and that only those who rise at dawn and put their back into the plow will be seen and recognized. Our culture, society, and government want us to believe this lie because if we do, we create a country where people are too tired to question authority, and when we don’t question authority, we can be controlled.
In truth, we do not need to even be in control of our own lives, our own journeys—we need to trust in and relinquish control to the universe. And so we do not need to work and toil and sweat to overcome the abyss. We need to learn to surrender to it. When we surrender, we enter a state of being where we are fully open to possibility, and our guides and mentors can help us ascend. We give up control to universal will, and because of this, we ascend from, rather than conquer, our bottomless chasm. So, finally, eventually, I found myself in a situation where all I could do was capitulate to the divine.
About the Author
David s the founder & CEO of Meriwether Group. He is an inspiring thought leader and accomplished entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience providing financial, strategic, and brand counsel to early stage and Fortune 100 companies. He has the unique ability to integrate vision and growth strategies with mission and purpose, and has provided guidance to Oregon Chai, Stumptown Coffee, Pendleton, adidas, Voodoo Doughnut, Salomon, yogitoes, Klim, Bloch, Dave’s Killer Bread, ABC Carpet & Home, Living Harvest, and many others. He has achieved success by following the principles outlined in his book, Heed Your Call. He affirms that by embracing the Power of “AND,” where we unite artistry and analytics, and integrate intuition with intellect, that we positively affect the way we live and the world around us. For more on Howitt and the Meriwether Group, please visit www.meriwethergroup.com.