Fear and Professionalism, v.2.0

As I said in my last post, I want to share some of my previous writings on the subject of fear and professionalism. Today, a post that is very near and dear to me, being that it was made on a very important day in my life: the day I officially became a lawyer.

What I didn’t write at the time was that, when this happened, I was in the middle of a humiliating break-up and mentally at a spectacularly low point. I was looking for a place to live back in San Diego (I had moved to LA right after taking the Bar), was middle-aged, post-law-school (and post-relationship) flat broke, and quite literally I had no one physically near to celebrate with me on this day. I had considered skipping this big ceremony, fearing I would stand out for being old(er), utterly solo, and potentially looking like a loser if I ran into people from school who knew about the relationship and move but not the break-up and return. I felt like I had a big neon “PATHETIC” sign above my head and was afraid I’d burst into tears if anyone spoke to me. Of course, this was all only in my head, but it felt pretty real (and raw) at the time.

Obviously, I screwed up my courage, drove down, and attended the ceremonies. I chose to put a smile on my face and stay mindful of the event itself and all its parts. I’m so glad I did. If I hadn’t faced the fear, I would have missed out so much I hope always to remember. Here is just a bit of what I learned that day.


Fear and the Law and the Arts[1]

Today, I took my oaths and became a real, licensed attorney. The ceremonies and speeches were rather moving and, often during the speeches, I thought about you: the photographers and other creatives with whom I have worked for so long. Surprisingly, much of what was said applied to you as well as us, the new attorneys.

There was one speech in particular that really struck me. One of the officers of the State Bar of California talked to us about fear in the profession. He explained that he had suffered from severe anxiety after being in combat, which resulted in him being afraid of speaking in public. He was afraid even to be in a room with more than one or two others. He was terrified of trying to communicate with anyone. And, during all this, he was applying for law school, wanting to pursue a profession that required him to do everything that, frankly, scared the hell out of him.

He explained that, over time, he read everything he could about fear to try and figure out what was going on (this was before we understood about PTSD). After a while, he began to realize that whatever he feared was inevitably in his path to success: from simple things like asking a girl out to his desired profession. No matter what he wanted, he’d have some fear block his path. But other things didn’t scare him and, interestingly, those things were not on his path to success. He realized that if he let the fear win, he’d never get what he wanted, so he did what he needed to, scared out of his wits as he did it.

Then, he turned and gestured to the long row of judges (federal and state appellate, about 12 or so of them) seated behind him on the dais. He said (as close as I can remember) They are afraid. Every day, they are afraid. Every day I am afraid. Every day, every one of us is afraid. He then said, essentially, that we need to lean into our fear to get where we want to go. He said that, for him, he knows now that if something scares him, that is his sign that he needs to do whatever that scary thing is. If he avoids it, he will be avoiding something that will bring him more success.

I loved that speech. It was wonderful, honest, and I knew from my own experiences that he was right. I know he was right for me and for you. Lean into your fears if you want to be successful.

There was one other thing that struck me in the speeches that I thought I should share with you. As we were about to take the oath to be admitted to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California, an 80+ year old Federal Judge said, with deep sincerity, that whatever we do in our lives and careers, we must not stop being idealists. When he said that, I was brought to the verge of tears because, throughout my life, I have been called an idealist. This was never said as a positive, it was always said like it was something bad. Well, I am an idealist and I’m not going to apologize for it ever again[2].

I think all artists are also idealists. You have to be to do what you do. If you weren’t, if you didn’t hold the belief that art, your art, is of enough value to make a living making it, youd be an accountant or firefighter or whatever. Hold onto that idealism and don’t you apologize for it either.


[1] Originally written and posted on June 1, 2011.

[2] For the record, I’ve stuck to that pledge. Since writing this piece I’ve received vile threats and other online bullying, but I’m proud to stand for strong copyright and my clients’ rights.