I had coffee today with a colleague of mine. She’s also an attorney. We met to discuss creative ways to litigate heroin overdose cases. We then digressed briefly and began talking about our passions – mine is making chocolate, and hers is making mittens. She pulled out her phone and began showing me pictures of dozens of pairs of gorgeous, high end looking mittens that she makes out of second hand wool sweaters. Her face lit up when she described how she makes them, how she sources the materials, how she designs them. The lines on her face relaxed, her voice changed, her posture became more erect. I noticed these changes because people tell me I undergo the same transformation when I talk about chocolate. Sometimes it actually bothers me because being a trial lawyer is still my primary source of income and what I’m doing most of the time, so if I’m walking around with an involuntary grimacing look on my face, well…that may not be good for business.
Until I started doing the chocolate, I didn’t realize how many other people out there have hidden talents, passions, and secret dreams of doing something different with their lives other than the career paths they have chosen. Lawyers, like many other professionals, tend not to be honest with ourselves let alone with others about what’s really going on in our lives. We can’t admit weakness. We can’t show vulnerability. That includes being honest with each other about how bad business may really be, or how depressed we may be, or anxious, or sleep deprived, or physically ill, or affected by the vicarious trauma that’s a part of our daily existence. As trial lawyers, we have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession, one of the highest miscarriage rates, one of the highest divorce rates. This is not a healthy profession. We tend not to seek help because admitting what we perceive as weakness is bad for business. This is not true, but it’s a common misperception. The result is that we tend to isolate ourselves, which is the most dangerous thing you can do when you’re depressed.
I think a lot of lawyers and lots of other people are scared to admit that we still haven’t figured out what we want to be when we grow up. But when people come get my chocolate, they somehow feel compelled to share their own dreams and secret aspirations. Perhaps they feel safe as they buy chocolate from a trial lawyer, confessing that they also would really like to be doing something besides what they are doing. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I never would have spoken to over chocolate and people share with me their amazing talents.
I have embraced chocolate, not just because I love chocolate and seem to have a talent for doing interesting things with it, but following my passion has changed my philosophy about life. It’s made me a better lawyer in many ways. Perhaps because I feel like I have a way out of the law, I’m not as concerned with what people think about me. But it’s also my refuge. I put music on when I’m doing it (no lyrics), and I create amazing things. I somehow feel more accomplished when I unmold a tray of perfect shiny bon bons than when I win a trial or a motion. Probably because, as criminal lawyers, we don’t ever really “win.” A criminal prosecution is a tragedy all the way around for everyone involved. My chocolate, on the other hand, always makes people happy. The worst thing that can happen is that someone doesn’t like a particular flavor. But I can fix that. When I sell a truffle or a bonbon, even though the profit margin is nothing compared to what I can make practicing law, I feel more valuable and I value the money I do make from it in a different way.
I’ve spent a great deal of time becoming acquainted with chocolate. I have a special relationship with it. It speaks to me and I speak to it. It has introduced me to a world of fascinating people around the globe who are equally intrigued by it. What I love most about my relationship with chocolate is that it has opened up a whole new mode of communication between myself and my fellow human beings. I can speak to people and bond with them in a completely different way by feeding them chocolate and eating it with them. Chocolate transcends the bullshit. So does making mittens, or making ice wine like another attorney I know, or being a magician like another attorney I know. I live in Wisconsin. We all need mittens at some point. We all have pretty much the same needs as humans – materially and emotionally. So those hidden talents we all have could really be our calling, our gift that we are meant to share with each other. I believe we all have a duty and an obligation to explore that inner pull, that voice that’s calling us to fulfill some other purpose when we feel or hear it.
I have a loyal customer base who support my little chocolate business – not just because it’s really really good (it seriously is) – but because it represents my being true to myself, my responding to my inner voice, and my risking the embarrassment of failure to do what we all secretly want to do but maybe don’t have the confidence to do – to follow our hearts, our dreams, our passions.To listen to that inner voice that’s telling us to make a move. I’m not advocating throwing all caution to the wind, but you should at least explore your passion, especially when it calls you. We not only owe it to ourselves, but to human kind. Human progress, after all, only comes about because someone took a risk. That’s how social change happens, technological advancements, new ideas, inventions, innovations.
The picture above is Tain l’Hermitage in the Rhone Valley in southeastern France. In a couple weeks I will be there learning to master my craft under the tutelage of master chocolatiers with other people like me, some of whom are also taking a risk to pursue their dreams.
As I embark on this journey, this odyssey, this quest to master my craft, I hope that I can inspire you to explore the other layers of your being. What do you really want to do when you grow up?
Mom, Trial Lawyer, Chocolatier