I Chose a New Life—and Here’s What Happened
It’s August 1999. I’m practicing law and living in Manhattan with my wife Karen and our two kids, ages 7 and 3. Karen has taken the kids to visit her sister and family in San Diego for three weeks, a ritual she’s followed for the last few years.
She had wanted me to come with them. I had refused again. I’m too busy working and I’ve been to Los Angeles on business several times and hated it. Why would I go vacation some place I don’t like? And, honestly, I found some solitude in having a few weeks without any family responsibility. It’s not that I was going out partying. It was just that no one was calling to find out when I’d be home from work. No one telling me to turn the television down when it’s midnight and I’m trying to unwind after just getting home from the office. No guilt.
My wife and I talk every day while she’s gone. She finally convinces me to come out for a visit over Labor Day weekend. I get off the plane and can’t believe I’m just 90 minutes from Los Angeles, a place I dread visiting. San Diego is a different world: 80 degrees without humidity. Karen and I get coffee in the morning and drive down to the beach to watch people surf. She takes me to La Jolla Cove.
People live here, I wonder? I can live here?
I’m burned out from practicing law. I’ve been working in law firms since my sophomore year of college, and I need a break. I’m overworked, stressed beyond belief and wondering what I’m doing with my life. The work is controlling me. I missed a significant portion of the first two years of my daughter’s life until I changed law firms and reclaimed some of my time. But I’m still not happy. And everyone around me can tell.
What will I do in California? It’s a world away from New York . . .from everything I know.
My brother-in-law’s company manufactures loud speakers. He talks to me about the burgeoning new world of home theatres and distributed audio systems. My curiosity is piqued. Two weeks later, I meet him in Indianapolis at the custom electronics trade show. I have a “nerdgasm.” After all, I was captain of the AV squad in junior high school (I peaked early). I decide this is the next chapter for me.
I get back to New York and join a new law firm. I tell them I’m going to stop practicing law and will be leaving the following August. They laugh. They appreciate my forthrightness. They still want me to join. So, I do. And I start enjoying the practice of law again. Yes, I’m still working crazy hours, but it becomes fun. My personal business development grows exponentially. I make more in the first five months of that year than I had ever made before in a year. I start doubting the move to California. After all, New York is home.
Fast forward to May 19, 2000. I come home late from work. Karen and the kids are asleep. I have a little ice cream. Around 11, I start feeling sick to my stomach. Following a trip to the drugstore (eating Lactaid by the handful in the aisle), I get back home and pass out on the couch around 4 a.m. I take my son to the bus stop at 7 and barely make it back. I’m on my knees doubled over with the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. It’s coming from everywhere and nowhere. Karen calls 911. I have my first ambulance ride followed by a week in ICU and five more weeks in the hospital. Acute pancreatitis. Once I was out of ICU and off the pain meds, I had lots of time to think and evaluate my life. What did “I want for me? For my wife? For my kids?
We decide to continue with the decision we had made a year earlier. We would move to California.
It was, arguably, the best decision I ever made. Yes, it’s had its ups and downs, but I got my life back. I got to see my kids grow up. I got to coach soccer, and basketball and Little League. I got to watch their concerts and plays and attend their recitals. I got to be part of their childhood.
The work will always be there. I’ve proved it time and again. But this time, I controlled it. ∞