Tales of the Dark Side (gurdondark) wrote,
Tales of the Dark Side

The Tale of Gorging on the Gift Basket

I've worked reasonably hard for much of my career. For years, I was convinced that I could be excused all the social graces and niceties because I just worked so hard. My house was always a wreck, my suits and shirts always a mass of wrinkles in need of pressing, and I could never take vacation time off because I convinced myself I had no time. I did take Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, and drove the country roads of north and east Texas, listening to Prairie Home Companion, and gasping at the incredible scenery I would find by heading down rural roads.

I was not remarkably productive as a profit-making unit despite working long hours, because I could never bring myself to bill the client for all the time I spent. Thus, I got into a situation in which my hours billed statistics looked like merely reasonable hours, and yet my time spent was all-consuming of my life. I was so miserable sometimes that I dreamed of changing fields. I liked my practice well enough, but I hated being that rumpled, poorly shaven somewhat misfit guy who was always exhausted.

I met my situation not with courage, though, but with self-deception. In law school, I had realized early on that lawyers in small, consumer-oriented firms had lives with reasonable work hours and a real service orientation. I spent two summers working for just such a small firm. But after law school, I took a highly paid job, and I became too addicted to the money. I had bought a home after doing inadequate research, and a Dallas economic bust sent its value plummeting. In fact, I could have sold it and paid the shortfall from my savings, but I convinced myself that I was "trapped", because I seemed to revel in the melodrama of being able to keep from improving my life by changing firms. Eventually, I became a difficult person to work with, very demanding and very stressed. Secretaries would work to avoid having me assigned as their boss, because I was so demanding.

One tiny incident fills me with shame and symbolizes so much of that era. Our firm had an SF office then. One night, after a long day of work on a matter pending in SF, I returned to the SF office.
I was starving. Now SF is a place in which restaurants diverse and wonderful are always a short walk away. But I spotted that one of the fellows had a gift basket of chocolates he had received. Although he was not there, I actually opened his gift basket and
began to eat his chocolate. I did not eat it all, and I apologized the next day, but it was clear to me and to him that I had considered his property available to me because I was in a position of greater authority. The sheer arrogance of my believing that my stress and busy schedule justified invading his space staggers me.
I of course offered to replace it, but he of course declined. I have felt in his debt ever since. It's a tiny thing--and yet it gives me an "is this the dagger I see before me" every day.
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