My Year of Living Dangerously
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My Year of Living Dangerously

My Year of Living Dangerously

Last year I walked away from my law firm -- the job, the title, and the money -- with no plans whatsoever to find another job.

by Laura Singer

As an attorney with a prominent firm, I had achieved a certain status and a steadily-increasing income. When someone once commented to me around Rosh Hashana that "the Almighty decides how much money you make," I laughed and responded, "Yeah, but I give him a range!"

But after more than a decade with a single employer, I recognized that I had developed my own strain of the Stockholm Syndrome: I could no longer distinguish between my goals for myself and my firm's professional and financial plan for me.

I feared that if I blinked my eyes, I'd be 65 and retiring from my job without ever making another important decision about what I was doing with my life. I desperately wanted to clear my head, to think creatively about what I'd like to be doing, and maybe even figure out what God wanted me to be doing with all the skills and experience I'd been fortunate enough to acquire.

Prepared to uncover that maximizing my income might not be it, I took the plunge.

FREE TIME

Eliminating a full-time professional position from my schedule left me with two huge challenges: time and money. It took a while to figure out just what to do with all the free time. Suddenly, there was so much of it! Morning till evening, stretching out before me with no schedule whatsoever. What an enormous opportunity, and what an enormous responsibility. I found myself in an alternative reality in which I had time to do whatever I chose -- but no idea what that should be.

I decided to begin by doing only those things which used my skills and assets in service of the public good, without any regard to what or whether they paid.

In the year that followed, I served as a temporary judge (unpaid), sat as an arbitrator in attorney-client fee disputes (unpaid), taught English, History, and U.S. Government at a Jewish girls' high school (might as well be unpaid), wrote for this website, and did a dozen other worklike things which challenged and stretched me in new directions.

In leaving my job, I became available for my life.

In addition to professional work, people called me for various things they never would have bothered me with while I was employed: Would I host a friend's 50th birthday party? Another friend's daughter's bridal shower? I spent a week at home with a friend recovering from chemotherapy. I bought every kind of ball imaginable and had friends over while their kids played in the back yard. My 12-year-old nephew came from out of state to visit me for five days, and I spent every moment with him, at the beach, at the movies, buying his Bar Mitzvah suit. I fell in love with cooking again, and eating fresh healthy food. (I never eat breakfast in the car any more!)

In leaving my job, I became available for my life. And life turned out to be rich, and good, varied and interesting.

I had more time than I had expected, because in addition to not working, I no longer needed to "escape" from work stress in what used to be the after-work hours. Computer time dwindled to a very occasional game; my desire to "watch" entertainment almost completely disappeared. Instead, my garage got cleaned out; my wardrobe updated; my body exercised. I prayed more, complained less.

I quickly learned that having more time free also means more time to feel bad about the big things that make me sad -- in my case, still not having found my true life partner. It seems that working full time gave me a "pass" on having to learn to manage my mind, my emotions, my feelings -- they were mostly just on hold for 16 years while I got my "work" done.

BUT HOW DO YOU LIVE?

And then there's money. "But how do you live?" I am asked almost daily. That indeed has been the great mystery. I did no advertising and did not seek gainful employment of any kind. Having cut the umbilical cord of a bimonthly paycheck, I had absolutely no plan for earning money, and didn't plan to have one. I left this area of my life completely up to God -- and I no longer gave him a range. In this regard, my year of no employment was truly a year of living dangerously.

Any paying legal work I did was the result of unsolicited invitations. Some work came to me in an erratic trickle, referrals from people I'd worked with in the past. But rather than doing whatever came my way, I determined to only accept work for which I was uniquely qualified and in which I was particularly interested. I would only work for people I trusted completely and liked. I placed all of these hurdles between me and an income, and I asked God to give me enough.

Each time the paying work dried up, I would pick a time in the future when I would start worrying. (I'm not at the level where you just never worry about money!) In March, I calculated that in May my finances would need a boost -- so I kept in mind that I would start worrying only by May 4. That gave me nearly two months of an absolutely great time, free of worry and full of living.

I worry less about money now than I did when I had a full-time job -- and I'm making a whole lot less.

On a weeknight in early May, I had dinner at a friend's house (something I absolutely never had the time to do when I had a job), and her husband asked me what was going on with legal work. I told him that I was enjoying some time off but hoping to start working again in a few days. The next day he referred me a substantial case in my area of expertise, which kept me working through November. I felt and expressed my deep gratitude to the Almighty for this referral, and felt privileged to work on it. How different from begrudging the work I did for a paycheck which came whether I worked hard or not!

The details are not important, but the experience has continued. To my great amazement and overwhelming gratitude, the perfect work for me arrives almost precisely when I really need the money, and I feel completely taken care of financially. I worry less about money now than I did when I had a full-time job -- and I'm making a whole lot less. I no longer feel my income rests in the hands of human beings who use arbitrary criteria to determine my worth, or even that my own effort is the determiner of how much I earn.

Since I no longer "give Him a range," what comes in now is closer to the amount that I need. It is a fraction of my former salary, but I find it is enough.

Since I left my job, the riches of a lifetime of friends and colleagues supports me better than my own finances ever did. I'm learning to receive graciously, rather than always being the giver; I'm learning to learn again, after always feeling like the teacher. The power and the confidence of the high wage-earner has been replaced by the humility of a grateful recipient of God's bounty.

I called it my "year of living dangerously," but I've never felt safer.

Published: November 26, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 25

(25) Annie, November 14, 2007 1:46 AM

Absolutely an experience!

See this kind of article really inspire me if only all of us can see how powerful our God is we will not worry anymore because He would always provide all that we need. His help comes in the right time, sending people and situations unexpectedly!

(24) Esther, May 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Why this is inspirational

Helen's comment raises the main point that allows this story to be inspirational even to the 99% of us for whom it would not be possible to just quit our job tomorrow. How is the free time used - just for selfish purposes or for helping others? Both Helen and Laura Singer use their time to give to others. I particularly noticed a small detail mentioned, that she bought balls for neighborhood kids to play in her yard. That shows the effort she put into making herself available to benefit other people.

(23) Carolee Newman, December 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Laura Singer is brilliant

Laura Singer is amazing!

(22) Malky Weinstock, December 4, 2005 12:00 AM

Thank You, Laura...so timely for me


Like so many other messages and links I've seen that prove to me that there is Divine Providence in this world, Laura's article could not have come to me at a more timely period in my life.

I have just begun my very own year of "living dangerously", as I have left a career of fifteen years. In a similar vein, I have taken a quantam leap of faith to pursue what I believe is my mission in this world. Only, I am not single. I am a married mother of three. We are a middle income family and it has always taken both of our incomes to manage. However, I was working way too many hours each day, which needless to say, was stressing out my family at home. I reached a turning point this summer when I realized that my work had no future neither in financial growth, nor in personal growth.

And so, I put my faith in G-d, and began a home based business, which has yet to take off.

In the meantime, I awoke this morning, to find the first snow of the season-3 inches worth- blanketing the ground. My first impulse was almost tears: snow means new boots for all the children, at a time when every dollar counts.

And almost as quickly, the tears were blinked away. What? Crystal-like white beauty coming down from the sky-one of G-d's creations- should make me sad?

If I pray every day for bounty, then are the slowly tumbling snowflakes-looking as if they plan to come down forever-not some form of rain-blessing cascading down from On High?

(21) goldajane, December 2, 2005 12:00 AM

i like the idea selecting a date in the 'future' to start worrying. we should all give it a try.

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