Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls, in black/white photo playing guitars in front of industrial structure

All They’ve Sown Was a Song: A Pandemic Soundtrack for Unhappy Lawyers

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Back in May (a few days ago, or years, whatever), as the pandemic exploded here in the US for the first time, a lawyer friend posted about an Indigo Girls’ Facebook live concert later that day. Immediately, seeing that concert rocketed to the top of my to-do list.

The Indigo Girls were a huge part of my law school and early practice soundtrack. I was a good 15 years away from joining a choir and really learning to sing, but I loved the Indigo Girls’ harmonies and poetic lyrics, and sang right along. Loudly, in my car.

You bet your sweet bippy I was belting out the Girls’ lyrics when they were playing on Facebook. Fortissimo. I definitely annoyed my family more than usual that evening.

woman with long brown hair swinging head with white headphones on, holding smart phone, and singing
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Listening and singing with those beloved tunes during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter crises, I realized that all us lawyers need to guide us through this time is the Indigo Girls’ inspiring songs.

I’ll Be Fine as Long as None of This Lasts Too Long

It is deep human nature to believe, when we are going through something difficult, that we will be fine as long as things don’t get worse. Then, of course, things immediately go straight to hell:

  • That bad feeling you’ve had about your boss turns into a layoff. 
  • The jabs between you and your honey that you thought were a little sharp, but all in good fun, turn out to be signals you wildly misinterpreted, and you flee the relationship you thought was your one and only. 
  • The nagging feeling of being off turns out to be cancer. 

All of those endings at one point seemed terrible, and likely something you thought you absolutely couldn’t endure. 

But the wood is tired and the wood is old 

And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds 

But if the weather holds then we’ll have missed the point

That’s were I need to go

The Wood Song (Swamp Ophelia, 1994)

Yet eventually, we mostly manage to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the unthinkable. Somehow, we move on, even if we feel we aren’t doing it right. Hopefully, we learn something useful from the experience.

I Just Want To Know When Things Will Feel Normal Again

If anyone out there actually knows the answer to when things will feel normal again, or the answer to its siblings, when will there be a vaccine, or real change in America’s race problems—they could make some serious bank. 

Should we even spend much energy on those questions, though?

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look

Skip to the final chapter of the book

And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took

To get us where we are this far… (yeah, yeah…)

But the question drowns in its futility

And even I have got to laugh at me

No one gets to miss the storm of what will be

Just holding on for the ride

Wood Song

As much as we all want to have our “normal lives” back and have all the chaos be over, we aren’t going to get that desperate wish. The chance of things reverting to exactly how they were is, roughly speaking, zero.

Personally, I suspect many of whatever changes we will see are for the good. 

We don’t need to be in offices daily to be productive (sorry Boomers and some GenXers), and the environment would sure appreciate a break from all the commuting pollution. A lot of nerves would, too. Plus, I’m holding out hope for communicating via holographic projection some day soon, like on Star Wars.

Star Wars scene with middle-aged Obi Wan and Yoda at a Jedi council meeting in conference chairs, with Ki Adi Mundi attending virtually by hologram

Any changes we can make to protect Black lives will only make us better as a people and a country. We have allowed our society and culture to give far too much power to those who were already powerful. The resulting abuse of the downtrodden has been appalling. The last thing we really need is a return to what was. 

Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Few of us in November 2019 imagined the radical changes hurricaning toward us. We have been forced to slow down by the pandemic. We have seen how the inequality we have ignored for years, decades, or centuries has wreaked real havoc throughout our society.

But mercifully, 2020 has forced us to stare down the gullet of what needs fixing, scrapping, or rebuilding. That’s true not just for the large issues of the day, but also in our daily lives and work.

Many clients have told me that they are less stressed by being laid off than when they were working at a firm. That’s more than a little telling about the dysfunction of law culture.

Others are happier being at home and away from the full brunt of some difficult personalities, from constant interruptions, and even from pointless meetings (although, sigh, Zoom). Some are Zoomtigued, but do enjoy seeing the pets and kids of their colleagues, and a side of their coworkers they never got to see previously.

I Just Want This Pandemic To Be Over So I Can Decide What To Do Next

It is the most on-brand kind of lawyer thinking: I shouldn’t make a decision until I can see what all the options are, in detail, and think them through. So I should wait out the pandemic and social unrest until things start to settle down.

Decision tree begins with "Do you want to go out tonight?" and works it way through the lyrics of Morrissey's

But the Indigo Girls know better:

Gotta get out of bed

Get a hammer and a nail

Learn how to use my hands

Not just my head

I think myself into jail

Now I know a refuge never grows

From a chin in a hand

And a thoughtful pose

Gotta tend the earth

If you want a rose

Hammer and Nail (Nomads – Indians – Saints, 1990)

A lot of unhappy lawyers are reaching out to me recently, because they’ve been thinking about a change for a while. The pandemic and protests have given them clarity that they don’t want to remain in an unsatisfying, maybe even miserable, job. The time for a change is now.

I wrap my fear around me like a blanket

I sailed my ship of safety ’til I sank it

I’m crawling on your shores

The less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine

Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls, 1989)

Yes, times are highly chaotic and very uncertain right. This level of unknown makes most lawyers a LOT anxious. After all, we are conditioned to worship control and predictability.

Right now, though, spending a lot of energy on predicting the future is about as useful as predicting the trajectory of 5 sand grains during a dust storm.

Perfect Plans Are Useless in a Pandemic

So stop trying. Agonizing about the perfect, bestest decision won’t get you where you want, or need, to go.

Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road

You can stand there and agonize

Till your agony’s your heaviest load.

You’ll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile.

When you’re learning to face the path at your pace

Every choice is worth your while.

Watershed (Nomads, Indians, Saints, 1990)

Instead of trying to see 5 years down the road, how about looking deeply at what you need right now? Maybe it’s a less contentious workplace culture. Maybe it’s a need to create something, rather than tear apart arguments and look for flaws. Maybe you need more people to interact with regularly, assuming they are fairly pleasant, or at least highly interesting.

Whatever that deep part of you needs, now is the time to listen. You don’t have to go live off grid in a yurt right away. Maybe you can squeeze in more outdoor time first, and once you can do that regularly, move on to your next need.

The fact that we don’t know where we will end up is in many ways a gift. Because predictability is out the window for now, we can really free ourselves from any perceived need to conform our dreams to the expected, to the familiar, to the known. We can dream bigger, because who can really say that our dreams are unlikely to come true? No one really knows, y’all!

bright yellow VW bus on road in southwest US desert, amid sandstone rock formations
Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

When no one knows how anything will turn out, you can feel freer to follow your inner wisdom without a cloud of guilt and doubt hanging over you. Your inner wisdom has always been more likely to be the right answer for you; now more than ever, you can free yourself from justifying the dreams borne of that inner wisdom.

Connect with whatever inspires you–the Indigo Girls, or something else altogether—and use that to dream big, and act big.

The Indigo Girls will be in concert on their Facebook page August 6 at 7pm EDT. Just in case you need to know.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who knows how powerfully a pursuit of your inner wisdom can transform your life. She also is ever-so-slightly fond of the Indigo Girls. You can reach her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule a sample career coaching session, and get clarity on what your big dreams are.

 

2 comments

  1. I adore the Indigo Girls!!! They are the soundtrack of my college and a decade of Ugh thereafter…. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried over the truth of the words of those songs, not wanting to have to face change, but knowing I would anyway. This was a really bittersweet trip down memory lane for me as well. And SO MANY THANKS for the heads up on their FB concert! I’ve only been to 6 concerts in my life, but half of them were IG 😊

    1. Lucky! I’ve only been to one of their shows–at Wolftrap in the DC area. I’m hoping to catch them whenever they can finally tour again.
      And I do hear you about the truths they sing about, and how bittersweet it can be. Best to you!

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