I am sitting here at Cafe Nero opposite Dasoudi in Limassol having breakfast.
Who would have thought! T-u-e-s-d-a-y m-o-r-n-i-n-g… and I am not away on annual leave nor is it a public holiday.
Here is the background to what has led me to this profound moment of realisation.
FROM MEDICINE TO LAW
Flashback to the spring of 1997. It was my last year in high school, before leaving for a 26 month compulsory army service. I was supposed to sit for the national exams for admission to study medicine in a Greek university so as to become a doctor. I was pretty much following the footsteps of my sister, an untamed spirit and a force to be reckoned with on her own. My sister Maria was already attending University in Athens studying so as to become a medical practitioner. She is now doing her practice as a psychiatrist in Greece.
I was always a “good guy” and pretty much a top student throughout my adolescent years, getting top marks in all subjects. So much that everyone knowing me at the time could safely bet that being admitted in a top Greek University to study medicine would be a walk in the park for me. Surely I had my ups and downs at times but when faced with exams of any sort, something would always be ignited deep inside of me and would push me beyond the echelons of my often discouraging expectations.
But in that particular spring of 1997, just a few weeks before departing for the army, I dropped the bomb to my parents.
“What do you mean you will not take the national exams? This will be a total disaster! You will have no college education!” “It is such a pity. You have studied so hard for all those years and now you simply want to pull the plug?. “You will regret it for the rest of your life”. This was the common theme reverberating in my environment at the time. Relatives were shocked, teachers were dumbfounded. I had taken a leap into the unknown for the first time in my life. I simply felt that I would not be a good doctor. I felt that medicine wasn’t for me.
So essentially, unlike the vast majority of my classmates who had concrete plans and had secured positions in Universities in Cyprus and abroad, I was leaving for the army- a nerve wracking realization in and by itself- without any plan for my future. Of course, after seeing that I was adamant in my decision, my parents supported me and during those weeks before leaving for the army we all tried to think about possible plans for the future. This is when the idea of studying law in the UK came about. The idea sounded reasonable and I was thrilled with the idea of studying abroad for several years in a multicultural university, meeting new people, visit new places and above all…. being on my own!
And so the journey began. I studied hard during my army days and managed to get a position in a UK University. Following my release from the army back in 1999, I attended University, graduated at law, then went on to qualify as a barrister-at-law (yes, the professional qualification which allows you to graduate wearing a Washington-esque sort of wig). Following my graduation I returned to Cyprus in 2004 when I began my pupillage with a very prominent Cyprus law firm. The same law firm that I was working as a summer placement during the holidays of all my university years.
I’ve worked full time in the said law firm for 14 years. I went through all the ranks namely from a summer placement to a trainee then to associate, senior associate and in 2012 I was promoted to a partner. I was further promoted to a senior partner in November 2017 and earned a very attractive economic package.
THE BIG JUMP: TAKING A LEAP WITHOUT A SAFETY NET
In all honesty, I cannot recall even a single time when I felt truly happy, fulfilled and content with my job. Well, aside of the occasional self-serving, vain and narcissistic self-assurance that “I can do this too if I really put my mind and effort into it”.
However, as a young person, the fact that my hard work and efforts were truly appreciated and rewarded by the firm, that I could go on to earn an attractive income and that I gained some sort of identity which allowed an often recluse person like me to socially relate with people more easily, those were factors that kept my going on over the years.
Over the years however, I have grown to realise that my job was sucking away my soul and life energy; so much that it was gradually pushing me into the darkest corners of depression. I felt completely alienated and detached from myself and from everyone around me. I was sinking into deep despair but I was feeling doomed and unable to do something about it aggravating further the feeling of sheer hopelessness.
“No part of me enjoys doing this job anymore. Every single cell in my body revolts”. But I kept moving on, refusing to listen to my body. Refusing to listen to the inner pain and silent screams. Seeking for external ways to compensate for the internal void, buying expensive stuff, paying for costly personal training sessions and generally spending the misery away.
So I would just keep on going and going, keep on working and working often in an automated way, devoid of any feeling or positive thought, just because this is what I had been doing for all these years.
The more money seemed to be coming my way the more doomed I felt as the higher seemed to be the cost of “giving up” in case I were to leave my job. And leaving my job without Plan B? That would be totally absurd. On top of all, a gap in my resume would result in a guaranteed paycut in any future job!
Although I thought of quitting several times, it never occurred to me that I would truly find the courage to do it. First of all, I am a father of two wonderful children, a 4 year old son and a 2 year old daughter and I am guilty for spoiling them with presents and surprises all the time. It would be totally unimaginable for me to wake up one day and tell my children that I do not have money to feed them or to pay for their school or maintenance or for their entertainment. At the same time, although we don’t have an expensive lifestyle as a couple, we love travelling and visiting good restaurants and clearly these are items one can only afford if he has a good job.
And what will my boss think about me if I quit? What will my colleagues think? What will my parents think? What about society? What will my children think about me when they grow up? What will my wife think about me? An irresponsible father? A failed husband? A jobless loser? A delusional wannabe? An ex-hot-shot-lawyer-turned-nobody?
More and more terrorising thoughts and fears had been piling up for years. The despair and agony was further aggravated by the fact that on a cold Friday afternoon last November, while I was being consumed -as I often did- by some unjustified, whimsical client complaint at work, my father was suffering from a devastating stroke from which he has never recovered. The extent of the neurological damage was massive and my father is now semi-paralysed and tied to a bed, unable to communicate and is being fed by a tube. This development has had a major impact on my psychology. The profound realisation of life’s extreme frailty, combined with an endless cascade of never-ending work related duties, deadlines and responsibilities, were the triggers of what was to follow.
I started thinking about my children and about the kind of dad they would grow up knowing they have. What could be the ultimate life-lesson or message my decisions and my life choices were to be to them, if I were to be seen not only as their father, but also as a reflection of life itself or as a mirror of their possible future at large? What will they make of their father? Is he just an alienated lawyer dressed up in fancy suits driving expensive cars but deep inside he is just a coward who never had the courage to stand up for something or at least to say no to what was basically eating away his soul? What is the message? That it is all about money, lifestyle and facade? That there is no magic in life? That there are no miracles?
What would they think of life’s purpose, of man’s purpose, if they had to look up to their parents to draw inspiration so as to find out the answers for themselves?
I came to realise that the decision to take the leap would only come when both myself as well as the surrounding circumstances would be mature enough so as to allow and prompt me to jump.
That moment came in 13 April 2018. I handed in my resignation letter and gave a one month notice. I resigned. No Plan B. No Safety Net.
I had nothing lined up at the time. Nothing. And still, I felt so peaceful and relaxed.
It seems that the only way to re-fill the cup of life with purpose and meaning is by emptying it completely from all the clutter it has gathered over the years.
As they say, “and suddenly you know. It is time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings”.