Stupid Tuesday Questions, Aspirational Anxiety Edition
Well, I did it. It’s only something I’ve been wanting for my entire career and talking about for half a dozen years (or more). I finished doing a whole bunch of detective work about myself, got it all down in a single document, transferred all the data into the right form, and before I could stop myself, I pressed “submit,” and now I can’t take it back.
I’ve formally asked the Governor to appoint me to the Superior Court of the State of California.
I’ve put in for lower-level judicial positions in the past, and been passed over each time. A lot of people have asked me recently why I’ve waited so long to submit my application to the Governor for judicial appointment. A seat on the bench is, after all, what I really really want most out of my legal career, because to me that represents precisely what I’ve trained and educated myself to do for the past quarter century. Even my current employers know that over time my current job has eroded to become inadequate for both my economic and hedonic needs — they’ve done what is in their power to shore that up, to their credit, but still.
So why wait? Why hesitate? Go chase career success! That’s what I’d tell someone else; why not take my own advice?
Part of it is that I’ve now had to ask complete strangers — strangers with important political positions, to be sure, and political attitudes that might be in places different from my own — to look at my merits as a candidate for what I consider to be a signal honor. I’ve asked the local judges to consider me for appointment as a Commissioner (a kind of appointed judge, who typically hears traffic or small claims cases) before, because that was both more familiar territory for me and I knew some of the judges involved in the process from my experiences serving as a pro tem judge. So at least then I could hope that some of the decision makers would know me, or at least know of me.
But that’s just awkwardness. There’s also inertia. Am I happy where I’m at? Not as much as anyone would prefer. But I am somewhere. I have work, work which sometimes I do enjoy. For instance, I settled a case last week, and my client’s gratitude was a tremendous professional and emotional satisfaction. I’ve a group of people with whom I work whose company I’ve come to enjoy. I don’t have a long commute, and sometimes I get to work from home, which is a perk I enjoy very much. Change would disrupt all that.
The little demon of depression has been a heavy anchor. Calm down, friends, I’m not talking about anything that rises to the level of a mental health issue; I’m talking about the sort of intermittent blue feeling that’s universal to the experience of being a human being. If you’re a Freudian, this demon is a creature of the superego — feeding vampire-like upon false but felt inadequacy. We all feel inadequate to life from time to time, which in turn makes us sad. I’m not the only one who has listened to depression’s seductive lies of inadequacy. But they are lies. And while like everyone I’m not able to deafen myself to the demon who taunts me at night when I can’t sleep, also like nearly everyone else I found a way to snap out of it and express pride in my intellectual, experiential, and temperamental qualifications. Still, coming up with a rejoinder that actually shuts that little demon up is, at times, a surprisingly tall order.
The demon also told me that politics are against me. It took a lot of digging in to assure myself that the demon was lying, or at least mostly lying. Credit where it’s due: Governor Brown’s record of judicial appointments has not been hidebound to partisan loyalty, and has not been stereotypically prosecutor-heavy. Indeed, a little looking into the judicial appointments process produces the profound impression that intellectual qualifications and personal temperament — in other words, merit — are the principal defining factors of Brown’s appointments. The decidedly pragmatic Jerry Brown of the 2010’s has defied at lot of what my cynical Republican friends claimed about him, claims based on what by now can only be hazy memories of the Jerry Brown administration of the 1970’s. I’ve a professional colleague and sometime adversary who serves in the Legislature (after last week’s election, he’s now what you call a lame duck) and he too has assured me that partisan issues aren’t a significant factor in the appointment process. But the little demon tells me that I’m wearing rose-colored contact lenses, that politics will undo my ambition and that I’ve not done anything of note politically to alleviate that situation, he reminds me that my colleague didn’t say that partisan issues aren’t a factor at all.
Of course, the demon has also been telling me that I might not be a desirable appointment from a diversity standpoint. As I noted above, really looking into it demonstrates the truth of what several actively-serving judges have assured me, which is that first and foremost the need is for qualified people. Diversity on the bench is important and yes there should be more women and people of color serving. A white dude like me looks like the majority of the rest of the bench, which I suppose also was a small but greater than trivial factor deterring me from stepping up and finishing the thing. But eventually, I decided that was my insecurity, not the Governor’s problem. Just because I agree that there should be a spectrum of many kinds of people serving, well, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t serve. I already reach out to the community and encourage young people of all genders and races to learn about the legal profession and if appointed there’s no reason at all that I’d stop doing that; how much better would that be coming from a member of the bench than a member of the bar?
And while the demon dwells in the Freudian superego, he gets help from the limbic system’s amygdala. After all, fear is a factor for all of us, too. In my case, it feels particularly perverse, as I suffered from both fear of failure – what if I’m rejected? – and fear of success – I’d have changes in my life! – and it doesn’t make a lick of rational sense to fear both failure and success at the same time. It’s strangely debilitating. Yet something tells me it’s also a common experience.
Now, having swallowed this sour soporific stew of self-doubt, fear, and inertia, I’m left with a smouldering coal of unease dwelling in my belly whenever I think about it. That’s the vertigo of realizing that something important is going to happen that is at this point functionally beyond my ability to control. Alea iacta est. It’ll be months, maybe the better part of a year, before I know what will come of this. I don’t even know if the answer is “no” if I’ll get any communication at all (although the thoroughness and professionalism of the investigation process as described to me makes that seem decidedly doubtful).
So have any of you had similar sorts of experiences? Hesitation, caused by groundless self-doubt and fear, to go get something that you really wanted? Or something else, which turned out to be entirely within yourself! How’d it work out for you — did you overcome it, did you get the success you sought? Hopefully, you all have stories with happy endings to tell.
Image Credit: modified from original at wikimedia commons (that’s a picture of a “brass ring,” get it?)
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.
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