I once worked 14-hour days, fuelled by excessive amounts of coffee and ambition. In the pursuit of a corner office, I did terrible things to my body. Exercise and fresh air were foreign to me. I skipped meals, replacing them with Starbucks venti lattes and candy. When I did eat, my choices were guided more by what could be gobbled up in front of my computer in less than 10 seconds flat than what might be good for me. I killed my eyes reading contracts until the wee hours and nearly suffocated myself under piles of stress that were weighty as the prospectuses I was reviewing.
But hey, I was brushing elbows with the most powerful and successful players on Bay Street and Wall Street, enjoying the world's most prestigious restaurants (or at least their take-out menus), gallivanting in posh summer houses (BlackBerry in hand) in the Hamptons and, in my very spare time, shopping at Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Mine was a fabulous existence.
Except it wasn't. There was a big hole in my life and I was profoundly unhappy about it. I dreamed of creating something but didn't know where to start. I was passionate about many things, including music, fashion and literature but didn't know if I had any talent; or if I did, where my talents lied.
Then one day I had a life-altering encounter on the streets of Manhattan's Upper East Side.
On a dreary Sunday afternoon in November, an old woman with deep, penetrating eyes and a strong eastern European accent stopped me on the sidewalk to tell me she had an urgent message for me about my career. She showed me her card: Her name was Christine and she was a psychic. I was desperate for some guidance about my professional life and thought she might shed some light on the matter, so, for some inexplicable reason, I followed her home. Our fateful meeting changed my life.
Squinting into her crystal ball, she told me that I was an artist and missing my calling as a successful writer. Unless I embraced this talent, her tarot cards told her, I would never be happy. She also told me that New York wasn't the place for me to be.
At first I brushed it off as nonsense. I had invested 10 long years of my life in a profession and wasn't about to throw it all away on a whim. But on some level, I couldn't ignore it. I had always felt the pull of the artistic side of my personality, I just never had the guts to explore it. I was too busy billing hours and being self-important.
It took me months of soul searching to realize that she was right. But when I did, I didn't lose any time. I resigned from my cushy job in Manhattan, moved back to Montreal and signed up for creative writing classes at Concordia University. I'd never felt better.
While in Montreal, I also signed up for some jazz history classes for pleasure. As part of his teachings on improvisation, Professor Charles Ellison suggested we read Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson. This book had a profound impact on me. The author views the way we live our lives as an artistic process in itself and, just like a painter or a jazz musician who puts together disparate elements that need to be in some kind of balance, so do those faced with difficult life-altering choices such as a career change (or a divorce). Hence the title Composing a Life.
Her book made me realize that life is not one long uninterrupted journey but rather a series of unexpected pit stops that can take the most extraordinary directions.
These classes and the change in my lifestyle gave me the confidence to take a nine-month sabbatical to write the first draft of J'adore New York. It was a daunting project at first: Sitting alone in my quiet apartment in front of a blank page without a BlackBerry buzzing or anyone to talk to was somewhat alienating, but it soon turned into the most exhilarating experience of my life. I will never forget the first time I laughed out loud after reading dialogue I had just written in the novel. It was a moment of pure bliss that I had never felt before doing my previous work.
Once I had completed my first draft, I sought feedback from close friends, who were extremely generous with their time. I also attended the annual SEAK conference in Cape Cod, which is specifically designed for lawyers who want to become published. Upon arrival, I quickly realized that there were thousands of other legal souls just like me who had artistic inclinations. This was extremely comforting.
Truth be told, it was difficult at the time to explain (and justify) my life choices to my colleagues and entourage. And it was even harder to cut back on the lifestyle I'd become accustomed to.
But I've never second-guessed my decision. Though my mouth still waters when I eye the season's new fashions in Vogue, no "It" bag or Jimmy Choo shoes will ever replace the thrill and immense satisfaction of seeing my first novel being published.
Isabelle Laflèche is the author of J'Adore New York (HarperCollins).