Calm outside, stressed inside: Air travel as metaphor

Jessica Markham

Jessica Markham

Few people know that I hate flying. In fact, I wrote this post solely to distract myself from my tragic impending demise, in midair on my way to the ABA spring conference on dispute resolution. I was a presenter, so it was a nice moment for my CV. For my nerves … not so much.

When I’m on a turbulent flight (did I mention I was flying into a blizzard?), I tend to have an adult beverage and jam out to some ‘90s rap music and pretend it’s the early 2000s and I’m dancing at a nightclub. I’m smiling but clutching the armrests all the way. To borrow a line from Michelle Obama’s recent book, I’m like a swan on the outside, looking graceful, but paddling like hell underneath. It’s probably an apt metaphor for my whole life.

This got me thinking back on 14 years of trying cases, and I realized I’ve been desensitizing myself to the high stress of my career all along. I practice – exercise – mindfulness and try to maintain a sense of calm when external forces would have me do otherwise.

I remember reading once about why drill sergeants yell orders at their charges. It isn’t because they want to humiliate and demean them. It’s because they’re conditioning the trainees to perform under pressure when they want to give up and curl into a ball. Isn’t that also basically part of learning how to litigate?

I told the flight attendant that I’m a nervous flier and that I’m a mess on the inside. She looked shocked because I was holding it together on the outside. Litigation taught me to do that. So here’s a toast to my fellow litigators. Stay calm and hold it together — in the courtroom and out.

Jessica Markham is the owner of Markham Law Firm, a family law firm in Bethesda.

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