The Happy Even After podcast, the Happy Even After podcast. Divorce sucks, but it doesn’t need to define you. It doesn’t need to be the end of your story. The Happy Even After podcast. Meet your host Renee Bauer, an award-winning divorce attorney, peacemaker, author, and founder of the d•course, an online divorce educational program. She’s been doing this work for almost two decades and she is passionate about helping all women make it out the other side. The Happy Even After podcast, let’s jump in.
Renee Bauer (00:33):
Welcome to 2021, we made it. And also welcome to my first solo episode since I launched the Happy Even After podcast. So I remember last new year’s, it was such a vivid memory. I was in Vermont and two of our kids were with us and we have this tradition that we do every new year’s. They’re called the wish papers, and what you do is you write a wish or two down on the paper and then you roll it up and carefully place it on a table, and strike a match and bring the flame to the paper. And the paper magically floats up in the sky.
Renee Bauer (01:11):
So I wrote down two wishes, one was personal and the other was professional, so to speak. I wished that the universe would guide me to what I was meant to do. And at the time I didn’t really know what that even was. I just knew that I was feeling depleted with work, I was spending day in and day out, caught in conflict. So being a family lawyer by its very nature is filled with conflict. You have conflict with other lawyers and conflict with even clients at times. I was tired. I felt like I was losing my patience too quickly. And the whole reason why I started doing this work was getting lost.
Renee Bauer (01:51):
I knew that there was more, but I just didn’t know what. So I rolled my wish paper, lit it on fire and sent it into the universe. Now we all know what happened in 2020, it was a dumpster fire. And when things couldn’t get worse, they did. Some of us lost loved ones. My in-laws both passed away within months of each other. It sucked. Some of us lost jobs or income, that sucked too. A lot of people lost marriages and the statistics are there to prove it. Some of us just lost our minds or maybe all of us did.
Renee Bauer (02:26):
But between the pandemic and the political climate we were caught in, and virtual learning, what silver lining could we possibly take from that year? So I’m going to be super annoying right now and say that out of the shit show of a year, we had, we’ve also seen how resilient we can be when we have to. We did really hard, uncomfortable things last year, and guess what? We survived it. So if 2020 was going to show us anything, it’s that we can survive everything.
Renee Bauer (03:03):
So I had a woman in my conference room prior to the pandemic, and she was kind of like a lot of clients that come to see me. She sat in the room and she fidgeted with her ring and twisted it looking around. I caught her gaze kind of lingering on a picture on my wall that said, “Today you’re exactly where you were supposed to be. What happens tomorrow is up to you.” Her eyes were filling up a little bit and she kind of wiped away tears that really weren’t even there.
Renee Bauer (03:35):
And then finally she took a big inhale and looked at me and said, “How do you know?” So you see the person sitting across from me might always be different. But the look in their eyes when they ask this question is always the same. Their faces filled with part hope and part fear. And I’ve answered this question at least once a week for the past, probably 18 years.
Renee Bauer (04:03):
So I’m a divorce lawyer, most of you know that, but their inquiry doesn’t have anything to do with the law. I would argue, because that’s what we do, that their question actually doesn’t have anything to do with divorce. So rather they want someone to tell them what to do. They want someone to clear up their confusion. They want someone to slide a piece of paper that contains an answer across the conference room table so that they can sleep again at night. They want someone to make the tough decisions for them. In every time we’re confronted with a choice, we’re at risk of being suffocated by all of the noise around it.
Renee Bauer (04:47):
So listen, I didn’t go to law school to answer this question. And you’re not tuning in for me to tell you about someone else’s choice that they had to make. But what I’m saying is that their question isn’t any different than what comes up when you reach a breaking point. So when you find yourself at a crossroad, you need to decide to go right or left forward or back.
Renee Bauer (05:11):
So Newton’s first law of motion tells us that an object will not change its state of motion, whether moving or not, unless acted upon by a force. Usually fear and uncertainty prevent motion, so you stay in one place, not moving at all. You’re stuck. And the conversation you have with yourself is on repeat, “How do I know if leaving my job as the best decision?” “How do I know if I should move?” “How do I know if I should go back to school?” “How do I know I’ll get the raise if I ask for it?” “How do I know that ending my marriage is the right decision? How do I know?”
Renee Bauer (05:50):
So the one thing you learned in law school is that the answer to every question is, it depends. And so for every inquiry, there are multiple outcomes, which just a little tweak here and a tiny adjustment there. Lawyers learn to manipulate almost any circumstance to be favorable. And we get a bad rap for this exact reason, but we’re trained to tinker with the truth. But hear me out for a second, because I’m not talking about lying. In fact, what I’m spouting has nothing to do with being deceitful. Rather it has everything to do with shape-shifting your reality. So it becomes your authentic truth.
Renee Bauer (06:29):
Your truth, for example, is very different than your friend’s truth. One way isn’t right and the other wrong. You can’t take a quiz or flip to the back of the book for the answer key. Your truth is unique. So when someone is sitting across that shiny mahogany desk and they look to me for their truth, my answer is always the same, “It depends on who you ask.” They might raise an eyebrow or squint at me as if they didn’t quite hear me correctly. Sometimes they think I’m joking and they laugh a little, but I’m not trying to be funny because I’m really not a funny person.
Renee Bauer (07:06):
So let me back up a bit and invite you into my anxiety-ridden head. I promise I won’t keep you there long, but my backstory of how I ended up doing what I do is relevant to the journey we’re going to take in this episode and in the work that I do. And it’s important because the work I do as a divorce attorney and as a host of this podcast and a speaker is the most authentic me that I know. But here’s the thing, I had to confront a major phobia to get there.
Renee Bauer (07:36):
You see, I hate being the center of attention. Like my baby shower was torture, I loathed all of those eyes watching me unwrap gifts as I awkwardly thanked a second cousin for yet another one Z. I was a wallflower at school dances. I didn’t answer the questions unless the teacher called on me, I have always been wholly, unequivocally and irreversibly, the opposite of a steal-the-show kind of person. I’m also not a risk taker. Sure, I went skydiving when I was 19, but I was attached to someone who could pull the cord if I hyperventilated on the way down. I’m a rule follower, a people pleaser, a steady the boat kind of gal. I’ve been that way my entire life. So why I decided to try my hand at theater, is beyond me, given my issue, but when I was in 6th grade, I played an owl in a summer theater program. So I had to sit on an oversized papier-mache rock and blow into a recorder and spout a few well rehearsed lines.
Renee Bauer (08:43):
Now on opening night, I’m in this really ugly, felt brown, and a yellow feathered costume with an orange beak. And when it was my turn, I opened my mouth on cue, but nothing came out. The lights were blinding, the silence in the full auditorium was deafening and all of my words were forgotten. So I did the only thing that I could. I brought that plastic instrument to my lips and squeaked out a few off key notes. So from that moment on, public speaking caused rings of sweat to form under my arms and a not so minor sensation, like I might actually pass out or puke. I’ve since learned how to deal with that. I didn’t wear silk shirts for years and a little food right before I had to do kind of like the big, scary public speaking thing, always helped with my queasiness.
Renee Bauer (09:40):
And listen, somewhere out there is a video of me teaching my first legal education class. And when I tell you that I sweated so bad that I’m sure that the sweaty sheen of my forehead was reflecting on the camera lens. I really hope that video got lost somewhere in the VHS or DVD graveyard because it was not pretty.
Renee Bauer (10:03):
So for me, public speaking is the ultimate risk, because there’s the chance that I would forget my words again, like I did before. And there’s the danger I would make a fool of myself, I’ve done that too. There’s the possibility I would pass out, I haven’t managed that one yet. But even today before starting a trial or stepping up to the mic, I get nervous. I don’t hear anything else around me. I become blinded by the thought that I will forget how to speak or I’ll sound stupid, or I’ll forget to put an R at the end of a word that’s meant to have one, that’s the Boston girl in me.
Renee Bauer (10:42):
But why do I share this with you? Because that blinding fear could have easily dictated my path. It could have suffocated the tiny spark inside me that was trying to ignite. When I toyed with the idea of opening my own law firm, I was working at a stable job, making a steady income at a firm where my coworkers were like extended family. So listen, I had no reason to leave, but yet there was something nagging at me every morning as I commuted 45 minutes into work. My son was the first dropped off at daycare and the last picked up. I was tired and unfulfilled and I felt like I was half-assing every role I had.
Renee Bauer (11:24):
So the question I had was, “How do I know leaving my job and starting my own law firm is the right decision? I wanted someone to slide that piece of paper across the table and tell me what to do. I wanted someone to tell me everything would be okay if I quit my job. I wanted someone to look into a crystal ball and let me know it was all good. So years later, I wanted someone to tell me whether I should leave a perfectly acceptable and fine marriage. I even went to a psychic for some guidance, hoping her tea leaves would offer a solution.
Renee Bauer (11:58):
Leaving my job and starting a law firm and leaving my marriage all risky business, as risky as standing on stage in an owl costume with a recorder when you were tone deaf. So that woman sitting across from me in the conference room still looks hopeful and I’ll tell her what she already knows, but doesn’t want to hear. Every single person who asks me this question already knows the answer. They just can’t hear it until they mute all of the noise.
Speaker 1 (12:28):
We’ll be back just after this message. If you are feeling confused and overwhelmed by the divorce process, the d•course can help. This video course will educate and empower you to make the best decisions for your future. Taught by an experienced divorce attorney, you will learn everything you need to move forward into your next chapter. Head on over to www.thedcourse.com for more information, you do not have to do this alone.
Renee Bauer (13:00):
We live surrounded by so much chatter, friends who might mean well and family who have our best interest at heart, tell us how crazy our idea is. Their advice is being squeezed out of their own lens, their own fears, their own insecurities and their own regrets.
Renee Bauer (13:19):
Think about opening up a commercial magazine or looking at a commercial. And those ads are telling us what our age and weight, say about how attractive we are. Celebrity gossip columns, tell us how fashionable we’re not. Our income level tells us what we’re worth. Our Instagram Feeds tell us other people have perfectly curated, color-coordinated existences. We live in a state of comparison. When are we not comparing ourselves to others? How much money do we have? What car do we drive? Whether we have the latest, greatest phone or handbag. Our marital status tells us how lovable we are.
Renee Bauer (14:03):
Ever noticed the platitude someone spews when you tell them that you are single, still. “You’ll find someone,” they might say. “Plenty of fish in the sea.” Or maybe you tell them you’re divorced. Maybe you tell them your divorce twice, they take a step back as if being divorced is contagious. They mumble, “You’ll be okay, plenty of fish. Dating is so different now, good luck.” They look down because they can’t make eye contact.
Renee Bauer (14:29):
These are all judgements, not necessarily meant to make us feel a certain way, but they do. We also let our generational history dictate our values, our belief systems, and even our behaviors. We see this all of the time when a childhood victim of abuse becomes an abuser as an adult, or perhaps the child who witnessed her father’s physical abuse against her mother. And as an adult, she finds herself in abusive relationship after another. Their parents held onto the story told to them and have now passed on their stories to their children. These tails will be continued to be told, like folklore shaping generations until something changes, until someone says, “Not me, no longer, not my story.
Renee Bauer (15:19):
Are these factors guiding the decisions we make? You bet they are. It’s the tiny voice that creeps into your mind at night, when you should be sleeping, that says, “Who do you think you are? Stay in your lane.” It’s the reason why making that big bold, brave decision is so difficult. It’s the reason why people ask that question, “How do you know?” Think about the last time you made a really difficult decision. I’m willing to bet you a pair of Jimmy Choos. Although I’ve heard, they’re quite uncomfortable that you let external influences weigh in heavier to your decision than your internal voice.
Renee Bauer (15:59):
Do you dislike your job, but feel stuck? What is holding you back from doing something else? I’ll give you a hint. The chatter is holding you back. People telling you that leaving your job is your responsible. The people that tell you a divorce is selfish. The people that tell you moving across country is too scary and too rash and you’ll come back. The people that tell you, you should lose your Boston accent if you’re going to be a litigator in another state, Oh wait, that’s my story. The people that tell you how you shoulda, coulda, woulda live your life.
Renee Bauer (16:35):
So your inner knowing or what I like to refer to as your decision-maker isn’t working properly, your decision-maker is being drowned out by all of the noise, that small voice that started you on a path of wondering and contemplating and dreaming in the first place, gets trampled on and tossed to side. It gets disregarded as irrelevant, irrational, and reckless. And when you rely on external forces to tell you how to love yourself and who to be, what to do and how to live, you will never step into the best version of your life.
Renee Bauer (17:13):
The external factors that influence you are loud impairsing. And it is so tempting to listen to the constant babble that is occupying all of the space in your brain. See all of that chatter is just a distraction from the real thing going on inside of you. If the external influences are grabbing the mic and passing it around the auditorium, you should be taking your rifle place center stage to your life. You should be stepping up to the mic, even if it’s scary as hell.
Renee Bauer (17:47):
So Newton’s second law of motion states, “The force upon an object causes it to accelerate, proportional to its mass.” So sometimes you just need the push to get the ball rolling. So what if we flip the script? What if you started living your life in reverse? So what does it mean to live your life in reverse? It means that your decision maker is making the decisions.
Renee Bauer (18:12):
So usually this is the point when someone who’s sitting across from me interrupts, and they’re just like, “I’m so confused. I’m trying to figure out what to do. I came to you for advice, and I’m sitting here listening to you talk about a decision maker. What the heck, you’re a lawyer.” This is not what they paid for consultation for. They paid for answers and I’m on the verge of losing them, but that’s okay. So usually I kind of lean forward in my chair and make sure they’re paying attention to me. Look me in the eye. And I tell them, “You aren’t confused. You have all of the information you need to make a decision, but you won’t hear the answer because you aren’t tuned into the right channel.” So I lose some here. Some people walk out of the office and they never come back. Why? Because not everyone’s willing and ready to listen.
Renee Bauer (19:04):
So a good friend of mine, Melody Miles, she was one of my first interviews on this podcast. And she had spent years as an international expert at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I wish I had the opportunity to work in 25 African countries by the age of 30. Then she quit her job and spent a year exploring the world solo. And despite all of her years of travel, she eloquently states that the longest journey she ever took was the 18 inches from her head to her heart. Her point, being that her head and heart were so disconnected that they weren’t even on the same continent.
Renee Bauer (19:39):
But you don’t need to travel around the world to find your decision-maker. You just need to mute the noise. We can detour that trip and put you on the most direct route with the following exercise. It’s simple, but it’s counterintuitive, but I promise it will deliver the answer you need. It will help to remove the static so that you can receive the message loud and clear. So I’m a task master. I’m the type of person who needs to hold a book and look at paper. When I can see it, I can digest it. I can study it. I can put it aside and come back to it. And it looks exactly like it did when I left it there. I can’t say the same for meditation, although I’m completely envious of those who have a consistent practice. It isn’t me, I don’t do that well, but what this is is an exercise in meditation, but it’s in motion. So you can see it, hold it, come back to it, again and again. So let me teach you about it.
Renee Bauer (20:41):
So the first thing you’re going to do is think of a decision you’re struggling to make, what to eat for lunch doesn’t count. Although that’s a regular decision I have to make, but really it’s the decision that keeps you up at night. It’s probably the reason why you’re even listening to this podcast.
Renee Bauer (20:58):
So what is it that’s weighing on you? That’s what I want you to focus on. Just pick that one thing. Now fold a piece of paper in half vertically like we did in grammar school for spelling tests, or draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. And on the left side of the paper, you’re going to write external. And on the right side, you’re going to write internal. Super easy so far, right?
Renee Bauer (21:21):
You’re going to start on the left side. The one that says external. Now you have to complete this step and don’t move on to the next step until you are done. But I want you to list on that piece of paper, everything that’s holding you back, don’t judge what comes to mind. I want you to think about whatever is coming from your rational and reasonable brain. The thing that probably has stopped you in your tracks along the way.
Renee Bauer (21:48):
So for that person who is sitting in my office and maybe it’s you, I would say list every reason why you should stay in that marriage or maybe stay in the job or do that uncomfortable thing, or make the big move. Someone who’s contemplating what next in their relationship might list things like they’re concerned about the kids or about money, about what family will say. Maybe I love my house and I don’t want to have to move. Or maybe they’re just concerned about who’s going to plow the driveway when it snows. So divorced, like leaving a job or going back to school or moving across the country will fling heaps of reasons why you shouldn’t do that thing that you’re contemplating. That’s your brain talking. So your list will probably be long. Don’t stop yourself, write it all down. Don’t judge. Just list it.
Renee Bauer (22:38):
Now when you’re done, it’s time to move on to the other side of the paper. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and just for a minute, dig deep and find the one reason your heart is telling you to do that thing. You might have more than one, maybe two, but you probably won’t, it’s probably just going to be that one thing. Think about it, open your eyes and write it down. Now, put your pen down.
Renee Bauer (23:13):
Now, typically we would all look at the side with the longest list and think that’s our answer, right? But not today, not here. That’s your head. And while it has served you well, many times in your life, it doesn’t right now, your head will stop you in your tracks. It will limit your potential. It’s the dream killer. Now on the other hand, the right side of the paper is your decision maker. That’s your answer. That’s the only thing you need to know to take a step forward, to quit the job, to start the business, to move or not move, to walk away from our relationship. That’s all you need to know to make the decision, to choose the path, to do the big, scary bull terrifying thing. This is the answer to how do you know? Did you stomach just flutter? Did your heart rate speed up? I hope so.
Renee Bauer (24:10):
So I did this exercise when I was trying to figure out, should I open up my own law firm? Or should I leave my marriage? And I could have allowed the list on the left side to hold me back because my brain told me that all of those things that I listed were legitimate and rational concerns, but my right side was my heart and it was the answer I needed to take the next step. I needed to see it to know it and to believe it. And that was my decision maker.
Renee Bauer (24:49):
So this exercise came in handy for my first and second marriage, even though the list for each was wildly different. I almost stayed in a toxic second marriage because I was concerned about what people would say and think about me. I almost let those external influences dictate my life. So here’s a warning, be careful of the tentacles of negativity, slipping into the cracks. Because as soon as you speak out loud, what you know and want, there will be all kinds of distractions trying to change your mind. Stay clear and focused and when you start to doubt yourself, pull this exercise out again. Recognize that your doubt comes from what everyone else is telling you should happen to your life.
Renee Bauer (25:34):
Now, I’m a realist, so I’m not going to pretend that once you make the decision, the rest is easy. Quite the opposite. Your decision might put you on a shoestring budget. It might cause heartache. It might be the longest and most difficult thing you’ve ever done, but it will also be a 100% worth it because you know, you made the decision for the right reason. It is the decision that will fill you up so your cup runneth over.
Renee Bauer (26:01):
The right decision is not always the easy decision. Let me say that again. The right decision is not always the easy decision. Sometimes it’s so much easier to stay in the secure job or in the bad relationship or in the city you hate. It’s easier to stay, not moving. Now it’s up to you to start accelerating. Don’t slow down, allow the wind to whip through your hair and your adrenaline to pump through your veins. You will put your best life into motion just like Newton said. Now it’s time to accelerate, once you’ve listened and tuned into your decision maker.
Renee Bauer (26:45):
A good friend called me long ago. She was heartbreakingly unhappy with the situation in her life. She was desperate for advice. I couldn’t give her the type of advice she was seeking. I couldn’t tell her what to do, but I could tell her what she should do. She shouldn’t let this fest her. She shouldn’t wait for it to fix itself. She shouldn’t wait for someone to fix the problem for her. No one had that power except for her.
Renee Bauer (27:13):
If we look at situations, life decisions, game-changers on a grand scale, we’ll get overwhelmed. But once we break things down into actionable bite-sized tasks, it becomes manageable. I told her to give herself benchmarks to take action. Within three weeks, she should communicate her concerns. In three months, she should have a plan in place and start executing. In six months, she should make a decision so the second half of the year is filled with change either way. Either she changed her current situation and fixed it, or she removed the stressor from her life.
Renee Bauer (27:50):
So I’m still terrified to speak in public, but I find my voice every single day. Every single day, I step up to the mic because I have something to say. And so do you, but you can’t speak until you first mute all of the noise around you. The doubters, the naysayers, even the well-meaning cynics don’t belong in your process. They are not your decision-makers turn the volume all the way down so you can hear the only voice that matters, yours. Now the only question left is, what are you going to do about it?
Speaker 1 (28:28):
That’s a wrap. Link up with us at msreneebauer.com. Remember to rate and review and share with anyone you think might find this episode helpful. You can change your story and live happy even after.