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I Would Rather Be Happy Than Right

I wrote this last week, but decided not to publish until releases were signed. The short story is that I had to close my legal practice before the end of my commercial lease. We knew that we would need to pay damages if the place did not get rented or the difference between what we were paying and what the new tenant paid. We were optomistic that it would lease quickly and for the full price, but worried that it might sit vacant for three years.

We settled. We entered into an agreement to end the legal dispute. I agreed to pay over double what I believe a judge would find the landlord's reasonable damages would be in order to avoid emotional and physical manifestations of stress of being involved in litigation for the next three or four years. I thought I would feel relief or joy or something positive for closing this horrible chapter, but I totally freaked out!

As an attorney, I have always told clients the benefits of settlement. Studies show that being in litigation delays physical healing. I don't know if this is because so much time is spent dwelling on the pain and suffering or whether the stress itself of the litigation is physically damaging or if it is something entirely different. In family law, the real emotional healing following the end of a marriage is delayed by litigation. I told countless clients that settling their legal matter would allow the healing process to start. I told clients that when everyone walked away from a settlement feeling like they could have done better at trial, that was the sign that it was a good settlement. I would say that cases settle when fear meets greed. I believe all of these things to be true. Still, I totally freaked out which was a bummer for Mark because he was ready to celebtate.

I woke up at 1:00 a.m. still freaking out. A big part of me didn't want to write this because it is sad and ugly and makes me feel like a crazy person. I just want to skip to the fun adventures. The reason I started this blog, however, is to chronicle my move to Costa Rica. This is a big part of my journey. I started trying to write this and work through this around 3:00 a.m. when I gave up on going back to sleep. I watched the night sky turn from cloudy to clear so that a million stars came out, the sky turned again from dark to dusk, and again to beautiful morning light.

In 2021, I signed a five-year commercial lease for my legal practice. The office was in a great part of town and was in a mixed use complex. I loved the space and it seemed like a good idea at the time. At the time, I had already had my first pancreatitis attack which put me in the hospital for 30 days, resulted in multiple surgeries and extended bed rest. I thought it was an isolated event, so went right back to it. I thought I had ten years of a legal practice ahead of me.

My health got worse. Our plan that I would practice ten more years changed to five more years. A short time later, we decided that I would practice until the termination of my lease.

Mark was so worried about my health that he retired from his job came to work at the practice to ease some of the stress. Mark was amazing, but after ending up in the hospital again in August of 2022, we realized that I was in trouble. I was having a more and more physical manifestations of the stress. It was crushing me. Still, at the time, we couldn't see a way out of practicing law until after the expiration of my lease.

In November of 2022, we decided that I had to walk away from my practice whatever the cost. I sold my practice. An attorney signed a contract to purchase my practice agreed to take over the lease and other contracts. My last day of running the practice was going to be May 31, 2023 and we would move Costa Rica. I would still work part-time remotely and return to finish up trials in October of 2023, January of 2024, and May of 2024. We were so relieved!

The relief was short-lived because this attorney failed to live up to any of the terms of the contract including making the agreed upon lease payments. Mark and I decided that I had no choice but to finish up my cases.

I was preparing for trial when I got really sick at the beginning of 2023. One morning, at 4:00 a.m., I woke up with my heart was racing and hurting. I was dizzy, nauseated, and light-headed. My thought was to push through with trial preparation and follow up with a doctor later. Two friends reached out to me in the morning both saying that they woke up worried about me. I took their advice and went to the hospital around 9:00 a.m. Thanks Lori and Casey! (To be fair, Mark said the same thing, but I ignored him. Sorry Mark!) Even though I felt fine by the time I went to the hospital, my my blood pressure was 155/125. Normal for me is around 102/70, so this was alarming. The doctors did a cardiac exam and put me on a two-week leave with an agreement that I would follow up before returning to work. When the results from the blood work came back, my lipase (the indicator of pancreas function) was extremely elevated. It was finally clear that if I kept pushing, I might not make it to the end of my lease. We decided that the risks to my health were too serious. We were not going to trade my health or even life to pay for a lease.

Thinking about the lease has been one of my remaining stressors. Mark and I believed that reasonable damages would be small - the office was in a great location, everything was modern and move-in ready. BUT what if we wrong? What if the space never leased and the landlord was awarded the entire term of the lease? Would we lose our house? Would we have to go bankrupt? We couldn't stop the horribilizing.

Knowing the decision to settle was in my best interest, why did I freak out? The best answer I can come up with is that it offends my sense of justice. I tried to be reasonable with the landlord. I presented the landlord with a new tenant, the attorney who signed the contract purchasing my practice, but the landlord would not agree to the assignment. Later, I told the landlord that I was closing the practice and offered to have the landlord show the space to prospective tenants while I was closing up. I offered to pay a couple more months and pay an additional four months after we moved out. Not only did the landlord reject that offer, the landlord countered with more than the entire term of the lease. The landlord did not list the premises for lease for another month and a half.

We made the uncomfortable decision to stop paying the lease when we moved out because We learned through other former tenants that this landlord did not follow its obligation to mitigate damages. We always intended to pay reasonable damages once a new tenant was found, but wanted the landlord to feel some motivation to find a new tenant.

The landlord had an in-house attorney try to convince me that it might take the entire term of the lease to find a new tenant. I explained that once a there was a new tenant, it would be easy to calculate the landlord's actual damages. On August 23, 2023, I had a discussion with one of the landlord partners, who happens to be an attorney. He demanded nearly the entire the length of the lease stating that he was in the business of collecting rents and not suing people, but that it would likely take an additional two years to find a tenant.

I called the commercial broker an hour later and discovered the landlord already had a prospective tenant. The broker had presented the landlord with a qualified tenant willing to lease the office for the remainder of the term plus six months. In other words, while saying that the place would likely be vacant for two years and threatening me with legal fees, he was holding a prospective tenant off trying to settle with me for the entire term knowing there was a tenant waiting in the wings. The landlord was obviously acting in bad faith. My estimate, that a new tenant would be quickly found, was correct. The broker listed the office in June and had an offer to the landlord by August 23, 2023 from a tenant who didn't need any improvements and wanted to move in immediately.

I have been thinking about my dad a lot who died 23 years ago. If I told my dad that a neighbor got to stay up later than me, he would ask if I wanted her life or my life. Of course, I wanted my life - but I wanted my life to include staying up a half-hour later. That wasn't an option though. If I wanted the extra goodies a friend had, I had to have everything else that came with her life. When I was angry with someone or feeling resentful, I would ask myself the same question: do I want their life or my life? My dad also made very clear, in no uncertain terms, that life wasn't fair - never has been and never would be. My dad also asked whether I wanted to be right or wanted to be happy.

Thinking about the lease and potential consequences has been a major stressor. Since the August 23, 2023 meeting, my stress got much worse. I was sick most of the time and REALLY SICK multiple times. I lost peace, joy, and happiness. On a couple of occasions, I was in so much pain that I came close to needing to go to the hospital.

On Sunday, Mark and I were in the pool looking out at the ocean and jungle and talking about how good our life is. We are blessed with awesome kids, friends in the states, and a new group of friends in Costa Rica. We decided that we needed to end the drama and settle. We decided to trade a lot of our hard-earned money for the peace of mind that comes with being done.

On Monday afternoon, we agreed to settlement terms. The terms are not fair, but that is okay. Life is not fair. At the end of the day, I am blessed with a beautiful life and the landlord is stuck with his.

Our new community has embraced us. Our lovely neighbor Kate stopped by the house Monday morning with some artisan cheese for me to try out. Burt, another amazing neighbor, dropped off a beautiful organic cassava cake with hand-grated coconut and hand extracted coconut milk.

The freaking out is over. I just needed a day to wrap my head around it all. I would rather be happy than right. I am so thankful for the life that I have.

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