12 Years of Legal Nomads: Work, Gratitude, and the Challenge of the Present Moment

Hope in uncertain times

I’m late to my own party, but April 1, 2020 marked twelve years since I quit my job as a lawyer to travel the world.

By now you guys know the drill: each year I wrote an annual update post for April 1st, about my state of mind and the state of my business. I’d usually also have a get together with friends to celebrate, wherever I was. In Saigon, it was a party with bun cha and rice vodka. In Oaxaca, it was mezcal and quesadillas.

This year, the date fell during the long trek back to Montreal from Florida. I was trying to move quickly enough to get home safely, but slow enough to not exacerbate my spinal CSF leak.

While I was technically on the road on April 1st, the date involved a little less celebration and a little more pandemic than usual.

Since today is my 41st birthday, I thought I would use the occasion to do that annual write-up.

Here’s a post about what’s going on, and some of what comes next.

12 Years of Legal Nomads

Health wise, my leak is ongoing. Other chronic issues are ongoing.

Still, I am here today, alive, feeling loved, trying to find gratitude for what I can and remind myself that human connection is part of what sees us through.

With increased acceptance of my day-to-day reality came a sense of increased dissonance when I looked at Legal Nomads. That smiling person on a motorbike on my front page is no longer me. Telling stories through food is no longer me. Those are part of me, sure, and I am proud of whatever roads took me to them.

Still, I would open my dashboard every so often and think, “what am I even doing? Is there a point to any of this anymore?”  Questions that many of us are asking these days, and ones that take sharper form because the physical opportunity costs of working are so great for me.

I love writing, and my mind misses writing. Writing this post in morning increments felt like coming home. My body, though, it doesn’t so much like me writing. My leak symptoms worsen when I do and while I have tried creative solutions like voice to text or transcription, they don’t scratch the writing itch. I love the typing itself, the act of words falling out of my brain and rearranging themselves into prose.

So I decided I will do something a little more drastic.

Killing my Darlings

In order to create a good piece of writing, you often need to first cull those paragraphs or characters you feel attached to even though they no longer contribute critically to the whole. You need to “kill your darlings” to make a better-working piece.

For me, killing my darlings results not from ornamental prose but from the physical limitations on my ability to work. While my creative time is endless, the actual creating takes the kind of physical overhead I no longer have at my disposal. I’m divesting some of the projects I’ve clung to in the hopes that I’ll be able to build something exciting for my community.

I have a half-finished writing course workbook, and a full outline for a product for lawyers who want to change careers.

Neither will be doable in the next very long while with my limitations. But the reason I wanted to build these products was because readers asked for them, and clearly had a need for them. So I’ve partnered with people I trust to fix those pain points since I cannot.

How to Tell Better Stories in a Digital World: My Storytelling Course

I planned to do a storytelling course, and I have a half-completed workbook and many sign ups from readers. I’ve tried to think of ways that I can do this project while leaking, because I love to teach storytelling. At the moment, I don’t think it’s possible to do so without eating into all my uptime.

So I’ve partnered with two people I trust to offer two different courses; which one might be best for you depends on your needs.

Storytelling Course with Lola Akinmade Åkerström

How can we craft and share those stories with others that can create empathy and connection with others? How can we cradle with care the responsibility of telling other people’s stories? How do you hook, engage, intrigue, and keep your readers all the way to your closing message? How can you find threads and narrative arcs to structure your story?

These are all questions Lola addresses in her comprehensive course about storytelling.

The course is self-paced, and includes lectures, video modules, and lots of case studies and examples to illustrate the lessons Lola teaches. Lola just launched this course, and I contacted her to see if I could refer my readers her way because it’s a great alternative to what I planned to do.

Lola has offered $50 off for Legal Nomads readers if you let her know that’s where you came from for the course.

Blogging Course with Mike Sowden

I’ve also referred some of you to my friend Mike*, who has a course called Engage! A Storytelling Course for Bloggers. A lot of readers aren’t bloggers and thus want a broader more technical story instruction, which Lola can provide. For those who are in the blogging world, and/or don’t have the budget for a larger course,Mike’s course is a great option.

His course is self-paced over 8 weeks, aimed at teaching bloggers how to be a better storyteller. It includes email lessons, audio lessons, PDF guides (including my fave, “How To Edit The S#!t Out Of Your Writing”), and 1:1 support from Mike.

He has offered a $15 discount for Legal Nomads readers: enter the code donkeyballs2020 or use this link to purchase.

*Mike also kindly edited this post, and many others, for me. Mike is a good set of eyes for your brain.

Leaving Law Behind with Casey Berman and Adam Ouellette

My Thrillable Hours series exists to inspire lawyers feeling deadened by their job options to find the courage to think more broadly. I created it to help with fear, career change, and life after law. Though I also had plans to make a course to help lawyers take a leap, I didn’t get to finish it.

Casey and Adam have, and so I’m partnering with them to fix the pain point some of my readers have. They’ll help lawyers through the process of leaving the law, if that’s what they want, and help them overcome the blocking beliefs and self-sabotage that can get in the way. They also provide their students with interview and résumé help, as well as support to allow lawyers to hone in on what alternative career is best for them.

Basically, if I can’t help you I feel that Adam and Casey can at Leave Law Behind.

The plan is to hopefully record a video interview with them, too, for Legal Nomads readers.

The “Ask a Jodi” Podcast

A few years ago, I bought the domain Ask a Jodi and thought I would do videos answering questions readers had about life and everything after. It was actually my sitting on the ground to dig out a tripod from my drawer that led to my re-opening the leak in 2018.

I shelved the video idea as it was infeasible, and with the physical strain this year’s posts about COVID-19 took on me, I decided that writing would need to come second to something else.

I’ve long said I’d write if no one were reading. But unfortunately as I said, my body and writing don’t get on as well. So a short (10-15 min) podcast is where I netted out, specifically to answer the many questions I receive from readers about resilience, grief, hope, and so much more.

This will take time for me to get off the ground, because I’ve learned everything takes more time when you’re sick. I look forward to sharing it, when it’s ready.

If you’ve got a question for me that you’d like me to address in a podcast episode, I’ve made a Google Form here for you to send it my way.

Redesigning Legal Nomads

This site started on Blogger and moved to WordPress in 2010. It’s gone through quite a few resdesigns since 2008.

Legal nomadsLegal nomads
It’s been a few years, and this time the redesign will streamline existing categories into a few main ones, and link out to the courses and resources I’ve listed above. I also want to brighten up the colours and update the pictures and ‘about’ page to reflect the transitions I’ve gone through over the last years.

I’ll also be changing my slogan from “Telling Stories Through Food” to “Curious About Everything.” The new slogan better reflects my present, though it also is always who I’ve been.

Audio recordings for Accessibility

Some of my readers who have CSF leaks (spinal or cranial) or who are chronically ill have asked if it would be possible to record posts in audio form, specifically the ones about meditation and my leak journey. My goal is to record these before I start the podcast, warming up to audio for starters but also making it easier to access content for the people who find reading difficult.

Newsletter Back Up and Running

Links I Loved was a newsletter I started to share the interesting links that I read, including those I shared on Twitter. I’ve had the newsletter disabled for the last year and a half because my pain levels fluctuate sufficiently that I felt I couldn’t commit to putting it out every month as promised.

With the redesign and the podcast, I am starting it up again. It will house a few great reads as well as general updates from my work, and podcast planning, and more. You can sign up here.

Supporting Legal Nomads

This is the question I get the most from you all: “how can I support you?”

I feel incredibly lucky to have an incredible, caring community. I say this often, and will continue to say so. Even during these bewildering times when just about everyone’s reality has become warped, you still reach out to ensure that I’m holding up ok.

As with last year, the easiest support is via an Amazon gift card to jodi-at-legalnomads.com, which is where I get some of the harder-to-find items that aren’t available at the grocery store. With COVID-19, my neighbours/family/friends have helped with groceries, and ordering from Amazon means people don’t have to go hunting for tiger nut flour.

There’s also my Patreon, which I launched based on your request! I love the intimate community there.

Honestly, there isn’t much else at the moment! Support the podcast when it launches, and share my work if it resonates. The care I need day-to-day is the most pressing, and thankfully I have family (and now neighbours and friends!) to help with grocery runs during the pandemic, and who drop by for socially distanced visits while it’s still warm.


My friend Cheryl, who I’ve featured here, says her life mantra is LSAT. That she’s a former lawyer makes this funny, since it’s not the LSAT of our nightmares. Her LSAT means love, surrender, acceptance, and trust.

A lot harder to embody than fear and anger and loathing.

A lot easier to say than do.

And yet, a worthy use of mental time and energy.

Every moment you’re not in a state of surrender, you’re in a state of lack.

That’s what gets me through each day.

Jodi Ettenberg Legal nomads
A February Florida soup adventure. Worth the pain!

Well, that and soup.


40 thoughts on “12 Years of Legal Nomads: Work, Gratitude, and the Challenge of the Present Moment”

  1. Luscious. Yes, that is the first word that came into my mind after reading this latest piece. Keep doing what works for you. We are here to read and be inspired. Me anyway. Thank You.

  2. Okay, I had saved this for later but couldn’t wait. Such a good read, Jodi. I’m happy you published it and will be sharing it with some people I think will enjoy it too.

  3. Looking forward to the podcast! Jodi, I have such admiration, love and respect for you. Thank you for sharing your journey and letting us in to your life, and for using your words to help others. Love you.

  4. Your writing style is engaging, your voice and story is inspirational – thanks for coming into my life and contributing to our collective experience of life.

  5. Your writing is always so engaging and thoughtful, whether you’re writing about your CSF leak, soup, or anything in between.

    The section “From Resistance to Resilience” in this post really resonated with me. Thank you for continuing to share with us, even when it is much more difficult for you to do so.

  6. Always refreshing seeing a new post in my inbox. It had been awhile and to be frank I can relate to not always feeling the spirit to write. It gets me and even though I have been running two blogs for years now and I get spells of writing and writing, often times I toss half of what I write.

  7. “Anxiety is simply dragging your past into your future…” If this isn’t something to live by, then…

    I’ve been reading you for many years and yes, you are one of my favourite writers. But – you’re also the perfect present-day philosopher for a writer in search of meaning. Thank you for pushing my boundaries. And happy birthday!

  8. Jacques Lafortune

    And here I was looking for when your book would be published. Kidding aside, you write beautifully. This gift of sharing, explaining, deciphering… not many people have it. You have a way to portray what the heart feels into how the brain needs to express it. We all understand your specific limitations in terms of the physical aspect of writing. We are all very glad for the numerous opportunities you provide for exploring other avenues, for yourself and us. Stay safe. Stay resilient. Stay with us because we love you.

    1. Beautiful comment, thank you. The limitations have been frustrating because I love to write so much, but it also is what it is and there’s no point in being angry about it (per my post hah). I am grateful for readers like you <3

  9. It was powerful to read this, wishing you the best Jodi.

    Your post reminded me of a couple quotes:

    “Life is suffering” -Buddha

    “…You gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” – Bob Marley

  10. Dear Jodi, despite the challenges you are going through you remain so positive and engaging in your writings. I so admire that and it helps me as I am also going through some very challenging times at every possible level. I can’t help but wonder if you have every tried to see a healer or if you have read any of Anthony Williams’ books. He’s a medical medium and I hear he has helped many people. I wish you healing, serenity and all the joy in the world.

    1. Hi Dina, thank you for reading. I have read his books yes, and I am not very impressed with them. I do think food as medicine holds much promise; a lot of my progress has been with changing my diet and the way that I treat supplements and food. But I am not a fan of both his marketing practices and some of the black and white thinking in his books and posts. I’m glad he’s helped people, of course, but it did not resonate with me.

      1. I understand and have mixed feelings myself but some of the information is helpful and interesting. I agree that food and supplements are key for healing many health issues, it just takes time to figure out what’s right. I am myself on a healing journey and wish you all the very best.

  11. Jodi, you are try an inspiring individual. I think I learned about you and your blog from another blogger. Either it was Nomadic Matt or Wandering Earl. Forgive me, I’m not sure which one now exactly, but I am pretty sure you cooperate with both of them anyway. I started my blogging journey last year, so a complete newbie, and through one of the above mentioned bloggers came across your story. At that time you are dealing with the spine leak and beside your physical pain I could feel the pain of having to let Legal Nomads ‘sleep’ for some time. I was touched by your story but am super relieved to see you back in the game and spreading so much positive energy. Thanks a lot for that post. And I look forward to reading more if your stuff.

    1. Hi Sonia! I’m good friends with both Matt and Derek (Earl), so we share each other’s work but we’re not partnered. Glad you found the site, whichever of them sent you this way. I hope you continue to enjoy it, and thanks for the lovely comment.

  12. J… deeply touch by the physical challenge you are experiencing; equally touched by your perspective… you teach us all on how to reflect and make choices that serve our spirit and incorporate the challenges to foster our spiritual growth instead of offering resistance; freeing up energy and life force to see more clearly during the experience. Thank you for your openness… treasured. I am sure you have researched the health topic fully your issue is complex…. but offer names of others should they be of any use…Dr. Joel Wallach & Ben Fuchs, compounding pharmacist; Earthclinic.com; Dr. Mercola.. … …. thank you for sharing your heart.. you have touched my core and you will remain in my thoughts and prayers as you walk this soulful journey..very grounding … :).. meb

  13. Jodi, met you on the trans pacific cruise a few years ago……you may remember that I missed my birthday because of the international date line which caused a laugh. Your liveliness and involvement with your own group and the confusion that you all raised amongst the other passengers made it an exciting trip. Have followed your experiences since and cannot tell you how sorry we are that your health has been so affected……and so pleased that you are fighting against all your difficulties and still enthusing and advising others. Keep up the good work and I am sure the day will eventually come when you will be able to excite us all again.

    1. Hi Keith, I remember your “unbirthday” and how there were several of you too on the ship. I’m glad our group was memorable, and thank you for reading and following thereafter. It’s certainly been a very challenging few years, and the freedom of my prior travels (and movement) feels like a blurry lifetime ago. I am grateful I still have a community to write for. Take care and stay safe!

  14. Jodi, so lovely to read your post. Have been catching up on a bunch of them as recently have had a little more time on my hands due to my own illness. It is really inspiring to read what you have been through and what you are going through and how positive you remain through it all. Seems a long time ago meeting you in Montague Street. Take care of yourself. All the very best Nicola

  15. O My Word, I’ve missed your frequent mails. Thank you for this heartfelt one.
    Look, I’m Canadian, I’ve written to you before, but I’m here in Croatia, stuck a bit in quarantine with my wife since February, (absolutely could not be in a better place of exile), but am devastated to read of your continuing physical difficulty. Dang, drat, and gorram altogether…
    Please keep writing, even if it be not about Asian Food anymore, alas. (O jeez, as long as it ain’t about Québécois Cuisine, now – we don’t want the World to know the Horror).
    Go well, you.
    peter adams & marina orlovic

  16. Thank you for this post Jodi. It had a lot that I feel like I needed to hear right now. Like many, I’ve been grieving the loss of my normal plans and hobbies and for the state of our world at large. On top of this, recently my mom also unexpectedly passed away. Your comments about layers of grief upon grief particularly resonated with me right now. I’m still trying to figure out the balance of accepting and living in my present reality while maintaining some semblance of mental equilibrium. I’m finding it really tempting to use distraction (even if “healthy” distractions) to get through each day- which may be ok for the short term but I know won’t do me any favors in the long run. I’ll definitely check out some of the books you recommend. Thanks again for sharing your “up time” with us- can’t wait to check out your podcast in the future.

  17. It’s really nice to hear from you again Jodi. Happy 41st Birthday!
    You don’t look a day over 30!

    We’re all aware of how difficult day-to-day living is for you and the awful pain you have to endure simply to put your thoughts on paper, so it’s lovely to hear that you’ve found a way to keep your voice.

    Take your time. We’ll wait. :)

  18. Hi Jodi.

    This is my first time on your blog, and let me tell you that your style of writing is outstanding. thank you for sharing this article with us.

  19. Happy Birthday. Glad you find pleasure in writing. Your writing has enriched my life for years. Hard to know if that means I’m growing or just tolerating the decay better. I’m 66 in calendar time. Otherwise I’m conscious or not conscious. Signed up for your newsletter. Carry On.

  20. Zaloren Gonzalez Fontes

    Jodi, just started reading your blog and articles. I believe they are brilliant. I understand the struggles you go through every day and that just makes what you do more admirable. Really looking forward to the PodCast.
    Thank you for sharing your self in such a unique and brilliant way.

  21. Anson Stanley Cardoza

    Hi Jodi,
    Happy to see that you are writing still, and sharing such important words with the world. Take good care.

  22. I appreciate what you had to say about “move out of my mind and back into my heart.” Blessings on that journey.

    I have checked out your site on occasion over many years and just checked back as my wife and I are on the cusp of making own move to the pueblo mágico de Tepoztlán. Like you, I am leaving a legal career behind, a little over 8 years into it.

    Wishing you a full and speedy recovery.

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