April 27, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons • Well-being
I knew it was time to leave my job when it became apparent to me that I had reached a dead end. In my professional life as a lawyer, I was no longer growing and had no desire or ambition to climb that next step to becoming a partner in my law firm. My tactic of hanging on to the status quo of being an associate and just going through the motions of my job was not going to work for much longer before I would be prompted to take on more responsibility than I desired. And in my personal life, I was beginning to feel the effects of many years in a job that wasn’t right for me. I was pushing ahead, but I wasn’t going anywhere either professionally or personally. In fact, I felt like I was falling behind personally, which was what really mattered to me.
There is much to be said for tolerating a job you don’t like because you’re able to appreciate its necessity or beneficial effects. Few people are fortunate enough to love their job or feel a passion for their work. Most people go to work every day because they need to pay their bills or feed themselves or their families. They may not like their job per se, but they may not mind it either. In the grand scheme of things, the job’s benefits outweigh its costs.
But somewhere along the cost-benefit continuum, there’s a tipping point. Your job provides some benefit, but not enough to justify the cost to your well-being, your future, your relationships and your state of mind. It’s the point when you realize pursuing other options, no matter how difficult they may be, is more attractive than remaining stuck where you are. You may face financial hardships for choosing to leave, but they are neither ruinous nor worth continuing on a path leading nowhere. It’s hard to predict where that tipping point lies, but from my experience, it’s like a moment when you find yourself teetering on the edge of a cliff. You’ll just know.
April 13, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons
Since leaving my job, the most frequent question I am asked by people I don’t interact with on a regular basis is: “So, what have you been up to?” I am never quite sure how to answer this question, and quite frankly, it annoys me a bit.
Asking how I’ve been spending my time is, however, a completely understandable curiosity. It’s been nine months since I bid farewell to my legal career, and I think many people assumed I would move quickly into some other type of conventional “job,” but that was never my intention. My family, knowing my eagerness to distance myself completely from the law, sometimes remarks that I’ve “retired,” and thankfully doesn’t press me for much information on my plans, but retirement is probably not an accurate term for my current state. After all, I was too busy paying off loans while I was working to build up that huge nest egg to live off of for the next half century!
I am a fiercely private person (hence the anonymity of this site), and my annoyance simply stems from my long-standing “it’s none of your business” attitude. Sharing too much information about yourself with the world just makes you vulnerable to questions you can’t answer or sets you up for disappointment when things don’t work out like you planned. The only person I completely open up to is my husband, and I’m perfectly content with the bit of distance this creates in other relationships.
Aside from the privacy issues, there is the honest fact that I just don’t know what to say when people ask me what I’ve been up to. Do they want to know how I spend my days, or are they just inquiring into my work situation? The reality is that my life since leaving the law has been full many different things, interests, and phases that I can’t neatly summarize my non-working life even to myself. I wear several different hats throughout the day —- wife, chef, writer, runner, housekeeper —- that begin to capture what I “do,” but the way I wear those hats has constantly changed during several phases I’ve passed through since last summer.
These “phases,” which I’m not really sure is what you’d call them, make up the process of my journey from lawyer to a destination that is still unknown. First, I was decompressing. It took a while to stop thinking of the day in terms of billable hours and to let the negativity of the law drain out of my system. This took a while, and I was minimally productive. Next was my renewal phase. Feeling refreshed, I started this website, diligently build up a base of content, and kept to a fairly good daily schedule that carved out some solid “working” time. Then the holidays arrived and I totally lost focus. I waffled a bit, floundered in my writing, and found plenty of other activities to fill my days. I remained productive in other ways, as a homemaker and runner, but I was disappointed in myself for not pushing forward on other pursuits with income-making potential. Becoming an elite runner sponsored by Nike was not in the cards.
The phase I find myself in now is sort of like a crescendo. Enough time has passed since I left the law that I’m getting serious about taking the next steps towards creating a new “working reality.” Of course, I’m not going to reveal what that is because I’m fiercely private, remember? But I’m thinking hard about my goals and the qualities of the life I want to lead in the future. I’m trying to honor the time I have each day to do something that moves me step-by-step in the general direction of those goals, even if the trajectory isn’t always a straight line. I’m definitely not, nor have I ever in my out-of-work life, watching daytime TV and treating myself to weekly manicures. I try to live life with purpose, and though I’m more successful at this some days than others, that is, in a nutshell, “what I’ve been up to.”
So, naturally, I really don’t want to get into all this when I run into a former colleague at the store or talk to an old friend on the phone. It’s not a neat explanation. It’s not one a lot of people can relate to. I haven’t forged an “identity” you can easily characterize or label. The thing that matters most to me though is that I’m much happier with my varied existence now than I ever was as a lawyer, so I guess ultimately what I’ve been “up to” is being happy.
April 1, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons
I am not a quitter. In fact, I am known to be so stubborn that any obstacle placed in my path will only strengthen my resolve to accomplish a goal I have set for myself. It’s a family trait. It’s also one of the main reasons why I was undeterred in my decision to become a lawyer many years ago even when people close to me expressed concerns that the profession might not be the best fit for my personality. But I was stubborn. I had to see for myself.
Having now left the law, I can look back on those nine years I devoted to training and work and confidently say that I gave it a fair shot and tried the best that I could to make it work for me. I gave it more than a fair shot, in fact, since I would have left earlier had I not been responsible for paying back my overpriced law school education. I knew almost immediately upon entering the working world that the doubts I had so desperately attempted to ignore were actually legitimate concerns that I had been too stubborn to face.