ca • reared

  1. reared to pursue a career as a primary objective in life.
  2. duped or screwed by a career, or by the pursuit of a career.

Advice and Lessons Archive

The Career Tipping Point

April 27, 2011 | File under: Advice and LessonsWell-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.

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What Have You Been Up To?

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.

On Seeing For Yourself

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.

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Ending the Pity Party

February 25, 2011 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

People love to complain. It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, but sometimes it can get out of hand. Not only is complaining contagious; it is nearly always unproductive and can even be counter-productive, leading to a crippling lack of motivation in nearly everything. And after a while, listening to the same complaints over and over again becomes very irritating to other people. Especially when the complainer appears unwilling to do anything to change the situation giving rise to the complaints. At that point, complaining simply becomes a waste of time.

I used to be one of those people that complained constantly that I hated my job. I complained at work to my empathetic friends, I complained at home to my husband and I complained to my family when I spoke to them over the phone. I spent so much of my time thinking about work and complaining that my free time away from the office never felt like free time—-I carried my misery with me wherever I went and allowed it to overshadow the experiences I should have been enjoying. It was not a healthy way to live.

Very quickly, my negativity grew tiresome to others, and to myself. I was tired of ruminating over things that would never change, people who would always be difficult to deal with, and situations that were unavoidable evils in the profession I had chosen. My family was tired of counseling me out of my funks, a process that sometimes monopolized large chunks of the weekend days I was supposed to be enjoying. It was a state of mind I could not sustain.

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Appreciating Simplicity

February 10, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons

I used to have a very stressful job. I was a lawyer. Each day was a battle. Against adversaries. Against difficult supervisors. Against myself, battling the dread I felt towards my work. I was in a constant defensive state, preparing myself for the next awful assignment, the next unpleasant phone call, the next mean email.

To cope with the stress of my job, I sought refuge in simple things. Coming home to enjoy a slow dinner with my husband. Going for runs and listening to the repetitive sounds of my feet and breath while appreciating the beautiful sights around me. Wrapping myself in a blanket and knitting stitch after stitch, watching it become a scarf. And, oddly enough, standing in front of a sink full of dishes, swishing away food remnants with almond-scented bubbles. With these actions, I claimed small victories in my daily battles.

Thankfully, that stressful time in my life has ended, and I’ve begun a new, and considerably less defined, chapter in my life. Instead of the dread I used to feel, I face each new day with excitement and appreciation. I find even more fulfillment in those simple things I used to cling on to for dear life, knowing now that activities such as washing the dishes and cooking a healthy meal for my husband and me contributes to our overall quality of life, which has definitely improved since I left my job as a lawyer.

So while some people dread tackling a pile of greasy pans and streaked dishes (without a dishwasher, I might add), I am ever grateful for that time each day, knowing the dishes will not order me into the office on a weekend or compose an email in all caps. As I stand there, I mostly space out as my hands handle the repetitive work, my mind jumping from one thing to another. Is it weird that I have never obtained the same calmness of mind through yoga as I do in my purple dish gloves?

There is a lovely little book that is full of wonderful reflections on simplicity called Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life, and this one quote resonates with me deeply:

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”
—Thomas More

When Choosing a Career, the Devil is in the Details

January 26, 2011 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

Sometimes when I get an idea in my head I tend to overlook the realities of the situation I am imagining. I do not recommend this approach. Case in point: for years, I had a “vision” of what it would be like to be a lawyer that turned out to be completely wrong. This vision was heavily influenced by the fictions I observed on TV, leading to a completely skewed conception of reality. But even aside from pop culture’s manipulation of my impressionable mind, my perceptions of the day-to-day realities I would face in my career were dominated by big-picture abstractions that ignored the mundane, everyday details of the job. And we all know the devil is in the details.

Let’s glimpse into my 20-year-old mind for a moment. I am in college, without any real working experience in my life aside from a few summers of part-time retail work and short-term internships. I have no idea what it’s like to work a nine-to-five (or more) desk job, or any kind of job for that matter, for an extended period of time. I know how to be a student. I get this idea in my head that I should be a lawyer. I’m a good writer, I can articulate my points well, and I have an interest in political and historic issues. Essential skills for a lawyer, right? Put my talents to use “making a difference” and “defending justice.” Or something like that. Everyone thinks it’s a good idea. I commit to this path with only a vague notion of what lawyers actually do on a daily basis.

What exactly did I think I would be doing as a lawyer? Reading, researching and writing, mostly. That’s actually what I did end up doing most days as a lawyer. So where had I erred in my predictions?

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Feeling the Career Brain Drain

January 19, 2011 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

Sometimes, a career can actually diminish one’s mental capacity. It happened to me. Before I became a lawyer, I was a fairly creative person. I immersed myself in activities that required a good deal of concentration, patience and free thought. I read deep philosophical books, I knitted an intricate stuffed elephant toy for my niece, I baked bread by hand, and I even experimented with watercolors despite my lack of natural artistic talent. And then, I started my job and my after-work and weekend activities took on a decidedly more mindless quality. I just didn’t have it in me to think very hard after thinking so hard all week long, and my creativity levels and desire for self-improvement plummeted.

Part of becoming careared is feeling worn down and defeated by a job. This is exactly how I felt. Not only did my job affect my attitude and thoughts during the time I was at work, but it also dampened my spirits and left me mentally spent when I was away from the office. While I was once ambitious with my free time, I found myself spending more and more time watching movies and engaging in mindless activities that wouldn’t be too taxing on my fried brain. I began to perceive many of my former interests as chores, requiring too much creativity and concentration.

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The Interview Wining and Dining Facade: A Sociological Experience

January 11, 2011 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the JobSchooling

For people who enter law school to secure a job at a law firm, those three years are really just an extended interviewing process. At least the first two years are, as many people enter their third year with a job offer in hand. And law schools waste no time: the search for a job begins practically the moment one enters their first year. From then on, it’s a nonstop parade of career fairs, campus visits, cocktail parties and fancy meals.

Of these events, the wining and dining ones are particularly illuminating. You can learn a lot about the Big Law Firm life by observing people sipping glasses of fine wine and munching on expensive crudités.

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The Sunday Dread

January 3, 2011 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

You know the feeling. You are enjoying a relaxing weekend. Although it took a bit to wind down from the work week, by Sunday your mind is decompressed and you are in full-out weekend mode. This state of bliss lasts for approximately three full hours, until late Sunday afternoon when you are inevitably reminded that you must enter the rat race again in approximately twelve hours. Enter the Sunday dread.

During my years as a lawyer, I became intimately acquainted with the Sunday dread. I hated the work week. I lived for the short time I had at home each night after work, and —- more significantly —- the weekends.

The countdown would begin on Monday morning. Like running in a marathon, the thought of the distance that separated me from Friday afternoon seemed daunting and insurmountable. How would I make it? Did I have it in me? I resorted to tactics that would allow me to mentally break down the week into smaller, easier palatable increments: I just need to make it until lunch and there will be relief; okay, one day down, four more to go; Wednesday, we’re halfway there. Slowly, the hours would pass, a day or two, then Thursday would come around and the finish finally appeared to be in sight. I would collect every bit of strength I had in me to push through to the end, breathe a big sigh of relief, and congratulate myself on completing the journey.

The next two days were a reward for my perseverance. A mix of recreation and necessary household activities, those two days would fly by at lightning speed, a pace unknown to me during the work week. Sometimes the lingering effects of work called for a brief detox to rehabilitate myself from the week. Saturday mornings were often spent flushing out negative thoughts and massaging out annoying kinks.

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Further Thoughts on Sucking at Law

December 16, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons

Yesterday’s article by Will Meyerhofer, “I Suck at Law” posted on his own website and on Above the Law seems to have really struck a chord with many people. Unsurprisingly, the haters came out full force on Above the Law, some leaving such thoughtful remarks as “and you suck at writing too” (the outpouring of sarcasm on ATL never ceases to amaze me). However, a handful of comments on that site, and the majority of comments on Mr. Meyerhofer’s site reveal that there are a lot of people out there who feel the same sense of disillusion, frustration, disgust, despair, regret and restlessness I felt in my former job as a law firm lawyer.

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Keeping Time in Perspective

December 15, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons

I spent nearly a third of my life as a lawyer. Three years of law school and six years of working in a law firm. That’s nine years, not counting my undergraduate time leading up to law school. I’m 31. That’s a huge chunk of life devoted to a career that I ultimately left!

At the time I entered law school, I assumed I was in it for the long haul. I did not consider, nor was I prepared for, the possibility that a career in the law would not be a good fit for me. Had I been sensitive to this before I plunged into my legal studies, I may have put more thought into whether devoting all of my twenties (or more) to the profession was worth sacrificing the time I could have spent on other pursuits.

Instead, my careared perspective conditioned me to perceive only the positive ramifications of attending law school and becoming a lawyer: career opportunities, financial reward, social status. I did not consider that once I embarked on that path and assumed the financial burden of my schooling other paths would immediately become off-limits, or at least highly incompatible with the choices I had made.

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Common-Sense Skills for Managers

December 8, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

Many of the people I know who have experienced burnout in their careers attribute their dissatisfaction as much to unpleasant people as to unfulfilling work. And most of the time, the people who present the greatest challenges to work with are supervisors who exhibit extremely poor managerial skills. Few professionals who hold supervisory power over others are actually trained in management. And even those who are often fall short in adhering to the rules of basic human respect that should be common sense to anyone having passed through kindergarten. I’m not sure what sort of people skills are taught in management courses, but having myself experienced the burnout that comes from dealing with inconsiderate people, I can offer a few reflections on the common-sense behaviors that should be mandatory for any manager.

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Name Recognition

November 15, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsSchooling

I went to a top five law school. Are you impressed? Well, you should be, or so I was always led to believe. Growing up, I was always enamored with the idea of attending a prestigious school. Harvard, Yale, Princeton —- the names are just saturated with prestige and command instant respect. Primary education reinforces the belief that attending one of these sanctified institutions provides a free pass to career success. And with career success comes happiness. Or so the myth goes.

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It’s Okay To Say No

November 11, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

A colleague and friend of mine at a law firm where I previously worked admitted to me once that she had a hard time saying no to the persistent and increasing demands that were placed on her by people in our firm. It was clear she was being taken advantage of by some partners who took for granted her diligent work habits and her willingness to sacrifice personal and family time when client needs appeared pressing. As it usually goes in a law firm, the partners were apt to interpret “client needs” as requiring service at all hours, and my friend was repeatedly the one called to duty because she was perceived as always being available. Understandably, her stamina was depleted after many years of this and she ultimately left for greener pastures.

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Feeling the Career Brain Drain

October 27, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

Sometimes, a career can actually diminish one’s mental capacity. It happened to me. Before I became a lawyer, I was a fairly creative person. I immersed myself in activities that required a good deal of concentration, patience and free thought. I read deep philosophical books, I knitted an intricate stuffed elephant toy for my niece, I baked bread by hand, and I even experimented with watercolors despite my lack of natural artistic talent. And then, I started my job and my after-work and weekend activities took on a decidedly more mindless quality. I just didn’t have it in me to think very hard after thinking so hard all week long, and my creativity levels and desire for self-improvement plummeted.

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Sitting

October 22, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the Job

One thing all my years of schooling never prepared me for was the massive amount of sitting that would be required by my entry into professional life. Eight hours or more a day, confined to a desk in front of a computer, total idleness. It’s just one of those details of a career that evades notice until you find yourself doing it all. day. long.

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The Affluence Influence

October 18, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsMaterialismSociety and PressuresWell-being

Career perceptions are largely a function of one’s environment. The setting in which a child is raised profoundly shapes their understanding of how the world “works” and causes them to view certain lifestyles or values as inherently good or bad. Or, if certain characteristics are not distinguished as either good or bad, they are accepted as just the way that something “is” in any particular environment. These influences inevitably factor into how people perceive careers as enablers that will help them to achieve the lifestyle to which they aspire. In this way, one is careared from an early age to view certain careers as desirable for the monetary benefits they offer, not necessarily for the day-to-day tasks involved in the performance of such jobs.

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Getting Trapped “Inside the Box”

October 11, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsSchooling

It’s easy to get an education for a traditional career. Want to be a lawyer? Three years of law school is all it takes. Recognizable job titles correspond to particular courses of study and often lead to employment with well-known institutions under a common job description —- engineer, teacher, etc. The educational system favors careers that can be neatly packed into a box and summarized in college catalogs. But if you want to forge a path of your own in a non-traditional or entrepreneurial line of work, it’s not easy to find guidance in school. School teaches you to stay inside the box.

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A Career Cannot Provide Happiness

October 11, 2010 | File under: Advice and LessonsOn the JobSociety and PressuresWell-being

Growing up, I was always a bit uncomfortable in my own skin. I was constantly trying to live up to some social ideal, simultaneously pursuing notions of intelligence, beauty and overall worth that I believed would make me valued and special in society’s eyes. I thought acceptance from sources outside of myself would fuel my happiness, oblivious at the time that real happiness would remain elusive unless it came from myself, not from other’s affirmations of my embodiment of any ideal projected by society.

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