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.

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.


  • Hello Careared,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences to the extent that you have. Your self-imposed limits on disclosure seem perfectly rational to me.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts since you escaped law. Big Law imposes such a narrow view of career progression - junior to senior associate, followed by counsel, partner or ejection. It’s often difficult to see how to transition to another environment. Your posts provide interesting and positive observations about the process.

    PolybiusApril 14th, 2011
  • I really enjoyed reading this post. It has been 9 months since I left BigLaw. I identify with the different phases you’ve passed through.

    I get asked variations of the same question — “what have you been up?” or “what do you plan to do” or “what’s next?”. This type of question annoys me a little too.

    Unlike you, the question doesn’t annoy me because I am a private person. It annoys me because I can’t come up with a neat explanation. Sometimes, I feel the need to justify that ideas need time to marinate before they can be acted upon. But I have become comfortable with the ambiguity. Ultimately, I only have to justify to myself, with the support of my husband.

    I like what you wrote at the end. The most important aspect of the journey is to find happiness and fulfillment. And it is not as easy as it sounds. Finding passion is hard work.

    I am so glad that I have a fellow sojourner on this journey. Keep up the great work!

    EverySixMinutesApril 19th, 2011
  • I totally agree that another problem with the question is that there is no neat answer. So, it usually ends up that I give some rambling answer that makes little sense. Good luck on your journey as well!

    CarearedApril 30th, 2011
  • Careared says:

    “Do they want to know how I spend my days, or are they just inquiring into my work situation?”

    They are trying to figure out your appropriate social status now that you have downgraded youself and lept into the Abyss From Which There Is No Return.

    After all, in America name/function of job = social status = worth as a person. It’s hard to know how valuable someone is without knowing What They Do.

    And BigLaw is the one of the best of the bestest in attorneyworld. One of the financial and reputational elite. Those who have Made It.

    You could tell them that you are applying for Supreme Court clerkships or considering pursing that S.J.D. you always wanted so that you can grab a tenure track position at NYU. That way, you can look like you are still Striving for Success.

    JPMay 6th, 2011

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