Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"You do realize we're all going to be dead soon, don't you?"

Once one realizes she no longer wants to be an attorney, being one becomes intolerable.

I remember being mired in despair during my search for a non-legal job, when I would routinely come home from work and log onto job search websites. Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly discouraged, I would skip the job search websites and go straight for a glass of wine. I remember crying to my husband about how I was "wasting my life" and that I was starting to hate living my life. At work, I was miserable, and when I wasn't at work, I was dreading having to go back.

I kept remembering what a friend of mine had once told me when I was complaining to him about some trivial problem I was having: "You know what - who cares? Do you realize we're all going to be dead soon?" At the time, I just laughed, agreed with him, and changed the subject. But when I thought of it in the context of my job situation, it began to have greater meaning. Hating my life was not a trivial problem, but the truth behind the sentiment remained: we are all going to die eventually (even soon if you consider how old the average human is when she dies compared to how old the universe is), so we best not waste precious days worrying about trivial concerns.

And, to be fair, some of my concerns were trivial. Sure, hating my life was a big deal, but worrying about quitting the law was trivial. I worried about how much less money my husband and I would have to live on. I worried about a loss of prestige that results when giving up the job title of "attorney." I worried about how my family and friends would react to the news. I worried about never finding a career that truly fulfills me. These concerns were all trivial when I considered the fact that, if I were to live to be 80 years old, I had already lived approximately 40% of my life. Why spend the remaining 60% worrying about what other people (people I mostly see only on national holidays or at weddings) would think about my decision to leave the law?

During my job search, when I reminded myself that I was going to be dead "soon," it made being an attorney (temporarily) a bit easier, and it made the job search easier, too. I still dreaded upcoming telephone conferences, motion hearings, and unfinished briefs that needed my attention, but I began to separate myself from them emotionally. They were just a part of my job, not a part of me. Motion hearings and briefs would go on if I were dead. My life, however, is temporary, so I began to focus on what I wanted and not what I hated.

With respect to my job search, I started to not care as much about where I ended up working. I had been so consumed with finding the perfect job for me that I didn't stop to think that maybe, at this point in my life, there is no perfect job. Right now, maybe all I need is to earn some income to help pay the bills, and think about what I really want out of life, not just what I want out of a job.

When I tell people that story about my friend dispensing such brash advice, most people think it was rather insensitive. But to this day, I am thankful to him for putting so succinctly what Richard Carlson, of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... fame, took 272 pages to articulate: "Who cares? Do you realize we're all going to be dead soon?"


  1. Law for me was a means to please my parents. I also believed I was "headed somewhere" as opposed to peers who chose to work full time or go with a technical education. Years later, they're the ones with the jobs and homes. I got there, too, but it could have been done with far less schooling and expenses!

  2. Oh, man, I can relate. Part of the reason I went was to please my father, the other part was to stick it to him (he never went to college and we never really got along). I, too, saw my peers go into the job market sooner and start establishing themselves, all the while thinking it would be worth it in the end for me to delay all that. Ha. That's all I can say. Ha.

  3. I had that moment before I went to law school. My brother in law died 3 weeks before I learned I got accepted in the Northeast (I lived unhappily in the South at the time). Going to law school was more of my excuse to get out of the South & build contacts to eventually move to NYC, which I did after graduating & taking 2 bar exams.

    I never obsessed over law school or was a grind--I kept things in perspective & chose to do what I wanted in my career path. The people who think like that are the types I can talk to; the grinds are the people I hate.

    I'm still maintaining my licenses but do something completely unusual & rare for someone at my level of experience. See my blog if you want to know what I'm talking about.

  4. "I remember crying to my husband about how I was 'wasting my life' and that I was starting to hate living my life."

    I know the feeling very well. (Although I do not have a husband or wife. Who wants to date a broke guy who lives with his parents and can't find work anywhere?)

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  6. This was a magnificent post.I am in the process of getting out. I have started a business and am closing out my files. I recently shared with a bunch of my non-lawyer friends that I'm leaving. To my pleasant surprise, there was nothing but support. Don't worry what others think. In reality, they aren't as worried about your career as you may believe. Life's too short to go through it with anxiety, depression, health issues and misery.