Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Lonely Lawyer

A law school friend of mine (we'll call him "John") called me tonight, in need of some support.  He was feeling bummed out about not having a girlfriend, about his job (as a bankruptcy lawyer), and about his law school debt.

"I can't believe how stupid I was to drop computer engineering for a history major.  And going to law school was such a huge mistake.  But what else was I going to do with my worthless BA?"

"It's ok.  We all did stupid stuff when we were younger.  Just 'cause you dropped engineering back in college doesn't mean you can't go back into that field now."

"Yeah, but I'm afraid if I leave my law job, I may never be able to go back."

"What are you talking about?  Are they going to take away your law license if you try to be happy?"

"No, but I remember career services told me four years ago not to ever leave a firm or no one will ever hire you again."

"And you're really going to put your life in the hands of our law school's career services office?"

He laughed.  "Yeah, I guess that was a long time ago.  Things have changed..."

Indeed they have.  These days, a lot of my classmates have moved on from the legal field, while some have thrived in it.  Others have been paralyzed by fear of what will happen if they try their hand at anything else.  John was feeling particularly lonely tonight because he saw on facebook that one of our fellow classmates recently paid off her student loans (no, it wasn't me who posted that).  He started talking about his student loan balance, and how maybe he should have lived more frugally in law school.  Everything he was saying boiled down to one thing for me: regret.

One of the most difficult things in life is to look back on our choices and wonder what might have been had we made different ones.  That's something I've been grappling with lately.  For so long, I've been focused on paying off debt that I hadn't stopped to think about whether I was happy in my day to day work, or where my life was going in general terms, not just financial.  For so long, all I thought about was work, work, work just to get out of debt that I didn't have time to look back and wonder what might have been.

Now, I'm wondering.  I wonder why I gave up on my real dreams in college to pursue a more "practical" career in law.  I wonder now if it's too late to figure out what my real purpose is.

All this is not to complain about my current job.  I love the people I work with and it pays well enough.  But one thing I've figured out from the whole law school fiasco was that I went to law school because I wanted a career that would grant me an identity.  I think a lot of law students are looking for that.  To this day, I am still looking for that.  I know John is, too.  I wonder how different my life might be now had I taken some time after college to pursue a dream rather than a job.  All these regrets lead to loneliness.

I wished I had some words of wisdom for John, but I didn't.  I just listened to him, and tried to encourage him to think about what might make him happy.  I told him I was in his corner.  It's important to say that out loud sometimes to the people we care about, and mean it.

As for me, I know it's going to take a while to figure things out.  It's already taken this long and I'm still as lost as ever.  I do know one thing for sure, though.  Don't ever put your life, or your happiness, in the hands of career services. 


  1. Using student loans to develop an identity through university is a loosing strategy. it is a faustian bargain.

    1. I completely agree. John said he was toying with the idea of going back to school but he doesn't want to take on any more loans. We've both learned from our student debt mistakes. Thank you so much for reading!

  2. "John, turn that frown upside down, yea mon"... ride around in a Volkswagen. That's what I hear...

    You'll figure it out. I found mine: Identity is living a happy life. Most of this is about choices. Royal Marine friend said once, "when you're in the muck, you can either be happy or miserable; your choice." (Though, like you, I was miserable when I had those debts.)

    1. Thanks for reading! Oh man, if you only knew "John." He is definitely not the hippie-riding-around-in-a-VW-type. I wish he were; it would be so much easier to give him advice. He really just wants to work with computers, which I think would be great except that his career hasn't been on that trajectory so far. (Wait, wasn't Apple founded by a couple of hippies? Maybe John does need to go on a road trip...)

      I was pretty miserable when I had those debts, but thankfully now they're gone! Now I just need to figure out whether to stay where I am or do something else. The eternal question. :)

    2. John should take the plunge, but it's his journey. I've always worked off of "if you died today, what would you regret not experiencing?" I think law school was good for that. I was curious about it, I went, and now, I'm a raging alcoholic (no, not really). I went the tech entrepreneur route (I wrote on ITLSS about this and was pummeled). It was an evolution. And meeting lots of people and talking to them about their journey (lotta great lives being lived). Apple was founded by two guys who were just curious about making a complete system (monitor, motherboard, and keyboard). Steve Jobs is right -- you can only connect the dots looking back. The Story of Your Life is yet to be written -- so write it with gusto.

  3. Same here. Went to law school for an identity, prestige, and because it seemed like a profession where if you worked hard, you would be rewarded with a comfortable lifestyle and job security. After 10 years I find myself in the position of the burnt-out litigation associate. No clients of my own, so no chance of putting out a shingle and no corporate experience, so no chance to go in house. I am stuck. I went to college as a music major, but haven;t played in 12 years. Love history, but can't translate that into dependable income. Thankfully loans are almost paid off, but still have a mortgage and now a kid on the way. Things seem rather hopeless to me. I wouldn't be whining, except the stress is starting to affect my health. Ulcer, constant headaches, low self esteem. I am now firmly in the "office space" mode of working just hard enough not to get fired. I have no clue where to begin to look for an alternative career, as not many other professions seem to value an anal-retentive perfectionist.

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  5. I've thought about regrets recently too. All I can say is this: don't beat yourself up over your mistakes. You cannot undo or change them, so it's pointless to cry over spilled milk, as it were. Another thing to consider is this: you would not be the person you are today had you NOT gone through the experiences you have. Though you're not 'there' yet (wherever that is for you), I get the impression that you like who you are; you like who you've become; and that you're happy overall with where your life is going now.

    One thing I've noticed while reading your posts is that you seem to have a genuine sense of gratitude now; you're grateful for what you have, to be out of the law, and grateful to your husband and how he helped you pay off the last of your loans. Would you be in this place had you not learned the lessons you have along the way, including the detour through the law? Probably not.

    At the end of the day, we cannot undo our bad decisions; we cannot undo our mistakes. Ergo, it's pointless to beat ourselves up over them. Why do that when you can't go back and change the past?

    However, we shouldn't forget the past altogether; we should remember, but only to a point. The past can be useful in teaching us good lessons in what NOT to do. Thankfully, I've had many second chances to redo things I'd screwed up when I was younger. Thanks to having learned the hard way, I was able to repeat a similar situation, but this time do it RIGHT.

    Hope this helps. Have a good day now...

  6. I think you've hit the nail on the head with wanting an identity. I am not a lawyer but I was close to giving up my engineering career to go to law school back in '05. The reason for it was something close to wanting an identity. Something I like to call "cocktail party talk". I wanted to have stories when conversing with people. Stories I didn't have as an engineer. But something guided me against it, even though I probably would have been admitted to a top 20 school.