Professional Discontent: How it All Went Wrong

30Sep10

It is never far into my workday before I think, “What the hell am I doing here??”  Maybe it’s when I witness some lawyers go on about how interesting a transaction is — and it is the same transaction that I view as a mind-numbingly boring, endless source of pain. Or maybe it’s when, after hitting the 2-hour mark on a conference call, I begin daydreaming about gauging my eyes out with the closest sharp object — usually a pencil.  Or maybe it’s when my “mentor” has decided, in the midst of a high-pressure closing, that I must put down my pencil and really focus on why “hot” women are more successful than other women.

How did it come to this?

First, let me say that I take full responsibility for my current state of discontent.  That said, I really wish my parents had let me in on the secret that that smart people do enter fields other than law and medicine.  “You should be a TV anchorwoman”, my grandmother once said to me.  I was about 7 at the time and in retrospect, that was the most enlightened suggestion I received prior to about five months ago.  In spite of grandma’s vision for my future, however, I pursued law with Napoleonic zeal.  After graduating college with a B.A. in political science — the official major of law school hopefuls — I rode off into the sunset with my resume trailing behind me.  Man, I dedicated all four years of college to building that resume!  It was like my baby.  In addition to private sector work, I interned in both the legislative and executive branches, earned awards and honors, traveled extensively — frankly, I can’t bear to waste any more of my life even describing it all.  Because the problem was that I just wanted the credentials and didn’t really enjoy any of it (except for the traveling).  I went through college AND law school with neither hobbies nor any clue as to who I was, what I valued, and what I (i.e. not my siblings, not my parents, not my friends) enjoyed doing.

More than a few have commented on my page, asking what I would have done differently and why it took me so long to realize that I am in the wrong profession.  With respect to the latter inquiry, my answer is simple: I never took the time to get to know myself.  More specifically, my ego and my drive prevented me from pursuing the things that I like doing (drawing, writing, smelling roses, etc.).  My mom, reeling from divorce during my formative years, raised me to believe that valuable women were strong, independent, power-players who, through intelligence and charisma, clawed their way up the corporate ladder (think Baby Boom, Working Girl, Who’s the Boss).   In addition, our family was afflicted with a more general bias towards lawyers and doctors.  I hated science, which left law.  Specifically, corporate law.  I am a corporate lawyer.  That was my choice.

I credit my parents — especially my mom — for my strength and independence.  What I would recommend to others, however, is to really examine your motivations for pursuing a career.  If you want to be a Biglaw associate because you want to be a power player, that’s OK (it’s nice to dream);  but if you want to be happy doing it, you should (among other things) love the law, be detail-oriented and organized, be able to keep a straight head while juggling multiple deadlines under intense pressure, have patience for minutiae and be physically able to see inconsistencies in small text or on screen.  And you should be and do all of these things even when you’re running on nothing but caffeine and trying not to focus on the gnawing fear that maybe your eyeballs really can shrivel up or maybe your best friend really has deleted your phone number, which you couldn’t really blame her for, since you’ve had to cancel on her about 5,000 times.

With respect to the former question — what I would have done differently — the answer is basically the same, but perhaps simpler.  I would not have spent so much time doing things that I don’t enjoy.  Not only would I have abstained from pursuing with such fervor Hollywood’s prepackaged power woman persona, but I simply would have noted the connection between those things that I do not enjoy and those things that I would not want to do every day for the rest of my life.  Finding your life’s work is, I think, an organic process.  I was like a closet pacifist who joined the army — shocking that things are not working out.

Thankfully, that is all in the past.  As for the future, it would seem that I have have to find some hobbies …

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7 Responses to “Professional Discontent: How it All Went Wrong”

  1. This is quite amazing…I think we might be kindreds.

    -Lucky

  2. 2 MK

    Impressive post. Knowing yourself is the first and most important step when chosing a field to spend the rest of your life. For that matter it is most important before making any decisions.(marriage, school, job). I’m happy to see you’ve learned a lot from your mistakes. Good luck

  3. What kind of writing were you into? What kinds of things did you draw?

  4. Right after I posted that last one I looked on my facebook page to find that my cousin had just posted this:

    “Lack of contentment sows the seed of envy and aggressive competitiveness and leads to a culture of excessive materialism. -The Dalailama
    – Via the twitter of the 14th DalaiLama.”

    Thought of you.

  5. 5 Samantha Alexander

    You are a very philosophical bunch! I completely agree with that quote — I see it every day in some of the people I work with.

    As for me, I wrote articles. I wrote for school newspapers and I wrote independently. I sent a few of my articles in to local newspapers (only one of which was ever published — I was in 4th grade at the time and co-authored it with a friend. We cashed in on the “cute” vote. The fact that my co-author conveniently forgot to put my name on it when she sent it in … well, maybe that’s a post for another day). I would draw mostly in ink and/or pencil, but I also experimented in charcoal. I wasn’t very talented, but the sublimation was therapeutic.

  6. Therapeutic sounds good. Also, a simple doodle can reveal something going on in your subconscious mind that might be revelatory. Obviously not a career interest at the moment though.
    Outside of blogging, does journalism interest you? Are is there another topic that might grab your attention for a longer write?

  7. 7 Samantha Alexander

    That is an excellent question. Not sure … traditional journalism seems a little hardcore for me (“asking all of the hard questions”, etc.). As far as topics for a longer write … none at the moment. 😦


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