Career Death: A Love Story
I recently left the legal profession. Note: I was not removed from the legal profession. Point of clarification there, people. #notdisbarred
I remain (and plan to remain) a licensed attorney. You know, just so I can whip out a demand letter at a moment’s notice, remind people that truth is an absolute defense to defamation (cuz that is necessary all the time, I think), and that tortious interference with business relations is like, a real, like, thing.
The fun thing about being this type of lawyer-but-not-practicing-lawyer is two-fold:
it doesn’t come with the hassles of a real job and I can do all of this demanding from my pajamas.
However, being a baby bird taking flight in a lawd-only-knows new career direction is interesting.
I know leaving was the right decision for me.
But I left a great job and a super team of people who I really do miss—just as humans.
In making a large job switch like this, it’s basically saying: “Here’s a 16+ year trajectory—POOF! Nope. Just kidding. You say bye bye!”
I walked out on a “career.” I walked out on an area of expertise, if you will, that I had cultivated (at times, through gritted teeth)—but expertise, knowledge, intellect and loads of cocktail party information
“Do I need a will?” Answer: YES.
“Do I need a medical power of attorney?” Answer: YES
“Will I get in trouble if ___________?” Answer: It depends.*
*This is only a joke.
Nothing contained herein is intended to
be construed as legal advice.
(See what I did there?)
Regardless, the free-fall of career death was weird.
I underestimated what it would feel like. I underestimated that this decision was anyone’s effing business but my own (and my family’s). I also underestimated how much I would care.
But… did I really care that I was leaving law?
I had to sit down and think about the answer to that question. But often it’s not the answers to the question that matter… it’s the question itself.
So what was the proper question to ask?
The question I came up with: Why am I having any heartburn about leaving the legal profession? [Afterall, it’s what I wanted for a long while.]
And turns out that was the right question. Because it gave me some weird answers.
well, the paycheck is poof / “security” / contribution to household / what’s next / the bathrooms (what?)/ ability to take care of family financially suddenly unknown / “success” / waste of time all that education and years / expertise unneeded / can i dump it out of my head / an office to go to / a reason to keep 45 suits / a reason to wear heels / a reason to buy new clothes that aren’t made of spandex
Then I thought about all those answers were tied to:
I was having heartburn about leaving the law because I was “no longer a lawyer” (ego) and I didn’t have the label of such (identity).
Not that everyone loves lawyers anyway – but it is a reputable profession, despite what some may say. I know amazing attorneys, and everyone hates an attorney until they need one and have a great one. That’s the nature of the gig.
I left the law in search of a new path, a new life for myself and my family. And then it didn’t go as planned. Like within months. I’m thinking, “Well, that was some bullshit.”
So I felt like a lemonade maker: months of being pelted with giant lemons and I’m furiously doing all the peeling and making of the lemonade without anyone saying, “this lemonade is great!” and all I hear is “I don’t know about this lemonade. How about stevia, not sugar please.”
Well, it’s easy to get really sick of lemonade. I’m thought I was gonna need to go back to (gasp) Coke, just for the hell of it.
As expected, the path of least resistance came calling and made me think.
Why bother building and learning a new anything? I can just go back and take the elevator up to the top of the building I already know? It would have been really easy to take the headhunter calls. Or to call my boss and beg, “I’ll do whatever. Please let me come back.”
That’s the “easy” thing to do when the lemons are flying fast and furiously. To say, “Screw these lemons, I’m going somewhere else!”
And I am thinking, “If I had not gone in pursuit of this ‘other’ dream seven years ago, then I could have been a partner by now at some random firm, somewhere. If I never started this dumb triathlon thing, writing thousands of articles, and blah blah blah, I could be in my suit, downtown, making bank and…”
So. I went to a job interview. At a law firm.
I met with two of the associate attorneys. They were nice. The office was nice. And when they went to fetch the partner to interview me, I bolted.
I broke out in a sweat, my stomach knotted up, and I asked for the bathroom—and I RAN AWAY. (#holycrap). Okay, so I didn’t “run” because I am out of practice of doing anything in heels. But, I walked briskly out of said high-rise and into parking deck and peeled out.
(I have since sent an apology email. But man, the visceral response was strong.) My heart, mind and soul lined up and said: “NO. Meredith. No. Go.”
So I did.
Because I realized, once I stopped sweating, that ego and identity were driving that decision to even attempt to reenter the law. I was not in that office for the right reasons. I was not back in heels for love, interaction, growth, contribution, community, family. All the things I had fought for—for these many years–to make my life better, to grow a community, to be around for the kids. I was in a law office trying to unwind that. And my body rejected me.
But what about ALL THESE LEMONS??!?
When I walked out, I saw the truth. The problem was never the lemons. Or the lemonade itself. Or, the law, for that matter.
We can work for years in careers and jobs we don’t like.
We can do what we need to do to take care of our family. We can stick through it when things are hard and uncomfortable, and man, it is HONORABLE to not quit. So let me say that. Doing work that is honorable and necessary and valuable, and sucking it up for as long as you need to, to make your life work? That is a valuable character trait.
I took a really long time and dedicated my entire adult life to the law. I am not a quitter in leaving. I just changed my mind.
The problem with all these lemons, in law and in recent times, was my attitude.
I was raised with an air of scarcity despite having a lot of blessings… my dad was self-employed and I remember distinctly hearing him worry about making ends meet, the woes of entrepreneurship, and that has definitely infiltrated my thoughts. I have always worried about ends being met, even when everything did (and has) worked out. Maybe not perfectly, but worked out.
The way that I was looking at life recently was rooted in a fear and scarcity mentality.
I was allowing circumstances, sheer cruelty from others, definitions of success and labels (the lemons) to make me think differently about my decision, my real goals, what was best for my family.
Lemons are just lemons.
They are what they are going to be, and who they will be, you can’t change the lemons, you can’t pretend that they aren’t lemons. So I realized that the best way to deal with the lemons is to just keep peeling and doing the same things I have always done with one change: gratitude.
When I turn my focus on all the things I am gaining by continuing to do the path I know, I am making a giant list of blessings and gratitude… suddenly, the room for ego and identity just isn’t as important.
I don’t need someone to say, “Oh but you know so much LAW!” or “What a great LAWYER you are!”
It doesn’t matter. The egocentric crap and labels wash away.
Because I’m sitting here, sipping my lemonade and breathing, counting one blessing after another… and snuggling for the fifth day in a week with a sick little girl—not worrying about how I can bill my hours today.
I am not writing this to brag about working from home now, or sitting with my daughter. Because I remember what that felt like—when I had two young kids and they were sick, and I was NEVER home with them. I know how much I loathed my stay-at-home-mom friends. LOATHED them—just because it wasn’t “FAIR.”
And I will say, it was a choice. It was always a choice.
And knowing that, deep down, I allowed that knowledge–that I could choose a different path—to drive me. I used that knowledge make myself work to figure out how I could GET what they had AND more. Because I always wanted to work, to add value to people and to contribute outside of my four walls… it’s just something I wanted. I also wanted a sustainable life for me where I could be available and present for my family and do more, outside, of what fed me.
We can choose our path and what we want to change.
Maybe it’s not overnight. But if we are miserable where we are, we can change.
Maybe we can’t right now, this second (take this job and shove it). After all, my escape process was over seven years in the making, many many additional hours of work, and lots of lost sleep.
But we can start the motion any time, to make a better path.
So, in summary, I have recently experienced “career death” and “lemonade making,” and I have come out on the other side with my own love story for my life.
Gratitude is the saving grace. Is it weird to be grateful for gratitude? Discuss.
And while I am not sure what is next…
Oh, who am I kidding. Of course I know what’s next.
Love to you all,
Coming up soon on the podcast!
Laura Handel Zender
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