The NYTimes Dissects Lawyer Unhappiness with a Note on Following Your Dreams
If you haven't seen it referenced by a hundred law blogs already, here's your link to the New York Times article The Falling-Down Professions, parsing not only legal, but also physician unhappiness.
Of all the fool's gold mentioned there (property, power and prestige) the article does contain one note of true value that attorneys might be missing in their practices:
Especially among young people, professional status is now inextricably linked to ideas of flexibility and creativity, concepts alien to seemingly everyone but art students even a generation ago.
“There used to be this idea of having a separate work self and home self,” . . . [Richard Florida, the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life”] “Now they just want to be themselves. It’s almost as if they’re interviewing places to see if they fit them.”
The Choices We Make
In 1975, I was fresh out of college and typing in a typing pool in Midtown Manhattan. I still believed my sixties values at the time -- you know -- that meaningful employment was more important than money. I was -- not surprisingly -- just about as opinionated then as I am today and precisely as willing to share those opinions with anyone, regardless of hierarchy.
So it is that I recall a conversation I had with a young lawyer whose typing I did. He was relatively fresh out of Berkeley (Boalt) Law School. He wanted to be an historian, but the Ph.D's at the time were mostly driving cabs. He'd already left Sullivan & Cromwell for a captive midtown Manhattan law firm because S&C had given him such tasks as color-coding a map of the United States with the insurance programs available in each one. He'd even saved it. Pulled it from his top desk drawer. A momento of the life he'd avoided.
But he wasn't finding happiness at this smaller firm with more hands-on work either .
He was about to marry the young woman he was living with when it seemed time to marry and they were looking for a house in the suburbs. They were thinking of having a baby.
Here's the cheeky part: "don't do it," I urged him. "You'll be chained to this unhappy job for the next quarter-century."
Why did I believe this strongly enough to confront my superior in this way?
Because my entire generation had rebelled against just this type of life. We believed in following our dreams. We had the audacity to believe we could be happy.
The "Ending" You'd Predicted, Pretty Much
This young attorney's children are all grown-up now. And he wouldn't, of course, trade them for anything in the world. He finally left practice in his fifties, after his children graduated from college, to pursue that doctoral degree in history.
Shortly after -- before he had the Ph.D in hand -- his doctor gave him bad news. He has (still in his fifties) a particularly fast-growing and deadly cancer.
So . . . . Listen . . . .
Follow your dreams.
Along the way, if you don't put it off, love will come and commitments will be made. Children will follow with the joys and sacrifices they entail. If you are robustly participating in your own life, these events will take place. You will be successful and you will fail.
Your failures will be your greatest teachers. And sometimes, those failures will be sufficiently dramatic to release you from the bondage of the fool's gold we all haplessly follow from time to time -- status and stuff instead of satisfaction.
That, at any rate, is how my life has rolled out and the lives of my friends and colleagues.
Take the long view. Then commit to the present with passion.