Plans, Pilots and Private Practice.

“Things That Didn’t Work Out the Way I Thought They Would,” for $500, Alex.

T H E  B E G I N N I N G

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an attorney.  I remember telling my family as early as kindergarten that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, and it was always met with tons of support and encouragement.  That’s not just because I have quite possibly the world’s most supportive mom, dad and sister, but also because I was famous (probably more like notorious) for having the last word when I was younger.  How many people do you know who had their fifth birthday cancelled (entirely) because they just had to have the last word with their mother in the Target toy aisle?  Well, now you know of at least one.  (And if you actually know of another, let me know, it’s a pretty exclusive club.) Ultimately, I guess my parents figured I might as well get paid to argue when I got older; a cancelled fifth birthday shouldn’t be a total loss.  So, I set my course:  I studied hard and took AP courses in high school and got good grades.  I did well on the SAT and ACT and got into Clemson’s History and Social Sciences Program.  I piled on the extracurriculars, running Track and Field and Cross Country for Clemson as well as participating in various campus clubs.  I graduated with a good GPA and plenty of faculty recommendations.  I moved to Atlanta and worked at a law firm to beef up the “experience” side of my resume.  I took the LSAT, did well and ultimately started law school in Philadelphia in the Fall of 2011.

Law school was wonderful.  (Yes, you read that right.)  I loved law school instantly.  I could sink my teeth into anything from torts to criminal law to administrative law, and I finished my first year feeling great about my decision to leave my friends and my life in Atlanta (which wasn’t easy) to pursue the dream I’d had since forever. With every class I took and every case I read (with the exception of one that forever ruined my ability to eat canned soup without worrying whether I’d find a finger in it), I felt like I was beginning to unlock this absolutely massive, virtually endless world of knowledge that was more interesting than anything I’d ever studied before and that would provide the foundation for my career for years to come.

Law school was wonderful…With every class I took and every case I read, I felt like I was beginning to unlock this absolutely massive, virtually endless world of knowledge that was more interesting than anything I’d ever studied before and that would provide the foundation for my career for years to come.

I finished that first year with good grades and a slot on the Law Review, which set me up for plenty of job interviews for the next year.  I ended up with an internship at a well-reputed, medium-sized law firm in the city.  Before I even began my internship, that medium-sized law firm merged with a much, much larger firm, and by the end of my summer internship in 2013, I’d gotten my hands dirty with everything from products liability to white-collar crime cases.  I got a job offer from that firm – which I accepted without hesitation and then – in what seemed like the blink of an eye – I graduated, passed two state bar exams and went to work in the fall of 2014.  Those months were an absolute blur; to say that I was exhausted would be an understatement of epic proportions (I lived off of Cheez-Its and iced coffees for a solid two months before the bar), but I was excited nonetheless.  The feeling I had about finally starting my future in an earnest, tangible way after 21 years of seemingly unending education, test-taking and preparation was almost electric to me.  I remember walking into work that first day feeling different: I wasn’t an intern or a student anymore.  I wasn’t pretending to be an attorney, I was an attorney.  A bonified, card-carrying lawyer (seriously – they give us cards). It was truly one of the happiest times of my entire life – full of so much possibility and opportunity. I didn’t care that I was tired, I was ready to start. I was so.damn.happy.

That feeling lasted about 8 weeks.

I was an attorney…It was truly one of the happiest times of my entire life – full of so much possibility and opportunity. I didn’t care that I was tired, I was ready to start. I was so.damn.happy. It was truly one of the happiest times of my entire life – full of so much possibility and opportunity.  I didn’t care that I was tired, I was ready to start.  I was so.damn.happy.

That feeling lasted about 8 weeks.

T H E  M I D D L E

I hadn’t expected life as a young law firm associate to be easy or fun, in the traditional sense, but my experience was surprisingly miserable, and I went from feeling enthusiastic and excited about my future as an attorney in August, to disappointed, confused and totally disillusioned about my career by Christmas.  It wasn’t the hours which, at first, were long and kept me in the office from 8 AM to 8 PM most days.  If law school prepares for you one thing exceptionally well, it’s sitting in a chair, reading for hours and hours on end, and so the time spent pouring over cases or documents wasn’t an issue for me.  The (exceedingly) miserable aspect of the job, for me, was the head of my department – a so-called “rainmaker” with a penchant for screaming matches and inappropriate comments.  Of course, there were plenty of really decent people at my firm, and I’m thankful that I met them and developed lasting relationships with them.  I had a wonderful mentor – a female litigator with whom I developed a literal immediate bond and friendship (over shared granola recipes) – I still credit her with giving me the support, perspective and alliance I needed to stick with the job for as long as I did, which was just under two years. There were a few other attorneys with whom I developed good working relationships and, in some cases, friendships, but a few good relationships weren’t enough to keep me in a department run by the aforementioned rainmaker, who I refer to as “The Partner.”

No matter how hard I tried, or how good my work product was, The Partner went out of his way to make my work life unbearable, which I would have put up with for God knows how long (those student loans aren’t going to pay themselves) had he not crossed a few lines that I just couldn’t ignore, regardless of how often Sallie Mae comes around for her check (which is every single month, without fail – she’s on top of her stuff).  Even though I hate to credit him with influencing any aspect of my life in even the slightest way, it was, ultimately, the environment that he created in our workplace that drove me to leave the firm – the only legal workplace I’d ever known as an attorney – and seek employment elsewhere. Looking back, The Partner was the first in a line of major players in my post-law school life that I was able to walk away from feeling confidently better-off despite being down a main character in (what I thought was) my life’s story. For that, I’m thankful: it wasn’t until I’d worked so hard to please a completely unpleaseable person that I began to (slowly) realize how valuable my emotional and mental efforts really are.

Looking back, The Partner was the first in a line of major players in my post law school life that I was able to walk away from feeling confidently better-off despite being down a main character in (what I thought was) my life’s story. For that, I’m thankful: it wasn’t until I’d worked so hard to please a completely unpleaseable person that I began to (slowly) realize how valuable my emotional and mental efforts really are.

I eventually landed a job at another firm in the city, which really renewed my interest in, and passion for, the law and my young career.  As with my excitement about my first job as an attorney, this feeling of optimism and renewed sense of purpose was short-lived.  I’d expected that, once I switched to a new firm, the outrageously toxic environment I’d experienced at my first job would no longer be a part of my work situation.  To sum it up: I was wrong.  The toxicity took on a slightly different scent, but it permeated the workplace nonetheless.

Three months after I started my new job, I walked out of my office as a practicing attorney for the last time.

T H E  M I D D L E , P A R T  II

I’d started my new job at about the same time my romantic “relationship” with The Pilot began to rapidly deteriorate (even more than it already had).  While I was on my big 30th birthday trip in East Hampton with a dozen of my best girlfriends (I mean, a woman only turns 30 five, maybe six times in her entire life, so you gotta make it count), he and I got in our one millionth fight about his penchant for drunk-dialing me from foreign bars 24 hours after he’d promised a sober phone call. I told him I needed the rest of the weekend to just hang with my girlfriends without work or relationship-induced stress. He agreed to give me some space and then, three days later, after I’d unsuccessfully reached out (several times) to let him know I’d had the time I needed to think and hang with my friends, he called me from 6,000 miles away and dumped me (but not before taking a break in the middle of the phone call to go take a shower – he’d been playing pool volleyball for 48 hours straight and, as it turns out, ignoring your girlfriend for days on end while you perfect your bump/set/spike is dirty work, my friends).  It was less than a week later that I would leave my law office for the last time.  Suffice to say, I was devastated.  Not about any one thing in particular – I’d been through break ups and job changes before – but it felt like everything was falling apart at once. A career that I’d spent my life working on suddenly felt unraveled, and a relationship that I’d worked so hard to make succeed had just ended, not at all on my terms and while my ex was 7,000 miles away.  I’d never felt so rejected or confused in my entire life.

A career that I’d spent my life working on suddenly felt unraveled, and a relationship that I’d worked so hard to make succeed had just ended, not at all on my terms and while my ex was 7,000 miles away.  I’d never felt so rejected or confused in my entire life.

T H E  B E G I N N I N G

As of May, 2016, the law, the Partner and the Pilot were all fading further and further in my rear-view mirror, which ended up being the best thing that could have happened, but I still didn’t know what I needed to do to get back on the right track (not to mention start earning money).  My entire identity had been wrapped up in being an attorney for as long as I could remember (not to mention my legal education cost me well into the six-figures), and “failed” relationships in your 30s can make a woman feel a lot more hopeless than they once did.  I started applying for any and all jobs, thinking I’d figure out a way to pay my mortgage eventually; I just needed to start doing something other than be an attorney, that much I knew.  The kinks (is paying your mortgage a kink?) would work themselves out eventually.  I started dating again, too.  I wanted to meet someone who made me feel good about myself, for a change.  I’d meet someone decent, eventually.

“Eventually” came and went: I spent six months looking for a job and a relationship with nothing to show for it in either category.  Hiring managers for non-legal positions told me to come back when I had more non-legal experience, and hiring managers for legal positions told me there was simply no way they could hire an additional associate before their new interns flooded the office.  I went on plenty of dates but, between the guy who told me he thought women didn’t make good lawyers and the guy who had girlfriends on not one, but two, continents, it felt like nothing was working. . . there were too many kinks, and they weren’t getting smoothed out.  I was sad, confused, embarrassed, disappointed in myself, disappointed in my field and just generally wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  It might sound dramatic, but walking away from the job for which you’ve trained for years along with your romantic relationship in the span of a week, while wondering how the hell you’re going to pay your mortgage and your student loans, not to mention keep up your obligations to your friends and family (who happen to be spread all across the country) and somehow obtain non-legal employment with a strictly legal background and virtually no other experience to speak of is a bit much, no matter who you are.  Some days a shower seemed like a tall order, forget about climbing the corporate ladder.

I was a zombie – petrified, literally, in a life I no longer wanted to cultivate:  I had my dream home in the middle of the city, bought and paid for with a lawyer’s salary from which I desperately wanted to untangle myself; I had a busy social life and could go eating and drinking all over the city whenever I felt like it; I went shopping for clothes or interior decorations every other week . . . On paper, it was an ideal life, and it was one that I thought I wanted but, at night, when I said goodbye to my amazing friends and walked home from some incredible new restaurant through a beautiful neighborhood and stepped into my adorably renovated house and took off my new clothes, I wasn’t all that happy.  I didn’t feel bad for myself – I realized how lucky I was, I just felt confused – what did it mean that I had all these wonderful things in my life that did nothing to help me feel at peace with what I’d created for myself?  I stayed up every night wondering how I’d allowed myself to get to such a lost, confusing, unfulfilling place.  Going to bed became something I dreaded: there was nothing to do but think, and I couldn’t bear to spend any more time examining what had become of my career, my love life and my sanity. I desperately wanted to start down a new path, but I felt trapped, in part, by a lifetime of preparing to do one, very specific job.  I also felt so incredibly guilty – what kind of ungrateful jerk has amazing friends, a supportive family, the quartz counter top and recessed farmhouse sink of her HGTV dreams…and still isn’t happy?

I desperately wanted to start down a new path, but I felt trapped, in part, by a lifetime of preparing to do one, very specific job.  I also felt so incredibly guilty – what kind of ungrateful jerk has amazing friends, a supportive family, the quartz counter top of her HGTV dreams…and still isn’t happy?

It took me a few (grueling and terrifying) months (and several additional sessions with my therapist – I’ve got the bills to prove it) – but I finally wrapped my head around the notion that I don’t have to fit into anything even remotely resembling the mold I’d spent 21 years creating for myself.  I’d wrapped so much of my identity into becoming something I thought my post-law school self needed to be that I’d (almost) forgotten that, before I was a legal writer, I wrote stories, and before I worried about expensing miles for travel to and from courthouses, I traveled through Europe with nothing but a backpack and Frommer’s Guide. My post-law school self might demand a higher salary in the workplace, but the person I’ve always been – the adventure hungry, story-seeking woman I was long before I could put the letters “J.D.” after my name –  demands something from herself that can’t be reflected in five or six figures, something that I realized I wasn’t going to find where I was.  So, I got up early one day, took a long shower, called a realtor, put my house up for sale, and I left.

My post-law school self might demand a higher salary in the workplace, but the person I’ve always been – the adventure hungry, story-seeking woman I was long before I could put the letters “J.D.” after my name –  demands something from herself than can’t be reflected in five or six figures, something that I realized I wasn’t going to find where I was.  So, I got up early one day, took a long shower, called a realtor, put my house up for sale, and I left.

It’s strangely not that distressing to leave everything you know, when the thing you know the most is that you must leave everything to stop feeling distressed.  It’s an exciting and overwhelmingly positive (and yes, totally scary) feeling to decide to stop doing the things I trained (and paid) to do, in order to do the things I love to do, which (in no particular order) include: traveling, cooking and writing.  I want to share my experience with my friends and family (and anyone else) because I think that some of the stuff it took me a very long time to realize doesn’t have to come at the cost of losing your grip on your personal and professional life all in one week.  One of those things is the beautiful, simple notion that I am not bound to the life I’ve created just because it took a long time or a lot of money or effort to make it happen. I have certain responsibilities and obligations, of course, but the only debt I absolutely must pay at this point in my life is highly personal: I owe myself the chance to be happy, and it’s about time I start making payments.  I haven’t determined exactly what that’s going to look like, but I know it doesn’t include trudging to work every day to stare at a computer screen full of angry E-mails or client documents I must force myself to read, and it definitely doesn’t include staring at my bedroom ceiling and replaying every moment of the last year in my head, wondering where everything went so sideways.

The only debt I absolutely must pay at this point in my life is highly personal: I owe myself the chance to be happy, and it’s about time I start making payments.

As of today, I have zero (like, zilch) answers to the questions I’ve asked myself over the last few years:  I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life; I don’t know what kind of career I’ll have or if I’ll have a ‘career’ at all; I don’t know if moving across the Atlantic Ocean to a place I’ve only been once before is the right thing and I don’t know exactly what will help me live a fulfilling life.  Right now, I’m just working on believing that there will be something, someday soon that will fill me with purpose and excitement and allow me to achieve some true happiness, unbridled by regret or cynicism. I like to think that, once someone can do that: achieve true happiness (whether that looks like a great job, a healthy relationship, getting fit, quitting smoking, finding a new hobby you’re passionate about…whatever it looks like to you), in however small an amount, then they can at least start to settle into the person they’re meant to become; a person slightly less burdened with the weight of all that creeps into our minds when we’re focused on the state of the things around us, instead of focused on the state of the things within us.

I like to think that, once someone can do that: achieve true happiness (whether that looks like a great job, a healthy relationship, getting fit, quitting smoking, finding a new hobby you’re passionate about…whatever it looks like to you), in however small an amount, then they can at least start to settle into the person they’re meant to become; a person slightly less burdened with the weight of all that creeps into our minds when we’re focused on the state of the things around us, instead of focused on the state of the things within us.

My payments to myself (and to my soul – yes, even attorneys have them) start now.

I am going to do the things I actually genuinely like to do – travel, cook and write (and yes, work a ‘real’ job, too – I’m optimistic, not an idiot) and see what progress I can make on untethering myself from a life that had become unendurably burdened with ugly, malignant things that sat heavy on my mind and dulled my day-to-day for way too long.  I invite you to join me while I do what keeps me sane and happy, and if you’re reading this at work, I sincerely hope you’re staring at a screen full of things that get you excited about coming into your office tomorrow.  Looking at my screen now, I finally am.

Very hopefully,

-KR

2 thoughts on “Plans, Pilots and Private Practice.

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