Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why Do I Feel So Old?

I am not that old. I know that. My closest college roommate is still partying it up over in Cleveland, and I see her bar pics every day on Facebook. She's an engineering major also, in case you were wondering. We don't all wear pocket protectors. She also looks exactly like Courtney Cox. It's freaky. Anyway. That's not me, but seeing her reminds me that I am not that old. However, at times I feel very old. I will be turning 37 in August. And yet...things have changed.

I was in Au Bon Pain the other morning buying a coffee before work, and the piped in music was "Man on the Moon" by REM. This was the main song from the movie Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carey, which was about the life of Andy Kaufman, which was released in 1999. I know this because in 1999 I was living in Los Angeles, and I went to see that movie, and I loved it. I was 25. That seems like a long time ago now. Standing in line to buy my coffee, I remembered going to see that movie, and I remembered how full of life I was at 25, and how I felt as if I could do anything. The world was my oyster, so to speak. Everything seemed possible. I remember feeling so full of hope at that time, wondering what the future would hold for me. Anything was possible.

And now, twelve years later, nothing seems possible. If that sounds like a drag, well, sorry. Yeah, I make great money. And sometimes I like my job. But...you ever have that feeling that there must be more to life than this? I have that a lot lately. I had that when I was younger, too, and to remedy that question, I went to law school. Ha. Of course I know that I could do all kinds of things. I have skills, I have degrees....but I feel as if I no longer have the energy to pursue something else. When I was 27, it was easy to leave my $72,000 a year job in consulting to jump to three years without pay in law school to whatever job I could find. My mom thought I was nuts. I was making great money. But I wasn't scared at all. I knew I'd find a job. I knew I'd make way more money than I had ever made, and I knew I'd be happier in whatever job I got versus the consulting world. I had energy and drive. And I did and I am. I put my mind to something and I do it. That's just how I am.

But now...it's hard to leave a job where you make a lot of money, even though it is about 50% unfulfilling. I do get fulfillment out of my job at times, but most of the time I think it is a waste of court resources. I love most of my co-workers, and here and there I get a lot of happiness out of it. But somehow I don't really see myself doing this for the next thirty something years.

The problem is, I make a lot of money doing this. I can't make this much money doing anything else at this point, and I'm pretty good at it. Not awesome or anything, but good. This is my skill -- litigation. If I start out at something else, I have to start at the bottom again, as I did when I got into law. Can I start a third career? I'm not sure if I'm up for that. I could, of course, teach law. And maybe I will, once I bank enough in my retirement account. In a lot of ways, I think I would love to teach law. I love working with new associates and guiding them. That may be my calling. I have yet to work in a job that is my calling, even though I have done very well at the two jobs I've had since college graduation. But a calling? I've always followed the money. Is that bad? Maybe. But I always wanted to be able to support myself. I can do that now, in spades, as they say. Hell, I could support about eight other people, if not more.

I want to retire as soon as possible from this life. I'm banking as much as I can right now. My financial advisor is even like "you really want to throw that much into your account?" and I'm like, yes. Look, I have no kids, no husband, very little expenses. In fact, this year will be my biggest year of expenses with the car and the remodeling work on my house that I have planned. After this year probably 70% of what I earn over the next five or six years will head straight into my investment account -- so I can retire early.

And you would think that the money would make me happy, but it really doesn't that much. Yes, it's nice to write a check for a new BMW, but really, it isn't all that fulfilling. At the end of the day, you just don't have a loan. It's cool to own the car outright, but, whatever. And I have a lot of friends, and I'm close to my family, so it's not really that either. I have people, so I'm not lonely. And I don't think it's that I wish I was married or had a kid, because I really don't think I want that. I've just kind of been in a weird funk lately. Maybe my niece's death has something to do with it. I don't really know. But to get back to the beginning of this post, the mindset of what is available to do with your life is so different at 27 than it is at 37.

Ten years ago, I moved across the country from L.A. to Chicago, and started law school. At the time, it was no big deal to me. I mean, I just moved. (I had already moved to L.A. from Detroit three years before. Moving cross country is not a big issue for me. You can always go home.) And now, here I am, ten years later, still in Chicago, having a job that many would envy, and I'm thinking how in the hell did I end up here? I can't complain about it, yet I'm really not completely happy anymore. What's funny is that I was 100% happy in my job as an associate. It's only been since I made partner that my happiness level has dwindled. I've thought about it a lot, and I think, for me, it is because I am a very goal oriented person. As an associate, I worked my ass off and really enjoyed it a lot because it was all new, in order to make partner. I desperately wanted to prove that I was good enough to make partner. And then I did. I was told there was no discussion -- every partner agreed I should be made partner. Well, duh. I did a great job.

And now that I've made partner, I have nothing else to "reach" for. I think I need something to "reach" for. I mean, I'm at the top. I'm a low level partner, true, but still, I'm a partner. So what? There are honestly no other levels to reach for now at my firm, so why bother? I can half ass work and do better than many of the other partners, so that makes me want to half ass it. Who cares? I don't thrive in an environment like this. I thrive when I'm competing, working, and reaching for a goal. I don't have that now. I go through the drill of litigation, go through the drill with opposing counsel, and it is all the same damn thing day after day.

Clearly I can figure this out. I have to make a jump, but I know I won't anytime soon because I do like the money I make. You can get trapped by the money. Maybe I will play my out, and in about ten years, I can make the jump. Until then, I am stuck. But, I'm not complaining, even though this might sound like it. I've got it good. It's just funny how making the change changes when you get older...

3 comments:

  1. You've kinda talked about this before and I always thought of you as a teacher. I think you just don't want to keep doing what you're doing for the rest of your life. I don't blame you. Things have changed. People don't keep the same career their entire lives anymore. Are there any pro bono things you can do for a good cause to keep things interesting?

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  2. There is always pro bono stuff. My problem is that my specialty and what I know well is so niche -- most pro bono folks don't need help with a patent, copyright, or trademark case! So, I would have to devote a lot of time to getting myself up to speed on whatever other civil issues I dealt with pro bono. (I deal with contracts occasionally, and things like that, but anything else I'd be relying on what I learned in law school and going from there. I could never do any sort of criminal pro bono -- just not qualified.) The idea of doing pro bono is very appealing to me, and I think would/might be rewarding. It's the time element that worries me. I have paying clients, so they do have to be my #1, and at times that is enough in itself.

    It looks like I might get to teach a class at my alma mater next year -- I'm keeping my fingers crossed! It would be a nice way to at least get my foot in the door over there. I keep in touch with one of my old professors, and she tells me they are looking for attorneys to teach these classes, and she put my name at the top of the list. So, we'll see if that works out...

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  3. Well, if you think you could fit some pro bono work into your schedule, I'd offer services to some of the artists on this site whose work is getting ripped off. Something to think about.

    http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/

    The teaching thing sounds awesome. This girl who does graphic design is teaching classes now and she's loving it: http://nubbytwiglet.com/

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