“How’s the new job going?” people ask, and I pause.
There are so many things to say.
It’s great. I get to write briefs for a living, which I love. The facts of my cases are interesting. I work a predictable eight-hour day. I get to work out on my lunch break, so I no longer feel so squishy. I’m home every day by 5:30, giving me at least an hour and a half to play with my kid before she goes to bed. We take a walk as a family every morning. I have time to cook dinner. I don’t worry about work on the weekend. Ever.
It’s lonely. The people here largely keep to themselves, many of them just like me- nose to the grindstone, in and out so they can get back to their families and their lives outside the office. I spend way too many hours hunched in front of a computer. I never have any breaks for anything, even meetings. Who’s have thought I’d miss meetings? My office has no window. Everything is beige. I’m pretty sure my secretary hates me. I write a lot of briefs where the only issues I am able to raise are the kind of “technicalities” that cause laypeople to roll their eyes, or fold their arms in anger. Most of the money I make goes right back out the door to child care.
And then there’s the stuff that I can no longer say. “I’m working on this crazy case right now, gearing up for trial, it’s a lot of late nights.” “Oh man, I watched [judge x] absolutely dress down [lawyer y] at the motion hearing, it was amazing.” “Oh yeah, I did see [person] at [large networking event,] she and I were just talking about how to get [exciting new project] off the ground!”
I wouldn’t say I miss those things, exactly, but I’m coming to understand how much I’d become accustomed to a more traditionally successful career- the busyness, the proximity to well-known and well-respected colleagues, the potential for big, prestigious long-term things on the horizon – as being the currency in which I described my life, justified my worth. Yes, I hated every time that I was late coming home to my kid, resented having to log more hours after she was in bed on a weeknight, grumbled about how much of the law feels like inside baseball. But there was also undeniably a certain perverse status derived from those things. If I was working so hard, it must be important, so *I* must be important. Yes, my schedule was running me ragged, but I was doing complex, interesting stuff that my peers found respect-worthy. I was on an upward trajectory. I had great future prospects.
And now…well, my life is smaller, but in a really good way. I chose a steady, reliable, predictable job. I have reclaimed things I love, like cooking, and running, and reading for pleasure. I’m employed in my chosen field, doing interesting work, and I still have a life. I’m living the dream! It’s never going to win me any awards or earn me millions of dollars or land me any appointed positions, but that’s okay.
So when someone asks me how it’s going, I don’t launch into a long explanation like this one- I simply say, truthfully, that I have never been happier with the balance between my work life and my other life.
But I no longer have a place at the “whose career is more demanding/intense/upwardly mobile” table- because my work life isn’t demanding/intense/upwardly mobile at all. And that’s a good thing, it is, I wouldn’t trade it, but – it’s strange to no longer be a part of that conversation. I meet my law school friends for lunch and they’re all killing themselves and I don’t want to be them, exactly, but I feel a little bit like I’ve sold out the sisterhood by stepping off that path. My whole life my self-worth has been largely defined by working hard, striving, achieving – and it’s a little disorienting to suddenly no longer have that laid out before me.
Truthfully, I’ve always been on a slightly different path than most of my law school peers- I never worked the really insane crazy hours that many of them do, was never going to be a partner at a big firm, never going to make millions – but I was striving on my own public interest achievement path, such as it was. It may not have been defined by earning potential, but it was there. And now it’s not, so much.
And I’ve always been interested in reading about the experiences of other professional women as they develop their careers and their lives. And it seems like so many of us (particularly lawyers) get to this point, where the striving becomes untenable, so we step off. I had wondered if I’d find myself here, and now here I am. No longer contemplating the next move, just…living my life as it is now. Smaller, but better. It’s mostly great, and a little poignant.