When I returned to the practice of law a little over a year ago, it was admittedly with some reluctance: at the time, I was working from home for a large Fortune 200 corporation, helping manage several of the online publications. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was generally happy: my time was my own, I was ever-present for my young daughter, it allowed me to write and gave me time for my photography, and I was helping contribute financially to our household. But then, two former bosses called me and practically begged me to come back to law; because I respect and enjoy working with these two men (and despite my better judgment), I did.
Fourteen months later, and today’s my last day at the office. I’ve learned quite a bit over the tenure of my return to law and working in a corporate environment, and so today, before I drive off into the sunset (as far as my law job is concerned), I thought I’d spend a bit of time reflecting on what the last year has taught me about myself:
5. I’ve reached a certain age where I can no longer do what "I’m supposed to do," and must instead do what I’m meant to do . This isn’t to say that I don’t have any interest in being a responsible and upstanding member of society — of course I do. But in my history, and in my paradigm, I was raised to believe that I was "supposed" to be an engineer, or a lawyer. I was raised to believe that I was "supposed" to get a job at a large corporation, stay there for as long as possible, and collect a pension. Spiritual fulfillment in a career wasn’t "supposed" to occur, it just happened if you were lucky.
Finally, at 41 years old, I’ve decided to test all of these "supposed to’s," and see if perhaps there’s another, more enriching way to live my life.
4. Being smart and a people person doesn’t necessarily mean you’re meant to be in a particular career . As the news got around the office that I was leaving, people said wonderfully warm things to me — lovely things about how much they enjoyed working with me, and how working with me was unlike working with any lawyer they’d worked with before. Obviously, this is very flattering; but the truth is, I’m merely an adequate lawyer. I’m not one of those people who can come up with brilliant legal strategy, or cutting legal argument. I can write, and I’m a people person — traits which are certainly very helpful in a law career, but let’s face it: they’re traits which are helpful in pretty much any career. And as I’ve mentioned before, I have no passion around the practice of law . I just don’t think that’s where I’m meant to be.
3. When a decision has been made because it "makes good business sense," but with which I don’t agree, I am far less tolerant than I used to be in my twenties . Patience has never been one of my virtues, but I do believe that in my earlier years, I was far better at holding my tongue. If there was a decision made at work with which I didn’t agree, I was far more likely to dismiss my opinion as misguided because of my youth, and trust that people far older and smarter than I knew what they were doing when the decision was made.
Now, however, after 20 years of working in corporate America, I find myself less inclined to believe that I’m naive. And while I still manage to hold my tongue, the problem is that I take it home with me. I stew. I stay awake at night. I stress and muse and simmer. And I’ve decided that perhaps my mental health requires that I hang a shingle, and work on my own terms, instead.
2. I’ve achieved just about everything I ever wanted to do in my law career, but I still have a lot to learn about being a parent . I feel like I’ve been very lucky in my law career — I had the opportunity to serve many different roles: I’ve traveled all over the world, to about 30 different countries, largely because of my profession. I’ve been a lawyer for regions as far flung as Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I’ve even been Chief Counsel and Chief of Staff. My 14 years of practicing law have been very exciting, and really, I can’t think of anything else in law that I’d like to do that I haven’t already done.
But the thing is? I’ve only been a parent for 4-1/2 years. And I have so much to learn, and the tricks that I do know about parenting become outdated at the drop of a hat. So while I don’t think I could ever be a full-time-stay-at-home mom (that noise you just heard was my daughter heaving a big sigh of relief), I also know that I can’t continue to work at a job that requires 12-15 hour days away from my familiy, at least not in the short term. For right now, those sorts of hours just don’t work for our family.
And finally, the Number 1 thing I’ve learned about myself during the past year of life back in Corporate America:
1. I need to trust my instincts more before taking on a new job or career . As it turns out, they’re usually spot on.