Friday, October 21, 2011

Seeing the light and launching a rescue mission

I have been feeling pretty good lately. After years of doing things that I believed I was required to do, or things that I thought would be good for me to do, I finally woke up to the fact that much of my daily life was spent doing stuff I wasn’t enjoying.  I loved being a lawyer but, as noted in a previous rant, I did not relish the endlessly stressful, hour-crunching, bad-tempered, sleep-deprived, daily grind. I loved being a mother, but I eventually admitted to myself that 24/7 parenting, though a privilege and often a joy, felt overwhelming and soul-destroying.

And so, for the past several weeks, with the financial and moral support of my worth-his-weight-in-gold husband, and some help with childcare (thank God for this country and its wonderfully affordable daycare), I have been spending my weekday mornings deep in thought. Trying to figure out who I really am. Trying to determine what it is that I really want to do.

The simple act of taking time to think and reflect, and write at length about what is on my mind, has been therapeutic in the extreme. It feels self-indulgent; however, somehow I already know it will have been time well spent. As one of my heroes Sara Perring astutely points out, on the subject of pursuing personal/professional goals, “If you want to get ahead, and by that I mean continue to move forward, progress, develop, be happier, be more successful…then you first need to decide what it is you want to get ahead in.”  And I can’t believe how much happier I am suddenly feeling, just because I have finally allowed myself to really think, for a moment, about what I might really want out of life.

The fact that I have finally found the light and extricated myself from at least one dark tunnel was abundantly clear to me last night, when I got this email from a former colleague:

“I have just been given 2 very sizeable agreements to draft. [Pointy-Haired Boss] promised these to the client in 2 days (of course, over the weekend). Yet, I have been stuck working on other stuff with [PHB] obsessing for 2 hours over a 1 page letter.  When is he expecting me to work on the draft?  From midnight to 8 am? I'm so sick and tired of this.  I'm sick and tired of the weekend deadlines, unrealistic timeframes and everything!  I'm not even sure how to describe this feeling of despair and disgust.”

She is still very much in the darkness. For a very long time now she has talked about her impossible workload and PHB’s expectations (which are darkly hilarious in their absurdity) with a sense of misery and despair. Yet, she can’t quite bring herself to cut and run. By now she is so senior (not to mention so talented) that a Big Firm partnership is within her grasp. She has worked so long and so hard that to quit now would surely be madness - wouldn’t it? She feels depended upon, not only by PHB, but by several long-standing clients who are big fans of her work, and by the several junior associates to whom she is a mentor and a role-model. She feels compelled to go on, hoping that at some future time, by means she cannot envisage, things will get better, because they just have to, right?

It is only now that I am standing in the light that I can see her situation for what it is. It is not going to get any better. Quitting now would not be madness – in fact, quite the contrary – voluntarily staying even one more day in a job which makes you feel miserable and depressed and desperate would be madness. The people who pay you to be dependable will find other people to pay to be dependable. And I know how much she earns and how little time she has had to spend any of that money, so I know she wouldn’t starve even if she didn’t work again for years and years.

I have tried to tell her. THIS IS YOUR LIFE. You don’t deserve to spend it in misery, and you don’t have to, despite what anyone else might tell you. You can put all this behind you. It is your choice. DO IT!

But she is still in the darkness. She cannot see what I see – yet.

But she will. I have decided to make it my mission to show her the light, and yell encouragement as she makes her way towards it, and congratulate her with all my heart when she finally reaches its calming warmth.


  1. Ew, yes, and tell her we all agree with you - she needs to get out stat! Remember also what long term misery and stress does to your health - so not worth it!

  2. not to mention long-term sleep deprivation! I read somewhere that lack of sleep will kill a human being long before lack of food, and sleep deprivation is a major health risk because it causes inflammation of your system (which can lead to things like blood clots and cancer...)
    And yet, so many people in the Western world still seem to think that it's a sign of success and strength of character to live life pursuing stressful work late into the night... When will we all learn?

  3. you must be prepared for the fact that she may never see the light. or want to. she may understand exactly what you are trying to say, and wish she could.....