I Don't Know Where I'm Going, but I Can't Stay Here
"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
~ Host of any black house party to remaining guests at 2:00 am
If you've ever gone to any black house party, a good black house party, you know the party starts to have its own momentum and takes on a life of its own. Left to its own devices, the party wouldn't stop. That is, until the host or hostess, mindful of their next day's obligations, says to the remaining guests, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." No one is offended. It's just natural to note that all good things, even a really good party, has to come to an end. At that moment, the party goers have to make a decision -- Do I go home? Do I take this party somewhere else with this really cool group of people? Or do I just take someone home with me?
Well, my not-so-good party of an occupation has reached the same point. I don't know where I'm going, but I can't stay there. I think my season as an attorney is over. Truth is, it's been over for a long time. It's just been lingering on life support. No one who knows me well would tell you that I'm a happy attorney, even if they say I'm a good one.
The life support on which my time as an attorney has been lingering is my fear of letting go. I know what it is to be unemployed and underemployed, and when I was both (It's a long story), I promised God that if I could just find a secure attorney job, I'd be grateful and shut up about expecting to be happy and fulfilled within it. Happiness and fulfillment are not even on the radar screen when you're unemployed and underemployed
Well, I'm neither happy nor fulfilled, and I'm writing about it. Promise to God broken.
I have practiced law because I couldn't possibly imagine what else I could do that I would enjoy that someone would pay me a decent salary for. Because it was secure. Because it was the one thing I could do pretty well, even if I tend to be rather pedantic about it and impatient with others who don't work as hard at it or do as well at it as I do. That's not to say I'm some kind of law goddess - I'm just saying there are a lot of slacker lawyers out there getting paid far more than they should for shoddy work. For me, I'm doing the same thing, and using the same skills, over and over again. When I've tried to use other non-legal skills in the work place, I've been told to pretty much stay in my job description lane. That is, despite the fact that at least one of my ideas has been enacted into law and others have helped advance others politically, none of which I've benefited from.
None of that really matters. I've gotten to the point where I physically can't do this law thing anymore. Right now, my body has literally shut down. I've been ill for going on two weeks. The tedium of doing legal research and writing, shutting myself in my office, and trying to make myself concentrate on factual details and analyze countless cases has manifested itself in illness. Added to that is the stress of working for well-meaning people who don't understand what it takes to do what I do but want to control when and how I do it.
Then there's the guilt. Guilt about all the time, effort, and money put into my education by my parents. Guilt about the efforts of mentors like Derrick Bell who saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, who saw the potential for me to do great things in this profession. Guilt from all the family and friends who say, "But this is what you've always said you wanted to do since you were a child." Guilt from watching my husband get up and go to a far more stressful legal job and come home without complaint.
And before you lawyers out there tell me, "It's not the profession, it's your practice area," well, you're wrong. I've taught, I've been a law clerk, I've worked for a non-profit bar association, I've done all kinds of litigation and advice and counsel, and I've worked for law firms, a Fortune 500 corporation, and the government. I've done just about every feasible permutation on this law thing that can be done. Enough. Many of you well-meaning attorney friends of mine have only made it worse, asking me why I'm not on the bench or doing something more prestigious within the profession given my credentials.
It's. Just. Time.
And, quite frankly, I don't know what I want to do. I'm what author Barbara Sher would call a "scanner" -- I have lots of interests, and pursuing them makes me seem flighty and unfocused to the rest of the world. I'd like to write a television series and books, sell real estate, start a charter school for gifted children of color, rehab Victorian houses, and live in Maui during the winter. Right now, if I could just sit out for six months and write, I'd be happy. Who doesn't have that dream? I want to analyze less and create more. I've burned out my left brain, or whichever side is supposed to be the logical and analytical side. Heck, I'd be happy to have a job where I actually get to talk to people -- that is, people who aren't in conflict.
So, in 2013, I'm hiring a career coach who specializes in helping "recovering lawyers" find their way out. I'm going to just start the process of looking into other options.
I don't know where I'm going, but I can't stay here in this profession. I'm pushing fifty, and I can't imagine continuing on this path.
Stay tuned. Oh, and note to self: Never let a child choose an adult's profession.