In August of this year, shortly after our wedding and honeymoon, I started a job that took me out of my Big Law firm and into Corporate America. I actually accepted this job the Monday after I returned from my honeymoon, which meant I came back to my old job after a two-week vacation and promptly quit. This was a change that I didn't see coming--I wasn't job searching when my current job came up as an opportunity, but it's been a huge life shift for the better, for both me and my family.
I started my job at the law firm right out of law school, and truly loved it. In law school, you hear a lot about "Big Law" and the demands that culture can place on its lawyers (namely: working all the time in high-pressure, high-stress environments). When I spoke with law students about whether that sort of career path would be right for them, I always said that they probably already knew whether they were the kind of person that would thrive in that environment. I knew at that time that I was a big law firm person at heart--the firm was the first place I had ever worked where I wasn't bored or running out of things to do constantly, and it was the first job where all of my colleagues were smart, talented, incredibly competent people who I could count on as teammates to do excellent work. I worked for brilliant partners and I learned how to be a better lawyer every single day. I worked on interesting cases with people who I still count among my best friends, and that made the late nights and early mornings much easier to swallow. And, I really and truly like to work hard. I like to throw myself into things and try to excel, and the excitement of a fast-paced environment is energizing to me.
That said, the work was difficult and sometimes draining. I didn't want to sacrifice time with my family if at all possible, so instead I often sacrificed sleep. A typical weekday for me involved waking up between 5:00 and 6:00 and opening my laptop in bed while Dan slept, to organize emails and finish any projects from the night before that I needed to get done before the day started. After an hour or so of working in bed, Dan would wake up and we would eat breakfast together, and I would head in to work. I would work in the office from about 8-6, and then I would go home and make dinner. After we ate dinner, I would spend some time with Dan and Kelly if I could (walk the dog, play a game) or, if it was too busy, I would go right back to work (on my laptop, at home). If I did spend time with my family in the evening, I would open my laptop again when Dan went to sleep around 9, and work for another hour or two (or three) in bed before I went to sleep. On the busiest days, I would wake up as early as I possibly could and work all day without stopping (except for caffeine and food, and a shower, if absolutely necessary) until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. On the weekends I typically worked between 4 and 8 hours between Saturday and Sunday--again, if it was busy I would work all weekend, if I wasn't busy I would take the whole weekend off. The thing is, I really like to sleep, so being constantly sleep deprived made me cranky. And, my schedule was so jam-packed that I had absolutely no tolerance for shenanigans that cost me extra time--I used to get SO angry when I would come home from work and there were dirty dishes all over the kitchen, because I had to clean up the dirty dishes before I could make dinner. (I stand by that annoyance, but I was very easily pushed over the edge.) Some of my friends used to like to play the game of "text me a picture of what you're doing right now" and that led to me sending a LOT of selfies of me sitting at my desk, at all hours of the day on all days of the week.
When I got the call asking if I might be interested in the job I ended up taking, my first reaction was that it was a flattering idea but that I probably wasn't interested. I loved my job, and this new job was a different type of work that I didn't know much about. When I told Dan that I had gotten that call, his immediate reaction was "well that's great, I mean, you hate your job." (In my memory, this comment is punctuated with a silence-heard-round-the-world.) I about-faced on him so quickly. "What?! How dare you. I LOVE my job." He looked genuinely confused. "You do? I mean, you're unhappy about it almost all the time." What? No. You must be thinking of someone else. I am the lawyer that loves my job. So, stop it. Thanks.
What followed was honestly sort of a crisis of identity (awesome timing, since this all happened in the months leading up to our wedding so I wasn't already overwhelmed or overly emotional at all). I think part of the survival strategy for continuing with a job that is fairly all-consuming, and doesn't show any signs of letting up for the next several decades, is to tell yourself that you truly love it. That you wouldn't, couldn't be happy doing anything else. Because if you could...why are you doing this? This is hard. So no, you love this, and that is why you must continue forever and ever amen. And if you allow yourself to look too hard at that assumption, and realize that it might not be true, the whole thing sort of comes crashing down. Or that's what happened for me, anyway. I went to the first round of interviews at my new company and asked more questions of the interviewers than they asked of me, trying to decide if this was something I wanted. I wavered. And by the end of the process, I wanted it so badly that I was terrified they weren't actually going to hire me (after effectively ruining my life by making me realize that maybe I didn't want to work at least 60 hours a week for the rest of my life).
Luckily, I did get the job, and now I work normal business hours. And if I'm not terribly busy during those hours, the day still ends and time goes on (at law firms, for those of you who don't know, you bill your time in six-minute increments and account for every moment of your day. So, if you have a slow day, you need to make that time up somewhere else. This was never a problem for me, because I was usually busy, but it's still sort of a mindfuck.) So, what have I learned from that transition? A couple of things.
1. If I could give any young person at the beginning of their career one piece of advice, it would be to take a job that requires you to work crazy hours. Take the 60-80 hour a week job. First, because you're going to learn a ton and probably be paid well, but second because anything you do after that will feel like working part time. That's an amazing gift. I know a lot of people feel like working full-time and juggling the rest of their lives is a real challenge (and it can be, I know--and I recognize that I don't have small kids) but after working the hours I used to work, 40 hours a week feels like a cake walk. It feels like vacation. And that's amazing.
2. Sleep is not overrated. I am a better person when I am well-rested. I am a MUCH better wife when I am not stretched too thin. I have the capacity to be very productive and juggle quite a lot, but when I'm operating at that full capacity, I'm sort of a bitch. Because I need other people in my life not to fuck up the very delicate balance I have going, and one pile of dirty dishes can just put me over. the. edge. That's dumb. Don't be like that. And don't think that you need to operate at your fullest, most productive capacity all the time just because you can. I don't have any objective proof of this, but I'm pretty sure that takes years off your life.
3. I had some seriously impressive stress eating habits. I sort of knew this, but once I took the stress of my previous job away I realized just how much I was stress eating. And it...was a lot. Like, really a lot. So that's good to know.
4. I do miss the fire drills. I like the adrenaline rush of working with a team to solve a problem in an emergency, and I used to do that all the time at the firm. I realized just how much I missed it when I got to do the same thing recently at my new job, but those situations are much fewer and further between these days. Most people would see that as a good thing--fire drills call for long days on the job. And, in balance, the tradeoff is definitely worth it. But I do miss that rush.
5. I am actually interested in doing things other than working, eating, and sleeping. I'm very much enjoying this blog, for example. I like to read. I like to exercise. I like to cuddle with my dog for inordinate stretches of time. I used to think that I didn't really have a "dream" that I should be pursuing instead of spending all my life in the office (in my mind, that dream needed to be like...painting, or owning a bed and breakfast, or something). I still don't want to be a painter, I hate drawing and painting because I am bad at those things. But I like doing other things. And it's nice to have space in my life to do them.
There isn't really a moral to this story: I don't think working long hours is the worst thing you can do, and if you have a job like that and you're making it work, cheers to you! (You probably need a drink. I'll buy you one.) I wanted to write this blog post because it's important context for where I'm coming from and where I am in my life. And there's no way I would be writing this, or anything, if I hadn't quit my Big Law job. So there you have it.