Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The point of all this

It has been exactly one month since I walked out of my office for the last time. As of the start of this year, I had hit the milestones. I was college educated. I got my law degree, passed the bar exam and got a job working in a large corporate law firm in New York City making a lot of money. I was a long way from home and a long way from happy…but I was stable. I was newly married, well traveled, had recently moved into a great starter home in an area that I loved AND, joy of joys, I was healthy for the first time in a long time.

Then, on the 7th of January, there was a knock on my office door and my life changed in a matter of a minute. As I sat across from a man that I had long ago mentally cast as my nemesis and listened to him telling me that the firm had decided to part ways with me as if I were the firm’s high school girlfriend on the last balmy night of summer before new adults venture off to college, I cried. I wasn’t crying for the loss of the job. Indeed, something in me knew this day had been coming for quite some time. It was the typical story. The work got slow, the judgment got more harsh and those senior to me started looking the other way when we passed in the hall. When I asked for more experience, I was told to visit the library and check out a book. When I asked for examples of my mishaps, I was given examples from the previous year…a year where all of my reviews were excellent except one. Coincidentally, the bad review came from the attorney that insisted on working with me all year in 2008. There were not-so-whispered conversations in hallways about me but I kept my head down. I told myself that if something was really wrong, I would be told. After all I had sacrificed, I would be given a fair shot to turn things around…if they indeed needed to be turned around. I, like so many others, vented to my work friends about the unfairness of it all and they commiserated with me. Some gave me warnings that someone was trying to work against me but I ignored it. Maybe I ignored it because the universe seemed to be screaming at me, “LEAVE. This job is not for you” even before the focused, and at times, mean spirited campaign against me began. Even with all of that, I can’t say the tears were ones of relief. Their salty flavor was more one of fear, of well-laid, broken plans, of facing reality…of unbelievably bad timing.

As he asked me if I had any questions, I knew I had many (and a few curse words), but I couldn’t get them out past the lump in my throat. Chief among the questions though was not one he could answer. How did I get here? I had always planned to be a lawyer. I had always wanted to live in New York City. I had planned my path and everything worked out. Now that I was married, living in the suburbs and planning when the time would be right to work children into the equation, the bottom decided to fall out? Just when I felt like asking what cruel twist of fate this was, I decided against the theatrical meltdown, dried my tears, called my mom and my husband, cried again and then reminded myself that I was a bankruptcy lawyer. I had the benefit of 60 days notice. My confidence had been trampled but I was just in the wrong environment. I would dust myself off, get it together and find a new firm. I got headhunter calls everyday. I would be fine…but that night, I would make happy hour for the first time in a long time.

The next day, I started hunting for a job like it was my full time job. I met with career counselors, joined job search websites and talked to numerous friends and headhunters. One friend who had been searching for a job for months before I started told me that he didn’t want to discourage me but that it was going to be a miracle if I found a job before my 60 days ran out. I heard what he was saying but I didn’t internalize it. I didn’t have time for negative thoughts. I was going to find a job…a good one making the same salary. I knew lots of people and seemingly everyone was hiring. I got my interview attire together and planned my answers to the standard interview questions. I had been an interview coach at one point and run workshops both in law school and as a lawyer. I was ready for this.
After my first round of interviews, I was faced with, “We’re going to need to see your transcript. You went to Pace Law School. We don’t recruit from Pace.” It was startling that after five solid years of practice, I was going to have to rationalize my first year law school grades. I mean come on. I passed the bar. I practiced law. School has very little to do with the actual practice of law. But, that didn’t matter. Its what I had to do. So I ordered and distributed my transcript. My B- average got me a boatload of rejection letters. One even came after my references were checked and the attorney I interviewed with essentially told me (and my reference) that I was exactly what he was looking for.

Now, as I start to think that my law school education means little because of where I went and how I did on closed book multiple choice exams, I find myself jobless in the worst economy in the last half century. I have bills to pay…including all of those law school loans. After a month of wallowing in rejection letters and chardonnay, I am starting to look back at my hobbies to figure out if I can finally find a way to work my passion into income. I figured a lot of people are in the same position as me. For years, I rationalized my misery by telling myself something that I heard a colleague say years before. “Your job isn’t supposed to make you happy. Get some hobbies.” That makes me laugh now. Working in a large law firm doesn’t afford anyone time to cultivate hobbies. Most of the time, if you can work in a shower, have a meal away from your desk and manage to get four to six hours of sleep, you are ahead of the game. Hobbies become what you used to do before you started to work. Its time to find/build a new life. How poetic (or tragic, depending on the day) that it starts at 30. 30 is the new 20 right? Sigh. Anyway, I thought I would write for therapy and share with those who are interested/taking a similar journey along with me. Post your comments/suggestions/stories. Maybe Generation L (laid off and let go) can find a new identity—a happier one. No matter what, I have to take a step before I sink any deeper into the butt print I have spent the last month creating on my overpriced sectional.

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