Introspection

Is it time to start the introspection already? I guess so. Here goes.

I've been unhappy in private practice. For the most part, my remedy has been to "put on a happy face." I try to resist acting outwardly depressed, to the extent that I can control it. I think sulking can only bring further unhappiness, and to some degree, putting on a smile, whether real or forced, does make you a little bit happier. Some kind of inverse cause and effect.

But I had some fears about finding another job. My main fear was that if I found another job, and I was still unhappy, that it would prove that it wasn't just work making me unhappy, that I really am depressed. That there's something wrong with ME, not just my job. So, that's one fear.

My other fear is what I think of as my "summer camp" fear.

When I was a kid, I went away to sleep-away summer camp. And I hated it. I was the kid at the nurse's station every day, getting "homesickness medication." (Yes, they had this. And I can tell you that the placebo effect did very little for my actual homesickness.)

I don't know exactly what it was that I didn't like about camp. I made friends, I was good at the activities. But I just felt like crying the whole time. I was just homesick, plain and simple. And there was nothing particularly great about my home, believe me. I was swimming and playing games at camp, and if I was at home, I would have been doing chores. The only thing better at home was probably the food.

But, the next spring, when my mother asked me if I wanted to go to camp again, I would say yes. Maybe I thought it would be different the next year. Maybe my mother didn't ask me so much as tell me. I don't know. But I always eagerly went to camp, and I was always homesick.

It's a little embarassing to admit, but one year I was so homesick, I made myself throw up until the nurse made my mother come pick me up. This was after I had covered myself in poison ivy, thinking it would get my mother to come pick me up, but the nurse didn't think poison ivy was worth calling parents about. I wish I had known that before I was covered with a pointless itchy rash.

My mother came to pick me up, and quickly determined that I had played sick to get to come home. She actually made me work off the price of camp the rest of the summer. I think she told me that camp was $250 and I then earned about a dollar per chore the rest of the year to work off the price of the camp.

Years later, I found out that I went to camp for free on financial aid, so I think I probably got ripped off by my mother. Then again, I'm not sure that kids deserve a dollar for chores, I think chores are probably the price of being part of the household, so maybe we're even.

And if you're wondering what hating camp says about me as a person, the answer, according to Slate's You Are How You Camped is:
Some people hated camp so much that they made their parents bring them home . . . The come-and-get-me set grow up to be neurotic and needy. These are people who can often be heard on CSPAN's early-morning call-in program Washington Journal, filibustering from a time zone still blanketed in predawn darkness, until the host says, "Please state your question."
I, of course, respectfully disagree. I have never called CSPAN. I don't even watch CSPAN.

Regardless, here's where I'm going with my "summer camp" theory: Every spring, I had forgotten how much I hated camp the year before. And I again, went willingly. And again, I was miserable.

I wonder if it's almost like childbirth. They say that there are hormones or chemicals that cause women to quickly forget how painful the birthing experience was, allowing women to have more than one child, not be so overwhelmed with the memory of the pain that they swear off having further children. Although I don't see how summer camp would elicit those same hormones, although maybe the excitement of spring and the prospect of any upcoming summer would.

Back to the topic though. Applying my summer camp theory to my job situation, my fears were: (1) what if I was unhappy when I was a public defender, but I've already forgotten it and convinced myself that I liked it? and (2) what if I someday convince myself that I liked it in private practice and think "I loved that job, why did I leave it?"

What if I somehow end up on this crazy cycle of one year at a public defender's office, one year in private practice, miserable for the rest of my life, moving and taking bar exams all over the country? (Have I just proven that I am neurotic, despite swearing that I've never called CSPAN?)

Besides having my blog to reread, allowing me to relive my relative happiness and unhappiness, I've also taken to making lists. In a weird (again, somewhat neurotic way), writing these lists has been both a major reassurance to me as well as a source of anxiety. As if, if I can possibly get everything down on paper, I could prevent myself from ever feeling unhappy again. But if I miss something, I might be doomed.

My list entitled "Public Defender - Happy" list includes things like, "help people," "be what I wanted to be when I grew up," "lunch with friends," and "days off." My list entitled "Private Practice - Unhappy" includes things like "lonely," "miserable," and even more pathetically, "crying." My "unhappy" list includes names of clients that I particularly dislike. My "happy" list includes the names of some clients that had a particular impact on me during my public defender years. I'm going to miss my co-workers at the law firm, but I missed my co-w0rkers at the public defender's office, so I left that off both lists. I don't know how I'll know I'm done list-writing.

As far as money, it's harder to calculate than it sounds. What is the cost of happiness? How much would you need to be paid to make unhappiness profitable? And, even then, how long could you take it? I found myself always doing this weird accounting in my head. What the client paid, what I made, how much I was paid to take their abuse. Per word.

Sometimes I'm more mathematical. I'll try figure out the number of extra hours I worked per week (let's say at least twenty) and the amount of extra money I took home in a week (let's say $300) and try to figure out whether I could, instead, work as a public defender, and take a second job making $15/hour for 20 hours a week, and be happier. Work at Starbucks, tutor LSATs, babysit, waitress. But, realistically, it just doesn't work out that way. (For example, even if I could reliably say I'd leave the public defender's office at 5 p.m. every day - which I couldn't - it doesn't mean I could start a second job at 5 p.m. in some other location... Unless I found a public defender's office with a Starbucks in the same building... Do you see how your mind can get stuck on these ridiculous things?) What if I went to the public defender's office, and then took my 4 week paid vacation doing something that paid about $20,000 over the course of the month? Like, working retail at Christmas or maybe preparing income taxes during tax season? If I worked a ton of hours from March 15 to April 15, could I make that much? I doubt it.

Someone (windypundit) asked if I'd saved up money during my year at the firm to dig myself out of debt. Sadly, I haven't. I don't know where or how, but I spend a lot more money in private practice and it eats up all of the salary difference - or more. I spend more on suits. I work so late that I eat out most nights and end up paying for conveniences instead of things like grocery shopping and doing my own laundry. Overall, I don't know where the "extra" money went. Not into any of my accounts, that's for sure.

Besides the blog, and the lists, I've got a few good friends who have heard it all now. For the most part, I didn't want my friends to know that I was unhappy. First, I didn't want to be outwardly depressed, and, second, I guess I feel like it's almost like declaring to your friends that you're going on a diet. Some people like the peer pressure of having everyone ask, "How's the diet going?" but I know that, for me, that pressure would annoy me into eating a big brownie. But I told a few very good friends - friends that I could trust to kick my butt into gear to look for a new job, and to inspire me to do what I love and settle for nothing less. Perhaps most importantly to me, they heard all the sad and miserable crying and won't let me forget it.

I don't want to sound as though I'm complaining about my job. It's been an experience, I've learned a lot from it. I liked my co-workers, I liked my office, I know that the partner I worked for tried to give me the best possible experience. If this was a break up, I would have to say, "It's not you, it's me." And mean it.

But, irrational lists aside, I feel certain that I'm going to be happier as a public defender. Certain enough to take a big pay cut and start all over again at a new job.

I can't predict the future but I do know how this new job has made me feel so far. When I got the interview, I felt a little nervous, but good. When I got the offer, I felt even better, but still a little anxious. As soon as the offer was official, I finally told my bosses at the law firm. And I felt fantastic. Amazing. Call every number in my cell phone. Shout it from the rooftops. Throw the blackberry into the ocean. Last bell ringing on the last day of school ever. Run to the car, not knowing or caring where I'll go next. Drive with the top down on a perfect sunny day. And just keep driving.

It's like I've been waiting for the results from a very scary test result, and I've just found out that I'm going survive. Not just survive, I'm going to be great.

15 comments:

  1. I tried to do the second job thing as a PD. I'd taught LSAT since law school and thought I'd make the attempt. I definitely would NOT recommend it. I managed teaching in law school and on the side with other jobs, but it was difficult having to get people to cover me in court if we went past 4:30 or having to stay up late after teaching to prep my next day's cases. And I think having your sanity as a PD requires some time off, so guess you're back in the boat I was in: pinching pennies.

    (Also, I hated private practice, too. I had such a stronger aversion to my clients there, even though you'd expect it to be easier. Hope your transition goes well.)

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  2. I love your blog, and this post. Just thought I'd say that. Thinking good thoughts for you

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  3. Wow. Congratulations on your new job and I hope it works out that your private practice experience has given you the perspective to be able to appreciate being a PD for the long run. This post is incredible b/c I can relate in so many ways, but especially to: "What if I somehow end up on this crazy cycle of one year at a public defender's office, one year in private practice, miserable for the rest of my life, moving and taking bar exams all over the country?"

    I'm about to jump from a PD job that I've mostly loved into... the unknown. And while I feel pretty certain I could not keep this job long term b/c of its crazy-making aspects, I don't really want to do anything else. Yet other things make me have to go, so I've got no clue what's going to happen and worry that I'll just look back at this job and wonder: "Why did I ever leave!?" That's why you're way ahead of me. You've tried something else, so you can be a lot more confident in your choice to return to what you previously worried was not as good as it could get. I hope that makes sense. Anyway, good luck. It sounds to me like you're making a great decision.

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  4. Congrats again on taking charge of your life and going where *you* want to go. If I'm hearing you correctly, you suspect that you'd be "perfectly" happy in the PD job if you could have a higher income. If this is the case, then opening yourself to other possibilities may provide an answer. You need to have something on the side that will pay well and fit into your unpredictable schedule (and be enjoyable or at least bearable). If you decide to try teaching--only scheduling it for the weekends sounds like the best choice.

    Is there something else that you enjoy doing that could bring in an income? You know--you are one of the Web's favorite bloggers out there--have you considered monetizing your blog and posting on a regular basis? Some people make a steady income from that. You certainly have a loyal following.

    These may not be the answers, but please keep an open mind and start looking around. It would be very surprising if a person with your talents did not find unexpected opportunities.

    Wishing you the best of luck--and very excited to hear how things work out.

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  5. Hey Blondie, I feel like crap about my comment now. I didn't mean to rub it in. I guess I should have known better because the same thing happens to me when my income goes up.

    Congratulations on moving back to the PD office. I hope it works out for you.

    I really enjoy your writing, and my impression is that you blogged a lot more as a PD than as a private lawyer, so I'm looking forward to more posts. No pressure.

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  6. Windy - Don't feel bad! I should've saved some money or paid off some bills... but it was too hard! I blame the depression. When the only thing that will get you through the terrible day is a big latte, you feel more entitled. Ugh, back to the poor life, but it's ok, I know what I'm getting myself into it.

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  7. Sending you a big hug. You shouldn't feel bad about being depressed. And just because you're depressed doesn't mean that you shouldn't be looking for a new job if the current one makes you unhappy.

    I don't have any answers for you, except to keep posting and thinking about it, and the answer will come to you eventually.

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  8. What about the halfway step? Court appointments. Same PD clientele, lots more independence and the ability to say "no." It works for me.

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  9. I'm really happy to hear that you found a new job and that you feel good about it. I read for the first time your post about being unhappy in private practice and I related to so much of it - including feeling depressed, not wanting to act outwardly depressed, not wanting to go to therapy, wanting to change, etc. It was very tough for me at my old firm and I wrote about it ad naseum on my blog for almost a year. I went to therapy and it was a tremendous support to me and now I really value it in my life - I think it helped me (and helps me) process and grow.

    It's wonderful that you have made this change. I firmly believe that things do work out - eventually. Sometimes I feel like I'm in this perpetual cycle of working towards them working out, but I do try to remember that I probably am in the place I need to be. Good luck.

    (p.s. If you decided you're still in therapy after you make the job switch, why not give it a shot? Changing jobs is one of the three largest life stressors, so even if you're moving to a great job, the transition still might be difficult. Cut yourself some slack and be kind to yourself. That's what I try to do, with limited success. :) ).

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  10. Blonde, I don't have any great advice for you, but I wanted to tell you that I totally identify with your job angst--I'm not a criminal attorney, but have also become pretty unhappy in my (law firm) job, am looking for another job, but am worried that I will be unhappy there too, that I'm just fundamentally lazy or have not adjusted to the reality of work, that I'll keep flitting around from one thing to the next, which is getting silly as I get into my 30s. On the other hand, I tell myself that the best decision you can make, job-wise or otherwise, is to do the thing that is best for you to do _next_, even if it's not the thing you will want to do _forever_. That's the advantage of living in a world in which people don't work for one company their whole lives, right? That freedom is what we've traded, economically speaking, for pensions or whatever.

    So anyway, best of luck with your new job--I hope you are happier there. :)

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  11. I've been thinking hard recently about making the leap to the land of public defenders. (Is it ironic or counter-intuitive?) - that reading your post is making me want to hustle a little faster down that road. You mentioned "helping people," that's where private practice really falls down. Am I really honestly helping people by making sure a series of businesses get paid by other business who are really just waiting to get paid by other businesses? It doesn't feel like it. I'm sure it does help people in the long run, but I crave immediacy.

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  12. I agree with butterflyfish. I love your blog. I know I've said that before, but I mean it. Thanks for writing.

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  13. long time lurker - related very much to this line: "but I know that, for me, that pressure would annoy me into eating a big brownie"

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  14. Congrats. It' a fine choice. As someone who burned out, took a year off and went back, I can tell you it's even better the second time.

    Also, thanks for your patience with the show. I really think that you'll find it gets a lot better as we hit our stride, but feel free to weigh in either way.

    Best,

    D.

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  15. I love your blog. Keep it real, Blonde.

    I too am a compulsive listmaker. It seems to give me a sense of order amidst chaos. There are worse vices. :D

    - F519

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