Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Changing Directions

I'm thinking of changing careers. Well, I have been thinking about it. For the past ten years, in fact.

I've always wanted to write, so about a year ago, I dabbled in some magazine writing for a few months. It was a decent experience. I got to meet and talk to a bunch of notable people and see my name in print. It was hard to justify the time I put into it, though, for the pay I received. ($200 for an article I spent 2 weeks interviewing, organizing, and writing.) And writing about other people didn't feel as satisfying as writing about my own life. Not that I'm so self-absorbed, but I think writing is a very personal process for me. It helps me to sort out my thoughts, see aspects of my life in a different light, find the words and definition for some of my experiences. Magazine writing just didn't do those things for me -- and why should it? I'm starting to think that I don't need to write professionally -- not full time anyway -- at least not right now. I'm very content with the writing I do on this blog (when I do write, that is). And even though I sometimes feel the angst to do something bigger with it, I'm not quite sure what that is yet. So with my writing, I think I may just keep it at this level for now -- without the pressure to make it into something bigger than it needs to be.

I've considered the idea of doing litigation part time -- which is more or less what I've been doing for the past two years. It's not a bad career. The pay can be quite generous and I can work somewhat flexible hours. I also work from home without a secretary or a paralegal, and have found it to be much more manageable than I had expected. The problem, I'm finding, is that it really cuts into the state of mind I want to have to be a mom. Because it's so adversarial, I sometimes get nasty emails or letters in the middle of my day when I'm playing with little T. It casts a dark shadow over me -- even if it's for thirty minutes -- and I resent the emotional intrusion into my time with my little guy. I never minded before I became a mom, but now I feel the need to protect my state of mind so that I can be the kind of mom I want to be.

Lately -- maybe because I had such a great experience with my therapist -- I've been thinking about going to get a masters in psychology and doing some kind of counseling. I understand that it's a two year program, and I may have to spend an extra year doing some type of internship. In part, I'm drawn to the idea because I think it would help me personally to study some of those subjects and to understand it -- and myself -- better. I think it would also help me to be a better mom and wife. But I also like the idea of talking to people in a very meaningful way and helping them see themselves or their lives from a different -- and more constructive -- angle. I'm not sure if I'm equipped to do something like that. My therapist was just so amazing at keeping track of all the details that I just spewed out to her -- and so generous in speaking to me from a position of warmth. With my background in litigation, I'm more equipped to be confrontational and rule-driven, rather than supportive and warm.

Of course, I am also concerned about starting a new career when I am almost 40. It will take me a few months to prepare for the GREs and apply to schools. Once I apply, I think I have to wait until the following fall to start. So I will most likely start my program when I am almost 42. That seems quite old -- but then I think of people who were in law school with me -- people who had full careers before. Walter Pincus - the journalist for the Washington Post - was in the evening program at Georgetown when I was there, and I believe he was in his 60s at the time. And then I also think about continuing with law simply because I started in it, and it seems like a horrible waste of time. I tend to think of my last 12 years practicing law as a waste of time. I've justified it to myself, and it hasn't all been negative -- but on the whole, I feel that I have very little to show for my time being a lawyer.

I think it would be horrible to have lived my whole life being just a lawyer. I don't want that to be my obituary. Somewhere inside, there is a part of me that is very ambitious. To do something meaningful with my life. Not to discount being a mother or a wife, but to do something in a larger sense. Sometimes when I read other people's wikipedia entries, I think, I could have done that. And then I tell myself that I still can.

In my case, I think being a mom and now being pregnant with no. 2 heightens my sense of urgency in figuring out my career. I don't want to fall into the trap of being so bogged down with child care -- and prioritizing my children's needs ahead of all else -- that I forget to think about this before it feels too late.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that I would like to accomplish in my life. A part of it is driven by a fear of living meaninglessly -- something I thought my parents did when they worked day in and day out in a dry cleaners, without any humor or acceptance -- simply for the sake of making a living. And it is hard to pinpoint exactly how one goes about finding meaning in one's work. Maybe it's about finding something that aligns with one's values.

I've decided to take Jeff's suggestion, though, and talk to any many people as I can who are therapists -- and see whether they enjoy their work, and what they like about it. If anyone out there is a therapist, I would love to pick your brain!


  1. Interesting stuff! I don't know any therapists, but I'll share two small stories of women I know who made radical career changes well into adulthood. The first is my honorary grandmother (she was a dear friend of my mom's, but I always called her grandmother). She was an editor for decades and decades. After her husband died (she was 76), she went to seminary and became an ordained Episcopal priest. She spent the next 20 years as an active clergy person, focusing her efforts on the homebound elderly in her congregation. And she never missed a home game for her favorite college basketball team.

    My husband's grandmother started her career as a clinical psychologist. She took many years off to raise her children, then got involved in city and state politics. She was elected to the Iowa state legislature in 1966 (she was 47). During her last term, she started law school and graduated in 1980. She practiced employment law at a small firm until she retired.

    So go for it if it feels right. It's common to hear people say "life is short", but I think it's also true that life is pretty long - certainly long enough to make changes when you need them. Good luck and keep us posted.

  2. Hi S - I did my graduate work in psychology in LA & San Diego. You've got my e-mail so let me know if you have any questions. I will say that changing careers mid-life was not unusual in my field. I had many classmates in their 30s, 40s, & 50s who were looking for a new direction.

  3. You seem to be sooo in tune with yourself, and I can imagine you perhaps enjoying a career as a therapist. I really admire the way you try to lead a life that touches others in a positive way. You sound like an amazing person.

    You said that you consider the time spend as an attorney a waste of time almost. Nothing to show for it. I am chewing on that one myself. Interesting. Very interesting.

  4. I have been practicing law for the past nine years with the past three years in litigation and completely understand how you feel because I too have a 13 month old son and I find it difficult to shake off the stress and combativeness that dominates my work day when I am home on the weekends (I hardly see him during the week) with my son. I think you would excell as a therapist because of your innate thoughtfulness and sincerity and hope that you pursue this calling. I am also planning on changing careers when I become blessed with Baby No. 2 in a year or so and am even considering applying for PA (Physician' Assistant)Program which is a 2 year program plus internship. We are almost the same age and I too have had pangs of wondering if it's "too late." Continuing to lawyer is the path of least resistance for us, not the path of fulfillment. I know that I will be a better mother and wife if I enjoy rather than dread what I do for a living. I wish you the best with this decision. The fact that you are even considering changing careers is proof enough that you are destined for better things.

  5. I have MA in Psychology. I am sorry to say that you don't get any license with master's in Psychology :( (or CA has different rules?). MA in Counselling, MSW or MFT degree is the best option if you are seeking for master's degree/therapist license. With internship, it will take at least 3 years.
    Good news is that some schools don't require GRE.

  6. You should check out www.thepeoplestherapist.com. It is a blog written by a former lawyer who is now a therapist.

  7. Good luck, I'm in the middle of all of these questions and have no idea (poorly paid writing? no thank you? just keep going in law since I'm 41? rather slit my wrists than do another 10 years of this...I don't know yet...). Good for you that you are being proactive.

  8. I know this is 3 months old, but have you considered being a mediator? It respects the emotional space you want in your head, it brings people together, and there aren't really emergencies. If you're a therapist, it will intrude on your life if a client calls you saying they're suicidal while you're playing with T.