Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I think I'm buckling under the pressure I'm putting on myself to figure out my career while trying to have a baby. I keep thinking that it has already been over seven months since I was let go by Paul Hastings and that should be more than enough time to have figured out my career direction, studied the ins and outs of this new career, and written the great American novel. Since I failed my two attempts at having a kid, I should at least have succeeded in that, right?

Instead, I've barely gotten started. I am only now starting to become comfortable with the idea of giving up my career as a lawyer. Maybe it sounds shocking that I'm not long past this. It's not the job but the security that comes with it that I find hard to let go. But it dawns on me (belatedly) that this security is no longer a given, not just because of the state of the economy, but because I've been booted out. To survive as a lawyer at my level, I have to be willing to fight like a shark, and I can muster neither the motivation nor the energy. Frankly, the idea of working again as a full time litigator fills me with dread. When I see listings on or for litigator positions, I find myself articulating reasons why the position would not work for me.

There are times when I regret having spent the past ten years working as a lawyer. The Obama's and the Michelle Rhee's of this world make me feel like I've spent my time so poorly. I keep thinking of where I would be had I invested the past 10 years working on my writing instead. Yeah, maybe no Pulitzer Prize to my name, but at least I could be writing professionally and have some by-lines to point to. And who's to say that I would not have succeeded? I'm not sure how some people nurture the confidence to forge ahead in the face of unlikely odds, but I would surely like to have some of that rub off on me.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in college fretting about my career. Too earnestly, I believed in the importance of one's life work, the product that sums up your human effort, ideals, values. At the same time, I struggled with the need to create a sense of security in our family. Our immigrant way of living in the US - with no relatives and few friends - felt so vulnerable, and I obsessed over the fear that my parents - who worked in a dry cleaner and had no health insurance - would be stricken with cancer. And for some reason, I thought the solution to finding our family's security and redeeming my parents' decision to live such difficult lives in the US rested entirely on my shoulders. Talk about being self-absorbed.

So I talked myself into law school. I told myself a lot of things. Knowing the law empowers you. It will give me a sense of authority. I'll make good money.

And all those things happened. And lots of other good things, like meeting some incredible people along the way, learning how to write and think precisely, learning some discipline, working on some fun, high-profile cases.

But it still does not feel like enough. I keep thinking about how I am using up the limited days of my life. I have some skepticism toward people who blindly tout following one's passions because it does not take into account any practical considerations. And I don't take lightly the need to feed oneself, pay rent, have health coverage. But I am at a different place in my life now than when I graduated from college. My parents are happily retired with a good enough nest egg. Jeff and I are financially secure, and he has been incredibly encouraging about my writing, urging me repeatedly to take the risk of going for it. And I have all the time in the world - at least for now.

So a part of me feels like I should be grateful for having had my miscarriages. It buys me time - at least for the next several months - to work on my writing, take more courses, try to get some pieces published. And I have to remind myself that seven months really isn't enough to draft up a Pulitzer Prize worthy tome, especially since I had to set aside some of that time to simmer down after the Paul Hastings dismissal, to deal with the fallouts of two miscarriages, to flail aimlessly, to do some mindless contract work, and to build up an obviously prize-worthy blog.

So here's my new mantra. Even babies get a nine month gestation period. Shouldn't I give myself at least that same amount of time to find my way into this new world?


  1. You should get nine months and more. I've known people who've taken a year or more.

    You can still become an Obama or Rhee. Both are worthwhile endeavors. Maybe you could try getting a teaching certificate, or teaching at a private school where you don't need a certificate, to get a sense of whether you like it.

    You can go back to school in education policy, or creative writing. Berkeley and Stanford and other schools can't be far away, and the other applicants can't match your experience.

    You have options - good ones.

    Fellow U of C grad going through similar situation.


  2. Hi,
    Here's one book I recommend-- The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp.

    It's filled with practical tips to keep yourself disciplined and to hold onto your courage as an artist. Twyla's also very New York and literary, which just makes it fun to read.

    You have a beautiful writing voice and so much raw material here. I do hope you end up with your book(s)-- just hold on to your courage. Your blog has definitely inspired me to do exactly that.

    Another Korean girl from Queens (and a 3L at Georgetown)

  3. You guys are great. Thank you for your encouragement and advice. I will definitely get the Twyla Tharp book. Best luck to ATDS and Anonymous as you pursue your goals. Please keep me posted as you go along.

  4. I think it's great that you aren't giving in to your old motivations and trying to find ones that are more fulfilling. I've struggled with the "meaning" and "purpose" of my job too (and I work in healthcare!) but found that no matter where I work, it is mostly my perspective that determines my fulfillment... my attitute shall I say? (Of course, i'm not saying that being a professional con artist should be fulfilling.) Anyway, I read about Avon's CEO who is motivated by Avon's ability to empower women (not simply selling make up.)

    my $0.02.

    You've been in my thoughts... although i have never met you. =)

  5. You thoughts on law remind me of my own. I went to law school b/c I couldn't think of anything better to do. And b/c it seemed "safe." And when I got accepted at an Ivy League school, I took it as a sign that I was *meant* to do this.

    I worked at a biglaw firm in NYC for 2 yrs and saw most of my fellow first years sliced away with little fanfare. DH was offered a job in a far away locale and it gave me an option to get out gracefully. I took 3 years off to be pregnant, have a baby and spend time with the baby. I taught a law class so that my resume wouldn't seem so empty but I didn't think I'd ever really go back to law.

    Then we moved again. And we couldn't afford a house. And the baby wasn't really a baby anymore. So I went back to biglaw - this time in LA. At first it seemed kinder and gentler, but in the end, not really. (Former firm just laid off 70+ people, including nearly all of the senior women in the LA office.)

    I made the tough choice to take an in-house position. At the time, I was unsure. I wondered if I hated the law and all it failed to offer. I wondered if it was worth the pay cut. But its turned out to be a fabulous job that has made me love the law again.

    I'd thought about (i) being a writer; (ii) being a pharmacist; (iii) getting my master's in my undergrad degree area; (iv) being a SAHM; (v) being a professor; (vi) being an interior designer; (vii) etc - all with varying degress of certainty.

    But in the end, finding a job that lets me practice law without bleeding me dry and supports my desire to do good in the world (through extensive pro bono with plenty of support and no opposition in any form) let me make my peace with being a lawyer.

    Just throwing that out there.

    You have so much to think about and work through and I wish you a lot of luck!

  6. There's a book, by Marsha Sinetar and first published in 1989, called Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. It seems to me it's a good principle, not in a metaphysical sense, but in the sense that you're more likely to be good at--or have the fire necessary to become good at--what you love than what you merely tolerate. So doing what you love, theoretically, hones your best abilities, and provides your best chance of being noticed for the best reasons.

  7. p.s. if the (self imposed?) time pressure becomes suffocating, I hope you'll remember that giving up and jumping onto the "quiet desperation" bandwagon isn't your only option. Perhaps part time work would (at that later, hypothetical date) provide the breathing room you need to keep writing, and if the aforementioned principle holds true, the writing will naturally grow until you feel no need to lean on the part time job.

    In my humble opinion, when you hit "send" on that famous e-mail, you chose truth as a career. And you're good at it. Pretty cool.

  8. Hi, joshua/Sharon, yea, please visit often. And thanks for taking the time to comment! I love reading them.

    Hi, Mary, I totally agree that attitude makes a huge difference, although I think I can talk myself into accepting something less than ideal because of some unrecognized reason (like fear). I think I must be going through a semi-mid life crisis.

    Carson's Mom -- I totally hear you. I've watched a lot of my friends go in and out of the law and several have landed in places within the law that they now truly enjoy, including in in-house and teaching positions. I may very well follow that pattern. I didn't hate the practice of law. I just find myself wondering if it would be enough and if I wouldn't regret it if I stayed with law without giving this writing thing a try. We'll see where I end up in a few years. Perhaps somewhere in the middle?

    Glen, thanks for the book suggestion and the advice. My husband says that all the time (about doing what you love), and I'm going to try to follow that principle. I think the part time idea is something I'm likely to follow, if not only to relieve some of the pressure on myself but also to avoid being the dead weight in our family!