Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The chain goes like this:  A friend mentions Ani Difranco, circa 1996 (Untouchable Face, specifically).  I listen to the whole album (Dilate, specifically).  I hear the song Napoleon.  It reminds me of two things:

(1) A time when I was in college, and went over to visit a friend (no cell phones, people, we used to just stop by without warning).  She was listening to Napoleon so loudly that she couldn't hear me pounding on her door and I had to just turn around and go home.

(2) How I used to actually want to do things with my life.  Big things.  Bigger-than-me things.  And now I just make a lot of money.  And am totally unfulfilled and used up by the institution that I've chosen as my employer, with no time or energy left for the bigger-than-me things I used to want to do.  All I can do is write checks.  And how dare I complain about it to my college friends, some of whom are barely making ends meet, but doing something bigger than themselves.

I went to law school with a dream.  I thought it would be a way for me to do something that I am passionate about (work for LBGT rights) as my career.  I shopped and chose a law school with a strong public interest program (BERKELEY, for god's sake, it doesn't get more activisty than that).  I interned at the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (the other HRC).  Then I interned at another Bay-area LGBT rights organization.  Then, I interned for BigLaw.

There are lots of reasons excuses that people give for not doing the thing they went to law school to do.  I have used all of them.  Some that I have heard myself using are:

(1) "I just decided I wanted to do something else.  I can't help it if someone wants to pay me a lot of money for that."  The only problem is, it's becoming abundantly clear to me that I don't actually want to do this something else.

(2) "I graduated from law school with [insert 6-digit number here] dollars worth of debt.  You can't pay that off working for [insert really small number here] a year."  Except that there is LRAP.  And that people pay off their law school debt without 6 figure salaries ALL THE TIME.

(3) "I got burned out."  Uh, really?  Aren't people constantly getting burned out on law firm work?  It's not like taking a vacation or something.  Somehow, people use getting "burned out" doing important but hard work to justify going to work for The Man.  My own self included.

The truth is, I liked it when I was an intern.  I liked it a lot.  I liked the work I did, and I liked the people I worked with. I also liked that, as a summer associate, there was a nod to my personal life -- I was asked when I needed to stay late whether I had plans, and whether I could work around them.  My weekends were basically clear unless there was something totally essential.  And then I moved from San Francisco to New York, and I no longer did the interesting work, and I no longer worked with the same people, and there was no longer any acknolwedgement of my personal life.  And also, my home life shifted, and I suddenly really wanted to be doing other things too, in addition to working hard.

Anyway, here I am.  We all want to be something big and important.  I hate that somewhere between Napa Valley wine tours and trips to New York City, I forgot what "important" actually means.  Or at least, what it actually means to me.

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