Wednesday, December 8, 2010

the winter of my discontent

(via MSNBC's photo blog.)

A while ago, the NYT published this article about 20-somethings, and how none of us know what the hell we are doing with our lives, other than moving back in with our parents.  When I was studying for the bar and going through my divorce, I did just that.  I think this article resonated with me, because it so accurately described what me and many of my friends are going through. 

This article describes the 20s as a period of "identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic [reasearchers call] 'a sense of possibilities.'"  Perhaps.  But this "sense of possibilities" has a darker side too.  I, and my sister, and others I know, might call it "fear."  In the article, the researchers describe feelings of "dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what [researchers] heard most often was ambivalence."  As we struggle with our identities, trying to figure out what to do with our lives, many of us are hopeful, but we are also afraid.  I know that I am.  Afraid of getting stuck in something I don't like, but also afraid of never finding something I do.  Or growing tired of something that once energized me.  I feel like every week I have a new career that I want to embark on.  I'm not lazy.  It's not that I don't want to do anything.  It's that I want to do everything.  Maybe this is the "sense of possibilities."

Perhaps this is why there were predictions, back when the economy was better, that my generation would be the one that pushed back against the all-encompassing job, the "live to work" rather than "work to live" mentality.  They predicted we would be the ones to demand "work-life balance."  The problem with law firm life (and any job that takes this much time, really) is that there is no time for anything else.  I have wide and varied interests.  I like reading, math, running, yoga, my garden, writing, home improvement, my family, cars, summer, flowers, cooking and fireplaces.  And more.  Each time I think that the list is done, I think, oh wait, how could I not also say I am interested in X?  I struggle to describe myself in an "about me" box, and have a hell of a time coming up with any kind of "screen name" other than just my real name.  I'm not "running_girl" or "lawyerNYC."  I'm a lot of things.  And I always think, "What if I pick running_girl and then I quit running, won't that be weird?"  Really, it's not that deep.  But I can't help myself from panicking when I am forced to try to pin down my identity.  How do I distill all this down into one job that is going to take up all of my life and not leave room for anything else? 

The answer, I think, is that I don't.  I have been thinking a lot lately that at the root of my unhappiness at the law firm is the fact that there is no room for anything else.  I would be equally unhappy at any job that left little or no room for anything else.  I won't sacrifice my time with my family on evenings and weekends when I am not working, so the result is that I don't do anything for myself.  I don't read.  I don't go to yoga.  I try to run, but don't do it nearly as often as I would like.  I don't work in my garden.  I don't build fires.  I don't fix my own car, or wash the blue paint off the ceiling in the kitchen, or chop down the Christmas tree in the woods.  Instead, I work, and spend some time with my family, although not as much as I would like.  Who wouldn't be burned out, looking at a shelf full of books waiting to be read and a garden overgrown with weeds instead of tomatoes?  It feels like such a waste. 

My friends made fun of me ages ago for reading a book that advised careful financial planning for early retirement, so that you can do all the things you want to instead of just working all the time.  I enjoyed it, actually.  It challenges you to think about the things you spend your money on, and whether it is actually worth it.  But really, how can you not at least mock a little a girl with a small red spiral-bound notebook who is writing down "gum - $.25" in the drug store and saving vegetable scraps in the freezer to make soup stock out of, at 22?

Then I have to wonder, how has the girl with the red notebook, dreaming of retiring at 40, found herself in a corporate culture where she's required to be available 24 hours a day by blackberry?  How has someone with so many interests that I can't fill out the "about me" on my facebook profile (or this blog, for that matter,) managed to end up working a job which ends up defining me by default, since I don't have time to do anything else?

At this stage, I have a lot more questions than answers.  But I do feel like I am finally figuring out what the questions are, and why I am so unhappy.  Winter is a time of darkness, and introspection.  It's a time to stay inside and to look inside.  If I have to suffer through freezing cold temperatures and wet feet, at least I can use the winter for what it is good for, and try to figure out a way to craft a life, and a career, where I have time and energy for all that interests me.

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