Thursday, March 3, 2011

little deaths (or, Hamlet for lawyers)

I guess it's not enough for me to use Shakespeare to show why leaving the law firm is hard.  I've been resisting writing this all day, but I can't do it.  I have to over-explain.  Perhaps it is my legal training.  You can't just state the issue and then state the law.  You have to apply.  It's the A in IRAC.  You learn this in your first legal writing class.  And so.

Issue:  A friend one said to me that when her friends change their names when they get married, it's like a little death.  To me, that is what leaving the law firm behind is like.  Really, isn't it what all changes are like?  Little deaths.

Relevant lawWho would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Analysis/Application:  The urge to live is strong, which is rather convenient from an evolutionary standpoint.  I think of the psychological fear of death as an aspect of that.  It's not the pain of death we are afraid of, necessarily -- the fear of intense pain does not keep people from having babies.  Instead, it is Hamlet's issue.  No one knows what happens when you die, and that unknown is worse than grunting and sweating (ha, ha). 

The problem is that this evolutionarily convenient psychological fear leaks over into other aspects of our lives.  Lawyers are, by birth or by training, extremely risk-averse.  We are trained from the time we enter our first 1L class to spot the issues, problems, and possible horrible outcomes.  We look for the places where the deal could bust.  That is the whole point of many branches of law and legal study (from contracts and remedies to civil settlements and prenuptial agreements).  Combine a penchant for spotting potential future horrors with a sometimes-healthy fear of the unknown, and you have a recipe for locking people into an admittedly dissatisfying career path.

However, there are two methods I have come up with for trying to move through the death-fear that prevents me from leaving my legal career (although I am sure there are other techniques as well).  The first is information-gathering.  What might life after the law look like?  Is it true that everyone who has ever left Biglaw is happy that they did?  (Um, yes.)  The point of the information-gathering stage is to make changing careers a little less like dying.  Although all changes have an element of the unknown, it's an attempt to move my view of the change down the spectrum, closer to trying a new food, further from shuffling off the mortal coil. 

The second way to deal with being locked-in is to just make the change, to my quietus make with a bare bodkin.  Metaphorically, of course. 

Conclusion:  Although a piece of us dies with each change, change is not death.  Life after the change is not a complete unknown, and even those of us with a high degree of risk-aversion need to sometimes move forward in the face of uncertainty.  After all, not making a choice is a choice as well.  And as the lawyer in me dies by leaving this career path, the potential of what I might become dies if I stay. 

Note:  I can't believe that I have posts two days in a row that have the word "little" in the title. It feels like a rule violation, like the mixed-tape rule that you can't put two songs by the same artist on one mixed tape.  So apologies for that.  Does it help that one is a Shakespeare reference and one is a Tori Amos reference? 

1 comment:

  1. Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950).
    Spoon River Anthology. 1916.

    George Gray

    I HAVE studied many times
    The marble which was chiseled for me—
    A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
    In truth it pictures not my destination
    But my life.
    For love was offered me
    and I shrank from its disillusionment;
    Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
    Ambition called to me,
    but I dreaded the chances.
    Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
    And now I know that we must lift the sail
    And catch the winds of destiny
    Wherever they drive the boat.
    To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
    But life without meaning is the torture
    Of restlessness and vague desire—
    It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

    Tis a brave thing you do.