Sometimes, I like to go on LinkedIn and see what people are up to. I like LinkedIn – I think it’s more interesting than Facebook or Instagram. Looking at what someone shows you of their life is one thing. But seeing someone’s career progression over the years is more insightful. After all, we spend most of our waking hours working. LinkedIn gives you a window into what someone does for most of their day.
As I was browsing LinkedIn the other day, I noticed that a bunch of people that I went to law school with made partner at their law firms. I still feel really young – and I’ve always thought of partners as old (or at least not someone in my generation). But the math checks out. It’s hard for me to believe it, but it’s been 8 years since I graduated from law school. People that I went to school with really are becoming leaders in the profession that I was once a part of.
I only lasted three years in big law before I flamed out. And it’s now been two years since I last had a normal 9-5 job. I’m making a living doing what I do – writing, blogging, doing side gigs – but I’m not rich by any means. It’s just enough for what I need at this stage in my life. And I’m happy that I control so much more of my time and life, especially now that I have a kid.
But at the same time, I always deal with feelings of regret and what-ifs. What if I had tried to stick it out? I’d definitely be making more money right now. I wasn’t a great lawyer, but I could have gotten better at it if I had changed my mindset and wasn’t so focused on getting out.
Even now, after two years of doing my own thing, I still cling to my law degree. The front page of this blog still calls me a lawyer. I still haven’t given up my law license either. And I still pay my annual dues because I’m afraid of completely severing myself from my prior career.
That Feeling Of What-If
I’ve always had this problem of dealing with what-ifs, worrying about the grass being greener on the other side. When I was practicing law, I changed jobs three times in 5 years, all in search of a dream job that I thought I could build my life around. None of these jobs panned out though – I wasn’t happy in any of them. What if I had tried to stick it out in one of those jobs? Maybe I’d have a successful legal career and be making a lot of money right now.
Or what if I had done things differently in college? Instead of goofing off and playing video games as much as I did, I could have worked just slightly harder and had much better grades. In my first year of law school, I worked harder than I ever had in my life – so I know I had the ability to work really hard at school. That hard work I put into law school resulted in me ending my first year ranked 13th in my class. I likely could have transferred to an elite school like Columbia or NYU. But I didn’t do that. How different could my life and career have been if I had done that?
I have a lot of things in my life that could have gone in a different direction. I’m sure many of you have the same things in your life that you wonder about – events and circumstances that could have gone in another direction and resulted in a completely different life.
But we all have to make decisions based on the information that we have at the moment. It’s the same truth that applies to all of us – none of us really knows what the future holds. We do the best we can with what we have at the time. And we can’t change the decisions that we make. All we can do is learn from them and maybe make better decisions later.
I’ve had a problem with chasing prestige for most of my life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting prestige – it usually means higher salaries, more respect, and all the things we associate with a good, upper-middle-class life.
But for me, prestige felt like a trap. It put me into a job and career path that wasn’t a good fit for me. It made me work long hours doing something that didn’t satisfy me. I often try to tell myself that I don’t care about prestige. And maybe I don’t care about it as much as I used to. But I do still care. It’s ingrained in all of us to want respect and admiration. No matter what anyone says, most people do care about what people think about them.
Seeing my old colleagues advance in their careers while I’m still sort of figuring things out still doesn’t feel great. If I had stuck it out, maybe I’d be moving into those higher levels too. It’s always a battle for me between wanting prestige and wanting a life built for me.
Make Decisions For You
Whenever I’m feeling regret about something – like when I look back at my legal career and how badly I failed in it – I realize that a lot of how I feel isn’t really about me. It’s about what people think of me. These days, I try to think about my decisions, not in terms of what other people think, but in terms of whether the decision is right for me.
I’m still figuring things out. Even now, in my early-to-mid-30s, I’m not exactly sure about who I am and what I’m all about. I do know that the two things I care about most when it comes to work are controlling my time and my life. I’ll always trade less money if it means more control of my life.
I’m not a partner at a big law firm. I’m not even really a lawyer anymore. Maybe I could have gotten there if I had stuck things out and kept grinding at it. But I decided that this was something I couldn’t do – or at least it wasn’t worth it for where I was in my life.
Today, I write for a living. I don’t make the most money I could make. But I’ve got enough to do what I need to do. That said, I can’t say that I don’t wonder about the what-ifs that could have been. I’d be really rich if I had kept struggling through for those big six-figure salaries.
But we have to make the decisions for ourselves, based on what we know. Some of my classmates stuck it out. The decision was right for them based on what they knew. I didn’t stick it out. It wasn’t the right move for me – at least based on what I knew at the time.
None of us can know the future. We can only know the past. All we can do is work with what we have, figure things out, and move forward with more knowledge later.