Thursday, July 31, 2008

Life of the Mind

So the law firm I worked at this summer offered me a job today. An honest to goodness, 160,000-a-year-to-start-corporate-servant job. I would be a courtesan to the moneyed elite.

When I was maybe 8 or 10, when I was in first, maybe second grade, a friend of the family who I idolized told me corporate lawyer was a great job. He said that was where the money was. He said corporate lawyers were rich. I thought rich equaled unassailably happy, so for awhile, when grownups asked my little self what I wanted to be, I said corporate lawyer.

Before that it was fireman, and then missionary bush pilot, then, after corporate lawyer, astronaut and Air Force fighter pilot. By the time I was in high school I realized that me and most of society were not a good fit. Between that realization and the deep pain I felt within me, artist seemed like the natural choice.

So visual artist, then actor. To survive, I became a proofreader, including legal proofreading, and after years of underusing my brain and longing for more challenge I decided on law school so that I could make a daily difference in people's lives. I wanted to be a public defender, or maybe work for the ACLU. So I went to a less prestigious school than I could have in order to minimize my debt.

I have done very well in law school. That success got me this job, which payed me $80/hr, $3,100/wk, for 11 weeks this summer. This summer has provided me with a direct path to worldly wealth and success.

I don't want it. I like a lot of law work, but I don't like the work I did this summer. I like that I got good training and became a better thinker and writer, but I need a client that I care about. I need a person, not a corporation, to help. I am applying for clerkships. If I get a position with a judge for a couple years, it will delay the decision for a while.

You may be reading this wondering, he doesn't want to do the job, what is the problem? You may also be reading this wondering why I am so conflicted about a job that could set me up financially for life. I don't want to work 80 hours a week, but I don't want to be broke. I want to be able to raise children and not subject them to poverty. On the other hand, I don't want to be "The Cat's in the Cradle" dad and never see my kids.

I will be taking the bar exam in one year. If I accept the job with this law firm, they will pay for me to study for the bar. And of course, once I take the bar and start work, I will have the money to buy a house. How strong the golden handcuffs become would be a function of what kind of house I buy, what kind of suits I decide to wear. If I don't take this job, I will have to drop one more loan on top of the rest in order to study for the bar.

I have struggled since entering law school with how to live within a culture to which I am deeply opposed without assimilating the values of that culture. It's tough. I want to accept, be accepted, fit in, and not live in constant dissonance. Put another way, were I to take this job, in two years would I still be indifferent to the Hamptons and Cape Cod?

I know I should turn this job down. But it's hard for me to say "no" to people who want me. And it's also hard to say no to a solid offer of a good job that could help me build a safety net for me and my family when I will have to wait until the New Year to know whether I can get the job I want. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

This is a very long post, but this is a very weird, difficult time.


vacuous said...

Hi Beckett. Gosh I can really empathize with you. This has got to be a painful gut-wrenching decision. If I were you, I would probably take the job if it weren't so time consuming. 80 hours a week and constant high pressure good be a life killer. You are in control of your destiny and this decision could be the difference between contentment and misery. You've got to ask yourself: are people in this position happy? Maybe they are or can be. You've probably made a mental assessment of many of the people working at this company in positions like yours. How do they strike you happiness-wise? I personally don't have an answer for you, but I wish you the best luck and wisdom in making the decision.

Congratulations by the way. I'm proud of you!

DWD said...

Glad to hear you are staying true to yourself. The rewards will come- and be greater for it. Obviously not an easy decision since money is so often the great arbiter of conflict. Anyway- suits fit better when you design them yourself.


vacuous said...

I used to hear him sing in a Bleecker Street bar
On that tiny stage with a borrowed guitar
His voice cut through like a speeding car
Tearing through the deals of the brokers at the bar

Then he sold everything for a Wall Street wage
A rich man's money is a rich man's cage
Pockets full of gold and a dead man's face
There was life in those eyes, now there's not trace

How much did it cost you
How much did you pay
And are you sorry at the end of the day
Are you sorry at the end of the day

She used to be a friend and a wife and a daughter
Now she's walked on everybody like she's walking on water
She'll kiss you on the mouth while she takes what you give her
Better turn the other cheek when she walks away forever

'Cause your just another rung on the ladder to the top
Once she started climbing she couldn't ever stop
With her entourage around her she sits on her throne
But she's the queen of nothing now, she's sitting all alone


And you found out what you wanted
Well it isn't what you need
And you curse this train your riding
You curse it but you never leave
Well there's a way, there's a way


I used to hear him sing in a Bleecker Street bar
On that tiny stage with a borrowed guitar
His voice cut through like a speeding car
Tearing through the deals of the brokers at the bar
Tearing through the deals of the brokers at the bar

-Lucy Kaplansky 'End of the Day'