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.