This Is Water
by Jared A. Rose
Do you enjoy your job? If you’re reading this, I sure hope you do. Chances are, you’re a lawyer, because I don’t know any non-lawyers who peruse the Missouri YLS Newsletter. So that means you were smart enough to graduate high school, undergraduate school, and law school, and smart enough to pass the bar. Good job, nice work! You’d think with that track record you’d be able to find a job you enjoy.
But the number of lawyers who hate their job is actually shockingly high. In March 2013, one survey, with 65,000 participants, found associate attorneys to be the unhappiest employees of any profession. And many websites, like Above The Law, are largely devoted to the trials and tribulations of young attorneys.
So I know that of the infinitesimal number of people who actually read this article, a decent portion will be reading it while trying to escape from their job. You’re reading it while worrying that your Big Law firm is monitoring your internet usage, or worrying that the name partner at your small firm will walk in for one of his daily tirades. How could anyone be happy in such an environment?
Well, a lot of happiness really comes down to perspective. Any of you who haven’t read David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College really ought to. It’s relatively brief. And in it, he tries to describe the real value of getting an education: “how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.”
Lawyers tend to be overly enamored with our intellect. Maybe that’s because we were trained to be concerned about test scores, school rankings, class rankings, and law firm rankings. But Mr. Wallace would point out: “Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” Is there anything more insecure than law school 1L’s during finals week?
Lawyers tend to be overly concerned with money. Maybe that’s because we graduate with a lot of law school debt. But Mr. Wallace (and Jesus, and Buddha, and a lot of other smart dudes and ladies) would say “If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.” How many lawyers go bust after years of professional success and wild spending?
As highly educated, intelligent people, we really have no excuse for continued misery. It’s time to get over ourselves, to step back and make conscious decisions about what has genuine meaning in our lives, and to pursue that meaning with a passion. Good luck.