A friend in Italy recently asked me this question. She wanted to know why I left the law. It’s one of the most common questions I get, all over the world. How could I be crazy enough to turn away a career where I invested so much time, energy, and money? Particularly one that was so lucrative.
When we first left the US, I wrote all sorts of guest posts about this topic. Things like 30 Days From Making Partner at the Largest Law Firm in the World – I Escaped. Or, Confessions of a Recovering Tax Lawyer – 12 Things I Hate About Big Law. Many of these posts were meant to encourage others to escape, or were to help me cope with my prior life with a bit more humor.
But, recently, I found myself thinking about this issue in a whole new light.
There’s No Crying in the Law
In 2007, I came down with tendonitis in my right wrist from a massive document review gone awry. It was the impetus behind our 2009 trip around the world. I was thinking about it because I still have issues with my hand. After a few days straight of super productive work while in Bologna, my wrist bothered me again. I had to take a day off. I was left cursing my former profession yet again. How is it possible that 8 years later I am still dealing with this work-related injury?
This is a recurring problem. Every few months, I have a flare up in my wrist. This one, though, was a bit more emotional because I started to remember a very specific part of the story. A meeting I had with two partners, around the time that I had in place a plan to slow down and reduce my hours, complete with a workman’s comp claim. We discussed a brand new project, with a complicated legal structure. I struggled to take notes, with pain shooting up my wrist, to my elbow, and up to my shoulder. I had a bag of ice on my hand, which dripped onto the desk. There was never a thought in the partners’ minds that maybe I shouldn’t be taking on a new assignment during a workman’s comp claim. It was business as usual. It’s know wonder I left the law.
After the meeting, I went into my office, shut the door, and cried.
When I composed myself, I got my stuff together, told my secretary I was working from home the rest of the day, and left.
Thing was, this was not the only time I cried at work.
Rehashing and recollecting this old story made me think about the last time I cried. In the last year, I’ve cried a lot. Mostly because of the passing of Eric’s cousin.
I tried to think about the last time I cried over our business, or because of our travel lifestyle. I felt like I remembered one time, recently, when I kind of lost it. It took me some time to figure out when that was. Then, it hit me.
It was when Eric lost his wedding ring in Lombok. I wasn’t crying so much about the lost ring as I was the situation we were in. It was because of how unhappy we were with our situation living in Bali. I was ready for a change and we were forcing ourselves to be someplace we didn’t like, where we didn’t fit in.
As I continued to think about this, I realized how strange it was. That I was contemplating when I’ve cried and about what, and wondered what my triggers were. People might think that this alone is a sad story, a worrying topic.
For me, though, it was exhilarating.
So, Why Did I Leave The Law?
I realized that in this new life of mine, I’ve been crying for the right reasons. The death of a loved one. The loss of a friendship. The frustration and helplessness I felt about our situation living in Bali, which was linked to the last reason.
None of these reason involved stupid work stuff. None of these reasons involved trying to contort my mind, my body, and my spirit to please superiors. To find success in a career I did not like.
I look back on my time in big law, the stress, the hours, the egos, the lifestyle. The feeling that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. As much as I wrote a lot about this back in 2012, most of it involved the concept of escaping the predictable life, escaping my law firm life, escaping the US.
What I realize now, is that I wasn’t escaping, per se. I was just searching for a life that fit me better. And this life, our new life, does fit me better. I realized that now because, even though we make a heck of a lot less money than before, our income streams continue to fluctuate, and are anything but certain, I don’t stress as much as I used to. When I work at night, or on a weekend, I don’t care, because I am working for myself.
My life holds more perspective now than it used to. When I get frustrated at something that happens, I have a more reasonable, measured response. I am never at the point where I am so tired or so stressed or feel that things are so out my control.
Our lives are in our own hands. We are independent. We are free. Even with all of the uncertainty that exists, I feel more secure now than I did before with my paycheck coming in every two weeks.
And, most important, I’ve never cried because of my job, or our businesses.
That is why I left the law.