Monday, January 08, 2007

Kettle To Fire, Or Some Place Less Toasty?

I've been doing a lot of thinking this weekend, in between staying out (again!) way too late, blowing off work, catching up with my friends, setting up my computer (which has some crazy virus on it and will not let me install the new Norton Antivirus System - aggravation), stringing internet cable from downstairs to my bedroom, and trying out my new running shoes along the East River.

As I mentioned, I've been thinking about jumping ship and leaving my large firm for a much smaller one. Each January after bonuses are given out thousands of associates make similar moves, leaving behind crushing billables and miserable work environments for what they hope will be more bearable existences at so-called "lifestyle" firms. Lifestyle firms are supposed to care about their associate's well being. More importantly, they tend to demand approximately 300 less billable hours than the top legal sweatshops in New York, for a slight pay cut. I could do a lot of yoga, sleeping, socializing, and career planning in 300 hours.

This idea is a dramatic one for me. Until Friday, the thought of jumping to another firm had filled me with dread. I was scared - and still am (note the title of this post) - that going to another firm would be a step to the side instead of a step forward, that I would find essentially the same situation that I'm seeking to leave behind at the new firm, that I would feel like I was selling myself out by not making a clean break and turning my back on corporate American once and for all. However, my new thought is that making the jump to a place that would allow me to cut down my hours substantially, that also allowed me to do pro bono work and had pleasant co-workers, might enable me to do the kind of networking I need to in order to get a public interest position. A part of me wishes that I could just quit without any kind of job lined up, but that idea doesn't feel right to me.

I tentatively shared this plan with my parents tonight. I expected my Mom to want me to stay at my firm, and for my Dad to be supportive of my decision to leave. Instead, what happened was that my Mom was really supportive of my decision to go to a different firm, and my Dad told me he thought I was doing the wrong thing. My Dad knows that I don't like my firm and that I do not see myself at a firm for any significant period of time and he wants me to be happy and follow my passion. I want to follow my passion too, and if a public interest job opened up in New York and they wanted to hire me, I would snap it up in a second. However, I'm not in charge of those things, so instead I need to accept reality as it is and make the best of it.

My reality is that I'm at a firm that I do not like, and haven't liked since I started there and I want to get out. My Dad says that I should admit that I should have quit earlier. I don't find that helpful because (a) I'm trying to deal with the now and (b) I've had reasons to stay and I didn't have attractive alternatives. If I had reached a point that I wanted to quit, I would have.

The point here is that I'm making progress in my thinking, and although the idea of going to another firm makes me feel anxious, it's a relatively painless, speedy way to make an exit from my firm. Headhunters are looking for people at my level all the time and they'll do a lot of the work in terms of setting up interviews, finding openings, etc.

I don't know if it's the right thing. Maybe I'll get to another firm and think to myself that I made a mistake. It's possible. But, if that happens, I can quit that firm (and firm life completely). I don't see what I lose in going to another firm other than the prestige of my more well-known, larger firm - which as I mentioned earlier I shouldn't care about because it's not going to open the doors that I want it to open.

My Mom thinks I'm making the right decision because she wants me to stay in the firms and be secure. My Dad thinks I'm making the wrong decision because he wants me to quit flat out and is afraid that I'll be just as miserable in a different firm as I've been at this one. Both of them want me to be happy and are just trying to think of what's best for me. It must be difficult for parents to watch their children find their way.

Here are some things that I want:

I want to get out of this job.
I want to get out of this job within about two months.
I want to be able to go to the gym 3 times a week, or more.
I want to eat healthfully, and I do not want to order in at my desk after 8:00 pm.
I want to work with people who appreciate and respect me and who don't treat me like I'm a worthless moron.
I don't want to dread going to work each day.
I don't want to be unmotivated and depressed from being at work.
I want to be financially secure, for now.
I want to have health benefits.
The idea of bumming around jobless makes me feel anxious, although it's also incredibly appealing and I think everyone else who has ever had the courage to do it is amazing.
I want to have time for my social life.
I want to be happy right now.
Not in 5 months, not in a year, not in 10 years.
Right now.

I don't know if jumping from this firm to a smaller one will get me all of that, but it may get me a lot of it. Under the circumstances, it's looking like a positive step. But, I just felt a sliver of anxiety in my chest and can hear the echo of my Dad's words telling me that he fears I will be just as miserable in a different firm. It's an echo of my own fear.

I don't know. But I won't know until I try. And short of quitting without a job, I don't have any other alternative at the moment. So, why not be less miserable at a different place that would give me the time I need in order to get to where I want to be?


starshine said...

I don't know what the answer is, Buttercup, but I think it is clear that you cannot continue living this corporate lifestyle that is sucking the life out of you for much longer. I'm inclined to say "follow your bliss". Easier said than done, I know. But making room in your life for things that feed your soul and make you a happier person is important. I'm going to pray that God provides you with a job that you can feel passionate and alive in!

Gypsy said...

I'm liking this option. To me it's like you're on top of a 10 story building and you want to get down, but you can't take the stairs. Do you jump off 10 stories and take your chances? Or do you jump to the next building over, which is 5 stories, and see what the ground looks like from there? ;) This is still a leap, but it's less fraught with broken limbs.

Buttercup said...

Starshine and Gypsy - I think what you are both saying makes a lot of sense. I do need to leave this corporate lifestyle, but I'm more comfortable at the moment with jumping to a 5 story building than ending up sprawled on the sidewalk bloodied and broken. I'm looking in to all options, but I think I've made progress to actually see how this jump could be a positive one. I'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

you wont be miserable right away at a new firm though, there is always that honeymoon phase with any job.

And you can use that time to really think about what you want to do with your life, maybe?

look whose talking though, the blogging peter pan here

Buttercup said...

Sparky - In addition to the brief honeymoon phase there is also the two week winding down phase once you give notice at your old place AND a few weeks of vacation that I plan to take. All good things to look forward to.

Prue said...

It sounds like a good plan to me, Buttercup. If your current firm isn't opening the doors you want it to open, then it isn't worth gutting out just for the prestige factor. A lifestyle firm sounds like a good option - just make damn sure it actually is a lifestyle firm and not a sweatshop masquerading as a lifestyle firm for recruiting purposes.

Buttercup said...

Prue - You said it, sister!

Buttercup said...

Prue - You said it, sister!