I was miserable. Utterly miserable. That was my state of mind 8 months into my first job after law school.
I should have been on top of the world. I graduated from law school with decent grades, had taken (and passed) the bar exam, and was working in a law firm practicing intellectual property law. Why, then, was I so miserable? It wasn’t the fact that I wasn’t even close to making six figures (although this didn’t help the situation). Nor was it because I worked above a printing company and you can smell the fumes emanating from downstairs. It was because I didn’t feel valued as an employee and had little work-life balance. I was working for a solo practitioner who split her time between New York City (where her fiancé lived) and Boston, and she expected me to simultaneously play the roles of office manager, secretary, paralegal, and attorney, all while not revealing to clients that I was working on their cases. It was unrewarding, to say the least. Add on top of that the two plus hour commute, the low pay, and the smelly office. (OK, I guess the latter two did matter.)
What made it worse was that my unhappiness at work was affecting my husband and our marriage. I was miserable at work and brought that mindset home with me every night for several weeks. I was constantly snapping at my husband and became someone neither of us wanted me to be. I remember him telling me one night that something had to change for the sake of our marriage.
It was then that I realized that I had a choice. I didn’t have to work there and I could find another job. (Easier said than done, I know.) That was the turning point for me – the realization that I had free will and could change my situation. From then on I felt immediately happier, the proverbial weight had been lifted. Granted, nothing at work had changed. I still had a mostly absent boss with a horrible commute and low pay, but I could change that and I did.
I tried to find another job practicing intellectual property law. I tried for weeks, sending out dozens of résumés and relying on any contacts I had made. Finally I decided that I had to explore other options and I thought of what I could do that would challenge me, would provide me with the work-life balance I was looking for, and used the knowledge I gained in law school. Based on those criteria, I contacted a woman I used to work with and quickly had an offer letter in hand from a prestigious consulting firm.
While I no longer practice law, I have stayed in the intellectual property arena and use my law school education almost daily. I am immensely happier with my job and my life. I learned that it’s almost impossible to be happy in life when you’re miserable at work. And being unhappy at work isn’t worth the harm it can cause yourself and your relationships. While the decision to stop practicing law was not easy to make, I wouldn’t change it for anything. My happiness is more important.