Around the Merry-Go-Round

Work has started to get busy again after a few weeks of nice and quiet.  It’s funny how my mindset is constantly changing.  Like a sine wave that oscillates between “this job sucks” to a neutral “this job isn’t too bad.”  (Of course, there’s the rare day where I’m all smiles :).)  Because I’ve been well-rested, I’m rounding the neutral high.  That’s where the danger lies. Continue reading

The Best Venn Diagram Ever!

This Venn diagram captures exactly what I need to figure out for myself:

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Copied from here.

1.  What we do well

2.  What we want to do

3.  What we can be paid to do

Such simple questions, but so difficult to answer.  For me, much of my life has been spent aiming for the next milestone.  In high school, I strove for good grades and I studied my butt off for the SAT.  In college, I continued to strive for good grades, while making sure I developed good work experience to lead into a successful job after college.  I took the LSAT.  And on and on.  At no point in this process did I ask myself any of these three questions.  Well, maybe when I picked my major, but I wasn’t even sure why I picked it.  It’s only now when I’m striving for something that I don’t really want (i.e., spending the rest of my life at a large law firm) that I’m finally asking myself these questions.

Deep Thoughts

I want to recommend some websites that I’ve found helpful in my personal growth.

www.zenhabits.net

www.pluginid.com

I spent 4 hours this weekend reading old posts from these sites.  While both contain deep, thought-provoking content, this particular post struck a chord with me.  It talks about inner confidence versus ego confidence.  Inner confidence comes from within and ego confidence comes from money, status, etc.  Things that could disappear in the blink of an eye.

If you play the Ego confidence game of life you will ultimately lose.

As much as I hate to admit it, most of my confidence was ego confidence in the early days of my career.  When we had a round of layoffs, I remember thinking what it’d be like if I were to get laid off.  This prompted very dark thoughts.  Like end of the world dark.  I figured no one would date me or respect me unless I had this job, degree, money, etc.  When I came to my senses (a few months later), I realized that this is just a job.  It does not define who I am.  The amount of money I make does not define who I am.  That was my mantra for a while, in an attempt to dissociate my identity from my job.

The converse is true too.  Don’t let your lack of confidence be driven by your work situation or debt.  If you’re a recent graduate who can’t find a job or someone who got laid off, don’t let your current situation affect your sense of who you are.   Build your inner confidence and you will find success and happiness.

Only when you’ve found your inner confidence, can you step back and reevaluate your life and take positive steps to lead a happier life.  If your job makes you unhappy, then not being tied to it mentally will make it easier to leave.

I’m doing much better nowadays.  While I still have some ego confidence (it’s hard not to as a big firm associate), it’s balanced out by plenty of inner confidence.  🙂

Spending in a Bad Economy

As promised, this post will address my monthly expenses.  Reining in my expenses will be key to making a move to a lower paying and/or less stable position.

My biggest single expense is rent.  I live in a 1 BR/1 BA in a fantastic neighborhood.  I can get to work in ten minutes and I have a great view.  I pay $2,400 a month.  Over a year, I pay $28,800 in rent.  Obviously, I could move to a cheaper apartment and save some money.  While I could boost my cash reserve by saving more money, I think I could just as easily move once I decide to make a change and save on future expenses instead.  I am fairly happy with the rate at which I am saving cash right now.  Plus, I can’t sacrifice everything right?

People often suggest I should buy a house or apartment given falling prices, low mortgage rates, and government stimulus.  For me, this is a bad idea.  Even if my mortgage payment was less than rent, I would have to fork over a substantial down payment (like $100K).  This would cut into my cash reserves, making it more difficult to leave my job.  Also, I would have a long-term financial commitment that makes it risky to fail if I were to start a business.  This is unacceptable.  Plus, sellers here are still delusional, often asking more than what others paid at the peak of the housing bubble.  No thanks.  I can wait until I am happily settled in my new life until I buy a house.

Aside from rent, my other significant expenses include: credit card purchases and car insurance.  Fortunately, I do not have any educational debt.  My cell phone bill, gas, food, utilities, etc. are all included in the credit card purchases category.  I pay off my credit card every month.  Balances usually average around $1,200 per month, but sometimes I splurge on things putting the balance closer to (sometimes over) $2,000.  I pay around $1,000 in car insurance each year.

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Dollars and Cents

In the previous post, I discussed golden handcuffs as a barrier to leaving the law.  Today, I will address my personal finance situation (I am anonymous after all) and how it is affecting my personal journey.

Before getting into all of that, I would highly recommend you use an online personal finance service such as mint.com or yodlee.com to manage your finances.  I was initially concerned about the safety of my account information, but was comforted by the lengths at which these services attempt to safeguard that information.  Of course, there is always a slim chance something will go wrong.

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The Key to the Golden Handcuffs

In the last post, I mentioned mental barriers to leaving the law.  Today, I will address one of the biggest barriers: golden handcuffs.  If you’re a big firm associate, then you are quite familiar with golden handcuffs. For those of you not aware, the term “golden handcuffs” refers to the inability to leave a bad situation because of an attachment to material wealth.  The irony is that what you possess is the very thing that traps you, when it should actually do the opposite — liberate you.

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When the Bough Breaks…

How do you know when you’ve reached your breaking point?  It can be difficult.

I think a lot of us big firm associates have developed a high threshold for pain.  Like a wet branch.  When a branch is dry, it’s pretty easy to snap.  When it’s wet, you can bend it again and again until it’s limp.

I hate to say it, but last week was a good week for me.  I left early most days, went on a few lunchtime excursions with co-workers and was given a pat on the head at the end of the week for doing some high-quality work at the last minute.  I like pressure in small doses.  Positive feedback is good too.

Except I know it is fleeting.  Last week was the exception.  I need to focus on the big picture so I don’t get caught in the emotional back and forth of working at a big law firm.

The only way to escape is to (1) be mentally prepared to leave and (2) have a viable plan for the future.

The Root of the Problem

What causes unhappiness at law firms?  At my first firm, I was unhappy because the work was boring and the partners treated us like crap.  Simply changing law firms (and practice areas) fixed those problems for the most part.  Although I am treated well by the partners at my current firm and the work has been somewhat rewarding, I am borderline miserable.  Some of my problems with my job are more troubling than others.

For the first few years, I was getting overworked.  I looked around and the junior partners were working even longer hours.  Even senior partners were working at a ridiculous pace.  These people have families.  I started asking myself, “what is the value of my time” and “how much of my time can be exchanged for money”?  For me, billing 2,500 hours in my first year was enough to make me question my decision to become a lawyer.  And I’m a single guy with no commitments.  It was mostly the two back-to-back months of billing 300 hours.  I had no feeling anymore, no lust for life.

Another problem I had was always being on call 24/7.  I always have my Blackberry next to me in case I get e-mailed by a partner.  I never feel like I can step away from the job.  It’s somehow taken over my identity.

Also, and this is a stupid one, I hated having to serve so many masters: multiple partners and demanding clients.  This is my ego reacting, but I didn’t work so hard to get here, yet still feel so small.

The biggest problem I had was that I lacked passion.  I stopped caring about my work beyond not wanting to tarnish the image I had been so carefully cultivating.  I didn’t care if we won or lost.  What a way to live life, huh?  I deserve better than this.